What are the benefits and drawbacks of imposing biographical criticism on The Great Gatsby?  F. Scott Fitzgerald

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Imposing biographical criticism upon The Great Gatsby certainly underlines the authenticity of the novel's setting, characters, and motifs; however, at the same time it often limits the scope of examination of certain elements of the novel.

One of the attributes of Fitzgerald's novel is that it is a veritable tableau of the Jazz Age--a term coined by the author himself--in which Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda lived along with the others of Gertrude Stein's "Lost Generation."  There is an almost tangible quality to the portrayal to the carelessness and excessiveness of the corrosive effects of wealth and a decadent lifestyle. Likewise, a character such as Daisy comes alive because she has been molded after a real person, the wife of Fitzgerald. This realism lends the novel its literary truth. In fact, it is so realistic that at Fitzgerald's own funeral, his friend Dorothy Parker, uttered for Fitzgerald a line form Jay Gatsby's funeral:  "the poor son of a bitch." 

On the other hand, by focusing too intently upon the parallels of Fitzgerald's narrative and his life, readers may have the propensity to ignore what Richard Yates, a worthy writer of the 1960s, lauds in The Great Gatsby as "a miracle of talent" and "a triumph of technique."  For, Fitzgerald's great novel extends well beyond being a mere examination of the amoral and illusionary time. Indeed, his magnificent development of character and motif, use creative imagery and symbolism are innovative and beyond compare.  Truly, The Great Gatsby is F. Scott Fitzgerald's greatest work. 

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