Friday, May 31, 2013

Dante’s Inferno – Canto XI – XVIII Summaries

Following Canto I to X, these are the summaries of eight more cantos of Dante’s Inferno.

Canto XVIII - The Eight Circle
Canto XI: The seventh circle of Hell was divided to three parts, each was smaller than the previous one, and they were dedicated for violence sin: violence against neighbors, against oneself, and against God. The next circle would be for fraudulent (hypocrisy, flattery) sin, while the ninth circle punished people with betrayal sin. When Dante asked why people within Dis were punished more severe than them outside, Virgil explained that incontinence offended God least than malice and bestiality. He explained too how usury was also a sin because it’s when people made money unnaturally. With that, Dante and Virgil descend the crag deeper.

Canto XII: They arrived at the first ring of seventh circle which contained a river of boiling blood. The sinners of violence against neighbors were boiled there and every time a soul wanted to rise from the river more than it was allowed—according to his sin—a group of Centaurs on guard will shoot them with arrows. A Centaur called Nessus guided Dante around, and he showed some great souls like Alexander (the Great?), Dionysius, and Attila (the Hun?) who lived in the deepest part of the river because of they were tyrant.

Canto XIII: Dante arrived at the second ring, in a dusky wood with gnarled trees; he heard cries but did not see a single soul. When Dante plugged a twig from a trunk he heard cry of pain and blood trickled from it. The trunks were actually souls who had committed violence against themselves (suicide). The soul was a loyal advisor to Frederick, who committed suicide because his envious colleagues slandered him. The soul told Dante that when a soul left its body, it was thrown into the forest and germinated as a sapling. When it’s time for them to reunite with their bodies, they could never reunite completely because they had discarded it willingly. A bush near there which was ‘attacked’ by a man and a dog cried in pain. It appeared to be another soul who had been a Florentine and witnessed the making of St, John the Baptist to be Florence’s patron replacing Mars (Roman god).

Canto XIV: Dante gently gathered the scattered leaves back to the bush; then with Virgil he proceeded to the third ring, the place for souls with violence against God sin. Rain of fire flakes poured ceaselessly onto the sands burning it, while the souls lied or sat or went about continually. The soul of Capaneus was there because he had besieged Thebes and held God in disdain. Then they reached a red river and Virgil told Dante how all the boiling red river and water on Hell was once formed.

Canto XV: Now they were at the second zone of the third ring, which was for sodomites (violence against nature). A soul, Brunetto Latini, recognized Dante and conversed with him. He cursed the avaricious people of Fiesole and foretold that Dante would receive Fortune, but Dante said let the Fortune do as she pleased.

Canto XVI:  Three souls recognized Dante as their countrymen, their whole bodies were burnt by flames. Florence they had lived once was now become arrogant. Dante departed with the three souls, and came near the dark water. Virgil Dante to take off his cord belt and he lowered one end down to the dark water; then a monster appeared and climbed the cord up to them.

Canto XVII: The monster had human head but serpent trunk. While Virgil was persuading the monster to take them down, Dante proceeded to see people sit under rain of fire with emblazoned purse hung on their neck who refused to talk. The monster flied them down and disembarked them at the bottom of the abyss.

Canto XVIII: Dante and Virgil eventually arrived at the eight circle of Hell called Malebolge. The circle had outside wall that shaped a round pit at the center, with ten ridges between the wall and the pit, forming ten pouches where naked soul were punished for their fraudulent sin. They ran to one side to another of the pouches while the demons beat them with scourges every time they nearly reached any side. This first pouch was for Panders and Seducers. Among the sinners was Jason who abandoned Medea in Greek mythology. Dante and Virgil then crossed to second pouch where they found people plunged in human excrement. It appeared that the pouch was for punishing flatterers.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

In Cold Blood

When first reading this book’s title, I thought this Truman Capote’s non-fiction story would cover about cold blooded murderer(s). In a way it was, but it was not only about murder and murderer(s); more than that, this book reminds me of how human can be cold blooded in everyday life. In short, you don’t have to kill someone to be cold blooded.

Capote wrote this story from a true case happened in a small town called Holcomb in Kansas in 1959. Two paroled ex-convicts murdered Herbert Clutter—a successful farmer—with his wife, a son and a daughter. A friend in jail has told one of the murderers—Richard Hickock—that he had once worked with Clutter family, a wealthy farmer who kept a safety box in the house. The friend told him all the details of the house, and using this, Dick invited Perry Smith—another ex-convict—to join him in a robbery plan.

When Capote heard about this murder, he went to Kansas to do interviews and researches about the case, helped by his childhood friend, author Harper Lee. Capote then wrote the story by revealing little by little every small detail of both Clutters and the murderers-to-be, simultaneously. This is one aspect that made this book very interesting. Unlike any other crime novels, you’d from the beginning who would be the victims and who would be the killers. The only question would be the motive; as from the beginning you would see that the victims and the killers didn’t have any relation whatsoever.

