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Book 1: The Great Gatsby September 27, 2010

Posted by pittsburghmike in Uncategorized.
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Fortunately for my endeavor to read the top 100 banned books in one year, I already have a copy of The Great Gatsby by F.  Scott Fitzgerald. After hunting for it on the bookshelves in our basement, I pulled out the rather well-beaten paperback. I have a habit of finding older books at the white elephant at the annual church picnic I attend with my wife’s family, and several years ago I purchased this 1953 paperback edition of The Great Gatsby for a dime.

I began reading immediately following yesterday’s Steelers’ game, and am proud to say I finished The Great Gatsby in one sitting. That’s right – one day into this venture and I have already finished the most banned book on my list.

Before you read any further I want to warn you – there will be spoilers in my book reviews.  I want my reviews to make you want to pick up a new book, but I can’t really give a good review, and my analysis as to why it has been banned, without discussing the entire book.

The Great Gatsby is a poignant story of lost love in the greatest tradition of Greek tragedies told through the recollections of WWI veteran Nick Carraway. A relatively rich young mid-western bachelor living on Long Island Sound and attempting to break into the bond business, Carraway finds himself in the opulent lifestyle of the rich and famous. But very soon he is drawn into the  messy lives of a distant cousin and her abusive, philandering husband, an odd female golfer and the mysterious Gatsby, his rich and somewhat eccentric neighbor.

The format of The Great Gatsby reminded me very much of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. A well-to-do outsider comes into a wealthy, eccentric community, is witness to a relationship that leads to the death of at least person involved, and finally ends with the death of the wealthy protagonist.

I was also struck by the similarities between the culture of the extremely wealthy in the roaring 20’s, as depicted by Nick’s distant cousin Daisy and husband Tom and the immense parties held at Gatsby’s mansion, and today’s celebrity culture. From simply lounging around their mansions and partying to the crazy rumors about Gatsby’s past perpetuated by the random attendees to Gatsby’s parties, the laissez faire attitude of the wealthy as depicted reminded me specifically of today’s culture where celebrity is determined not by actual accomplishments but an appearance of accomplishment.

Gatsby ends as only a classic Greek tragedy could – the death of the protagonist by the hand of a heartbroken man in a case of mistaken identity. Gatsby puts his entire life on hold in an attempt to reconnect with his past love, now in a loveless marriage, but in the end, following the death of Gatsby and Tom’s mistress and her husband, Daisy remains married to Tom. The book ends with Nick attempting to encourage any of Gatsby’s acquaintances to attend his funeral prior to moving back to the mid-west.

I was surprised at the end of the book as to why it would be so objectionable. Other than the infidelity and a snapshot of the fast-living of the wealthy during the 20’s, there’s limited offensive language aside from some racial comments from Tom, which only reinforce the distasteful character. I would encourage all high school students to read Gatsby and teachers to assist in putting the lifestyle of the characters in historical context.

Next up – Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger…another book of which I have a copy.

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