Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Literary Timeline Six Novel Ideas My Favorite Novel Elements of the Novel Top Novel Lists About the Program
Navigate through 200 years of the American Novel using scrollable tools and pulldown menus.
Use these pulldown menus to read more about novels, authors & movements.
The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby
THE GREAT GATSBY, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Related video:
THE GREAT GATSBY is a lyrical portrait of American values in the 1920s, the personal and moral corruption of a culture based on the social and moral prerogatives of wealth. The novel depicts the "Roaring Twenties" as an era of greed, cynicism, and the mindless quest for pleasure. The characters symbolize these values.

F. Scott Fitzgerald juxtaposes Nick Carraway, the novel's narrator and moral compass, and Jay Gatsby, the charismatic racketeer and romantic idealist; to the married couple Daisy and Tom Buchanan, members of the established old money class who lack Nick's personal integrity and Gatsby's idealism. Shown as "careless" bullies who smash lives as well as objects in their restless search for diversion, Daisy and Tom are admirably well suited to succeed in a world in which idealism is impossible and integrity is passé.

But Gatsby has made Daisy the incarnation of his dream of perfection. Her lovely voice is "full of money," showing the meretricious link between beauty and wealth to Gatsby as well as American culture. To that end, Gatsby has spent his adult life amassing the wealth and social standing he thinks will win Daisy and therefore make his dream of recapturing the past by winning the "golden girl" come true. Gatsby's dream is shattered by the reality of Daisy's crass selfishness, symbolizing the destruction of the American dream. Just as World War I shattered America's innocence, neither can Gatsby nor any other American return to the Edenic virtue of the prewar era. Gatsby becomes a mythic figure whose career and fate stand for America itself, our idealism in the face of the gross materialism that has destroyed America's green freshness and left only a valley of ashes in its wake.

Previous | Next

The American Novel