The Continuing Importance of Gatsby in the Twenty-First Century

I had never read The Great Gatsby before this week’s reading assignment, and yet it is considered to be an American classic.  Although written in 1925, the book continues to make an appearance on required reading lists, and is often assigned as a part of the curriculum in high school.  What is it about The Great Gatsby that makes it important and relevant to today’s generation? 

 For me, it is the themes of materialism, greed, and desire that F. Scott Fizgerald presents throughout the novel that continue to give it significance.  Jay Gatsby’s love for Daisy Buchanan led him to participate in questionable business practices in order to build himself up as a member of the upper class.  Gatsby’s obsession to win over Daisy results in flashy displays of his wealth, in the form of decadent parties, in order to prove his worthiness to her.  However, Gatsby’s blatant concern with materialistic wealth ultimately turns Daisy away from him.  With these themes as its inner story The Great Gatsby not only emulates 1920s ideology, but twenty-first century America and its concerns with money and status.

 Cornell University supports the continued relevance of The Great Gatsby in today’s society, and chose it for its 2006 New Student Reading Project selection.  Started in 2001, the New Student Reading Project was in response to a study by the National Endowment for the Arts stating that pleasure reading was at a low.  According to Michele Moody-Adams, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Cornell University, The Great Gatsby was chosen because it “…provides an opportunity to reflect on the complexity of many defining American ideals, on the ethical and social implications of unchecked materialism, and on the potential corrosive effects of unregulated desire.” [1]

 While searching the site I was intrigued by the many learning opportunities provided by the book.  By studying The Great Gatsby students were able to learn about the novel itself, F. Scott Fitzgerald as an author, and The Jazz Age.  In addition, students were encouraged to make comparisons between the setting of The Great Gatsby and the 20’s at Cornell, and through The Cornell Costume and Collection, students even learned about fashion in the beginning of the twentieth century. 

 While the themes of the book remain contemporary issues, Cornell University takes learning further and pushes its students to fully understand the ideology and limitations of the era by gaining an understanding of the history that influenced the morality and choices of the characters in The Great Gatsby.  The book provides for endless amounts of learning, and I was amazed by the many different avenues that could be pursued.

 The Great Gatsby, as a classic, is timeless.  The issues of materialism and greed in the 1920s Jazz Age still plague American society today.  The book, as exemplified by Cornell University, also provides a multifaceted learning experience.  Through history, art, and literature students were able to understand the ideals of the 1920s that formed a basis for the social structure of the twenty-first century.

 [1] Cornell University New Student Reading Project http://reading.cornell.edu/reading_project_06/gatsby/index.htm

One thought on “The Continuing Importance of Gatsby in the Twenty-First Century

  1. I can’t help but think about these themes of materialism, greed, and desire in our current society. I wonder if they are independent forces that influence and motivate us as a society or more of a by-product of specific ideals we strive for?

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