Monday, June 18, 2012

Gatsby vs Babbitt

Gatsby vs Babbitt

I read the Great Gatsby long time back. And this is the first book that I have ever re-read. I just finished reading it again. Babbitt - I began this book a long time back, but could not proceed beyond a few pages then. I picked it up again this month, and finished it just before the re-reading of Gatsby.

Both are set in America of 1920s, the First World War or the Great War was over, American economy was booming, the decade which preceded the great depression.The difference being that Babbitt is set in the American town, a general American concept of a town, it could be any town, in the book, it is Zenith. Whereas, Gatsby is pointedly New York, and specifically "West Egg"and very much a book happening mostly at the tip of "West Egg". So though, the period is same, the sensibilities are as different as current cosmopolitan cities and provincial towns. Also, they both deal with different age groups. Babbitt is middle aged, has a daughter who is the age at which she can get married, son going to college, a well established business, and his worries in life for half the length of the book are average middle class worries about money, status, position, reputation, and then as the book unfolds, gradually he starts facing the deeper questions of life, which being an 'average' person in an 'average' city, and all the ennui of the average invokes. The book peaks a few pages before end, when he faces these questions, and hastily wraps itself into a happy ending, as if, whoever thought that those questions can ever find answers. But here we have Gatsby, and the narrator, Nick, both almost 30, much younger, and sequences of seemingly comic, mindless, arbit-random bullshit conversations when they are in the moment, contrasted with the deep thinking narrator, Nick, who with his wit and some mind blowing sentences wins you over and you feel as sad about the life that that Gatsby lives as the narrator himself. This one is a book about the un-average, it picks the most random circumstance in people's lives and multiplies it with ten and makes it happen in the book. It is a book about the peaks and the troughs, it is the differential, where Babbitt was the average. Babbitt touches such a life briefly in the book, but it becomes a detour for him. Babbitt was about the hundreds of dreams, and all about the means. Gatsby is about the end, a simple, single end, a single dream, however silly it may sound, and the means become inconsequential. And it is about the silly, random things which like the flutter of a butterfly's wings, wreaks havoc upon a faraway country, and in this case, somebody's life. And this is just comparing the stories. 

In terms of how both books are written, they are both a showcase of what average and the un-average look like and both flow in lucid language, a straight narrative and with so many sentences that you want to highlight for later reading. I enjoyed reading them both, and I guess by reading them together, I get a much fuller picture of what each of them portrays.

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