Great Gatsby

My daughter’s got three books to read over the summer for her school.  Well, not just read.  Read, and then do quite a bit of analysis homework on them.  One of those is the Great Gatsby.

Now, I’m not just a librarian, I’m a bibliophile.  While I am not fond of most Dickens, I can see why folk are.  I can see the tensions and themes of, well, a lot of stories.

But the Great Gatsby fails, to me, and I still don’t understand why it’s considered “great” reading.

Take this analysis my daugther has to do.  “Identify and discuss at least two themes.”  Now I’ve read and discussed many of the things – how it’s representative of the decay of the 1920s in America and all that – but I think they all fail.  One of the reasons I don’t consider the Great Gatsby a “great work” is that it’s really only got one theme:

The corruption of the Upper Class.

All the other themes that I’ve seen are spinoffs, subordinate and dependent upon that element.  “The East is false, the MidWest is true.”  “The inherent falsehood of the 1920s.” “Inserting your self into a corrupt society will inevitably corrupt and destroy you.” Decadence.  Waste.  sigh.

Now I happen to prefer Stories to Great Works.  In fact, it’s my contention that a so-called Great Work that isn’t foremost a story is not in reality a Great Work.  (See much of James Joyce.)  I think it worth pointing out that this tale died when it was published.  It wasn’t resurrected by a loyal fanbase.  It was.. some critics, who used it as a morality message to berate the decadence and corruption of the 1920s.

heh – notice the circular reasoning here?  Yeah.

I never, ever recommend the Great Gatsby.  It’s got some serious rough spots in its storytelling, even granting the wordiness (in our eyes) common to writing of that era.  (There’s a chapter – the exposition chapter where Gatsby tells our narrator What’s Going On – that my daughter summed as, “Oh, Gatsby is demonstrating he’s insane.  Now it makes sense.”)

As my inevitable digression, the other two stories are A Lesson Before Dying and The Scarlet Letter.  I’m not fond of either.  But they are stories.  And beyond that they’ve multiple themes, some of which are independent of others within the work.  Some, in fact (in ALBD) help cause the tension as the themes themselves come into conflict.

Gatsby… bad story.  Bad “literature”.  I’d rejoice in never seeing it be Required Reading ever again.


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