The Great Gatsby

Now a Gatsby enthusiast and NPR book critic, Maureen Corrigan admits that when she first read The Great Gatsby, she was “unimpressed. The book’s non-plot driven quality, its inability to actively engage and connect with the reader, and its lack of likable characters are just a few reasons why the book did not at first leave a lasting impression on her. These are, in fact, some of the same reasons why I was not primarily thrilled with the novel. I liked the book a moderate amount, but I was also left with a slight feeling of disgust. I did not love any of the characters. I disliked the lack of compassion, was not particularly pleased with the ending, and did not like the corruption, pollution, greed, cynicism, empty pursuits, and social and moral decay that filled the novel. From West and East Egg, through the Valley of Ashes, to the brilliant New York City, these awful qualities saturated the book’s atmosphere. Noting the success of the book now, it is a little hard to believe that this book received little acclaim upon its publication. It became almost non existent. At one point, one could not even find it on a book store shelf.  But at the same time, it’s lack of critical acclaim is not too surprising.Compared to its competitors for the title of the greatest American Novel, such as Moby Dick or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby seems confined, empty, and bland, lacking the expansive setting and thrilling adventures of the other two books. Upon first reading, the corruption and cynicism are evident, but the themes are not as prominent until further analysis. With continued analysis of the book, I’ve slowly begun to enjoy the novel more and more. This is not just a novel about a bunch of rich people and their love story. That’s not what makes it, as some people call it, the greatest American novel. According to Corrigan, this is the most “American and un-American novel, all at once.” Gatsby is “for better or worse, an American”; he is both far-reaching, determined and goal driven, but he is driven by the wrong things, such as money and Daisy. This novel shows the negative side of the American Dream, and it presents some of the more important lessons of life, such that money cannot buy happiness, don’t make assumptions, don’t critique others, and it is best to put your past behind you. These lessons are what truly make The Great Gatsby one of the greatest American novels.
Aside from its lack of critical acclaim upon publication, another aspect I found interesting about the history of this novel was how it became so popular. The roots of its current popularity lie within the US military. During World War II, a group of publishers, librarians, and editors compiled a list of over 1,000 book titles to send to the troops to help keep them engaged and escape the horrors of the war. Of these 1,000 plus titles was The Great Gatsby. Soldiers began reading this book, and soon the novel began receiving its deserved recognition. Revived from almost non existence, over 123, 000 copies were distributed by 1945. Today, the novel is regarded as one of the best novels of all time. This novel has inspired our society in so many ways. It has inspired designers, condo developers, restaurants, computer gamers, custom tailor shops, beauty salons, film producers, writers, artists, and so many more. Countless adaptations have been made through a variety of mediums, including operas, plays, musicals, movies, and books. It is fascinating to think of what would have happened to the novel had it not been revived by the US military during WWII. Would someone have on the off chance picked it up in an antique shop and realized its potential? Would it still have reached the fame it has today? Would it still be studied in high school English classes across the country? Or would it have dissolved into complete non existence?


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