Monday, 13 February 2012

The Great Gatsby Tonight: A Story for Our Time, although It's Unlikely That Jay Gatz Would Do As Well Today

It's book discussion week, which kicks off with F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby tonight in Pierrefonds. I had kept rereading the book to the last since the three others are weighty, lengthy tomes that I wanted to make sure I finished in time to think about.

So what a pleasure to read this relatively short, elegantly written, sharply drawn novel! It's been a couple of years since I revisited it and I was amazed to find how relevant the implicit criticism of American society ages. The story takes place in the 1920s when times were good and fortunes were being made. The center will not hold, though, since the Crash was only a few years away. In many respects the action could have been taken during the height of the fury or just before the 2008 crash.

Jay Gatz, the poor Mid Western boy, who makes his fortune and become The Great Gatsby, does so by catching a wave that has long ago dissipated, however. He starts out his education by going to a small liberal-arts college, St. Olaf's. It still exists but its yearly expenses would be out of sight for a boy of like Jay: nearly $60,000. He bails out, but not because of financial problems, ends up qualifying for officer training during the First World War and spends five months at Oxford.

Such a path upward is increasingly unlikely in today's US, as many recent studies show. Rather than being a land of opportunity, the country is becoming more class- stratified. Probably it should be no surprise that the book is being made into a movie once again, with Leonardo Di Caprio playing Gatsby...

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