So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past

The Great Gatsby: Is this is our great American Dream?

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby,  first published in 1925, was met with little enthusiasm from the public, despite praise from critics.

Perhaps it was the timing that initially pushed readers away from the book. The 1920s, often deemed the “Jazz Age,” with its obsession over sex and alcohol, was not yet ready to receive a book that criticized every characteristic that defined it. Only the literary critics, like Gertrude Stein or Edmund Wilson, truly understood Gatsby, and they loved it.

Interestingly enough, Gatsby somewhat reflects Fitzgerald’s own life. Fitzgerald, too, grew up in poverty and when he first met his wife, Zelda, her wealthy family heavily disapproved of their relationship. It was only until after he found success in writing that Zelda married him. He was “always kind of on the outside looking in and hoping to be good enough for Princeton, to be good enough for the crowd on the Riviera who he hung out with — [wealthy expatriates] Gerald and Sara Murphy, the Hemingways, etc,” said Maureen Corrigan, a NPR book critic. “I think you get that sense in Fitzgerald of someone who remade himself but was also aware at times in his life that he was pretending to be someone he was not.” Essentially, just like Jay Gatsby.

On the surface, the novel seems like another frivolous, tragic romance. Our protagonist, Jay Gatsby, relentlessly fights for the love of the beautiful airhead, Daisy Buchanan. Through a series of unfortunate events, a mistress dies, Gatsby dies, Daisy and her husband disappear, and our narrator decides to go back home.

But during World War II, Gatsby was chosen for the special Army Services Edition. Over one hundred fifty-five thousand copies of the book were distributed to soldiers as a way to boost morale, and these books were “read to tatters.” Some say it was due the U.S. military that The Great Gatsby was revived, that the notion of it being a “period-piece” had essentially vanished. The army’s effort in distributing the book far surpassed Fitzgerald’s publishers’ effort, who had only distributed roughly twenty-five thousand copies.

However, despite the boost that the army gave Gatsby, it was the readers who gave Gatsby a second chance who propelled the novel to what it is today: the Great American Novel. Gatsby, with its beautiful and poetic style, represents who we want to be, what our dreams are made of. We’re all reaching for that green light at the end of our dock, whatever it may be, to change our fate, to escape our past. And we still try, because isn’t it noble to try? Isn’t it admirable to beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past?

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2 thoughts on “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past

  1. boots1958 says:

    I definitely think it is noble to try. It is amusing to think how much our lives resemble Gatsby’s when we actually think about it. Originally reading the novel, I thought I had nothing in common with the man, but as we reached deeper into the meaning of the novel in class, I began to see how much more valuable the novel is to everyone’s lives. I am glad the readers decided to give the book a second chance to show what dreams are made of.
    I was also intrigued by the military’s contribution. I was unaware by how much of an impact the novel left on the men who were fighting. In a way, it seems like the book would be depressing since Gatsby was in the military and, well, his life did not turn out as he hoped. But I can also imagine the novel as a symbol of hope for the men fighting thousands of miles from their families with little of anything. The novel seemed to comfort them. Of course, those men did not have an English class to discuss the novel with, but hope of any future during the time boosted their morale and that was huge.

    Like

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