If you haven’t seen The Great Gatsby yet, then stop what you are doing right now and go see it. I know it’s getting questionable reviews, but if you’re a fan of the book, you will enjoy the movie (as these English profs can attest). With this new movie, The Great Gatsby has been the center of attention for the literary world AND pop culture. I can’t tell you how cool I thought it was to be in a theater full of people MY AGE in a theater for a lit. based movie. Usually, that is not the case. My nerdy heart was pleased. These people GET IT, I thought. And then I read this article that got me thinking about the purpose of literature and why some of it persists.
Heavy plot, heavy symbolism, zero psychological motivation: Those are the genre conventions of fables and fairy tales. Gatsby has been compared to both, typically to suggest a mythical quality to Fitzgerald’s characters or a moral significance to his tale. But moral significance requires moral engagement: challenge, discomfort, illumination, or transformation. The Great Gatsby offers none of that. In fact, it offers the opposite: aloofness.
– Schulz: Why I Despise The Great Gatsby by Kathryn Schulz
To start, I’ll agree that the plot of Gatsby is not my favorite of all time. My enjoyment of the book comes from the beauty of the language and the poetry of the way the story moves. Are all the characters repulsive? Absolutely. Let’s be real; there is not a likable person in the whole book. I am always amazed when a writer convinces me to like a book about people I dislike. I’d argue that that is part of The Great Gatsby‘s magic.
But does the meaning of Gatsby matter? Does it matter if there is a moral? Do we have to learn from literature? I mean, as a writer, I want to write something that matters, but that is also beautiful. Does Gatsby do that? I don’t know. I can appreciate something that is merely beautiful, as Gatsby probably is. If it was more moralistic, I don’t think it would have reflected the times. That’s another purpose of literature, in my opinion: to capture a moment in time. But everyone is entitled to their own opinions when it comes to literature (that’s a thing I love about literature), and literature means different things to different people.