The Ambitious Writer’s Ambitious Tale for the Ambitious

by | Feb 17, 2008

“I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.” -F. Scott Fitzgerald

According to The New York Times, The Great Gatsby is required reading at half the high schools in the country and resonates powerfully among urban adolescents, many of them first- and second-generation immigrants, who are striving to ascend in 21st-century America.

Thanks to this scholastic market, the books sells more than a half million copies a year.

The article looks at Jinzhao Wang, who has been studying Gatsby in her sophomore English class at the Boston Latin School. She says, “My green light is Harvard,” comparing her longing for an elite education to Jay Gatsby’s longing for Daisy Buchanan.

One of the things that interests me about this book is how it acts as a filter for your own experience. If you’re in high school, the book tends to be aspirational. Gatsby appears heroic in his striving and he’s a charming guy to boot. But that reading morphs into something else altogether when you’re at Bard wearing black turtlenecks. Then the book is pure condemnation. It’s an exposé on the hollowness of the American dream.

I’m not in school, and it’s been a while since I’ve reread The Great Gatsby. But I love Fitzgerald for his language and his choice of subject matter.