A shorter, simpler, “retold” version of The Great Gatsby, designed for students who aren’t fluent in English, cheats students, writes film critic Roger Ebert. “There is no purpose in “reading” The Great Gatsby unless you actually read it.”
Its poetry, its message, its evocation of Gatsby’s lost American dream, is expressed in Fitzgerald’s style — in the precise words he chose to write what some consider the great American novel. Unless you have read them, you have not read the book at all. You have been imprisoned in an educational system that cheats and insults you by inflicting a barbaric dumbing-down process. You are left with the impression of having read a book, and may never feel you need return for a closer look.
English Learners who aren’t ready for The Great Gatsby should read young-adult novels with a simplified vocabulary, Ebert suggests. “Why eviscerate Fitzgerald?”
He quotes Fitzgerald’s famous conclusion to the novel, which ends with the narrator imagining the “old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world.”
And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning—-
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Macmillan’s version, as “retold by Margaret Tarner,” eviscerates Fitzgerald’s meaning and his poetry:
Gatsby had believed in his dream. He had followed it and nearly made it come true.
Everybody has a dream. And, like Gatsby, we must all follow our dream wherever it takes us.
Some unpleasant people became part of Gatsby’s dream. But he cannot be blamed for that. Gatsby was a success, in the end, wasn’t he?
Teaching Now’s readers are skeptical of dumbing down Gatsby, writes Anthony Rebora.
One reader, a high school English teacher mortified by the rewritten Gatsby, recommends Jake, Reinvented, a young-adult novel based loosely on Gatsby, which features hard-partying, social-climbing high school students in a contemporary setting. The teacher has students read the “remake” as preparation for the real Gatsby.
However, book blogger Jessica Crispin defends “young reader” adaptations of classic novels. She read Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities in simplified versions, then went on to the real books when she was older.
I read them for the story as a kid—murder and intrigue and violence and revolution—and then for the prose later on, when it wasn’t so off-putting.
I can see that for A Tale of Two Cities, but not for Gatsby.