The vast majority of popular literature has long revolved around the lives of the rich and powerful. Until recently (the last couple of centuries or so), it was almost exclusively just that. Books and plays about kings and queens, princes and princesses, knights, wizards, famous warriors and a litany of gods and supernatural beings. It hasn’t been long that authors have been penning works about the common man (like you, for example).
It was long thought that these stories were the most interesting because the stakes were highest. There were kingdoms to be won or lost, fortunes to be made or squandered, wars to be fought that would determine champions and heroes. Why would anyone want to hear about the boring day-to-day of an ordinary Joe? Who wants to read about what color socks somebody’s wearing or how much time they spent on their ACT Prep? Why not just flip through some random’s diary if you’re into that sort of thing?
But then there was a shift in thought. Perhaps because readers found it difficult to connect to such lofty individuals; perhaps because our egos got the better of us and we wished to read more about ourselves. Either way, the landscape of literature began to allow for such classics as Les Miserables, The Grapes of Wrath, The Color Purple, One Hundred Years of Solitude and countless others that focused on the various plights of the masses.
But in the process of becoming inundated by stories about us, perhaps we forgot what it was that attracted us to those stories of the rich and famous in the first place. It is an escape – a way either to step into the shoes of someone in a position of wealth or power or to at least be a fly on the wall so that we can observe the behavior and actions of such fascinating personages.
Enter the Great Gatsby setting. Cocktail parties, fancy cars, huge mansions, important guests. It’s like the novel version of People magazine. And no doubt Jay Gatsby would have made it into the Sexiest Men Alive issue.
Maybe this is why The Great Gatsby has become such an enduring masterpiece. Because, considering the time in which it was written and the novels to which it may have been compared, it existed as the exception rather than the rule. While Steinbeck, Faulkner and others were bringing everyone down with their morbid (albeit touching and poignant) portraits of a nation struggling with hard times, Fitzgerald offered quite a different picture. And not only that, but he painted this picture to include a member of that elite, privileged class getting a comeuppance for his underhanded dealings. That had to be a gratifying twist for readers who were working hard to put food on their tables and likely held great resentment for the rich.