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.

How careless.

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?


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5 Responses

  1. Bolt says:

    0/10- Never even got past the cover.

  2. Iggy says:

    Ayee, Stella, I completely agree. The carelessness of the characters was one thing that really irked me, especially Daisy and Jordan with their idiotic driving abilities. I mean, Daisy isn’t that bad at driving, minus the short attention span and the easily-distracted-by-signs problem, but she still killed a woman.

    Really, all of these characters were careless, and yes, they did change my views on them as the story progressed. Jordan, herself, was and still is my favorite character, because her attitude is hilarious, but she’s still a crap driver and just generally lazy.

    In my opinion, Jay was the best out of them all. Sure, he was a liar and delt with illegal bootlegging, but he knew what, or who, he wanted. He stayed loyal to Daisy, and he even took the blame for her, even when he shouldn’t have. I liked him the best. ;D

    ~ Iggy.

    • Hannah says:

      Iggy, what I really like about books that are so heavily based on characters and their actions or thoughts is trying to stick them into my life. Do you have friends that are careless or lazy like Daisy and Jordan? Do you know any guy who might be caught up in something illegal but has a good heart, and do you feel the same way about them as you do the characters in the story?

      I dunno, but I bet a lot of my friends would kind of just get along with all of them the way Nick does. Nick doesn’t pass judgement and doesn’t think too highly of himself, so he’s open to all kinds of friends and not too close with any of them. I think people realistically live that way, though I’m not there yet. What about you?

      • Iggy says:

        Actually, I do have a friend who has given me a ride home from school a couple times, and he is pretty careless. He pushes the speed limits and gives me heart attacks. xD But he’s still somewhat of a good driver, at the very least.

        I can’t say I know-know anyone who is involved in illegal stuff; I mean, a few of my friends do get high or drunk, but what did you expect? Not much I can do about that, except tell them to be careful.

        Yeah, Nick and I sound alike. I try not to pass judgement on people, as it’s not my place. I also have a lot of trust issues and it’ s hard for me to open up to people I barely know.

  3. Stella says:

    Hm, interesting, Hannah. I have one friend who, thought not exactly careless, lacks empathy. Lacks it in the extreme. It’s a little worrying. And yet, like Nick, I am happy to be friends with her just… Because. Similarly, I know a lot of “old money” people who spend their parents’ money on partying.and drinking and fail all their college classes. They follow an eerie character pattern too: the boys are raised cocky and the girls flighty, both supremely superficial. So sadly, things never really change. And yet, I endure them. I go to their parties, I listen to their stories, laugh at their jokes. It’s funny.

    I agree with you, Ig, that Gatsby breaks the mould. And maybe that’s why Nick says “you’re better than the whole damn lot put together.”

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