In Banned, we review books on the American Library Association’s list of frequently challenged young adult novels, banned books. The intended audience for all books is “young adult”, typically defined to include ages 12-18. We review them because challenging ideas are the heart of democracy and diversity, because even harmful perspectives should be discussed so that they may be challenged with understanding, and because we believe that reading can make us all more capable of compassion. These reviews are not endorsements, and whether you read the book addressed herein is your decision.
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is well known as a staple in classic literature and taught in English classrooms regularly. It encapsulates the lifestyle prevalent among the rich in the Jazz Age of America. Fitzgerald takes a rather cynical view of the time period following the story of Nick Carraway, Daisy Buchanan, and Jay Gatsby. The book follows Nick into the world of the rich through Gatsby, a man who is known for lavish parties. Yet despite his wealth, Gatsby is dissatisfied with his life. Told in the backdrop of the roaring twenties and disillusionment after WWI, The Great Gatsby explores the lifestyle of the time as well as human nature.
Despite being a literary classic and used in many classrooms, The Great Gatsby remains on the ALA’s list of banned books. The Great Gatsby is usually banned because of the amount of partying depicted in the book, or the nature of Gatsby’s and Daisy’s relationship, a part of the story that is prevalent, but one I think is accurate to portraying the time period.
Another reason for its frequent banning is for its depiction of Jay Gatsby. The Great Gatsby was first published in 1925, in the height of the roaring twenties, a time in which Americans lived lavishly, spending lots of money to achieve the highest lifestyle possible. The American dream was to get rich, it was a sign of ‘making it’ in life, but The Great Gatsby gave us a depiction of a rich man who broke that cultural idea by remaining unhappy. Jay Gatsby might’ve been a rich man, but he was ultimately dissatisfied with his own life, an idea that did not add up with cultural ideas then or now. Capitalism marks money as the key to success. You need it to achieve anything and be fulfilled, or so capitalism will have you believe. This book challenges ideas that our society holds dear by digging deeper into the true lives of people, and sometimes revealing what is behind the curtain scares people.
The Great Gatsby breaks down preconceived notions about the society we live in using similes and detailed imagery. Fitzgerald proves that in the end, it does not matter how much money you make, only that you are pursuing a life that you want. A message that makes the book a classic and a worthwhile read.