by Zach Meckley
“We can die by it, if not live by love
…And by these hymns, all shall approve
Us Canoniz’d for Love:”
– John Donne
The Great Gatsby is indubitably a work indispensable in a full experience of American literature. Well established as a stylistic masterpiece, a rich portrayal of the Roaring ‘20s, and a dramatically magnificent story, this work is stolidly shelved among the foremost writings in our national heritage. Its beautiful prose, historical vividness, and emotional poignancy entitle F. Scott Fitzgerald’s magnum opus to the highest ranks of literary genius our nation can lay claim to.
Such an evaluation is no petty encomium; nevertheless it is not enough. This masterpiece, though perhaps not entitled to stand shoulder to shoulder with Dante’s Inferno or Homer’s epics, is worthy of some place among the Great Books. Obviously, this audacious classification must be justified by the discernible presence of the qualities which all truly great works of literature possess in some eminent way. In this essay, two essential properties of the most significant books mankind has to treasure will admit The Great Gatsby into the canon of Great Books. These are firstly: the presence in a work of themes or questions universal to human experience, transcending particular political, social, and economic boundaries as well as the confines of any particular time, and secondly: a portrayal of these themes and questions that adds something to the continuous human conversation about them (referred to as the “Great Conversation” by Mortimer J. Adler).