Abstract

In recent decades, The Great Gatsby has become a centerpiece of American culture and pedagogy as many high school students find it on their reading lists. Common Core standards used in public schools often dismiss the reader as a key component in the production of a novel’s meaning. This approach urges students to think more about what a text “is” and “means” rather than considering how meaning relies on the reader’s individual personal experience. By applying reader-response theory to Gatsby, we can assess the impact of our beliefs—specifically those involving race—on our reception of characters and scenes. In contrast with other, more racially controversial novels frequently taught in high schools (e.g., Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), The Great Gatsby can be a comparatively uncontroversial vehicle for students to explore their own engagement with what Barbara and Karen Fields term “racecraft.” This perspective utilizes the status of Gatsby as a cultural fixture and transforms it into a tool for students and lay readers alike to assess critically their own participation in the reproduction of racial structures. Such analysis opposes the recent movement to remove critical race theory from public schools, a movement that threatens to debilitate students’ abilities to navigate the often complicated and confusing contours of American racecraft.

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