The Not-So-Great-At-All Gatsby

This week’s question over at the Literary Blog Hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase is:

Discuss a work of literary merit that you hated when you were made to read it in school or university.  Why did you dislike it?

For me, that book is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Here, I will pause so that everyone can gasp with indignation.

*Pause*

At that point in my life, here’s what I saw:  a bunch of unlikeable rich people do unlikeable rich people stuff like throw garish parties and have affairs.  Then some of them die.  The End.

I understood then, as I do now, that’s it’s meant to be a poignant metaphor for the decline of the American dream and that it’s packed full of potent symbolism.   That’s all fine and dandy, and I don’t dispute it.  But, the story itself is so incredibly asinine and populated with insufferable bores.  The closest I came to any emotional involvement was at the end when the titular character is shot and the murderer offs himself.   Finally, I thought, I don’t have to deal with these people any more.

So, there’s my rant.  I’ve been waiting to unload that for quite a while.  All this being said, I do recognize that a forced high school reading doesn’t provide the most conducive environment for appreciating the literary nuances of a novel.  I’ve toyed with the idea of picking up The Great Gatsby again to see if my opinions have changed, but I’m not sure I’d be able to be an unbiased reader.  And, honestly, with so many great books out there waiting to be read, it’s not high on my priority list.

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40 comments

  1. Your post made me smile … even when I kind of like the Great Gatsby … it still made me smile because I can absolutely see your point.

    Also the book I dislike is also on a list of everyone’s favorites … though I’ll probably take a shot at reading it again since tastes do change.

    1. I know that I should read this again, and, as it is a short book, I’ll do my best to give it a try. I just have so many books lined up on my TBR list. Thanks for coming by!

  2. The environment does play a big part, that & being spoonfed a set textbook opinion by rote from an educator who has no passion in the subject themselves. Enjoyed your rant.

    1. It’s funny – I can’t remember exactly which teacher it was who taught me this, but I know that it was one of two, both of whom were the best teachers I had in high school. The problem, I’m sure, wasn’t so much with how it was taught, but with my perception of the content of the book. Also being a hormonal teenager probably didn’t help either.

    1. I don’t know if I would say to leave it off your list. Again, this is a rant based on a reading of a book 13 years ago, a time when I wasn’t the best judge of literary merit. Thanks for the comments!

  3. I love your summary of the book and I agree with it. I wouldn’t list this as my least favorite book. Reading it again outside of the classroom helped me appreciate it more. I can’t say suddenly I saw the light and everything about it is beautiful and wonderful about the book but I was glad I read it again. Plus it was short enough to read it quickly.

    1. TGG’s length was a major selling point, from what I remember. We also had to read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man which, while I liked it, was a massive book for a high-schooler.

  4. Great rant. Gatsby didn’t do much for me in high school, but I’ve enjoyed it a couple of times as an adult. I did enjoy Tender is the Night way back when, and have it on my list to reread this year.

  5. LOL…good for you to fess up and get it off your chest!

    I’m with the commenter above: Tender is the Night is the one I hated most. Same premise, rich people with too much time on their hands behaving atrociously without the author ever elaborating or making them seem real. And a character named Dick Divers? Seriously? Maybe it was the age, but as a reader I want more challenge than “will Rosemary still be that successful movie star?” Also, (Yes I am ranting, BTW) it had this thread where the characters, whether in bars or restaurants or whatever, would mock the other patrons and notice if anyone lost their “repose”: if they showed any self-consciousness (and thus insecurity) they’d all giggle and point it out. So a poor guy sitting down for a drink who may adjust his collar would be called out as a loser. They did this the ENTIRE book. I hated it, but sadly, now when I’m out in public, I find myself, due to this damn thing FSF put in my head, hesitate to brush my hair back or look around the room awkwardly. It’s kind of messed me up.

    Okay. Overshared. Slinking off…..

    But before I do, this semester we’re covering Dubliners which should be fun…(I went back to college full time, did I mention that Pete?)

    1. Haha, wow. Another slamming of FSS. I haven’t read Tender is the Night but it sounds just as pointless as TGG. Thanks for the heads up!
      And congrats on heading back to school! Be sure to post what you think about the Dubliners.

  6. I can see how someone could be disgusted by the characters in the book. They are rich and kind of unpleasant, which was kind of the point, so Fitzgeral did a good job there. I read this with a teacher who explained to us why it was a great Amerian novel, and that helped.

    1. If I was disgusted by the characters, I think the book would have been a lot more interesting. Disgust is an emotion that requires some form of commitment to the characters. I just couldn’t care less about them. At the end, when they died, I wasn’t necessarily happy that they died, I was just relieved that I didn’t have to deal with them anymore. For all I cared, they could have continued being boring, unpleasant jerks just not on my time. Again, I get all this from 13 year old memories – I’d probably appreciate it more if I read it again. Thanks for coming by!

  7. This post both made my jaw drop and made me laugh. While I enjoyed the book, I thought the characters were annoying and whiney, and I was glad I didn’t know anyone like them personally.

    I’ve never met a person who has hated the Great Gatsby. Everyone I know loved the book (or at least compared to the other stuff we were forced to read back in school)!

    1. It’s funny – All the other books that I was forced to read in high school, I quite liked. Invisible Man, The Stranger, Crime and Punishment. Those are the books that most find dull or too long. But, for the reasons I’ve outlined above, it was The Great Gatsby that just completely bored me. Thanks for coming by!