This detail revealing of the lives of each characters intensified my emotional involve of the story. The Clutters—especially Nancy the daughter—has had a wonderful life, full of hopes. And they all must endure a horrified experience before they were killed. I could sense how unfair it was, that you have done many good things in life and were, perhaps, about to harvest the fruits, then suddenly two robbers entered your house and killed you almost out of nothing, knowing that all your beloved ones were killed or about to be killed too at the end. There’s hollowness there….

On the other hand, it was also troubling to read how ordinary and innocent little boys could have transformed into cold blooded killers. And this part is actually the most interesting of all. Here Capote took us to realize that a cold blood killer hasn’t grown up by himself; he was created by a complex collaboration of parents, friends, relatives, neighbors, educational and religious institutions, and most of all, society. In short, all of us have our shares of responsibility in building the humanity.

Human’s mind is probably the most complicated thing in the world. Every information, sense and experience that one receives during the whole life would be kept in mind, and each combination of them would give different results. Only by breaking down one’s history of life, we can understand one’s thoughts and impulses. It’s easy to stick a ‘cold blood’ label to a killer, but it would be much more difficult to understand why he has no feeling at all while committed the murder. If a cold blood killer is a product of humanity, then we could not put the blame only on the killer, but everyone who had been related to him.

Then again, from this story, I was amazed at how easy people put death penalty verdict to the killers. People always want to take a shortcut to be released from their problems: ‘There are cold blooded killers over here, fine, just put them in death penalty, and there would be two less dangers in our neighborhood’case closed. Do they realize, that by sentencing the death penalty, they have become cold blooded killers themselves? The only difference between Dick Hickock-Perry Smith and people in the judiciary is, that Dick and Perry committed the murder against law, while the others did it legally by the law.

In the end, an interesting question must be asked after reading this book, who is the real victim here? I must say that both the Clutters and the killers were all victims. The first were killed by the killers; the later were killed by the systems.

Four and a half stars I granted this book—I read the Indonesian translation, and despite of the good writing from Capote, the translation is poor, and this is really annoying.


I read Bentang Pustaka-Indonesian translated version

This book is counted for:

Baca Bareng BBI 2013: (May - 20th or 21st century classics)
44th book for The Classics Club

Romeo Montague in Romeo and Juliet: Character Thursday (64)

Romeo was born in one of the most respectable and wealthiest families in Verona around Middle Ages, when family feud and vendetta coloured many Italian cities’ society and culture. As the only son of Montague, I guess the family expected much from Romeo to continue their generations of feud with the Capulet. From the scenes in this play, it seems that quarrels that led to blood-shedding have almost become everyday’s story in the streets of Verona. So Romeo must have been very familiar with the atmosphere of violence within his family and friends.

From the beginning I could see that he was a young man with a tender heart who read many poetry books. Maybe his love to Rosaline is a way for Romeo to actualize his ideas of love from the books he read. Maybe he didn’t actually and truly love the girl, and that’s why her image slipped so quickly from his mind when he met Juliet. If his love to Rosaline was a puppy love, now his love Juliet was a true and much deeper one.

Romeo’s weakness was perhaps his impulsiveness and the lack of emotion control. It’s clearly showed from how his anger of Mercutio’s murder led him to take avenge to Tybalt. Either he was too young to make consideration or the violent culture where he has grown up led him to that sudden impulse. I believe if Romeo had considered the matter just a few minutes before killing Tybalt, he might remember his plan to make peace with the Capulets because he loved Juliet. Maybe his consideration would prevent the blood-shed. But I doubt whether that would mean much, as killing adversaries seemed to be ordinary business between the two feud Houses.

Leonard Whiting in 1968 movie adaptation

Romeo’s impulsive manner also appeared when he bravely sneaked into Juliet’s garden just to see his lover, while his presence—if detected—would mean death! In the last scene, when Romeo was very sad by the news that Juliet was dead, did not look for confirmation of the news, and just took it as a truth before killing himself. Here I think Romeo was a man who was controlled by his emotion, and when emotion compelled him, his mind would be numbed.

But if Romeo did not die young, I think he would live a very difficult life anyway. By that quality of sentimental heart, Romeo would be torn between family’s expectation and his conscience. Maybe Romeo should have been born as a female in that situation, rather than a male! :P

That is my Character Thursday of this week, an analysis of book character of my choice, who is yours?... Just put your post URL in the linky below. Do you like to join us in discussing characters from books you read? See the details of Character Thursday first.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Dante’s Inferno – Canto I – X Summaries

Inferno—the first part of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri—is in my list of Well-Educated Mind Self-Project, and the only book in the Poem section I picked for this project. As usual, I will do several summary posts (3 or 4 posts, depends on the length of each canto), so you might see a lot of ‘Hell’ in the next several days…. :)

Here is my first post, the summary of Canto I – X (of total XXXIV cantos). Although it's not mandatory, but making this summary helps me to highlight Dante's various adventures and encounters.

Canto I: Dante arrived at a valley in dark forest but didn’t know how he ended there. He met a panther, a lion and a she-wolf, and in despair, met a shade of Virgil the Roman poet who agreed to guide him to ascend the hill.

