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The Great Gatsby is a classic American fiction novel by Francis Scott Fitzgerald, published in 1925. The plot is set in the American jazz age in New York, reflecting the class differences in different parts, primarily the East and West. The compelling story focuses on a self-reliant millionaire, Jay Gatsby, in his quest for his long-lost youth lover, Daisy Buchanan, an affluent young woman. Nick Carraway, a Yale University graduate from the Midwest, narrates the story from his point of view as he moves to New York post the First World War. This critically acclaimed novel was adapted into a 2013 movie directed by Baz Luhrmann featuring Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby and Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway. Luhrmann’s adaption features mostly the storyline presented in Fitzgerald’s novel. However, it is challenging to mirror a classical novel with unique dialogue and phrases into a short film without significant changes. The connection with readers created by the novel’s figurative language and sequence is quite outstanding, making it almost impossible to replicate in a two-and-a-half-hour movie. The Great Gatsby movie and book have a similar storyline and theme focus, although the movie has altered the novel’s settings, characters, and interactions.
Despite the notable variations between The Great Gatsby movie and the novel, the two adaptions have numerous similarities in themes and character interactions. The main focus of the storyline is American society and its limitations presented in varied social classes. The ideology that some form of prosperity is achievable for any family living in America is challenged in both the book and the novel. The writer and director portray a deep contrast between the lifestyles of the West and East, as illustrated by different characters’ perceptions. Nick states, “Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life.” (Fitzgerald, 1925). Nick also observes the hypocrisy of American society in their desire for wealth and upward mobility. He notes, “Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry” (Fitzgerald, 1925). The book and movie emphasize the hollowness of the American dream and social class differences (Egan, 2014). Gatsby’s mansion emphasizes the class differences and the wealthy upper class. Tom Buchanan’s aggressiveness and self-absorption in both the book and the movie illustrate the differences in class and power.
The main difference between The Great Gatsby movie and the book is the character of the protagonist, Nick Carraway, and how his demeanor affects other characters. The novel has quite an extensive character development that helps the readers slowly comprehend Nick Carraway’s experiences and predicament. Polan (2013) notes that, in the movie, the limited duration forces the director to alter his character to give the reader a profound insight through Nick Carraway’s narration. The movie introduces Carraway as a troubled young man struggling with alcohol addiction (Luhrmann, 2013). The demeanor seems unpleasant, but it gives him a basis to develop his character throughout the movie. As a result, Carraway is introduced as a broken figure who works with a doctor to understand and recover from his situation. Conversely, in the novel, Carraway views himself as a hopeful and positive man who sees the best in everyone. He states, “I am one of the few honest people I have ever known,” affirming honesty as his principal virtue (Fitzgerald, 1925). Through the character of Carraway in the novel, readers explore social class differences and genuine compassion as Carraway is the only character who sees beyond Gatsby’s wealth.
Similarly, there are significant differences in interactions between different characters in various settings between the novel and the movie. The director insinuates that Nick Carraway writes Gatsby’s story by hand and types the complete manuscript all by himself. However, in the novel, Fitzgerald only presents the idea that Carraway is the author but does not explore it further (Egan, 2014). While the novel shows a connection between Baker and Carraway, this questionable romance is completely erased from the movie (Luhrmann, 2013). Likewise, Carraway has a domestic worker in the novel whom he describes as valuable to his life. He remembers hiring a “Finnish woman who made [his] bed and cooked breakfast and muttered Finnish wisdom to herself over the electric stove” (Fitzgerald, 1925). However, in the movie, this character is completely cut off by the director. According to Polan (2013), Dan Cody, a rich and successful yacht owner and wealthy man, who struggles with alcohol addiction, is utterly ignorant in the book as a scheming woman, Ella Kaye, snags his inheritance. On the contrary, Dan Cody’s family inherits his wealth in the movie.
In general, The Great Gatsby movie and book have varied differences in terms of the dialogues, sequences, setting, and characters despite their similarities in theme coverage and maintaining the authenticity of the characters’ experiences. Fitzgerald’s book and Luhrmann’s adaptation of the novel both present a profound exploration of American society’s class differences, and the void of the American Dream illustrated through different characters’ predicaments. Despite the differences in how characters are presented and the dialogues in the book and movie, this story is widely anthologized today for exploring the history of American literature and society.
- Egan, K. (2014). Film Production Design: Case Study of The Great Gatsby. Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, 5(1).
- Fitzgerald, F. S. (1925). The Great Gatsby
- Luhrmann, B. (2013). The Great Gatsby [Film]. Hollywood; Village Roadshow Pictures A&E.
- Polan, D. (2013). The ‘Great American Novel’ as Pop-up Book: Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. Adaptation, 6(3), 397-399.