That recurrence is a testament to the novel’s enduring resonance. Despite selling poorly and earning mixed reviews during Fitzgerald’s lifetime, “Gatsby” became a perennial American classic after his death in 1940. A staple of high school curriculums nationwide, it reliably sells half a million copies in the United States each year.
“I love what an old, old student of mine said once: It’s the Sistine Chapel of American literature in 185 pages,” said Maureen Corrigan, a Georgetown University English professor and the author of “So We Read On,” a 2014 book about the novel’s origins and cultural endurance. “It does that magical thing of saying something big about America, and saying it in gorgeous, unforgettable language. That’s why we’re all quoting ‘careless people’ right now.”
For some readers, the lessons of “Gatsby” have been colored by the Trump presidency — and by a pandemic that has claimed more than 210,000 American lives and roiled the economy.
“The problem with ‘The Great Gatsby,’ which was written in 1925, is that you get the stock market crash in 1929,” said Ring, who teaches a course on the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, periods of material excess and reform that preceded the Great Depression. “We’re already there.”
But if anything, the novel’s purchase on American society seems likely to increase in the coming years. The rights to “Gatsby,” which have remained with Fitzgerald’s descendants for decades, are set to become public domain in January. That could prompt renewed attention on the book, said Blake Hazard, Fitzgerald’s great-granddaughter and a trustee of his literary estate.
“We have to assume that there’s going to be adaptations, sequels, prequels and whatever people dream up,” said Hazard, a Los Angeles singer-songwriter whose Instagram account is studded with references to her literary forebear.
And as an election that will decide Trump’s political fate approaches, the question of whether his presidency will inflect future readings and adaptations may hinge on another: What would Fitzgerald have made of the president?