Here’s a brief Q & A with Bob Batchelor on the enduring significance of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby:
Q: Why have readers been so drawn to the novel?
BB: The Great Gatsby is about dreams and the murky ideas at the heart of what it means to be an American. We see Jay Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan, and others as celebrities and also get the inside-the-medicine-cabinet view of them as deeply flawed people. The rags-to-riches aspects of Gatsby’s rise, though he ends up a criminal, is presented as a romantic dream, which people hold dear. And, finally, who doesn’t have a secret crush that haunts them? All these factors make the novel so popular.
Q: How have ideas derived from Gatsby evolved since its publication?
BB: Fitzgerald’s masterpiece has transcended its place as a Jazz Age novel to become a touchstone of American culture. I label this overarching idea “meta-Gatsby,” which symbolizes the way the novel is employed across mass media and in the collective public consciousness. Walk up to anyone on the street and say “Gatsby” and the receiver will immediately conjure up some image related to the book or one of the films. Journalists and writers have literally used these phrases millions of times as shorthand to represent various ideas since the novel is so pervasive.
Q: How does Gatsby help us understand contemporary America?
BB: Like life, Gatsby is mysterious and constantly reveals new meanings and ideas. Fitzgerald’s enduring brilliance is in packing all of America and the American Dream as its unifying ideology in about 50,000 words. The book is particularly helpful in helping us think about wealth, celebrity, and its consequences. Gatsby’s drive is viewed romantically, but the outcome is criminal and disastrous across the board. There are questions of morality and ethics on every page, which hopefully provides context for readers as they confront challenges in their own lives.
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