This text focuses on F. Scott Fitzgerald and the prevailing ideas and values that permeated American society in the late teens and early twenties. It provides a portrait of the intellectual and cultural milieu in which The Great Gatsby was produced. This reading of Gatsby discloses Fitzgerald's 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 approach considers the meaning of various ideas important to the vel: 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 vel 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. Berman makes it clear that accepted interpretations of The Great Gatsby and of Fitzgerald's work in general must be changed. He demonstrates that Fitzgerald wrote within a vast dialectic, relating the ideas of the 1920s to those of the old America described in so many of his works. Gatsby, Nick Carraway and the other characters of Fitzgerald's greatest vel all have to consider t only their relationship to the present but also their distance from what was once a highly meaningful past.
Ronald Stanley Berman is Professor of Literature at the University of California at San Diego and author of The Great Gatsby and Modern Times.