F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a novel of modern literature that is often studied in classrooms today. Published in 1925, The Great Gatsby’s themes of greed and the disappointment with the American Dream still influence readers, since these themes can also relate to people who struggle to achieve success today. Though Fitzgerald’s novel was meant for adult literary readers, it is an excellent book for many ages (teen and above), both to study in class and to read for pleasure. What makes the book so great is that the writing is well done, the characters are interesting and psychologically complex, and the setting gives readers a realistic idea of the social class difference in the 1920s Long Island and New York City.
When he published The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald was already an accomplished author, having previously written the novels The Beautiful and the Damned and This Side of Paradise. Therefore, he had the skill necessary to write a classic of American fiction. Fitzgerald’s ability comes through in his writing style. From the beginning to the end, Fitzgerald’s sentences read like a poem. Many times in the novel, readers will stop and re-read lines because of their appealing sound. For example, the ending line of the novel is very expressive: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” (Fitzgerald 189). What makes this line so powerful is not only the poetic quality of the sentence, but the line’s imagery as well. The image of a boat fighting against the current and sailing back into the past relates to the novel’s themes. The line also makes readers feel how the past can bring a person down, even when he or she tries to move forward. Powerful lines such as this one repeat through the novel, making The Great Gatsby a great tool for reflection.
Other strengths of The Great Gatsby include Fitzgerald’s characterization of the novel’s main characters, especially Jay Gatsby. Gatsby’s character makes the novel work, since it is his love affair with Daisy that advances the plot. As a member of the newly rich on Long Island in the 1920s, Gatsby is arrogant. His conceited dialogue with the narrator, Nick Carraway, can be annoying for the reader, but maybe Fitzgerald wants to make Gatsby unlikeable at first, only to have the reader sympathize with him and his downfall later. Even Gatsby’s famous phrase, “old sport,” a line he frequently says to Nick, grows on the reader eventually. For example, at one point in the novel when he greets Nick, Gatsby says, “Good morning, old sport. You’re having lunch with me today, and I thought we’d ride up together” (Fitzgerald 68). By the end of the novel, the reader begins to understand Gatsby in a way that matches with Nick’s own conflicted feelings for him. The interaction between Nick and Gatsby creates interest and emphasizes the difference in social class between the rich and the middle classes in the 1920s New York society.
In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald accomplishes his main objective of exploring the disillusionment that comes from following the American Dream. For example, academic scholars Mojtaba Gholipour and Mina Sanahmadi write, “The Great Gatsby is an example of the American Dream in which people begin to seek out pleasure and power instead of individualism. Wealth is easy to come and it is used as a tool to obtain other desire” (51). As the above quote mentions, “power” can often replace “individualism,” and this theme is featured in the narrative. The novel is set following the events of World War I and just before the Great Depression, and it effectively explores the bitterness many feel at pursing the American Dream. In the novel, and in society at the time, those who come from the upper class, shown by Tom and Daisy Buchanan, are free to act as they want and treat people in mean ways, always using wealth as power. Others on the outside of what is known as “old money” (established and rich families) must make their way without money, and many—like Gatsby—turn to crime to get by. These ideas come through clearly in the novel, so Fitzgerald’s objectives are met in the narrative.
The intended audience of The Great Gatsby is adults, especially academic people, since Fitzgerald wanted to be taken seriously as a writer of important literature. Because readers had criticized him for being a “blubberingly sentimental” writer in his first two novels, Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby to reach the “intellectually elite” (Kerr 407). Despite Fitzgerald’s efforts to impress older, educated readers, The Great Gatsby is also a good book for any high school or college student to read, since the writing is really well done. Judging by his interest in rich people’s excesses and reckless behavior, it is evident that Fitzgerald also meant to engage a younger audience. As a novel that seeks to expose the ugly side of the Roaring Twenties, when sudden economic growth filled young people’s minds with new goals and aspirations, The Great Gatsby can serve as a loud wake-up call to all those adolescents who equate wealth to happiness. As fabulous and exciting as Jay and Daisy’s lives may seem, neither of them is truly happy. On the one hand, Jay has to resort to crime in order to make enough money to impress the woman he loves, as if wealth could bring him the affection he seeks; on the other hand, Daisy has everything that a woman could dream of, but her life is far shallower and depressing than Jay thinks. In fact, one could even argue that Jay’s love for Daisy stems from his obsession with status, power and wealth (after all, Daisy is a graceful young woman from an upper-class family). By allowing young, ordinary people to see how dull and uninteresting rich people’s lives really were, Fitzgerald clearly meant to remind his youngest readers that the best way to achieve happiness is to embrace moderation and learn to enjoy what one has.
During his lifetime, Fitzgerald never received a lot of money for The Great Gatsby, and it would not be until many years after his death that the book would become the success of American fiction that it is today. Nevertheless, The Great Gatsby is a great achievement and a benefit to readers of many ages, for both academic reading and for pleasure. The book succeeds because its writing is interesting to the reader, its characters are psychologically complex, and its setting reveals how difficult it is to achieve the American Dream in the 1920s New York. Therefore, The Great Gatsby is a highly recommended book that will be hard to put down.
- Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. (1925). Simon & Schuster, 2003.
- Gholipour, Mojtaba and Mina Sanahmadi. “A Psychoanalytic Attitude to The Great Gatsby. ”International Journal of Humanities and Management Sciences, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 51-53. http://www.isaet.org
- Kerr, Frances. “Feeling ‘Half Feminine’: Modernism and the Politics of Emotion in The Great Gatsby.” American Literature, vol. 68, no. 2, 1996, pp. 405–431. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/