If you’ve followed my blog for a while, then you know that I have a tendency to use quotes from F Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby. I really like the book because of the glimpse it provides into the history of the 1920s (Fitzgerald did a great job of intermingling fact worth fiction) and the attitudes of society’s elite during this time. I equate it to a 1920s version of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. When that show first came on TV, I must admit that I was intrigued because I hadn’t heard of them (I remembered Johnny Cochran from the OJ Simpson trial not Robert Kardashian), and I wanted to know why the entertainment industry thought I should want to know about the lives of a rich family that seemed to be 50% train wreck and 50% fashion entrepreneurs. For the record, after so many years of them being in the media, I don’t understand why they still draw so much attention. However, it seems to work for them, so I don’t judge (like Nick Carraway).
In addition to the insight into 1920s, I also love the hope that Gatsby embodies. I find it quite admirable (even though his intentions were EXTREMELY questionable) that he never gives up hope even when so many others would’ve thrown in the towel. (Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of Gatsby may have something to do with the obsession as well.) However, a quote from the character of Lucy in the Netflix movie Moxie brings up a great question: “I think the real question is, why are we still reading this book? It’s written by some rich white guy about some rich white guy.” As an avid reader and high school English teacher, I think Lucy raises a great question. Why are we still teaching something that seems so archaic in content? As I was teaching Gatsby today (chapter 7 for those who like exact context), I realized that the reason we teach Gatsby still is to illustrate the dilemma with the American Dream and how it has remained broken all these years.
From the onset Gatsby’s dream is broken. His dream – which is based on lies that he fabricated about his persona – revolves around the desire to shatter a marriage (Tom and Daisy) and take the piece he wants for himself (Daisy) with no regard for how it will impact those involved (cough…the daughter…cough…her name is Pammy since people tend to forget it). Gatsby’s dream is so deeply rooted in the past that at times Gatsby seems unable to comprehend that five years have gone by since his month of love with Daisy. He legitimately does not seem to understand why Daisy can’t just say she never loved Tom because he cannot fathom that she’s had an enjoyable life without him.
Beyond this inability to comprehend the five years since they were together, Gatsby’s dream of Daisy is corrupted by money. Knowing how much Daisy loves money (her voice is full of it after all), Gatsby equates having boat loads of money with happiness. I get that for many people having money is part of the American Dream, but there is also a big difference in having enough money to live without worry and having so much money that opulence seems to be a requirement and not optional. This money being equivalent to happiness adds more to Gatsby’s dilemma as it blurs the line between his love for Daisy and her materialism. Love might be part of the American Dream, but is materialism really a dream or a burden?
Having deep roots in the past and equating money with love aren’t the only broken aspects of the American Dream in Gatsby. The character of Tom Buchanan represents some of the most broken aspects of the American Dream. On the surface, he seems to have it all: a wife, a child, a mansion, millions of dollars, and athleticism. However, while he seems to be living the American Dream on the surface, Tom is actually a racist, sexist, classist, womanizer who is abusive to his wife and his girlfriend. Nothing about these personality traits are what I would consider to be aspects of the American Dream!!!!
So why do we still teach The Great Gatsby? My theory (besides having a reason to show a DiCapio film) is to provide the youth of today with a cautionary tale. I feel like teaching this novel helps to show that things associated with “the dream life” are morally questionable and can create more dilemmas than dreams. I also believe that the novel serves as a great reminder that societal problems we have today have actually been plaguing our country for a long time (Gatsby did come out almost 100 years ago). It provides a great reminder that until people change, then dreams will continue to be broken. My hope, when I teach Gatsby, is that kids will see it as a model of what not to do and encourage them to go about their dreams the right way. Much like Gatsby, I do believe in the green light only my green light is a lot more moral! In fact, I believe in hope so much (and have such a big desire to write my own great American novel) that I chose to be The Great Kaysby! My personal response to the novel is to never give up hope and never stop dreaming!
What do you think of dreams and Gatsby?
The Great Kaysby