Banned Book Club: The Great Gatsby

Title: The Great Gatsby

Published: 1925

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Challenge status:  #1 on  Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century and frequent target of banning attempts according to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Book #7 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: Challenged at the Baptist College in Charleston, SC (1987) because of “language and sexual references in the book.”

First line: “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since”.

Synopsis: As far as challenges go, this book seems pretty tame – but since it’s #1 on the Radcliffe list AND apparently a frequent target of banning attempts, I figured I should finally read it. I somehow successfully avoided it through high-school. It is, naturally, well written and provides an interesting view a fairly romantic set of characters.  Of course the truth of romantic characters – today as in the roaring 20’s – is that they are all full-on “Monets”. Meaning, from afar you can see only beauty – but up close, what you see is a big ol’ hot mess. The book is also a vague coming of age journey for the protagonist Nick Carraway, who is mainly a passive observer through the story. Nick provides a “reasonable man” lens through which we can see the dramatic concluding events – though he couldn’t provide a moral compass to his fellow characters.

And of course the themes and messages are timeless. That fantasies, once built up in one’s mind, made even more elaborate over the years are curiously difficult to obtain in the flesh and will often disappoint. That some people will spend their lives driven by a fear-of-missing-out, and will end up missing out on all the things that matter. That money can’t buy you love – or if it can, someone else can probably outbid you for it. That fans are not friends and will disappear as your popularity fades. That people take what they have for granted until threatened by its absence, or find out what they have is desired by a rival. That some people have a sense of entitlement so deep that they literally don’t see people who cross their paths as anything more than stepping stones. That wealth and power are seductive, but can brutally isolating. That one’s character may be one’s destiny, but it’s what you do (behavior, not beliefs) that defines your legacy.

This book is a perpetual classic; always au courant in the portrayal of an elite social class that glitters but is ultimately hollow. I wonder if that’s the more subversive piece of the book; the language and references to adultery seem pretty PG compared to the graphic evisceration of the American dream.


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