Canto II: Dante plead to the Muses (goddesses) as fear came to him, but Virgil scolded him of being coward. He then told him that a woman in Heaven (Beatrice—Dante’s lover) had told Virgil to guide Dante. Beatrice was told by Saint Lucia, who had been acknowledged by another Lady in Heaven (Mother Mary?) who grieved at Dante’s condition.

Canto III: Dante arrived at the gate of Hell where he saw people suffered continuously from flies and wasps stung and worms—people who were neither good nor evil but just ignorant, and thus were rejected by Heaven and Hell. Dante arrived in a river bank (Ancheron) where dead people’s souls waited to be brought across to Hell by a boat—people who never feared of God.

Canto IV: Dante arrived on the verge of a deep valley. The foremost abyss (Limbo) was for people who were not sinned but had not been baptized, or who were born before Christianity (like Virgil), with the exception of some figures from Old Testament: Noah, Moses, Abraham, David, etc who had been out of Hell. Resided here also, famous poets: Homer, Horace, Ovid and Lucan. They came next to a castle with seven walls encircled by a creek, where Dante saw some great heroes from Greek and Ancient Rome: Aeneas, Hector, Caesar, Brutus, etc. and great philosophers: Socrates, Plato, Seneca, etc.

Canto V: Dante and Virgil descended to second circle of Hell where a monster called Minos judged the sinners according to their confessions to thrust them down in appropriate grades. These people were whirled round continuously by a great storm in black sea which never rested. They were lustful people such as Cleopatra, Helen, Paris, Dido and even Achilles; all were damned because of love and desire.

Canto VI: People in the third circle of Hell were tortured by eternal heavy rain, where Dante met Cerberus as the guard and whom Virgil satisfied with a handful of earth so that they could advance. It is for gluttonous people who must lie on the ground. One of them, Ciacco, foretold the political situation in Florence, and told Dante that politicians involved were in the deeper level of Hell.

Canto VII: Descending to fourth circle, Dante saw two semi circle groups of people crying in anger and pain, wheeled to the other’s end then wheeled back to another after colliding in the middle. They conducted avaricious sin by not distributing Fortune fairly, and so now must keep battling without end (corrupt clergymen were included). Dante then headed to fifth circle of Hell: a marsh called Styx where naked people covered with mud striking each other; they who were always consumed with anger. There were also the Sullen who now gurgled in the mud because they kept sighing under the sun. Finally Dante arrived on the foot of a tower.

Canto VIII: Dante and Virgil took a boat across the Styx and met Philippo Argenti—Dante’s adversary?—whom Dante was pleased to hear being attacked by people in the mire. Dante then arrived at Dis—a city in Hell—where eternal fire kindled from within. The Gates’ guards refused them to enter despite of Virgil’s plead.

Canto IX: Dante was afraid seeing that Virgil has failed. They were at the low part of Hell, far from Heaven, the sixth circle. He saw three Furies who called for Medusa to change Dante into stone. A messenger from Heaven appeared and instructed the guards to open the gate for Dante and Virgil, and he was obeyed. They entered finally a land full of tombs heated with flames within, where the heretics were.

Canto X: Among the heretics tombs was Epicurus and his followers. The soul of Farinata—political leader of Dante’s era—suddenly talked to Dante. He could see the future but not the present, and it was the Heretics’ punishment. With Farinata, Frederick the 2nd and the Cardinal stayed also there. Then Virgil brought Dante to a valley where he would meet a soul from whom Dante would learn about his future.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Romeo and Juliet Theme Song: Play Monthly Meme May

As Baz Luhrmann’s modern adaptation is the only Romeo and Juliet’s movie I’ve ever seen, I have started to browse its soundtrack when I was preparing this month’s theme for Play Monthly Meme—a monthly meme for Let’s Read Play. One song has intrigued me when I watched the movie: Des’ree’s ‘Kissing You’—remember when Romeo and Juliet first met each other ‘through’ a giant aquarium? The song fits the scene very beautifully. However, I still thought that the song was too sweet and romantic to represent the whole play, which is in fact a tragedy. Then youtube brought me to another theme song of Romeo and Juliet…. ‘A Time for Us’.

Well…. I am always a fan of 1960-70s songs, so I know very well Andy Williams’ A Time for Us; it’s one of my favorites. What I didn’t know until few days ago was, that ‘A Time for Us’ was originally the theme song of Romeo and Juliet 1968 adaptation. Well then, perfecto! I think this song could perfectly reflect the soul of Shakespeare’s play, which he might have intended to be. Just read the lyrics, it’s simple but deeply touching… (and now makes me wanting to watch the movie!)

A Time for Us
by: Andy Williams

A time for us someday there'll be
When chains are torn by courage born of a love that's free
A time when dreams so long denied
Can flourish as we unveil the love we now must hide

A time for us at last to see
A life worthwhile for you and me

And with our love through tears and thorns
We will endure as we pass surely through every storm
A time for us someday there'll be
A new world, a world of shining hope for you and me

A time for us at last to see
A life worthwhile for you and me

And with our love through tears and thorns
We will endure as we pass surely through every storm
A time for us someday there'll be
A new world, a world of shining hope for you and me

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby: Character Thursday (64)

Being a rather outsider from Gatsby-Buchanans circle, Jordan Baker is one of the most interesting characters in this book—well, apart from Jay Gatsby, of course. Jordan is a professional golfer, and this makes her being in the circle of those glamorous wealthy people. She often attends Gatsby’s parties, and befriends with the Buchanans. But unlike Daisy Buchanan, she is not a kind of drama queen who is always fluttering, sighing and whispering. Jordan is firm, strong and self-esteemed (maybe her career makes her like that).

