Gatsby feels new again

Published 9:48 am Friday, October 5, 2012

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

A routine fire drill put the Pelham High School student population outside today. Since we were celebrating homecoming with decade day, students were dressed from every decade in history. Drivers passing the school during our fire drill were treated to an array of historical costumes.

Willie Thompson, an employee at the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, displays his Gatsby shirt. (Contributed)

Today I taught hippies, ‘80s kids and flappers. Since PHS juniors are reading “The Great Gatsby,” the flappers were particularly appropriate. Although the novel is a period piece that gives us the experience of the ‘20s, its characters and themes are timeless.

Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, this novel stuns us with characters that are so real, my students raise their voices condemning and defending them.

Ultimately, Fitzgerald’s characters are very much like us-people who long to be virtuous, but who also want their selfish desires quickly fulfilled.

Fitzgerald spent most of his life in the north, but at 21, the Army sent him to Camp Sheridan in Montgomery. Here he met Zelda Sayre, the vivacious 18-year-old Southern beauty who put his world into a tailspin.

Their courtship, long-distance relationship and subsequent marriage in 1920 gifted Fitzgerald with constant Alabama influence-and perhaps the most important character in his life-the beautiful, creative, social, perhaps unstable Southern woman.

Teaching the novel annually since the ‘80s, I seek new angles. This year, as my students read “Gatsby’s” first chapter, I drove down Zelda Road in Montgomery finding my way to The Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum located in a home where the couple and their only child once lived at 919 Felder Ave.

The museum holds Zelda’s self-portrait, pages of typewritten manuscript with handwritten edits and Willie Thompson-the museum’s curator and storyteller. Ancient typewriters used during the era are also on display-items of fascination and horror for my laptop-loving students.

I also visited Montgomery Country Club, where Scott and Zelda first met at a dance, and a lifetime of devotion began. Like the Gatsby character of his creation, Fitzgerald experienced devotion that was unending.

Showing my Montgomery photos to my class, “The Great Gatsby” feels new again. Fitzgerald never fails us.


Connie Nolen can be reached by email at