Understanding the Great Gatsby: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

By Dalton Gross; MaryJean Gross | Go to book overview

6
The Great Gatsby Then and Now

The Great Gatsby is, in one sense, a period piece. It captures the mood, the feeling, of a time in United States history. Yet it is much more than that. It survives as a compelling story in spite of the fact that conditions of American life have changed drastically since it was written. Like all great books, it rises above its historical context. Although knowledge of the background adds dimension to the novel, it can stand very well without it.

The garish, frenetic world of the 1920s is gone. Organized crime, for example, is unfortunately still with us, but to one of Gatsby's contemporaries it would now be unrecognizable. We rarely see screaming headlines telling us how gangsters have shot each other. The mobs are quieter and better organized than they once were. The goose that laid the golden eggs, Prohibition, has long since disappeared, but gangs unobtrusively deal in gambling, prostitution, drugs, and some legitimate businesses. Their leaders no longer capture the popular imagination as did Arnold Rothstein, Al Capone, and Dutch Schultz.

It is revealing that gangster films today are more likely to be set in the 1920s than later. There has never been a flood of gangster films to match that of the late 1920s and very early 1930s. The modern gangster is a relatively dull fellow.

The reaction to sports, too, lacks the wild imagination and al-

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