Her quality first appears when Nick arrives at Buchanans resident, where the wind blew up the white curtains, while Daisy and Jordan’s white dresses were fluttered and rippled by the breeze. I can imagine Daisy in this condition with her dreamy expression, while Jordan—through Nick’s eyes—was portrayed as “extended full length at her end of the divan, completely motionless, and with her chin raised a little, as if she were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall.”

Later on it is also revealed through her relationship with Nick that Jordan has a tendency of cheating. That’s why she was attracted to Nick: “Jordan Baker instinctively avoided clever, shrewd men, and now I saw that this was because she felt safer on a plane where any divergence from a code would be thought impossible. She was incurably dishonest. She wasn't able to endure being at a disadvantage.” So I guess, Jordan is only attracted to Nick because with him she doesn’t have to wear her masks all the time. She might be the kind of person who always seeks for acknowledgment from others, she needs to be accepted in the sophisticated circle of wealthy and famous people. I don’t think Jordan really falls in love with Nick, she just need someone with whom she can be herself. Maybe she is a bit tired of being hypocrisy; wearing ‘mask’ all the time is a tiring job, isn’t it?

Moreover, Jordan is selfish and indifferent. We can see this when she is driving with Nick—who criticizes her of being a danger for others with her careless style of driving. But she merely says that it’s not her business, and it seems never occur to her that her driving should relevant to others than herself. I guess that’s why Jordan—despite of being a bit uneasy with Myrtle accident—keep continuing her normal life after that. Maybe the need to emerge to a glamorous life makes Jordan abandoning her own conscience. And I think Nick is right by breaking her up, she shares the amoral qualities of Daisy and Tom.

That is my Character Thursday of this week, an analysis of book character of my choice, who is yours?... Just put your post URL in the linky below. Do you like to join us in discussing characters from books you read? See the details of Character Thursday first.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Romeo and Juliet [Play + Movie]

Let’s Read Play’s theme for this month is tragedy, and I have picked one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies of all time: Romeo and Juliet. Although I‘m not a fan of romance story, least of all teenagers romances, I braced myself to give a try on this particular play. Well, I must say that my instinct has never failed me before, and it doesn’t this time also. It turns out that I could not enjoy this play, and it didn’t move me like Julius Caesar did me, for instance.

First of all, I am annoyed by the harsh—and sometimes very vulgar too—humour Shakespeare put in this play. I know that somehow it is his style, but I think it has come at an annoying point this time. Maybe it’s because I have been expecting ‘Romeo and Juliet’ comes as a romantic yet tragic love story, that there would be flowery sentences and paragraphs. They do appear of course, but especially in the beginning, there are also harassing comments or insults from Romeo and Mercutio around sexual topics. And as this has happened in the very early Act, it diminished my mood (and respect) to read the rest.

What interesting me is the eternal hostility of two Houses in Verona: Montague and Capulet. The play can portray very well how each of the families took their hostility; how the youngsters especially, were eager to ignite strife whenever they met the enemies. It is in the situation that Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet found themselves in love. And apparently, the hostility of the two families could only be resolved by the two teenager’s sacrifice. It’s quite ironic, considering that these two youngsters were merely thinking about their passionate love, but from them the adults would have to learn much about the real meaning of ‘love’.

Considering that this is about teenagers’ love, the story is as ridiculous as you could have expected, but I think the plot is interesting; how the mistiming and misunderstanding caused the tragedy. It’s only proving how love can sometimes be blind for naïve (or foolish?) people. Three stars for this tragic play—which did not really moved me, honestly…


Right after finishing the play, I jumped to the movie adaptation. I picked Baz Luhrmann’s version, partly because that’s the only one I had (:D), and partly because I was curious to see the earlier collaboration of Baz Luhrmann and Leonardo diCaprio (before The Great Gatsby).

I’ve already known that the movie would be in modern settings, before I watched it, so I was a bit surprised to see that Luhrmann only alter the settings, but not the dialogues! The dialogues were really picked from the original play, and that makes the whole movie is really unique. Listening to those punk boys speak in Shakespearean language was weird but interesting.

Here Leonardo diCaprio is in his earliest career, and this movie shows distinctly the difference with his present acting. However, I think he plays Romeo quite convincingly as the waverer and sentimental young man. The rest of the stars are not very prominent, except for Harold Perrineau, Jr who plays as Mercutio, who is the most interesting character in this movie.

