Understanding the Great Gatsby: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

By Dalton Gross; MaryJean Gross | Go to book overview

Introduction

Very few books have haunted the American imagination like F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Though it was published in 1925, both high school and college students can still relate to it, and it is very popular with teachers and professors. New biographies and critical works about Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda are published year after year. Between 1990 and 1996 alone, for example, 165 scholarly items came out about Fitzgerald and his work. Three film versions of The Great Gatsby have appeared: an unsuccessful silent film, a 1949 production starring Alan Ladd and Betty Field, and a 1974 version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. This last film is remarkable for its visual interpretation of the 1920s. Seeing the lavish houses, the exotic clothes, and the expensive cars in the movie makes it easy for one to imagine how Gatsby, Daisy, and the others might look. A slowly moving film, it is nonetheless an elegant feast for the eyes.

Yet The Great Gatsby did not begin as a success. It sold only 25,000 copies in 1925, and very few for a long time after that. Some literary critics praised it, but the majority of newspaper reviewers were not impressed, and it went out of print in the 1930s. When Fitzgerald died in 1940, all of his books were out of print, and he was working as a Hollywood script writer. Debt-ridden, in bad health, and an alcoholic, he sometimes drunkenly accused

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