In a 1936 essay contrasting the virtues of the novel as a literary form to those of the screenplay as blueprint for film, F. Scott Fitzgerald characterized the novel as “the strongest and supplest medium for conveying thought and emotion from one human to another.” Fitzgerald’s own classic novel, The Great Gatsby (1925), provides compelling evidence for this claim. The book tells a good story about memorable (if not always likeable) characters, and it does so in evocative and beautiful prose that deftly brings the “Jazz Age” to life. The Great Gatsby also provides an opportunity to reflect on the complexity of many defining American ideals, on the ethical and social implications of unchecked materialism, and on the potentially corrosive effects of unregulated desire. But the book’s appeal is not limited by national borders, as literary scholar Azar Nafisi reminds us in her defense of The Great Gatsby in the bestseller, Reading Lolita in Tehran. We have taken all these strengths of the book into consideration in choosing The Great Gatsby as the freshman book for the Fall of 2006. We expect the book to be a worthy object of reflection and discussion for our incoming students and the campus at large, as well as for those members of the surrounding community who plan to join in the reading project once again.
Because The Great Gatsby is a classic, it is entirely possible that some of our incoming students will have read the book before. But we believe that re-reading is as much a part of good reading as is using a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words, or doing background research to put a text into a social and historical context. Equally important, some of the greatest joys of reading are experienced when we come back to a classic with a fresh perspective that enables us to discover something new, or when we are able to take pleasure in revisiting what we find familiar in the text. We are confident that The Great Gatsby will stand up to re-readings, as well as to new readings, and we look forward to the opportunities it will provide to help integrate new students into the intellectual community at Cornell.
Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education
Hutchinson Professor of Ethics and Public Life
Professor of Philosophy
Join Michele Moody-Adams as she interviews Robert H. Frank, HJ Louis Professor of Management and Professor of Economics at the Johnson Graduate School of Management about his thoughts on the novel.