One of my favorite scenes is Juliet’s tomb—which in this case doesn’t look at all like a tomb. It is very eloquent and glamour (typical Baz Luhrmann, of course), and the scene of Romeo and Juliet in their last agony is superb! Only while watching Romeo drinks the poison not knowingly that Juliet is stirring beside him, and Romeo’s expression when he knows the truth, that I am really moved. So in this case, for me, the movie has enlightened the play rather than the other way round. 7 to 10 is my final rating for this adaptation.


I read the ebook version from Feedbooks dot com

This book is counted for:

May theme of Let’s Read Plays: Shakespeare’s tragedy

I watched the movie for Books Into Movies Monthly Meme #6

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

[Classics Movie] The Great Gatsby

I don’t know which one is the truest; rereading the book for the second time has given me an advantage to enjoy the movie, or watching the movie has intensified my emotion as well as my understanding of the book. I believe it’s more of the second than the first one. The film has vividly showing the real emotion of all scenes from the book, which makes it easier for me to (more) understanding the book. Overall, the latest 2013 Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby IS indeed Great!


I have no complaints for the main characters. First of all, Leonardo diCaprio is superb! He could perfectly transform into Jay Gatsby’s enigmatic character. Although his portion is perhaps three quarters of the whole film, I can feel the strong charisma of Gatsby distinguished from others. Gatsby as the glamour and lavish parties host; Gatsby as an awkward lover (who was between excited to reunite with his long-time lover and anxious that there would be anything wrong that could break his bubbles of hope); and Gatsby as a fragile man full of hope. And let’s not forget those ‘rare understanding smiles’ that Leo has presented dashingly while raising his glass: “He smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life.”

Carey Mulligan fits Daisy Buchanan’s character; she could represent the dreamy, spoilt and indifferent style of Daisy convincingly. Joel Edgerton is also good in performing the rough and brutal Tom Buchanan by his gesture and the way he speaks. Jordan Baker is the one who quite surprised me; Elizabeth Debicki performs beautifully as Jordan. Now I see why Nick is attracted to her. She is the most fasionable one here, and really...I love her stylish hats! 

I was first curious about how Amithab Bachchan would play as Meyer Wolfsheim. Apparently, he can perform quite convincingly, if you don’t take quite seriously of the fact that Wolfsheim is a Jewish, of course! :D

Story and Plot

Thank God Baz Luhrmann chose to stick mostly to the original story and plot of the book. And even if there are slight alterations here and there to make the movie smoother, I think they just make the story more convincing. In the scene of Gatsby’s murder, I know very well that—from the book original version—he was really alone at that time and no phone call was coming. However in the movie, a phone call comes when Gatsby is swimming, and when he is reaching his hand to pick the receiver, the deadly gunshot arrives. Both scenes emphasize both tragedy and irony of Gatsby’s death, but the movie version emphasizes them in a more dramatic way which suits well for a movie which gives Leo room to express his mixed emotion—from hope (of a call from Daisy); satisfaction (from thinking that it was from Daisy, while it’s in fact from Nick); to surprise, disbelief, disappointment, and maybe fear in few seconds before he finally collapsed to death. [Confession: my eyes were wet on this scene… :( ]

One particular scene has confirmed my suggestion; it’s when Nick is eavesdropping Tom and Daisy as Tom is convincing Daisy that everything is going to be alright, after the accident. This scene confirms my idea that Daisy has admitted to Tom that it was her who actually drove the car; and that’s why they suddenly flee from their mansion (and the butler’s lie to Nick seems to point out Daisy’s selfishness to only seek security on top of everything); a really brilliant alteration of the scene that’s just emphasizing the meaning.

Setting and Costumes

I think the costume designers have done a great job to put the 1920s fashion into the movie. I like Jordan Baker’s style the most from the women, and of course….Gatsby’s suit from the men (except the pink one!). And of course Gatsby’s mansion and all the parties are gorgeous and entertaining, but still, my favorite is the characters and their emotions.

So, is it surprising you that I am giving this 2013 version of The Great Gatsby movie adaptation a 9.5 of 10 rating, old sport? :) Oh, and I think the idea that Nick has first typed his original script’s title as “Gatsby” and then later on adding “The Great” in handwriting is just topping all my feelings after the movie ends. Gatsby is great, the book is great, and this movie is great! Well done, old sport! ;)


I watched this for Books Into Movies Monthly Meme #5

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Great Gatsby [Final Review]

If there are books I would love to read over and over again, The Great Gatsby must be one of them. This was my second read and I gained much more than my first one, and I have a feeling I would still find more in the future reads. Reading The Great Gatsby is really like peeling an onion, you must peel layer by layer to get what is inside. This book is full of metaphors, and Fitzgerald does not always reveal everything straight forward; he likes to speak his ideas in broken sentences, challenging the readers to catch the hidden meanings. And that is why this book provides never-ending debates and discussions, which make me love it more.

As I have done many chapter posts and tasks for WEM, I won’t waste time by writing what Gatsby is about. In short, it’s about Gatsby’s false dream—how a poor man fights persistently to win his dream lover, becomes wealthy by disrespectable businesses and ready to snatch the woman from his husband; but after an accident that has killed a woman, he finds that she is only an empty idea, and that lavish prosperity in the end only leaves traces of moral corruption [taken from my first level inquiry post].

