"The Great Gatsby" Not Just a Cautionary Tale

Perhaps, as Sahil Mahtani tells us (“The Eyes of Doctor Fitzgerald,” comment, Apr. 25), we do live in an age of restless materialism and social anomie. Perhaps, though the comparison is a touch facile, our coming of age in the irrationally exuberant 1990s is just as bankrupt as that of Tom and Daisy Buchanan of Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age. And it is quite likely, though I’ve never been to it, that the Fly’s annual Gatsby party is neither nostalgic nor ironic. Yet to read “Gatsby,” as Mahtani does, as a merely cautionary tale is to miss the genius of the novel. For “Gatsby” acquires its true tragic dimensions not only through its devastating social critique but also through its celebration of the beauty of Gatsby’s dream—its exuberance, its optimism, its irrepressibility—even as it remains ever elusive and unfulfilled. “So we beat on,” Fitzgerald writes, “boats against the current,” and Gatsby’s story is one played out over and over again in every generation. To be blind to the beauty of Gatsby is to be blind to the meaning of America.


Cambridge, UK

April 25, 2006