Books Like The Great Gatsby

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

''The Great Gatsby'' by F. Scott Fitzgerald is considered one of the great American novels because of its portrayal of Jazz Age America and its themes of striving and doomed romance. This lesson will discuss its intersection with other great American books that explore similar themes.

An American Classic

F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is often considered one of the greatest American novels. It tells the story of the enigmatic millionaire Jay Gatsby as filtered through the recollections of his neighbor Nick Carraway. Carraway tells of an eventful summer when he befriends Gatsby and becomes ensnared in Gatsby's plan to win the wealthy and beautiful Daisy, who had rejected Gatsby years before when he was a poor soldier.

First published in 1925, it is treasured today for its portrayal of 1920s America. It is also considered to be one of the greatest books to deal with the theme of The American Dream.

The books discussed below explore similar subject matter and themes to The Great Gatsby, providing greater context in which to appreciate Fitzgerald's masterpiece.

Tales of the Jazz Age

The portrayal of 1920s New York in The Great Gatsby is one of the primary sources for pop culture images of that period, also known as the Roaring 20s or the Jazz Age, a term coined by Fitzgerald to describe the decade in which young people, many scarred by their experiences in World War I, rebelled against social norms. From the liberated flapper Jordan Baker to the colorful gangster Meyer Wolfsheim, The Great Gatsby gives us many indelible images of that legendary decade. These books also explore the Jazz Age.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and the Damned

This novel was published in 1922 and immediately preceded Gatsby. Like Gatsby it focuses on a group of East Coast elites. It portrays a New York cultural world that is vibrant with music, art, and ideas. However, at the center of the book, its privileged main characters, Anthony and Gloria, idle about with no clear purpose in life, much like Daisy and Tom. In this book, Fitzgerald first defines the Jazz Age as having grown out of the frustrations of the generation who had survived World War I and were now looking for meaning in life.

Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

Fitzgerald's contemporary Hemingway also took the frustration and cynicism of their generation, often called the 'Lost Generation,' as one of his great subjects. The Sun Also Rises, published in 1926, is, like Gatsby and The Beautiful and the Damned, about a group of aimless young Americans. But instead of New York City, Hemingway's characters roam France and Spain. As in Fitzgerald's books, Hemingway portrays a cycle of drinking and revelry followed by loneliness and regret.

Toni Morrison, Jazz

Published in 1992, Jazz is a historical novel about the Jazz Age which, unlike the books of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, gives an African American perspective on the era. It tells the story of a group of African American musicians in 1920s Harlem, with its narrative style often mirroring jazz music through the frequent revisiting of the same events from different perspectives. In Gatsby, the white and privileged Nick only gets brief glimpses of the vibrant Harlem jazz scene happening in New York. Jazz makes that scene its focus.

The American Dream

One of the reasons that Gatsby is considered a particularly American novel is its focus on striving for money and power. Gatsby is a self-made man who came from nothing, and therefore seems to exemplify The American Dream, the belief that in America, anyone can succeed. But Gatsby finds that money cannot give him everything he wants. This is a theme that has been explored by many other great American writers.

Theodore Dreiser, An American Tragedy

Published the same year as Gatsby, Dreiser's most famous novel focuses on Clyde Griffiths, who is born poor but later taken in by his wealthy relatives and becomes a member of high society. He pursues the reckless socialite Hortense while also starting a relationship with a poor factory girl named Roberta. The novel climaxes with Clyde murdering Roberta to hide the fact that he has gotten her pregnant.

The basic plot of An American Tragedy is strikingly similar to Gatsby but Dreiser takes an even darker view of the corrupting power of money. Nick ends the book with an admiration for Gatsby and contrasts him with the reckless children of money such as Tom and Daisy. But Clyde is not given a similar redemption, instead being entirely undone by his lust for money and social acceptance.

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