What are the key components of a literary work? Is there a standard way to distinguish the good from the bad? Much of what society declares “literature” is solely opinion-based; either people enjoy the writing or they don’t. I think most can agree that classics such as The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald are important pieces of literature even if they’re not considered “favorites”. I believe that to be classified as a literary work, a novel needs to serve some purpose that is represented strongly throughout. The Great Gatsby is often referred to as “the great American novel”, a title that lends itself to an eventual purpose.
Fitzgerald has set up what is supposed to be the great American Dream in his story of Jay Gatsby, a man who created himself by overcoming poverty, gaining wealth and popularity, and fighting for romance. The narrator even describes his personality as “gorgeous” (Fitzgerald 4) and claims his smile is a “rare [smile] with a quality of eternal reassurance in it” (Fitzgerald 36). What's strange about him, then, is his reserve. He himself is never ostentatious; he hangs back during parties and often goes unseen. He's the complete opposite of most of the characters who thrive on attention. I suppose in a way he's using his house and money to get the attention, which is what his peers do (but in a more upfront manner). It's the mystery of this man that makes the novel both compelling and confusing.
Another part of this concept is the difference between determination and greed. The Great Gatsby is an excellent example of how money is both necessary for and detrimental to life. “[Tom and Daisy] were careless people…-they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness…and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” They are supposed to be living the American dream, rolling in their fortunes, but the fact is they are miserable. Their love lives are tangled in a web and their greed constantly leads to excess drama. So is Gatsby different, and if so what makes him different? It seems his determination is centered around Daisy, so as readers, we could argue that flaunting his fortune is purely for love. He wanted to impress her and seemingly “revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes” (Fitzgerald 65). It was Daisy’s beautiful and expensive home that “increased her value in his eyes” (Fitzgerald 105). Of course, expense increased the value of everything in everyone’s eyes. The narrator even searched for the cause of Daisy’s voice and eventually discovered it was “full of money” (Fitzgerald 85). This brings to light one reason why The Great Gatsby is a literary work: it perfectly illustrates the Roaring Twenties.
Fitzgerald’s depiction of the Jazz Age is very solid throughout the novel. It’s all about music, dancing, parties, romance, cars, and most importantly: money. He creates images that so strongly reflect the time period that you feel a part of it. The imagery in the party scenes allows you to hear the band, taste the wine, and see the beauty. But above all, the interesting and rather twisted part of this novel is despite all the riches and luxury, the characters are rather pathetic. Although Fitzgerald leaves most of their deeper personalities to interpretation, most of what he chooses to tell us is not pleasant. This overpowering conflict of desire and misery drives the story behind the wheel of a Rolls Royce, which may be a symbol of luxury but certainly not one of happiness.