[font=Courier New]I attend a Catholic high school and have been required to read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I found this book to be morally offensive. Although I know it is considered a “great work”, it seems to me that my school could have chosen another “great work” that would actually be productive reading. Catholic schools have so much potential and it makes me sad that they would not require me to read something that would perhaps make me a better person. Does anyone have any feedback concerning this issue? It would be greatly appreciated. [/font]
When reading literature, it is important to look at it as a complete whole, to discern what point the author is trying to make. In the case of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby this might be summed up by the statement: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).
If Fitzgerald merely told you his theme, he would fail as an artist. A word artist in the fiction genre (i.e., novelist) creates a story that draws in the reader and invites him to discover what will happen to the characters. In the course of that story, a theme is suggested but left to the reader to discern. The novelist trusts you to take away the larger point; failing that, he simply hopes that he has managed to hold your interest in the slice of life he has created.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t trashy potboilers out there that have no redeeming artistic merit. There certainly are, and it is the reader’s job to bring to his reading enough discernment to weed out the literature from the trash; to discern, to paraphrase Bill Moyers, between what illuminates and what merely titillates. So, how is this done? By education, which is what your literature class will hopefully provide for you.
A good book on the subject of discerning between literature and trash is How to Read a Dirty Book by Irving and Cornelia Sussman, Catholics and one-time educators in literature and drama during the 1960s. The book is unfortunately out-of-print but may be found through interlibrary loan or, for purchase, through BookFinder.com.