I have also peeled many aspect of the story in my three levels inquiries, that I have almost nothing left now to make a decent review (LOL). But instead, I have challenged myself earlier to ask one important question, which I also invited others with whom I read this along to answer.

Do you think Gatsby is really ‘Great’? If yes, why? If no, why did Fitzgerald put it in the title?

--My answer--

First I must think about the criteria of ‘Great’; what do people usually mean when they say that someone is great? Success would be the answer. Great people are they who succeed in their fields. Now let’s apply this to Gatsby—does he succeed? A big no; he worked hard to reach his dream, not knowing that it has vanished. It’s not only failure; I can say he’s pathetic. So Gatsby must be far away from being great—although in a way, I admire his discipline, focus, and persistency to reach his dream. If we want to label him as ‘Great’, he is certainly great in accomplishing a personal target. Nonetheless, he is failed in the end; and one’s greatness is always defined by the result, right? Yeah, we are result-based generation. I can talk about this forever, but for now, let’s get to the second part of the question.

If Gatsby is not great, why is the book given The Great Gatsby as its title? What did Fitzgerald want to say to us? It came to me that maybe Fitzgerald wanted to emphasize that our way of defining greatness has been wrong. Maybe one’s greatness should not be valued only from the visible quality of success; it is merely the outer aspect of men; our old concept of success. I think Fitzgerald wanted us to look deeper into the inside of humanity. From the beginning Nick has been writing about morality: “A sense of the fundamental decencies is parceled out unequally at birth.” –(Chapter 1); so it makes sense that that is what Fitzgerald wanted to say to us through The Great Gatsby: morality. Morality is far more important than physical achievement.

American first dream was about discovery, individualism, and the pursuit of happiness [from Sparknotes]. However, the rise of stock market post-war had created a sudden euphoria, where people started to spend and consume at unprecedented levels. With that, unfortunately, morality started also to decay and corrupted. In Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald wanted to show two different things.

First, the empty pursuit of dream; in Gatsby, American people should see that their first original dream had been vanished, and replaced by the moral corruption (Daisy is no longer the fresh-innocent girl Gatsby used to know, she had been…you know what). Second, the good morality; although Gatsby gained his wealth in disrespectable ways, he still have pure conscience in him (he stood up to take the blame of Myrtle Wilson’s murder although he did not do it). Between the two, while the empty pursuit of dream won’t make one great, I believe the good morality will.

At the end I think, Fitzgerald wanted to say that it is great of Gatsby to do what he did at the end of the story. It is also what has made Nick complimenting him: “They’re a rotten crowd; you’re worth the whole damn bunch put together”.

But most of all, I think, The Great Gatsby itself is a great literary work by Fitzgerald; maybe not the greatest one, but obviously one of the greatest… ;)

Five whole stars for The Great Gatsby, a novel I will certainly read and read again in the future.


I read the Penguin Classics hardback edition

This book is counted for:
43rd book for The Classics Club

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby: Character Thursday (63)

Nick is the narrator of The Great Gatsby; he came from a conservative family in the West. His father has planted high morality and honour in him since he was very young, which Nick keeps dearly in his heart when he’s grown up. After the war, Nick leads to the East, studying at Yale, and gets a good carrier in bond in New York. But not after his summer in West Egg, that he seems to realize that his real talent might be in writing.

Nick is fascinated with Jay Gatsby, an enigmatic, wealthy young man who lives in a luxury mansion next door. It might be that Nick has been adoring Gatsby from the first moment he saw him, and his judgment towards Gatsby is more or less affected by the charisma Gatsby possesses; despite of the ‘reserving judgments’ quality Nick always admits proudly to hold.

I imagine Nick to be an innocent man who has been molded by his family to almost become a puritan. But his adventure in the East has given much more than his father ever taught him, I think. Nick came to West Egg with a concept of high morality (he even dreams of uniformity of human morale). Nonetheless, Nick is quickly fascinated by the wild parties held by Gatsby. Little by little he gets used to this new life style; he often has a relationship with Jordan Baker, one of the Buchanans’ friends. When Tom Buchanan takes him to see his mistress, Nick doesn’t seem to be able to refuse, and he’s kind of dragged by this new fascination; although he still feels uneasy with this vulgar affair (he feels that the Dr. T.J. Eckleburg billboard is following him with its gaze when he passes it in Tom’s car).

Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway

The longer he spends time with his new friends, his feeling is mingled between disgusting and fascinated. He helps Gatsby to arrange a meeting with Daisy (Tom’s wife), which means he is part of the cheating. However he begins to feel disgusted by Tom’s rough and brutal manner. Everything becomes clear for him after Myrtle’s accident takes place. Only then that Nick can finally make his fair judgment of them all. He can see now how the ‘Eastern’ (Tom, Daisy, Jordan) are lack of conscience, selfish and arrogant; and how Gatsby stood upon them all by his latest action towards the accident.

I’m glad that Nick breaks up with Jordan at last, for although she might not be as severe as Tom and Daisy, she is too indifferent to scold her friends’ actions, and just stays at their house that night after the accident, which means she more or less approves them.

