(There are The Great Gatsby spoilers in this)
I don’t know how a book earns the title of “a classic.” I don’t know if someone just writes it into a review, or it’s earned over time, or if there is some special initiation ceremony. But somehow, somewhere along the way, The Great Gatsby received the title of “an American classic.”
There are some very obviously “American” themes along the way: going from a hard life to a good life, Manifest Destiny, the idea of the American Dream. But while Fitzgerald has written these themes into the book in general, I don’t think any character embodies them more than Gatsby himself.
From what we learn about Gatsby in these chapters, he started out with what one might call a small life, but he had a big dream. It’s through meeting Dan Cody that his dream is able to be realized through an education no school could give him. He uses that education to make money, buy a big house, and be able to throw parties all summer long. Now, with his fancy car, swimming pool, house, and wardrobe, he’s living what many considered during the time of publication to be the dream life.
Many of the characters have moved from place to place, from Louisville to Chicago to New York, enforcing the idea of Manifest Destiny: Americans can go anywhere on this great continent of ours. I see Gatsby doing this in particular between his yacht ride with Cody, moving to Long Island from Louisville, and owning a car. The “owning a car” bit is in particular interesting to be me because Carraway also mention the carriages and horses people are still riding during this time. Before 1925 (the year The Great Gatsby was published), a Ford Model T cost $850, about $23,700.00 in today’s money worth, and the Model T was aimed to be affordable to all so all of them where the same, rather than the very obviously different car Gatsby has. Owning a car like this points out how he’s able to go anywhere he wants at any time, something few could do easily during the time.
Gatsby also seems to hold the idea of the “American Dream” with a wife, nice house, and family. Even after five years of separation, he still seems to be in love with Daisy (or, at least, the idea of Daisy he’s built in his head over all of these years). With everything improving during the Roaring Twenties – more people employed, a growing economy, a new social construct – the American Dream was an idea held dear by many because there was so much hope and belief that everyone could achieve it.
So while I may not know how The Great Gatsby came to be “a classic,” American is most certainly is.