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American Icon

American Icon: Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby' in Critical and Cultural Context

Robert Beuka
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    American Icon
    Book Description:

    Fitzgerald's ‘The Great Gatsby’ is widely seen as the quintessential "great American novel," and the extensive body of criticism on the work bears out its significance in American letters. ‘American Icon’ traces its reception and its canonical status in American literature, popular culture, and educational experience. It begins by outlining the novel's critical reception from its publication in 1925, to very mixed reviews, through Fitzgerald's death, when it had been virtually forgotten. Next, it examines the posthumous revival of Fitzgerald studies in the 1940s and its intensification by the New Critics in the 1950s, focusing on how and why the novel began to be considered a masterpiece of American literature. It then traces the growth of the "industry" of ‘Gatsby’ criticism in the ensuing decades, stressing how critics of recent decades have opened up study of the economic, sexual, racial, and historical aspects of the text. The final section discusses the larger-than-life status 'Gatsby' has attained in American education and popular culture, suggesting that it has not only risen from the critical ash heaps into which it was initially discarded, but also that it has become part of the fabric of American culture in a way that few other works have. Robert Beuka is Professor of English at Bronx Community College, City University of New York.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-815-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1: A Book of the Season Only: Early Reactions to The Great Gatsby
    (pp. 1-21)

    The Great American Novel: What does this phrase signify? Is there such a thing, and if so, what is it? In the roughly one and a half centuries in which Americans have produced novels equipped to stand the test of time, few could be said to have the qualities to elevate them into such rarefied air. Critical consensus would put F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby on the short list of candidates for the title of Great American Novel — alongside such works as Melville’s Moby Dick, Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. It certainly...

  5. 2: A Green Light: The “Fitzgerald Revival” and the Making of a Masterpiece, 1940–59
    (pp. 22-56)

    One of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s more famous and oft-quoted statements is an observation he jotted down amidst the working notes for his final, unfinished novel: “There are no second acts in American lives.” This observation is regularly exhumed and reused in our own day, by everyone from journalists to sportswriters to pop-culture bloggers, typically as a preamble to a story about some ephemeral newsmaker who has, after a period of obscurity, reemerged into the limelight. Some observation along the lines of, “Fitzgerald got it wrong!” will invariably be the cheeky rejoinder that then leads in to a tale of some...

  6. 3: The Gatsby Industry: Tracing Patterns and Pushing Boundaries in the Criticism of the Sixties and Seventies
    (pp. 57-92)

    As we have seen, during the span of time from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s death to the end of the 1950s, The Great Gatsby went from being a largely forgotten novel — one remembered, if at all, as a period piece of the Roaring Twenties — to an established classic of American literature. Following the popular revival of interest in Fitzgerald’s life and writings, the scholarly revival led to the firm entrenchment of Gatsby in the national canon. Discussion and debate over the novel in the literary journals had taken, by the end of the decade, a fairly predictable shape, with...

  7. 4: Gatsby, in Theory (and Out): New Paradigms in the Eighties and Nineties
    (pp. 93-117)

    If the period from the end of World War II to the end of the fifties saw the dramatic rise of The Great Gatsby from neglected novel to celebrated American masterpiece, and if the sixties and seventies saw the further canonization of Gatsby in particular and the rise of Fitzgerald studies in general, the eighties and nineties would see Gatsby criticism turn in new directions yet again. This period lacks the dramatic arc of the previous four decades (after all, the battle for recognition of Gatsby as a great American novel had long since been won, and seemingly every conceivable...

  8. 5: Twenty-First-Century G: The Great Gatsby as Cultural Icon
    (pp. 118-142)

    While it is surely too soon to make definitive statements about the trajectory of Gatsby criticism in the new millennium, certainly the industry is alive and well, as the volume of scholarly output continues unabated. While one could argue that the age of high theory has passed, the theoretically informed approaches of the 1980s and ’90s have impacted the shape of Gatsby criticism to this day. Of particular note is the sustained interest in the historicity of the text, and particularly how it responded to the discourses of its own moment — from pervasive notions about race, gender, and national...

  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 143-156)
  10. Index
    (pp. 157-162)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 163-163)