F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Published by Diogenes, 1974
“The Great Gatsby” is ranked among the most famous works of modern American literature, not least because it captures the fascination and inherent contradictions of the American Dream like few others do. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel tells the story of the “great” Gatsby, a mysterious gentleman and nouveau-riche known for the legendary parties at his palatial mansion. Unlike many other residents of the rich neighborhood outside of New York, Gatsby is not born into money but very much an embodiment of the American national myth of the self-made man. With his spectacular climb into the upper ranks of society Gatsby pursues one particular goal: the beautiful, rich Daisy Buchanan.
The novel does not only the story of tragic love story but that of a society enamored with the glamour and glitter of modern, capitalist riches. The 1920s are known for its jazz music, short cocktail dresses, and full champagne glasses, but also as the “Gilded Age” – because all that glitters is not gold. Gatsby’s wealth is not based on hard work but on fraud and corruption. Daisy, just like the entire upper class, seems to hide a shallow, decadent, and morally repulsive character behind her pretty face.
Nowhere does the abyss between appearance and reality in such a society become more visible than in the contrast of Gatsby’s gold-sparkling, lavish parties and the bleak, grey reality of the coal miners in the “Valley of Ashes”. It shows the contradictory nature of an increasingly consumerist society that doesn’t want to see the relations of productions as they are: the wealth of some is based on the poverty of others.
Almost 100 years after the novel’s first publication in 1925, the question of the just distribution of wealth in a society remains as topical as ever, even though the globalization of the economy has created new parameters for that discussion. But “The Great Gatsby” does not moralize or preach. The beauty of the novel is that it lures its readers into Gatsby’s world, rendering the seductive power of money and tremendous wealth tangible. Because we experience the fictional events from the perspective of a young man, Nick Carraway, who wants to try his luck at Wall Street. And just like Nick is attracted by the financial market’s promise of fast money and seduced by Gatsby, so are we.
“The Great Gatsby” is absolutely worth the read and because it imbues even serious themes with lightness and charm also makes for a good literary companion on holiday. Fitzgerald’s novel is part and parcel of the canon of American classics and has even made it on the list of the 100 best English novels of the 20th century. Rightly so.