As regular readers will know I have talked many times about The Great Gatsby in regards to the film from last year. It’s nearly been a year since I saw the film and my opinion still remains the same, but I think it’s high time I spoke about the novel.
I will start by saying that the novel is excellent. It is one of the finest pieces of literature I’ve had the pleasure of reading and I would regard it as one of my favourite books. F Scott Fitzgerald manages to comment on the idea of love and desire but connects it to such intriguing characters, none more so than the title character of Jay Gatsby.
Initially he appears as a mysterious millionaire who likes nothing more than to hold extravagant parties for everyone but himself. Even this was intriguing for me, seeing a man who has so much money appears to be so hollow was fascinating. As members of today’s society we’re all drawn in to the idea of financial gain and material possessions but I think the first sighting of Gatsby shows what happens when you achieve this ideal. Money leaves you quite literally having everything and nothing.
But as the story develops we see that there is more to this gentleman than meets the eye, moving from something of a sixties James Bond villain to someone more third dimensional. If you look past all of the expensive clothing and lavish property ownership you see that he is a man who is very conflicted. His history is obscure and complicated and he tries his hardest to hide many things from people but, none more so than his love for the young Daisy Buchanan.
The plot develops to show how the one thing that Gatsby actually wants is the love of the one he desires. He wants to be reunited with the person he fell in love with at a very young age. His first love, something that some people would look back on with fondness but can accept that it was always going to end, but in the case of Gatsby he clings to this and keeps it in the front of his mind. Some would say that he goes too far to achieve this but personally I feel that he does exactly what any human being would do, and it’s not something worth hating him for.
I know a lot of people will disagree with me but I don’t think he is a character worth disliking, because in the end he represents humanity. He is a physical representation of the desire all human beings have. The desire to be somebody, the desire to be accepted, the desire to be accepted by those around us but most importantly the desire to be with the one we love. Now people approach this in a manner of different ways, some write poetic letter and some sit in a room crying and trying to make everything seem fine, and then there’s Gatsby. The sporadic approach. The approach that wants that one person at any cost, without seeing barriers or limitations.
He’s sporadic because he is quite literally all over the place, he cannot control his emotions. One minute he’s a grown man with a strong heart and his head held high, the next he’s a flustered teenager who doesn’t know how to handle raging hormones. It’s love that makes him as conflicted as he is, as happy as he is, and most importantly as angry as he is. He blames himself and knows that inevitably it is his own actions that cause him to be unhappy.
That’s not something worth disliking him for, because he’s constructed as such an intricate and complex character, surrounded by lies and deceit and such lavish lucre but it’s all part of the hole left in his life. The material possessions, the house with the swimming pool, the yellow Rolls Royce, the clothing, is all just to plug the hole in his life left by Daisy. As a young man who was unsuccessful and had nothing to his name he felt that being poor was his mistake. It was what lead to him eventually being alone, so money was a way to fix this. That isn’t distasteful or something to dislike him for because we all do it. When we get upset or annoyed we buy things, be it comfort food, clothes or a limited edition blu ray steel book of Total Recall (yes, this happened to me last year) we all plug emotional holes with material possessions. Gatsby is us.
In regards to the lying it’s just the same, he was a nobody to one person, so he lies to become a somebody to everyone. The lies he constructs are to build an identity worth noticing and to quite literally buy friends. It’s admirable that he only has Nick Carraway as a friend because it shows how much a true friend really means to him. It shows a clear distinction between the two sets of friends we all have as humans: the ones we try to impress by being someone we’re not, and the ones who accept us for who we are and stand by us. Carraway was right, he was worth the whole damn bunch.
In the end I think Gatsby is us. He is a subversive look on the human condition and how we all try to be something we’re not. He represents how love impacts us all and what it does to us. If you dislike Gatsby then essentially you dislike yourself. Because he is a physical representation of all the jealously, lust, anger and self loathing that humans contain. Gatsby takes all of the raw emotions that we try to hide and brings them to the surface. He is someone to be feared because he is what all humans are capable of. We hate him because he is everything we hate in ourselves.
At the end of the day we are all Gatsby, stood on the end of a pier reaching out to the light on the other side. Close to it, and yet equally so far.