10 Books of Summer: The Great Gatsby- Their Vast Carelessness
“They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness.”
Carelessness. It comes up all the time in this novel.
I think the cultural context of the book is once again important here. The First World War had different effects on America than it did on Europe. Europe was left shattered, the fields of France turned to graveyards, the economies and backs and hearts of Europeans broken. They emerged into a new decade with grief still stinging. And yet, across the Atlantic, America emerged as this glittering beacon of hope and, instead of that crippling grief that held Europe in its clutches, came an era of happy, almost delusional irresponsibility.
Gatsby’s parties are a perfect representation, I think, of the feeling at that time. The drinking, the sheer lack of responsibility – the car crashes, people romp through Gatsby’s house like they own the place, no one ever bothers to seek out the host and present themselves or thank him- it’s a party! It’s best illustrated by Lucille, the girl that Nick and Jordan meets who says, “I never care what I do, so I always have a good time.” It exemplifies this way of thinking. Later on, the owl-eyed man and his friend roll a car into the ditch and the only thing anyone really cares about is getting their own cars out of the driveway.
Jordan Baker, too, Nick notices, is careless. The first thing that perturbs him is her driving- Jordan is a terrible driver. But Jordan tells him that her driving is fine- as long as everybody else’s driving is careful. Jordan says she just hopes she never meets a bad driver. But that is, of course, a terrible plan. You get the feeling that we’re talking about something a little more than driving today- and indeed, as it transpires later, we are.
Tom and Daisy, of course, are the best, most notorious example of this in the book. Everything they do is careless, right from the start. Gatsby falls in love with Daisy- and Daisy drifts onwards. Perhaps at the age she was this was forgivable. But throughout their lives they continue. Both have affairs in their marriage, neither really considering the consequences. Tom never considers the possibility that Myrtle might leave him either. They live in a sort of dream world, where everything comes their way. Born with a silver spoon in their mouth, Tom and Daisy have never wanted for anything- in sharp contrast to Wilson, whose hard work and unwavering, plodding loyalty to Myrtle were signs of his poverty, his destitution. Rich people don’t get ill in Fitzgerald’s world here. Daisy doesn’t even care about her own daughter. This could of course, we might argue, be due to the reasons that Daisy gives Nick that add up to her being depressed. But this book hardened me as I read it and how I might once have seen Daisy in a sympathetic light because of that speech in the garden vanishes when I think of her later actions. My main stick with Daisy c0mes later, in the pivotal scene in the Plaza, when she realises she is left with a choice between Gatsby and Tom, a real, tangible decision to make. And she just lets the decision be made for her. Maybe it’s that passivity runs in the family- and she is more like Nick than either of them. Or maybe it’s that she never really thought about it, never thought she would have to make a decision of that calibre. For the time she was with Gatsby, adultery was a sort of game, and something she could stop doing whenever she got bored.
Then of course, comes the car crash. There is no honour in the actions that follow it- there is a lot of cover-up, and when Gatsby is killed for a crime he didn’t commit, there is never even a question about trying to clear his name, nor of even honouring him by turning up to his funeral- or leaving flowers. For the Buchanans, the Gatsby affair is over, and they go off to live their lives completely normally, as if Daisy was not (directly and indirectly) responsible for the deaths of three people- and Tom too, to an extent (it was for him that Myrtle ran onto the road). They are safe, and that is all that matters.
The idea repulses Nick- but Jordan Baker, that girl that doesn’t seem to care much at all, calls him a “bad driver.” Ah, there, see, told you that might be important. Nick has considered himself an outsider (and an insider, privy to their secrets but that was yesterday’s post), someone who doesn’t adhere to these new rules of New York. But Jordan calls him careless and, if we tilt our heads, we can see that, really, he is. His treatment of Jordan, for one thing, was never fair. Jordan was proud and enigmatic by design, and it might have been hard for Nick never knowing how she truly felt. But even though he feels affection for her, he turns away and leaves without a second glance.
So what do you think? Personally, I found the carelessness exhibited in this novel pathetic and repulsive, and also one of the most interesting parts of the book, and a theme that isn’t too often explored in literature. Did you understand it? Did it change your view of characters?