In an insightful piece, Maria Konnikova at Slate assesses the need for a “Great American Novel,” or GAN. The search for the country’s GAN began in the mid-1800s, after the Civil War, during a period of intense nationalism. Over the past 150 years, multiple books have been selected by critics and academics as the “true” GAN, including The Great Gatsby and The Grapes of Wrath. Unsure of the need for such a label, Konnikova writes:
“American” is an inherently shifting concept. What it means to be American is changing, to the point where it has become close to what it has always been for the Old World: an irrelevant modifier. A modifier that has expanded, has transformed to the point where it may as well fall away.
Once, the GAN was uniquely American. That need has passed.