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The two texts, The Great Gatsby and Looking for Alaska, are vastly different in their

subject matter. However, they follow the same social pattern that has caused backlash within a
large community. Both books have been awarded and/or recognized for their literary genius.
The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, has been widely considered a literary classic
and is studied in educational settings. Looking for Alaska, written by John Green, has been
awarded the Printz Award, an award designed to recognize the best book written for teenagers.
The award is decided solely on a book’s literary merit. The Great Gatsby was published in the
year 1925, and Looking for Alaska was published in 2005. There are 80 years separating the
publishing of these two novels, and yet, the same issues are presented in both pieces of
literature. In the 1920s, sexual activity among the young adult demographic was becoming more
accepted, as the time period was known for being more daring than ever before- hence the
name “The Roaring Twenties”. Sexual activity was being represented on a wider platform than
ever before through books, films, and music. By the 2000s, sexual activity was an open topic,
which was widely publicized through all available media, ranging from film, literature, radio talk
shows, or music. F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and John Green’s Looking for Alaska
portray sexual activity in young adults in a way that is offensive to certain readers, as the texts
are hyper-realistic to the time and do not conform to what is typically expected when confronting
young-adult relationships.
Though sexual activity was a prevalent topic in literature during both times, the audience
that these works were geared towards were widely considered to be too impressionable to read
about the events in the novels. The Great Gatsby is in the fiction genre and is considered to be
an academic book for high school students. By this categorization, the targeted audience is
teenagers or young adults, even though the book follows adult characters. “Sitting on Tom’s lap
Mrs. Wilson called up several people on the telephone” (Fitzgerald 29). The characters are
referred to ‘Mrs.’ or ‘Mr.’ unless they make a point of being called by their first, or informal,
name; “after the first drink Mrs. Wilson and I called each other by our first names” (Fitzgerald
30). The characters lose the formality of using a title when they engage in actions that would not
be considered proper. This disrespect of foregoing their expected titles is one of the reasons the
book was called unsuited for the targeted age group. Fitzgerald shines a light on the side of
adulthood that is not often seen, because the behavior should not be looked up to. Looking For
Alaska, like The Great Gatsby, was written for a young adult audience, though it is not
considered an educational novel. Looking for Alaska depicts the lives of a group of teenagers in
a boarding school: “I left my family and Florida and the rest of my minor life to go to boarding
school in Alabama” (Green 5). Though the demographic is the same as the targeted audience, it
was argued that the topics discussed were not suited for the intended age group. Though this
statement could be viewed as senseless, as the scenes discussed are relevant to teenage life,
the statement could also be viewed as valid since the author addresses topics in a graphic way.
The focal issue that was presented in both cases was the way sexual activity was
portrayed by the authors- specifically the carefree stance that they took on the matter. The
Great Gatsby, while not discussing sexual acts directly, alludes to them through the text: “I was
standing beside his bed and he was sitting up between the sheets, clad in his underwear, with a
great portfolio in his hands” (Fitzgerald 38). Fitzgerald uses the reference of a “portfolio” to
emphasize the number of sexual partners that Tom has had. Fitzgerald also describes the
attendees of Gatsby’s parties in a whimsical way, that can be said to promote the way of life
being shown: “In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the
whisperings and the champagne and the stars” (Gatsby 39). Though the partygoers are
described in a fantastical way, they are also being referred to as moths- pesky creatures that
follow the light. Thus, there is a contrast to the way that the part scene is represented, both
negatively and positively. Looking for Alaska is similar in this sense in its referring to those who
party, or are more casual in their sexual relationships, as more interesting. Though the novel
also shows the negative aspects of parties, such as what alcohol and drugs can do to a
person’s mental state. The Great Gatsby and Looking for Alaska also have sexist undertones
and talk down to their female characters: “I hope she'll be a fool -- that's the best thing a girl can
be in this world, a beautiful little fool” (Fitzgerald 17). The way that women are described in The
Great Gatsby shows the zeitgeist of the 1920s, and how women were disregarded. This is
similar to Looking for Alaska, where the female characters are more of an object to the male
characters; “They love their hair because they're not smart enough to love something more
interesting” (Green 106). Both texts portray the female gender as unintelligent and degrade
them in the process of doing so.
Though there has been backlash for both texts, Looking for Alaska and The Great
Gatsby, the positive reviews for both are overwhelming. The aforementioned texts have been
recognized for their literary genius, and in the case of Looking for Alaska, awarded for it- the
Printz Award. The Great Gatsby was said to be “a curious book, a mystical, glamorous story of
today” by the New York Times' Edwin Clark. Though H.L. Mencken, from the Chicago Tribune,
said: “Scott Fitzgerald's new novel, The Great Gatsby, is in form no more than a glorified
anecdote, and not too probable at that.” This shows how the text can be interpreted differently
depending on the reader. Similarly, Looking for Alaska received mixed reviews, though they
were predominantly positive: “John Green has written a powerful novel--- one that plunges
headlong into the labyrinth of life, love, and the mysteries of being human,” (K. L. Going).
Though both books have a following of admiration, they were challenged by the America Library
Association for having sexual references- or sexually explicit scenes- as well as the language
used in the dialogue. Eventually, Looking for Alaska was officially placed on the banned book
list, and The Great Gatsby was only challenged.

Works Cited:

Garber, Megan. “'Unimportant,' 'Cynical,' and 'Terribly Forced': What Reviewers Made of 'The
Great Gatsby' in 1925.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 10 Apr. 2018,

Green, John. Looking for Alaska/ John Green. HarperCollins Children's Books, 2005.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Scribner Paperback Fiction, 2018.