Is The Great Gatsby not so great after all?

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First aired on Day 6 (11/5/13)

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of the greatest pieces of American literature ever written. 


Not so, says Kathryn Schulz. The New York Magazine book critic recently wrote a piece called "Why I Despise The Great Gatsby" and in it she argues that Fitzgerald's famous story isn't anything special. In fact, she finds The Great Gatsby quite shallow, "vacant" and "morally complacent." 

She's also sick of the notion that we aren't just supposed to like The Great Gatsby -- we are supposed to love it. "The reality is we are all encouraged from a very young age to buy into it, from our teachers, from our families, from the culture at large," she told Day 6 host Brent Bambury. And, for the most part, this cultural love affair is intense and long lasting. "People do have a very, very fierce attachment to this book."

However, Anne Margaret Daniel, a Fitzgerald scholar and professor of literature, thinks Schulz has it all wrong. According to Daniel, The Great Gatsby endures "because of its craftsmanship, because of the language and because of that fact ... it's the first great modern American novel."

Schulz concedes that "there are absolutely some very pretty sentences" in The Great Gatsby. However, "there are also, frankly, pretty empty and strange and pretty bad sentences and passages in this book." Schulz finds Fitzgerald's writing, in general, to be overly self-conscious and forced. When she reads The Great Gatsby, she hears Fitzgerald's voice leaping off the page saying "Look at me! Look at me! I'm saying this grand thing in this Fitzgerald-ian way" and that really bothers Schulz.

Daniel admits that "there are some sentences that don't work," but believes we need to look past the bad simply because there's so much good in The Great Gatsby. For every awkward turn of phrase, "there will be a line of such breathtaking beauty," Daniel says, that makes the reading worthwhile.

Whether or not The Great Gatsby is any good, one thing is certain: Fitzgerald's work isn't going anywhere anytime soon. And as long as it's around, critics like Schulz and Daniel will be more than happy to dissect and debate it's greatness.

Do you think The Great Gatsby is any good? Let us know in the comments below.

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