F. Scott Fitzgerald was famous for his tales of the Jazz Age, and he authored numerous stories and books set in the era. Still, if you asked someone to name a Fitzgerald novel, the first one that would come to mind is The Great Gatsby.
Besides this novel, Fitzgerald penned three others, some of which are arguably masterpieces. So what is it about The Great Gatsby that makes it his most timeless, and popular, work?
Society has always had a fascination with the rich and powerful. These days, with unprecedented access to the personal lives of celebrities through social media and online news, our interest has only grown.
However, the last year has also changed how we look at celebrities and the wealthy. Much like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, we've removed our rose-tinted glasses and seen people for who they really are. And it's not always good. It's taken exactly one pandemic to make us all sit up and take notice of something Fitzgerald said nearly a century ago: wealth can buy you freedom from all sorts of troubles, but most of all from worry.
The Great Gatsby speaks to the disparity between rich and poor in a poignant way. We love it because it makes us grieve for how little has changed from the decadence of the Roaring Twenties to our modern age.
The broken American Dream
In the U.S., capitalism is the name of the game, and it is a culture that presents the dollar as the be-all and end-all to everything. This plays a significant role whenever the country fluctuates between periods of extreme opulence, to dire need, and back again.
Throughout the nation's highs and lows, one thing remains constant: the idea of the American Dream. This dream is sold as an everyman’s choice. No matter who you are or where you started the race, you can make something of yourself as long as you’re clever and work hard.
But deep down most Americans know that this version of the American Dream simply doesn’t exist—perhaps it never did. Which is what makes The Great Gatsby such a timeless American novel.
Jay Gatsby starts out poor and makes something of himself, but throughout the book there are hints that old money or generational wealth will always be taken more seriously and appear more prestigious. We love The Great Gatsby precisely because it speaks to the frustrations of the everyman in a manner that none of Fitzgerald’s other novels do. It voices the despair of the broken American Dream in a way many of us are afraid to face.
Not your typical love story
There are countless classic love stories where the two protagonists live happily ever after together (Pride and Prejudice comes to mind), but perhaps what really pulls us back to The Great Gatsby is that it's not your typical love story.
The passionate affair between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan is the stuff of legend, and one of the great love stories of the Jazz Age. But it's also a tragedy that ends with Gatsby's death. So why are we just as obsessed with The Great Gatsby as the title character is with his amorous ideal?
Because we all hope for a Great Love Story ourselves and we all know heartbreak, so we can understand where Gatsby is coming from. All he wants is that perfect alignment of the stars, the manifestation of a destiny, the reunification of two people who are meant to be together. All he wants is to get the girl.
Who doesn't know what that feels like?
The desire for the perfect love is at the very heart of human nature, and yet ultimately unattainable. The Great Gatsby speaks to the realities of love with its ups and downs, and does so in a manner that leaves us melancholy, yet breathless.
Why do you think The Great Gatsby has stood the test of time?
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