Sunday, February 10, 2008

What does THE GREAT GATSBY mean to Washington, DC?

I invited our Big Read - D.C. intern, Abdul Ali, to submit his impressions of The Great Gatsby as the city book for The Big Read – D.C. 2008 and set the tone for what this book means to the Washington, D.C. community.

Michon Boston
Project Director, The Big Read - D.C. 2008

The Big Read-D.C. selection for 2008 is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is considered by many to be a masterpiece. Many of us may have read this novel in high school, perhaps rereading it in college. Like all masterpieces, they remain relevant to the particulars of the human condition. Reading Gatsby is our way of keeping the conversation going among multiple generations of readers and the author.

The novel highlights the excesses of the 1920s, the music of the period, the First World War, upward mobility, and a scandalous love triangle. You may ask, but what does this have to do with Washington D.C.? Incidentally, this is the birthplace of the illustrious Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, a major player of this time period also known as the "Jazz Age." As the nation’s capital, there are endless scandals of men who failed in love and life.

At the heart of the novel is its tension between the haves and the have-nots, the measures that some of us take to reinvent ourselves. This novel invites us to examine our attitudes as it relates to how we see ourselves in relation to others. Moreover, how should we define ourselves? Are money, social rank, race, and gender accurate measures?

Finally, The Great Gatsby survives as a mirror to what our society looked liked during the 1920s. We might take this opportunity to note the differences (or similarities) of today’s society. Has any real change happened? In reading Gatsby as a city, what can be gleaned? Many of us adore The Great Gatsby for its lush language and ability to transport us to one of our nation’s most fabled cities during a time like no other. Still, we invite you to travel with us, in our time, so that we may together discover what makes this novel great and our own in 2008.

Abdul Ali is an intern for the Big Read D.C. 2008. He is a writer living in the District and a senior at Howard University studying English and Theatre.
photo credit: Charleston at the Capitol; Library of Congress