Berman examines the intellectual and cultural milieu in which The
Great Gatsby was created--and challenges accepted interpretations of
Fitzgerald's greatest novel.
"The Great Gatsby" and Fitzgerald's World of Ideas
focuses on F. Scott Fitzgerald and the prevailing ideas and values
that permeated American society in the late teens and early twenties, providing
a vivid portrait of the intellectual and cultural milieu in which The
Great Gatsby was produced.
This new and original reading of Gatsby discloses
Fitzgerald's remarkable awareness of the issues of his time and his debt
to such philosophers and critics as William James, Josiah Royce, George
Santayana, John Dewey, Walter Lippman, H. L. Mencken, and Edmund Wilson.
Ronald Berman's fresh approach considers the meaning of various ideas important
to the novel: for example, those moral qualities governing both social
and individual life. Berman's reading of the text reveals extraordinary
emphases on matters that could productively be described as philosophical
-- the nature of friendship, love, and the good life. But the text of the
novel has many echoes, and the same concern with moral issues -- especially
those issues affecting democratic life - can be found in a number of other
texts of the first quarter of the century. Vigorously debated throughout
Fitzgerald's own lifetime, these texts shed a completely new light on the
idealism of The Great Gatsby and on the penetrating view it has
of life in a new form of American democracy.
A noted Fitzgerald scholar, Berman makes it clear that
accepted interpretations of The Great Gatsby and of Fitzgerald's
work in general must be changed. Berman demonstrates that Fitzgerald wrote
within a vast dialectic, relating the ideas of the twenties to those of
the "old America" described in so many of his works. Gatsby, Nick Carraway,
and the other characters of Fitzgerald's greatest novel all have to consider
not only their relationship to the present but also their distance from
what was once a highly meaningful past.