Required Reading

“Youth is wasted on the young” George Bernard Shaw


Eleventh graders around the country read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

They should not

They are too young to know the true meaning of pining for the green light across the water

They have not lived enough to know that we truly do beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.





Hear the sound of the water lapping against the gunwale?

They have not lived enough to know careless people like Daisy and Tom Buchanan who, to quote Fitzgerald, smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness.

They have not seen the studied ennui of Jordan Baker crafted as mask and persona

They have not been buffeted by time enough to know the sadness of Owl Eyes crying out to Nick Carraway, “They used to go there by the hundreds”

They don’t hear their own voices that may, like Daisy’s, be full of money

They don’t know the desperation of Myrtle Wilson

They have no point of reference to understand that there are, indeed, men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything after savors of anti-climax

All of this assumes that you, Dear Reader, have read The Great Gatsby

I read the Jazz Age masterpiece in the 11th Grade, like most high school students

I read it while the biggest problem of the day was how to  sneak that bottle of vodka into the dorm to mix with orange Fanta

Or wondering if we would be sober enough to get back to the bus in Boston for the last return to campus

The book should have been seared into my conscience at the time

It wasn’t

Too young

Too youthful

Too inexperienced


“I’m p-paralyzed with happiness” Daisy Buchanan


I have memories of the 1974 film of same name, which they made us watch in class one day

The gauzy lenses

Fey beauty

Soft focus


Roaring 20’s

I have re-read the book in each decade of life since

In my twenties, it felt a little more familiar

In my thirties, I recognized myself and the broken world watched over by those creepy eyes in the valley of ashes

In my forties, I weep

Every time I read it

Cry like a baby



Unable to breathe

Like Nick, not everyone has had the advantages I have had.  Really.  They haven’t

But everyone has had the losses

Dreams deferred

Dreams fulfilled




Things not going according to plan

Not being able to see those we love as much as we would like

Only realizing it when standing at a funeral beside other mourners

On the last page, as Nick concludes that we beat on and yet are borne ceaselessly back into the past, my eyes mist over and tears flow freely

Despair for all that has gone and will never be again

Why they teach this tragedy to teenagers is beyond me

It should be required reading

For all of us in our forties







3 thoughts on “Required Reading

  1. Totally agree on this. I remember Charles reading it and me going over the symbolisms with him. He only got one if two. I tried to explain it but he didn’t retain it or maybe was just like you say basically clueless.


  2. I am one of those teachers who so wanted to prepare my AP juniors. They made pilgrimages to small Fitzgerald home they rented in Montgomery;Zelda’s family mansion razed for interstate years ago. Our Episcopal rector’s lawyer son saved the house to retain connection to Zelda,modest as it is. A lovely Russian lady is often docent & plays the violin between visitors. Students talked about her more than original paintings by Zelda. One thought of Fitzgerald’s I try to follow is giving flowers to living,not sending to a cemetery. So, Hamlin, you have gifts of perception & expression;thank you for sharing them.

    Liked by 1 person

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