Critical Assessment

“What gives the story distinction is something quite different from the management of the action or the handling of the characters; it is the charm and beauty of the writing. . . .

“The story, for all its basic triviality, has a fine texture; a careful and brilliant finish. The obvious phrase is simply not in it. The sentences roll along smoothly, sparklingly, variously. There is evidence in every line of hard and intelligent effort. . . .

“The Great Gatsby, I seem to recall, was announced a long while ago. It was probably several years on the stocks. It shows, on every page, the results of that laborious effort. Writing it, I take it, was painful. The author wrote, tore up, rewrote, tore up again. There are pages so artfully contrived that one can no more imagine improvising them than one can imagine improvising a fugue. They are full of little delicacies, charming turns of phrase, penetrating second thoughts. In other words, they are easy and excellent reading – which is what always comes out of hard writing.”

H. L. Mencken, “Scott Fitzgerald and His Work,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 3, 1925.

First Excerpt

“But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic – their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a non-existent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness, or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.”

The Great Gatsby

Second Excerpt

“We shook hands and I started away. Just before I reached the hedge I remembered something and turned around.

“‘They’re a rotten crowd,’ I shouted across the lawn. ‘You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.’

“I’ve always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end. First he nodded politely, and then his face broke into that radiant and understanding smile, as if we’d been in ecstatic cahoots on that fact all the time. His gorgeous pink rag of a suit made a bright spot of color against the white steps, and I thought of the night when I first came to his ancestral home, three months before. The lawn and drive had been crowded with the faces of those who guessed at his corruption – and he had stood on those steps, concealing his incorruptible dream, as he waved them good-by.

“I thanked him for his hospitality. We were always thanking him for that – I and the others.

“‘Good-by,’ I called. ‘I enjoyed breakfast, Gatsby.’”