The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby Study Guide

The Great Gatsby, published in 1925, is widely considered to be F. Scott Fitzergerald's greatest novel. It is also considered a seminal work on the fallibility of the American dream. It focuses on a young man, Jay Gatsby, who, after falling in love with a woman from the social elite, makes a lot of money in an effort to win her love. She marries a man from her own social strata and he dies disillusioned with the concept of a self-made man. Fitzgerald seems to argue that the possibility of social mobility in America is an illusion, and that the social hierarchies of the "New World" are just as rigid as those of Europe.

The novel is also famous as a description of the "Jazz Age," a phrase which Fitzgerald himself coined. After the shock of moving from a policy of isolationism to involvement in World War I, America prospered in what are termed the "Roaring Twenties." The Eighteenth Amendment to the American Constitution, passed in 1919, prohibited the sale and consumption of alcohol in America. "Prohibition" made millionaires out of bootleggers like Gatsby and owners of underground salons, called "speakeasies." Fitzgerald glamorizes the noveau riche of this period to a certain extent in his Jazz Age novel. He describes their beautiful clothing and lavish parties with great attention to detail and wonderful use of color. However, the author was uncomfortable with the excesses of the period, and his novel sounds many warning notes against excessive love of money and material success.

Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby was not a great success during his lifetime, but became a smash hit after his death, especially after World War II. It has since become a staple of the canon of American literature, and is taught at many high schools and universities across the country and the world. Four films, an opera, and a play have been made from the text.