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  • Writer's pictureHannah Zunic

Do I Actually Hate The Great Gatsby Or Just The Way Schools Teach It?

Hello, Book Nerds! Welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life or welcome if you are new. As always, my name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcases.


Bears waving.
How's everyone doing today?

Once, a long, long time ago, I as a young Hannah wrote a post. A post about my hatred of The Great Gatsby. It has been many moons since said post was published. So many moons have passed that my opinions about this accursed book have changed if only ever so slightly.

 

If you’ve read the post in question, then you know I don’t like The Great Gatsby. I find the text to be nothing more than shitty people doing shitty things. I find everything about it to be drivel, and covering it in both high school and college made me miserable.


Book cover of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
I've always liked the cover, but that's about it.

I stand by my statements regarding my dislike for this book. But lately I’ve been questioning myself. Do I really hate The Great Gatsby or do I actually hate the ways schools teach it? Obviously I’ve just stated I still don’t like the book, and that’s true, but a lot of my hatred for it comes from how it was originally presented to me nearly a decade ago.

 

Allow me to set the scene. I’m a junior in high school. The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo DiCaprio released the year prior. My English teacher has given the class fedoras and flapper headbands to wear as we discuss the novel. She is having me teach the class how to dance the Charleston despite only knowing one step. My English teacher keeps calling The Great Gatsby THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL! And that’s kinda all I learned about this book.


Bald Eagles
May you always hear a Bald Eagle caw when I write THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL.

Before I continue I just want to note that I’m racking my brain for quite some time trying to remember exactly what I learned in this unit. It has been ten-years since I was first introduced to The Great Gatsby. I’ve done my best to remember what I was taught back in the day, but it’s definitely not everything, nor is anything I write verbatim what my teacher said. What I’m about to write is more the broad strokes of what my small town public high school taught me a decade ago. I do not know how the text is taught in schools today and every teacher presents the book differently. Everything that is to come is from my personal experience with this novel. Also, this is in no way shape or form shade towards one of my high school English teachers. This is indeed shade to The Great Gatsby though!

 

As I’ve said, it’s 2013 and according my English teacher, The Great Gatsby is the great American novel. I was also told The Great Gatsby's a love story and showcases America at the height of the roaring 20s. But what does that all mean exactly? Specifically, what is the concept of the great American novel? By definition, it is a novel that embodies and examines the essence and character of the United States. A simple Google search brings results which state books such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Grapes of Wrath, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Catcher in the Rye, and The Great Gatsby are all considered the great American novel.

 

Ok, I've defined the great American novel. But that leads me to my next question: what was the essence and character of the U.S. during the roaring 20’s? Indulgence to the point of overindulgence? Prosperity? Dramatic growth and change both economically and politically? Well those are certainly in The Great Gatsby, but I also remember my high school English teacher telling the class the great America novel embodied the American dream. Specifically it embodied the American dream both in the 1920s and in the then current year of 2013. And that’s where my issue lies.


Thumbs down.
Two thumbs down for this teaching.

The American dream doesn’t have a one size fits all definition; not anymore at least. Nor do I feel The Great Gatsby shows the traditional definition of the American dream. A Google search will tell you the definition of the American dream has something to do with upward mobility and economic growth to the point any person can live comfortably. This was the definition I was taught in school, that I was told to apply to my reading of The Great Gatsby. But if you ask a random person on the street to define the American dream, you’re likely going to get something extremely different; especially today. Most people have different definitions for the term. I’ve literally heard someone say their American dream is simply to survive. If I apply that definition to The Great Gatsby, I get a very different read. In fact, back when I was in high school, my brain connected the American dream to being extremely wealthy thanks to Jay Gatsby. So if this book is supposed to embody the American dream does that mean we should all be part of hustle culture and work till we break in attempts to reach Gatsby’s level of wealth? Does it mean we should only focus on ourselves with no cares to what we do to those around us like Daisy? Does it mean that by chasing the America dream it’ll turns us into terrible people? All possible answers if we’re going off the idea of The Great Gatsby embodies the American dream and the American dream equals extreme wealth.

 

There’s also nothing in the text that shows the traditional definition of the American dream. No one in the novel is pulling themselves up by their boot straps or what have you. I know it's possible to make an argument that Gatsby does, but in reality he was just nice to the right person at the right time; he didn't really work for what he got. Now take one moment to think. Does The Great Gatsby show, or even discuss the topic of, upward mobility and/or economic growth? Here’s your answer, it doesn’t. This novel does not discuss said topic. It, as I've said, does mention the economy and what characters do to make money, but there’s no discussion on it. All we get is Tom comes from old money and Gatsby is into some shady stuff despite claiming not to be. I don't think either of those things really represent the American dream.


Fake Great Gatsby cover.
I feel this is a good time to bring this gem back.

Let me say it one more time: The Great Gatsby does not embody the American dream. The characters are all too busy being shitty people obsessed with themselves and do shitty things to others. I’ll argue The Great Gatsby is not the great American novel till my dying day. Maybe there was a previous time in which The Great Gatsby could and should have been called these things, but in today’s world it doesn’t work given how differently the American dream looks.

 

At its core, this is a story about disillusionment. Nick’s disillusionment in all his shitty acquaintances, Gatsby’s disillusionment towards Daisy once he discovers who she really is at her core, and even disillusionment in society itself. It’s also a critique of society and indulgence. Or if you wanted a totally different reading you can look to what I said in my first Gatsby post: The Great Gatsby is about how capitalism and greed actually destroy the American dream. All better interpretations than The Great Gatsby is the great American novel which embodies the American dream.

 

If I’m being honest, the way I was originally taught The Great Gatsby did a major disservice to it. I don’t believe my hatred would run as deep had I not been told The Great Gatsby was the end all be all when it came to THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL. Teach me that Nick and Gatsby are gay. Teach me that greed kills. Teach me anything other than this is the great American novel. Truthfully, The Great Gatsby isn’t as bad of as I make it out to be. I’ve grown to tolerate it, but I’m not happy saying so. I am a stubborn old lady who still thinks the whole cast is shitty and deserve the worst. If I ever say I enjoy The Great Gatsby, call for help, something is very, very wrong.


Is this a pigeon meme

Anyway, that’s why I hate The Great Gatsby. I don’t believe it to embody anything I was told it did back in high school. The characters are unlikable, the plot drivel, and it’s a chore to get through. If I want to read a classic, there are many other pieces out there. Much better pieces that I enjoy and can learn a clearer message from. I recommend reading nearly anything else. Have you read The Outsiders lately? That’s a much better read.

 

With that, I must bid you all adieu. I shall see you next week with a special review. If you can’t wait that long then you can always check out my podcast Nothing to See Hear. You can listen to me tell you a spooky story, or you could enjoy an episode about Disney, Scooby-Doo, or maybe a weird story from history; you’re sure to find something you like.

 

Until next time, stay safe, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.


Bears waving.
See y'all then, bye!

  

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