The book is about, essentially, lifestyles of the rich and famous, but it goes much deeper than that. The twisted family and love lives, the searching for meaning in a vast sea of nothingness, and the clarion call of what once was and the hope it could be again – all these intertwine to make a gripping, deep, luscious tale. Of course, all this gets ignored by would-be book banners because *gasp* a story about rich people in New York talks about a man having an affair!
Seriously, “sexual references” is the reason it gets banned or challenged the most. Apparently, we can’t have high schoolers reading about – and not even in great detail! – the existence of sex.
I’m reminded of a disclaimer that Ira Glass occasionally uses on his radio program, This American Life. Whenever a story on the program acknowledges, say, teenage hormones and lust, or the possibility of an illicit affair, he says that the “upcoming story acknowledges the existence of sex and sexual matters.” It is the acknowledgement that this thing exists that apparently scares some parents.
But Fitzgerald’s Gatsby is no libertine, and, indeed, if one were to critically think about the work, one would find illicit affairs, sexual escapades, and abandonment of family challenged as shallow, weak, and escapist. Indeed, the lessons of the book are that we cannot escape the lessons of the past, and the gilding we may use to cover it up is always visible to someone (or something). There are cracks in the gold covering, and they reveal a deep decay.
It is this lesson that I take from Gatsby, and this lesson that I move toward – the desire to own up to my past, to recognize and admit those things I have tried to hide. I also am reminded to be acutely aware of others, as it is lack of awareness that results in one of the major deaths in the book (spoiler: people die!). It is a book I will continue recommending to people until the day I die.
“And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.”