Why should students be required to read the Great Gatsby? How is it relatable for kids today?
Is the Great Gatsby still relevant?
I once asked a class of high school students in a rigorous private school who were reading The Great Gatsby if they found it relevant today. To my surprise, they generally said no. I think The Great Gatsby is extremely relevant today. It is "the great American tragedy" that speaks to common, timeless themes of wealth, class, love and loss, envy, and, moreover, identity. Jay Gatsby, we learn, is not at all who he says he is. He is a person created of his own imagination. This leads me to inquire: who am I? what persona do I present to various "publics" and what is my true self? We all put on different "faces" depending on who we are with, but who has ever really created a self based entirely on a fiction that is so entrenched in the person's mind that he actually believes he is who he says he is?
Love is always relevant. Human frailty in the presence of danger is too. The accumulation of wealth is always full of imponderable consequences. Scott Fitzgerald suffered mightily in his life, and the tale of suffering in its myriad of ways is a classic theme in literature.
I think this book has a lot to do with society today. The characters in the book lead lavish lifestyles with a lot of waste. In today's world, people need to be more environmentally aware. Do we really need to replace our working televisions for a bigger screen? Do we need new game systems every 5 years? What happens to the old systems? Greed is a major theme in this book, with relevance to how humans suffer the consequences.
Think about your friends, neighbors and classmates. Have you ever known anyone who was full of mystery? Is there a wealthy person your community that people wonder where all of their money came from? Have you ever lost a boy / girl friend and tried to get them back? Are deceptive people part of your community? Do you know an extremely charming person, who later seemed quite different? Is it easy to have lots of people around you, but few true friends? Do you know someone who is fundamentally decent and a marvelous story teller? If the answers to the majority of these questions is 'yes,' then you will find Gatsby very 'relatable.' Apart from being 'required reading,' this is a novel which you should want to become acquainted with.
Like all classic literature and other art, students learn thematic lessons, characterization, and interpretation when a teacher makes connections so that students identify with the message. I would suggest that the classics, along with all genres, are only as good as the approach to the text. It can be fun and intriguing or it can be boring and outdated. The way the literature is presented and explored is the key to ensuring the students engage with the words on the page. A creative instructor can change the way you view any subject. Think about the teachers you enjoyed and the ones you did not. You will begin to see that the content is not what students dread, but rather, the way in which they are introduced to the subject. Learning happens naturally when the teacher is creative in engaging the students in the literature. It is no longer acceptable to assign, discuss, and test. That is so old school and yesterday. Teachers must understand the importance of their audience, the advanced and socially adept students of 2013! Even The Great Gatsby can be cool, but like all subjects, it must be approached with an attitude, technology, involvement, and creative projects that are so cool the students forget they are actually learning.
I think it still has some relevance in modern society in that even though some of the characters in the book lead lavish lifestyles, they are really poor excuses of human beings. Simply compare them to some of the more obnoxious celebrities in America today and you can see the common thread.
I have graduated high school and (community) college in New York without ever being asked to read this book. I believe it is considered an American classic and teachers are still assigning it due to tradition. There are many modern novels that would be more engaging and interesting to students. Also, depending on the state where they teach, many teachers are following a curriculum set up by someone who is never in the classroom. The opportunity for teachers to hand pick literature for their students can be very limited.