How did Fitzgerald’s Novel the Great Gatsby Reflect the Culture of the 1920s?

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Updated: Aug 13, 2023
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Thirty million copies. The second most read book in school. Sells almost 500,000 copies every year. Forty-Two different translations. The Modern Library says F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby “Ranks it as the second best English-Language novel of the 20th century.” However, this book is one of the top challenged books in the “American Library Association’s list of banned and challenged classics” (Baldassarro). Banning or challenging a book is a very long process that most people do not follow through with.

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The reason is that people have to have many reasons and get signatures from the school board just to get the issue recognized. Most challenges are bad language, sexual talk, racism, and religion. Parents get issues when their kids come home and talk about the books that have these examples in them. Kids do not always say what is actually said or the whole truth. This book shows examples of drinking/ partying. This book also shows the love between two adults. All these reasons are good examples. This book has been challenged many times, but none tell the whole truth. This paper should change people’s minds to know that back in the 1920s, this was a regular day thing.

The American Dream and Wealth Accumulation

Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby in 1925. The book did not get any attention until after his death in 1940. The book is set in the 1920s in West Egg and East Egg. The main character/narrator is Nick Carraway. He moves into a house on West Egg by the biggest mansion on the West side. Gatsby is a multi-millionaire with the biggest mansion on the West Egg. Right across the lake from Gatsby’s mansion lives the old money Tom Buchanan and Daisy. Tom is known as a very aggressive person and thinks he is the best at everything. Tom is also a racist and an alcoholic. Daisy is the perfect girl in Gatsby’s eyes, and he wants her back. Gatsby and Daisy met when they were younger and thought they were going to get married. Then Gatsby was sent to the army and could not see Daisy anymore. He is now back to show Daisy that he is a better man than Tom could ever be. He throws big parties for everyone to come. He gets Nick to help get Daisy to meet him. They succeed and get her to Nick’s house, and after, they see each other all the time. Tom and Nick become awkward friends. Nick notices that Tom has another woman that is not Daisy in his life. Gatsby gets an invitation to go to Tom’s house. Tom then notices how Gatsby looks at Daisy and knows he is in love. Tom then confronts Gatsby saying that he got his money from bootlegging, not a fair trade. On the way back from the town, Daisy crashes into Myrtle (Tom’s lover) and kills her. Gatsby takes the blame for the death. Myrtle’s husband thinks that Gatsby is the person with the affair and kills Gatsby by his pool and then himself. Nick hosts a funeral and moves back west to get away from all the tragedy (Spargo).

The reasons for the challenges are the sex, violence, and language contained in the book. The American Library Association says, “The Great Gatsby tops the list of books that have been challenged or faced potential bans over the years.” Bay County School District in Florida tried to ban 64 books. One of those books was The Great Gatsby. The superintendent said, “I don’t like vulgarity. I don’t approve of it in my children. I don’t approve of it in any child on a school ground”(Lombardi). Not all parents think vulgar language is the worst thing a teen could read or say themselves. Teens are around other teens all day, so they hear their fair share of vulgar language. Some parents think that books are the only way teens nowadays can really get into the lives of earlier time periods. After the ban went through, there were only two books banned. They did not ban The Great Gatsby (Lombardi). Even though parents think that books that have vulgar language in them, that does not mean they should be taken away or put in a restricted area. There are many ways to learn and teach about books that have vulgar language in them to be banned. Yes, a lot of students party and drink. This book is not wrong, but does that make all the kids want to go drink and party every weekend? No, to say a book would give students reasons to go out and drink would be the same way people who play video games supposedly are very aggressive and want to murder people all the time because of the way the video games influence them.

