How Does "The Great Gatsby" Relate to Current Society?
Nearly a century after its publication, F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" remains a literary classic. One challenge it presents, though, is understanding how the Roaring '20s tale of Jay Gatsby's pursuit of wealth and romance at all costs is still relevant nearly a century later. The novel's portrayal of materialism, superficial relationships and the myths of fame and celebrity create remarkable parallels between Gatsby's world and the present day.
Possessions and status are a key ingredient to many of the characters' lifestyles. In order to attract Daisy's interest, Gatsby defines himself by his enormous house, decadent parties and distinctive cars and clothing. Daisy, too, values materialism, as the convenience of her marriage to wealthy polo player Tom Buchanan keeps her from fully embracing Gatsby's vision for their future. High school English teacher David Dowling writes that America's continued obsession with materialism is one reason for the novel's permanence, depicting the conflict between moral values and the desire for wealth that still entangles people today.
Narrator Nick Carraway becomes acquainted with numerous people throughout the book, including Gatsby, Daisy and Tom's friends. Although Nick is exposed to their darkest secrets, he never develops more than a superficial connection with anyone except Gatsby, and Nick is ultimately disgusted by the others' selfishness. Today, social media creates similar superficial connections, redefining the word "friend" as a process of adding someone to a network rather than an intimate relationship. Just as Nick observes the personal lives of Tom and Daisy's companions, a social media user might observe an acquaintance's status updates and activity but never know him on a deeper level.
To the public eye, Gatsby is rich, powerful and influential. In reality, he was born into poverty, earned his fortune through dishonest means and, in Tom's words, is "Mr. Nobody from nowhere." His obsession with creating a new identity comes from one goal: winning Daisy back. Today, people are still obsessed with impressing people by reinventing themselves. For example, the MTV reality show "Catfish" depicts people who create fake profiles to attract people on dating websites. In a way, Gatsby is the original "catfish"; he goes to elaborate lengths to win Daisy through a carefully constructed persona.
Celebrity is another relevant theme the novel shares with the present day, as Gatsby's mysterious allure and wealth make him a well-known public figure. However, although hundreds of people flock to Gatsby's parties, they quickly turn on him after his alleged murder of Tom's mistress, Myrtle Wilson, and none of them attend his funeral. AP English teacher Rance King states the fickleness of the media and public toward today's celebrities forms a striking parallel with the book. The Internet, reality shows and talent competitions make it easy to be a celebrity today but even easier to be forgotten.
Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.