The talks about whether Nick is a gay or bisexual is I think have been exaggerated. I don’t see anything wrong with him, and I think he builds a healthy relationship with Jordan, he’s attracted to her as a woman. The incident in McKee’s bedroom (which some indicate it a sign of Nick being gay) is nothing but a portrait of how Nick has been doubly dizzy by alcohol and the brutality he has just witnessed. It was when Nick is vaguely remembers the whole things, but McKee’s portfolio of the chaos has reminded him again.

That is my Character Thursday of this week, an analysis of book character of my choice, who is yours?... Just put your post URL in the linky below. Do you like to join us in discussing characters from books you read? See the details of Character Thursday first.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Classics Spin #2

One of the most excited events in The Classics Club is back: Classics Spin! The participants are required to list their 20 to-read classics. The moderators will ‘spin’ the numbers, and whatever the chosen number would be, we are obliged to read the book we have listed under that number by June. As usual, it is between exciting and worrying, haha! And here are my 20 books, most of them are quite ‘light’, because I don’t want to be burden by the commitment.

5 from new authors:

1. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
2. Inferno – Dante Allighieri
3. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith
4. The Call of the Wild (& White Fang) – Jack London
5. The Trial – Franz Kafka

5 from plays:

6. An Ideal Husband – Oscar Wilde
7. A Woman of No Importance – Oscar Wilde
8. Richard III – William Shakespeare
9. Caesar and Cleopatra – George Bernard Shaw
10. Saint Joan – George Bernard Shaw

10 from books/short stories from my list:

11. Cinta Sejati (Guy de Maupassant’s short stories collection in Bahasa Indonesia)
12. The Canterville Ghost – Oscar Wilde
13. Greyfriars Bobby – Eleanor Atkinson
14. The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling
15. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – F. Scott Fitzgerald
16. The Stranger – Albert Camus
17. Kidnapped – Robert Louis Stevenson
18. Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift
19. Siddharta – Hermann Hesse
20. Matilda – Roald Dahl

And now let me cross my fingers, hoping the… particular number would be picked by the moderators! :)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Great Gatsby: Third Level Inquiry

This is the third and last level of inquiries (and the most difficult!) for WEM Project, following my first level and second level inquiry posts.

Do you sympathize with the characters? Which ones, and why?

The only one character I sympathize with is Jay Gatsby. As his father told Nick, Gatsby is a rare person; in his young age, he has been applying the very way of achieving success: focus and discipline. If only he did not attracted to Daisy, he might have paved his way to success more decently. If only he had not been obsessed to Daisy, he might have had a better life. I think Gatsby is genuinely an innocent and straight forward person, it’s so pity that he dreams of the wrong person, and be mastered by the wrong master.

What does the setting of the book tell you about the way human beings are shaped?

Emerging from World War I, America became the wealthiest country in the world in the 1920s, when people suddenly had money to spend, and stock market boomed. There’s also a revolution in the society when women take part in work force and started to feel the freedom. Then Jazz Age added in the euphoria; lavish parties like Gatsby’s and free sexuality became a new trend. After the depressing war, people wants to break free, they often do crazy things just to release the years of burden from the war. In times like that people pursue easy money and high pleasure; while morality and ethics are abandoned, let alone religious.

What exactly is the writer telling you?

Fitzgerald criticizes the wildness of the Jazz Age that led to moral decays. On the other hand, he also warns us to not falling into a false dream. Everything should be achieved with hard working, focus and discipline (like Gatsby did). Gatsby has done the later, but failed in the previous (false dream), and that’s how he ‘falls’. But above all, we must maintain our morality always in the right path; God never sleeps! (and in this aspect, Gatsby wins from the other).

In what sense is the book true?

All that Fitzgerald says in this book is the reflection of modern civilization. Where hedonistic begins to grow, there would be a moral decay. God, moral, conscience would be abandoned, and replaced by the new gods: money and pleasure; and these are very relevant in our today’s civilization.


Monday, May 13, 2013

The Great Gatsby: Second Level Inquiry

Following the first level inquiry, these are my answers for the second level Inquiries.

What does Gatsby want? What is standing in his way? And what strategy does he pursue in order to overcome this block?

Gatsby is crazy in love with Daisy; he’s fascinated by her innocent and glamour image. But Daisy comes from a very rich family, while Gatsby is only a farmer son. Tempted by the idea of prosperity, Gatsby works hard to achieve success in the quickest way. He is a focus and persistent young man, and American vast economical growth gives him chance to do disrespectable business. He succeeds at last, and in five years becomes a wealthy and charismatic man. Gatsby bought a mansion in West Egg—only a bay across to Daisy’s resident—and throws lavish parties every Saturday night only to prove to Daisy that he is worthy for her.

Which point of view does the writer choose to use? What does he gain and lose through it?