Changing Gender Roles and Social Dynamics

In 2008 the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, school board wanted to remove The Great Gatsby. The reasons, like all others, are for the language and inappropriate scenes it displays in front of a teen’s eyes (Lombardi). There are a lot worse things teens can do than just read books. Also, kids need to know what happened back in the day, so having an actual book made in the 1920s is very good. What’s a better way of telling the past, a person who knows a lot of what happened but didn’t live throughout the time, or a person who was living through the 1920s and wrote a book about how life was back in the day? The school eventually said this book does not deserve to be banned, but they are off some reading lists at the school (Rindskopf). “The Baptist College in Charleston, South Carolina, because of “Language and sexual references in the book”(Kehe). Every time anyone challenges The Great Gatsby, they object to the language in it. There is a lot of language in a book, but that is not a reason to challenge one. And talking about sexual language, there is only one part that people could say means sexual talk, “Took Her” (Baldassarro). There is another example of when Tom broke Myrtle’s nose because she spoke Daisy’s name. Again that is not fully sexual talk. That is just regular talking. There are a lot of examples in The Great Gatsby that talk about partying and drinking alcohol, such as how Gatsby has big parties every weekend trying to show off for Daisy. How at those parties, everyone is drinking and having a good time. Even though back in the day, that is what people did for fun. It was more of a common thing to have big parties and invite anyone and everyone from miles apart. So the big fun party should not bother parents because of the time period it is set in. Racial comments are usually a big thing in any book. Since this book is from the 1920s, it was so common to hear racial slurs that it wasn’t a big deal. It is different nowadays, but since the author did not think anything of it, people should do the same. Racial slurs, partying, and drinking alcohol is not a reason to ban a book. It keeps the reader’s attention and makes sure the reader really knows what is going on. If there was no racist language, people would not know Tom Buchanan was a racist. Or how Jay Gatsby got all his money bootlegging. These details might get parents riled up for good reasons because they do not want their kids to read books that influence them to do the same. But if this book cut all of the challenged reasons out of it, there would be no story at all (Baldassarro).

The Illusion of the American Dream

There is a big difference between high school and college classes. There is even a bigger difference between high school and college students. Whenever a high school challenges a book like this, it makes sense since there are parents in these kids’ lives that want the best for them. But when it comes down to college, students have to go against a professor who has been teaching this for their whole life and loves this book. Also, 75% of people move out for college, so even parents complain to colleges about how their kids should read this book. All they need to know is how college students usually have a life of their own now and do not always have to listen to everything their parents say or want them to do.

There are many good reasons this book should not be banned. Such as, in The Story of the American Dream, Gatsby comes from nothing a poor army man to the richest person living on either egg. James L. W. West III says, “It is our novel, how we present ourselves.” The 20s was a time full of “flappers, cars, sex, movies, gangsters, celebrities, a stock market minting money, everything awash in illegal booze” (Donahue). These were normal day things back in the olden days, so why would we try and act like they were not? This book is also amazing for its love story between Daisy and Gatsby. People would say that Gatsby only wants wealth and only works to show off, but really he wants Daisy more than anything else in the world.


The Great Gatsby is a very educational and fun book to read to lots of people. Whenever it is read in almost every school in America for a grade, it would be thought that it would not have any troubles. But since it has so many students/ people reading it, there will be that few souls that will challenge just to get something started. If people want to ban a book, why do they not read it themselves and let other people do what they want? It is not people’s choice what students do. If a student wants to go to a party, they can; what is the problem with students reading a book? The Great Gatsby was also written in the 20s. We need to let the students learn more about the old times and quit putting so many thoughts in their heads, letting them have some thoughts of their own. If everyone has to read the exact same books and can not read the books of their choice, then why do we always say school makes everyone different? A book with 30 million copies should not be banned. A book that has 42 different translations should not be banned. The Great Gatsby is a great book and should always be in the hands that want to read it.


  1. “So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures” by Maureen Corrigan 

  2. “The Gatsby Affair: Scott, Zelda, and the Betrayal that Shaped an American Classic” by Kendall Taylor

  3. “Trimalchio: An Early Version of The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  4. “The Great Gatsby: A Reader’s Guide to the F. Scott Fitzgerald Novel” by Robert Crayola 

  5. “Gatsby’s Oxford: Scott, Zelda, and the Jazz Age Invasion of Britain 1904-1929” by Christopher A. Snyder

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How Did Fitzgerald’s Novel the Great Gatsby Reflect the Culture of the 1920s?. (2023, Aug 13). Retrieved from