Has The Great Gatsby Been Banned?

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we'll focus on the themes and events in The Great Gatsby that have made the book controversial. We'll also cover some instances in which it has been challenged, and discuss calls for the book to be banned.

Social Issues and The Great Gatsby

The exposure of children to vulgar or explicit material is a highly contentious subject. How much profanity should students in certain age groups be allowed to read? Are clever and subtle references to sex or other unsavory practices too explicit for children? What age is too young? Where is the line between acceptable and unacceptable profanity?

These are all important questions debated often in America today. When it concerns children, these debates can get quite heated. Some people feel that classic works are important to American literature and should be read by students despite ''offensive'' content, while others believe that certain works are too explicit for the eyes and minds of our children. In this lesson, we will explore the debate surrounding F. Scott Fitzgerald's American classic, The Great Gatsby.

Overview of the Book

To understand why The Great Gatsby is such a controversial work, we should briefly examine the book's synopsis and themes. The Great Gatsby tells the story from the point of view of Nick Carraway, who purchases a small house in the fictional town of West Egg on Long Island. Carraway strikes up a friendship with his neighbor, the extravagantly wealthy Jay Gatsby. Carraway eventually learns that Gatsby is madly in love with Carraway's married cousin, Daisy, who lives nearby.

In part through an encounter arranged by Carraway, Gatsby and Daisy strike up a love affair, and we learn that Daisy's husband, Tom, is having an affair of his own. Carraway watches the love affair unfold, all while attending Gatsby's extravagant parties held at his mansion. Through the course of their affair, Daisy, driving Gatsby's car, unknowingly hits and kills Tom's mistress. When the husband of Tom's mistress learns of Gatsby's car being involved, he concludes Gatsby must be his wife's secret lover. He proceeds to go to the Gatsby mansion, shooting Gatsby and then himself.

Objections to Gatsby

In short, the answer to the question posed in this lesson's title is ''no.'' The book has never been formally banned from being taught, though it has faced serious challenges, most notably in 1987 by the Baptist College in Charleston, South Carolina, which challenged the book and called for its banning from public schools because of ''language and sexual references.'' Despite this, when the American Library Association came out with a list of American classics about which they often received objections, complaints, and banning attempts, The Great Gatsby featured prominently on that list.

The Great Gatsby became recognized as an American classic shortly after the author's death in 1940. The ''Fitzgerald Revival'' was spurred by his publishers and friends, who felt the author was under-appreciated in his own time, and The Great Gatsby was often used as an example of his greatest work. At the same time, educators began using the book as a vehicle to discuss American culture and rapid social change.

There are two main reasons why the book has been the target of censors and moralist critics in the United States: the book's subject matter and its prevalence in American high schools. Today, The Great Gatsby is taught in nearly all U.S. schools, usually in the 10th or 11th grade. Its widespread dissemination is an indirect cause of why it is often targeted by book banners and censors.

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