Wednesday, July 20, 2022

What makes the Great Gatsby great?

 As part of my decision to read more books that lazy high schoolers use for book reports, I reread The Great Gatsby which I’m not sure I’ve read since college.

And doing some side research about the book,
I realize that trying to write about the Great Gatsby is like trying to write about Hamlet. There is practically a cottage industry for analyzing the book.

When I was younger, my biggest impression of the Great Gatsby was that it was held up as the shortest a book could be and still considered a novel. Reading it as a grown up, I was surprised at how, well, readable it was.

It was a little like finally seeing Citizen Kane. I knew that it was a classic movie and all that but no one had actually told me it was good. And that the sled is really more of a little aside than the point of the movie.





Most (certainly not all) interpretations of The Great Gatsby seem to be that it’s a scathing critique of the American Dream. Everyone is obsessed with fame and money and is everyone is miserable.

One of the things that is fun to argue about is what is the real nature of any given character. 

Is Jay Gatsby a Byronesque hero who is too good for a corrupt world? Is he a creepy stalker? Is he a delusional hypocritical man child ? Is he just a larger than life figure who reveals how crummy everyone around him is? Is he even the main character?

(I found myself thinking that Jay Gatsby isn’t the protagonist and that Nick Carraway, the narrator is. He is the one who really changes over the course of the book. His relationship with Gatsby takes him from mild disillusionment to complete and utter disillusionment)

I don’t think that the theme of the Great Gatsby is its selling point. The human race is a bunch of rotters is an old, old theme. I think F. Scott Fitzgerald created a classic by exploring that theme with interesting  enough characters that we can argue about who they really are. 

And, quite frankly, by not being _too_ depressing.  You can argue that Fitzgerald’s friend Nathan West wrote an even more brutal and brilliant deconstruction of the American Dream with the The Day of the Locust but, boy, is  that book is bleak. 

I’ve read people calling The Great Gatsby as the Great American Novel. I can’t say that myself (I’d put the Catcher in the Rye before it among others) but it is a great novel about Americans.

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