  8. Sigh.

    I agree with your assessment of Gatsby’s characters, as I too find each and every one annoyingly self-serving and vacant. Even Gatsby himself. And I’m perhaps overpleased that I have been granted at least enough freedom in my life to select my own friends, and that none of them is in any way similar to Daisy or Tom or Nick or their cronies. And I agree that it’s tough to sell the beauty of the language and the time-period-specific thematic resonances to a high school audience.

    But I do admire Fitzgerald’s turns of phrase here, and his scathing self- assessments – to me – save this novel. He’s one of them. And the fact that we abhor them might well be because he serves them up with such accuracy.

    And, cliche as this may be, the rhythms of the last few paragraphs slay me every time.

    Thank you, Pete, for reminding me once again that one of the great merits of literature is that it evokes such passionately diverse reactions in discerning individuals.
    L

    1. I’ll be honest, it’s been so long since I’ve read the book (and I don’t have a copy lying around) that I can remember Fitzgerald’s prose. As I mentioned in the post, I wasn’t really looking for pretty words at that point in my life, I wanted a story I could relate to or that interested me. I’m certain that his writing is very good and that, should I give the book another chance, I’d definitely find more to appreciate. Thanks for the comments!

  9. Ah, I kind of try to block this one out of my memory. Every time a what did you read in high school conversation arises, I totally forget about it. But I felt the same way. Just blah–enough already with the shallowness! 🙂

  10. I’m with you – I did not like this book when I first read it (Sophomore year of High School). I re-read it not too long ago, though, and fell head-over-heels for it.

    I like that this week’s question is bringing up a valid point that “when” you read is almost as important as “what” you read.

    1. When you read a book is so incredibly important. A book might strike one as being unbelievably profound at one point in time but completely ridiculous at another. And high school is a weird time when hormones and relationships and growing up can throw a teenager to opposite extremes on different days of the same week. I fully recognize that, had I read The Great Gatsby on a Wednesday instead of a Tuesday, I may have loved it. Thanks for stopping by!

  11. I love it, but I read it on my own. I chose it, unlike most people.

    I felt really weird writing my post for this hop, because I felt like I might be slamming someone’s favorite book. It is so interesting how we all have such different experiences.

    1. Haha, I did feel a little apprehensive ripping up The Great Gatsby the way I did. At the same time, I look as my past impression of the book as more of a an indictment of my moody teenage hormonal-ness rather than of the actual merits of the book. Thanks for stopping by!

    1. I keep hearing that it’s a different book when you read it out of school. I think that I will try to make a point to read it again in the near future just to see how it compares. Thanks for coming by!

  12. I read this book last year rather than in high school — and I found it interesting but didn’t love it or hate it the way many people do. It just struck me as a book about sad, troubled, selfish people. I wasn’t terribly moved by them. Also the book felt a little hit-you-over-the-head symbolic.

  13. I have read it (yet), but I’m quite tempted to (when I get the time).
    I’m not sure that all those great works of literature are best read in schools. It looks like it puts off pupils more than anything else. Maybe teachers should consider a different approach?

    1. I would agree, but only to a point. There were books I read in HS only because I had to, but I ended up really liking them (Camus’ The Stranger, Ellison’s Invisible Man). Had I been giving an option, however, I may have stuck with Stephen King and John Grisham. I think that teenager’s receptive ability is so influenced by external factors that it’s hard to say how they’ll react on any given day to a particular book. There has to be a different approach, but I’m not sure what it could be. Thanks for coming by!

    1. Hehe, I knew I’d get this reaction from someone! I think I am going to make it a point to read The Great Gatsby again, to see how my perspective has changed. Thanks for coming by!

    1. I just think that, in high school, kids are so susceptible to hormonal mood shifts that it’s entirely unpredictable what any one will appreciate on any given day. Thanks for coming by!

  14. Most boring book ever.

    It doesn’t apply to society in this day and age. Now that the heart of the book is socially unimportant, the story isn’t good enough to carry the book on its own. Thats why its such a torture to read. I can’t understand why they continue to make students read it. Maybe schools feel its important to culture or educational of the times. It also makes many, many “worst books” lists across the internet because of this phenomenon. I don’t know too many young (under 30) people who enjoy this book. Ugh. Hopefully someday, it will be forgotten.

    1. I’m a retired high school English teacher who hates TGG. I once re-read it, admittedly in a biased way, so that I could write a scathing denunciation of it for one of my teaching colleagues who thinks it is wonderful.

      I believe this novel fails the requirement that it be of some interest. I found it an insipid story about flat, shallow characters doing boring stuff. I could not find one person I cared about. All of the wonderful symbolism and literary devices are irrelevant if the story is of little or no interest. Fortunately, none of my own teachers gave it to me to read, and I certainly did not inflict it upon my students A similar novel that so many think is great is The Lord of the Flies. It is an ugly book!

      1. Hi Art, thanks for coming by. Can’t agree with you more about TGG, although it’s been so long since I’ve read it that I’m probably not qualified to be expressing such strong opinions anymore. As for the Lord of the Flies, I was never completely enamored by the book, but my initial response (and on s subsequent reading a few years back) was that it’s more of an engaging, thought provoking book. Certainly ugly, but still a decent read (perhaps because of the ugliness?).

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