The first time I encountered F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was in college. It was a required reading in an English Literature class and I plodded through it, wrote a paper and called the heroine, Daisy Buchanan, a shallow, selfish bore who loved money above all else. I just felt no sympathy for her. U.P. has a 1 to 5 grading system with “1″ being the highest and “5″, a failure. I got a 1.75 for the paper, and my teacher picked it out for class discussion because she was astounded that at age 16, I had such a jaded opinion of people. Apparently, she was more understanding of Daisy and she found redeeming qualities in her.
When the first reviews for Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 film adaptation started filtering in and I read that among all film adaptations, this was the most faithful to the novel, I vowed to watch it primarily to see if my impression of the characters had changed. It happens. You read something when you’re young and you read it again years later, and you sometimes find a new perspective that wasn’t there before.
It’s uncanny that the same teacher who required us to read Gatsby also required us to read Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native which bored me to tears. But I reread the book when I was in my 30s and it was amazing how much I enjoyed it. In fact, “enjoy” would be too superficial to describe the experience. Reading the novel as an adult was an enriching experience.
So, I wanted to watch the 2013 Gatsby film that was touted to be ultra faithful to the novel.
1922. Jay Gatsby was a mysterious millionaire who threw the most lavish (and garish) weekend parties at his beachfront home. No invitations were ever given out; everyone was welcome. And the party animals, from heiresses to gangsters, came in droves. Gatsby’s next door neighbor, Nick Carraway, was the only one to receive an invitation. He went, met the elusive Gatsby and a friendship began.
The friendship had been designed by Gatsby, as it turns out. Across the bay lived Daisy Buchanan, Nick’s cousin, and the love of Gatsby’s life. Five years earlier, in 1917, a penniless Gatsby on his way to fight in the war met the wealthy Daisy and they fell in love. Daisy promised to wait for him but after confessing in a letter that he had no money, Daisy married the wealthy Tom Buchanan.
By 1922, Jay Gatsby had become a millionaire, had built a house worthy of Daisy and was throwing those outrageous parties hoping that, in one of them, Daisy would walk in. She never did. So Gatsby connived with Nick to invite Daisy to tea where he would happen to drop by. All went well and, in a short while, Daisy and Gatsby were having an affair. Daisy was so smitten that she wanted to run away with him and leave her philandering husband. But Gatsby had other plans — he wanted to stay and live with Daisy in that monstrous mansion he had built.
In a hotel suite one sweltering summer day, Daisy, Gatsby and Tom Buchanan finally confronted each other. Gatsby wanted Daisy to tell Tom that she never loved him and that she was leaving him. While acknowledging that she loved Gatsby, Daisy said it wasn’t true that she never loved Tom. Meanwhile, Tom exposed Gatsby for the criminal that he was and told everyone present that Gatsby made his millions by bootlegging, and bootlegging was just a small part of his criminal career. Driving home from the hotel, Gatsby and Daisy ran over a woman (Myrtle, Tom’s mistress) who was instantly killed. Gatsby later inadvertently told Nick that it was Daisy who was driving but he would take the blame for the accident.
Tom and Daisy reconciled. Myrtle’s husband killed Gatsby (mistaking him for his wife’s paramour, a tale perpetrated by Tom Buchanan) with a gun before shooting himself. Tom, Daisy and their young daughter left town. Nick was the only one present at Gatsby’s funeral.
Is there anything in this adaptation, drummed up as the most faithful to the novel, that makes me change my mind about Daisy? No, there isn’t. I don’t think I failed to understand and appreciate Fitzgerald’s heroine when I was 16. I think I read her perfectly. What I may have failed to include in the equation back then was the era during which Daisy lived. In 1917, women weren’t exactly raised to think as we do today. Family wealth was inherited by sons and daughters were married off to wealthy suitors to make sure they were provided for. It’s a consideration when trying to understand Daisy. That she lived in that generation might entitle her actions to a little sympathy but, by and large, I still find her a shallow, selfish bore. Daisy for Daisy in a world that revolved around Daisy.