The story is narrated by Nick Carraway, Gatsby’s neighbor and (in the end) his best friend; so it’s told from third-person limited point of view. I think Fitzgerald doesn’t lose anything by doing that. If he wants to make Gatsby distinguished (and thus great) from others, he must point out the irony between the ‘old money’ who gain money respectably but their moral is corrupted, and the ‘new money’ (Gatsby) who becomes rich from disrespectable business but has more conscience. That’s why Fitzgerald uses Nick. Because Nick is neither the ‘old money’ nor ‘new money’, he can judge both sides more objectively and thus presented what Fitzgerald wants to criticize.

Further challenge from this question is to do an experiment…

Retell a crucial passage in the novel from a different point of view. How does this change the story?

The most crucial passage of this story is Myrtle’s accident; now let’s pick Gatsby’s point of view. He would have told the accident more vividly, but he won’t be able to describe the chaos in Wilson’s garage after that in intense emotion as Nick tells it. Also, because Gatsby didn’t know that Myrtle is Tom’s mistress, he won’t be able to let us guess why the victim bursts suddenly to the car.

Images and metaphors

There are a lot of images and metaphors here; I think this is a book with the most metaphors I’ve ever read.

Green light—on the East Egg’s dock, to which Gatsby stretch his hands in the first night Nick sees him—symbolizes the dream that Gatsby (and Americans) is longing to reach.
Valley of ashes—where Wilson garage is and where Myrtle died—symbolizes moral corruption. People usually pass this valley of ashes on the way to New York, as if symbolizes that on the way to rapid prosperity, there’s a risk of moral corruption.
The eyes of Doctor T.J Eckleburg—a billboard with a pair of enormous eyes looking through a pair of enormous glasses—symbolizes God who sees everything. Wilson points out the billboard when saying to Myrtle that she can fool him (about her affair with Tom) but she can’t fool God. Nick feels the eyes are following him when Tom is taking him to see Myrtle, because he knows that it is a sin. The billboard’s location in a desolate place can also symbolize how people have been abandoning God and morality in their pursuing of money and pleasure.
Yellowish color—in Gatsby’s car, Wilson’s garage, Myrtle dress, etc—symbolizes moral corruption. The accident is caused by the yellow car, Myrtle’s manner changes completely after she changed to cream-colored dress. To contrast it with purity and innocence, Fitzgerald uses white color (Daisy’s dress when she’s young, Daisy’s car by which Gatsby takes her out, etc.)
Other colors—there are several other colors used throughout the book, including pink—Gatsby’s pink suit; grey—the valley of ashes; and blue. They all symbolizes different things (which I haven’t got time to study :P).

Beginnings and Endings

Fitzgerald opened his book with a hint of mystery. Through his narration Nick already hinted that there would be something that would be disgusting him in the story he would tell, but nevertheless he thought Gatsby was an exceptional at the end: ‘Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and shortwinded elations of men.’ This passage intrigued me at the beginning; what happen to Gatsby? What makes him great? And what makes Nick very disappointed?

The ending of this book follows ‘logical exhaustion’ style. There is an infinite repetition in how Americans is portrayed of pursuing false dreams and falling into moral decay. And this situation is still (and will be) going on when Nick ended the story (and that’s why he moved to the west, to his home). In that Fitzgerald wanted to warn us that having a target and working hard to achieve it is good, but there would be a negative excess of moral decay when we become greedy. So, to answer the last question for this second level inquiry:

Do you agree with that philosophy?

I would say: yes, I certainly agree. Modernization does not always walk simultaneously with civilization, there is always the excess of moral decay with it.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Great Gatsby: First Level Inquiry

I have enjoyed re-reading The Great Gatsby for WEM project, and there is so much to discuss about, that I think I am going to do the tasks more thoroughly than I’ve ever done with previous books. This is the first level inquiry, I’ll post the second and third separately.

Actually I have done part of this level; it was the chapter posts I have done last week, they’re part of the tasks—to summarize each chapter and jot down what we are thinking or questioning through the reading. You can read them here:

Next we are required to summarize the story by creating our own title and subtitle (which is different from the book’s). But before that, we must conclude this one….

Is there some point in the book where the characters change? Does something happen that makes everyone behave differently?

Myrtle’s accident is the major turning point of this book. The accident—like any other life crisis—reveals the genuine qualities of each character. Daisy is the one who was driving the car, she knew what she had done. She might be panic at that time, nevertheless she never had any intention to admit it and let Gatsby took the blame. She didn’t even do anything when she knew Gatsby was murdered (and she definitely knew, he died because of the crime she had committed). Although it’s not mentioned in the book, I think Daisy told Tom that she was the one who hit Myrtle. Otherwise, they won’t be fleeting so quickly if Tom thought it was Gatsby.

Jordan Baker didn’t say anything although she was also shocked like Nick; and most importantly she kept staying with Daisy and Tom as if nothing had happened. On the other hand, Nick and Gatsby were suddenly in a different side with those three. Gatsby still had a concern for the victim although he didn’t know her, and he took the blame that Daisy should do.

Give the book your own title and subtitle

Gatsby’s False Dream – How a poor man fights persistently to win his dream lover, becomes wealthy by disrespectable businesses and ready to snatch the woman from his husband; but after an accident that has killed a woman, he finds that she is only an empty idea, and that lavish prosperity in the end only leaves traces of moral corruption.