“A book is a loaded gun in the house next door.” Ray Bradbury Banned books are often censored by schools or public libraries for political or religious reasons. Sometimes specific factions find them offensive and sometimes parents and educators feel they need to protect their children from the conventional immorality the author portrays in those books. The Great Gatsby definitely raises many controversial topics and pushes boundaries in its themes and characters. The very negative depiction of the American society in the Roaring 20s, the vulgar language he uses to describe it, the constant reference to sex, alcoholism, and wild partying certainly might leave many people uncomfortable. However, this is a true and lionized masterpiece of American literature that allows us to have a good glimpse into the American culture and the mood of the 1920s.
People reading The Great Gatsby experience American culture of that time through very well-drawn characters while grappling with those characters’ morality and sense of finding love and affection. Fitzgerald portrays the American dream negatively and quite critically. Every American child learns that hard work pays off and there is no limit to what he or she can achieve in life. Yet Fitzgerald paints quite a different picture of American society. He exposes the corrupted society and its obsession with materialism. The main character Gatsby, nee Gatz, is a young man from a working-class family who is a romantic focused on achieving financial success for the sole purpose of winning Daisy’s affection through his wealth. Gatsby erroneously believes that if he worked hard enough, he could remake himself. Ironically even with all his wealth he still remains “the outsider” where all the intricacies and secret rules of the upper class remain hidden.
Generally, in all capitalist societies inherited wealth is the only wealth accepted by the upper echelon, thus they somehow merit their high status, while the poor and the lower class citizens somehow deserve their poverty and lack of opportunity. Tom Buchanan represents the elite society: shameless, self-obsessed egomaniac who despite being completely ignorant and shallow feels superior to others and continuously flaunts his wealth at any opportunity. His personality truly mimics his physique: cruel, imposing, brutish. Jordan Baker’s portrayal is as a liberated woman of the 1920s. She is a cynical, self-centered, gossipy girl who is obsessed with her looks. Jordan seeks success and protects her reputation at all costs. This is especially evident in how she cheated on an important tennis championship. In an analysis of Jordan, Nick Carraway, the book’s narrator, and a representation of an objective witness to the foibles of all the characters posits.
“She was not able to endure being at a disadvantage and, given this unwillingness, I suppose she had begun dealing in subterfuges when she was very young in order to keep that cool, insolent smile turned to the world and yet satisfy the demands of her hard, jaunty body” (53). Given this assessment, Jordan is a woman who makes her own choices without running them by a man. This represents new women of the 1920s. That she cheats, as does Tom and Gatsby, undercuts a moral double standard. In the end, the American Dream, as it is portrayed by Fitzgerald is not really worth pursuing. Gatsby’s life was a desperate attempt to escape his working-class childhood and appear as if he belongs to an upper class or “old money.” However even though he attains immense wealth, he is not truly accepted as a member of the elite simply because of his origins with neither connections nor privileges that came with belonging to the society where people like Tom thrived.
Alternatively, Fitzgerald exposes the corrupted, immoral elite world of the 1920s and makes it very clear that striving to succeed at all costs is wrong. Many Americans can only accept a childlike belief that this country, great as it might or could be, and refuse to accept any criticism. So, they move to ban a book rather than address American greed or vulgarity in a mature manner. The vulgar and excessive party scenes in The Great Gatsby is a pointed critique of the vanity of the rich. Fitzgerald uses parties to show the differences between two classes of the 1920s : working-class citizens and upper-class aristocrats and to highlight the moral degradation of the 1920s. Ultimately both Gatsby and Tom throw parties for their selfish means. Gatsby wants to showcase his wealth to win over Daisy, and Tom wants to showcase his status of an aristocrat to exercise his power and superiority.
While Tom acts entitled and condescending at his parties, entertaining his crass and grasping mistress and her friends, Gatsby simply observes his parties. He seems detached from the action, excluded from the circle of his guests he tries so hard to impress. Later he tells Daisy her presence was the only reason for those fetes. While Tom’s part at Myrtle’s apartment and Gatsby’s blowouts, both have obnoxious guests who lack restraint gorging on food, alcohol, and sex. Even if some critics did not like to acknowledge it, these parties represent the Roaring 20’s culture. Young readers should be exposed to a variety of literary genres. Many educators, parents, and religious groups feel threatened by the content of The Great Gatsby . These themes could damage young minds, but not in an explicit culture of the early 21st century. Likewise, the idealistic romantic minds of kids from working-class families who have dreams and aspirations to achieve greatness could be completely crushed by reading about the corrupted world of the elite and the unfortunate unfulfilled fate of Jay Gatsby.
However, the advantages that students receive by having the freedom to read a variety of literature and debate a variety of topics, no matter how unsettling, far outweigh the possible risk of feeling uncomfortable by something they read. Moreover, as our views and standards constantly evolve, whatever seems inappropriate in Fitzgerald’s time, such as the rampant alcoholism, might very well be deemed as pathological today. Therefore it is crucial that readers have a chance to make their own judgments. The more well-read they are, the easier it will be for them to grasp new concepts and tackle controversial issues.
Parents who feel especially protective of their children’s psychological well being and wish not to expose them to any inappropriate content may do so for their own children. But under no circumstances should they ban any book from the general public. Banning books such as The Great Gatsby will deprive kids of essential cultural and historical knowledge. Students need exposure to different life experiences, different points of view, different perspectives on life to feel confident and secure in their present lives, and form their own viewpoints and attitudes
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