Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gatsby: The Great? or Not so Great?

After reading this classic novel recently, as an introspective, thoughtful adult, followed by the new movie adaptation, I've spent some time pondering this "Great Gatsby."  Does he deserve the title?  Was he a great man? soul?  businessman? lover?  son?  friend?
The older and more experienced I become with life and humans, I have come to realize that there are so many different perspectives on practically anything and everything.  We are left to come to our own conclusions which may change or not change as we continue to grow, learn and live.  As I read this book in college, I don't think I had a chance in hell at having much thought about the book or the characters at all.  I was so young and naïve!  Now, I think my thoughts hold a little weight.  Here are some of them:
Gatsby had some shortcomings and flaws.  Who doesn't?  Vanity jumps out at me right away with his clothing and great care of the appearance and impression he made upon others.  He had some sort of God complex about himself, believing he was destined for greatness.  He had no attachment to his family (as they were not deemed great in his mind) and left them behind without a thought as soon as he could be out in the world on his own.  Not a great selling point on his character for starters.  He also made up stories about his past and his life to others quite chronically.  A bit shady.  Certainly not honest or open.  Did these lies harm others?  Perhaps not so much.  Mostly white lies.  What about his bootlegging profession?  Illegal.  Definitely illegal.  However one could argue that banning alcohol in the 1920's was really ridiculous.  This one may be up to the individual's stance on alcohol and the sensibility of Prohibition and maybe one's religious beliefs on alcohol.  After Daisy married during his absence during the War in Europe, he did covet and attempt to lure a married woman out of her commitment to another man.  Obviously some people would look down upon this "sin."  However, in his defense, in his unique mind, he had felt and believed Daisy and he were already married.  In his heart of hearts, the commitment of marriage was there and always present.  For some rare people, it does not take a signing of papers or a declaration before others to be "married" in their own minds and hearts.  It is a state of mind and of the heart when looked at from an honest point of view. 
This man also had some endearing qualities.  When he met Daisy and fell in love with her, his love was true and pure.  His love and commitment towards her never waned.  Not for a moment.  How refreshing!  He created a vision of a life with her that was centered upon their love and the goodness of it. He did well in the war, became a Captain and was respected.  This bodes well for his character.  Although after the war and his experiences traveling the world with Dan Cody, Jay Gatsby fell in with some very shady and corrupt human beings in his business dealings. However, most peculiarly, he was not seduced by the usual temptations:  excessive alcohol, casual sex, gambling, harmful intended dishonesty, abuse of power, disrespect towards others, greed.  He seemed to retain his "purity" of spirit and character even amongst heavy and many bad and evil influences all around him.  I personally marvel at and appreciate this particular tid bit about Gatsby.  It says a lot about who he really is inside to me. 
I think Gatsby's downfall in this tragic story was that his commitment and vision of his love and life with Daisy was too rigid.  He wanted the past 5 years since he had seen her washed away as if they never happened (aka all things Tom).  This makes sense based on his personality, but does not leave any room for the whole messy truth of things or for organic growth or change in relationships or beliefs.  It's good to have goals and dreams, but life is life.  It is completely unrealistic and unhealthy to try to make our dreams come true EXACTLY as we imagine them.  It's preposterous really.  And there most certain is some of the preposterous in Gatsby.  He was a man living on some other planet in outer-space in some ways.  So naïve.  A part of his goodness is an element of this innocence and lack of wisdom of the way of the world we live in and of way of a majority of human beings.  Why did Daisy have to say that she never loved Tom?  Why was this necessary?  In his mind, it was to maintain the purity of Gatsby and Daisy's love.  One feels sorry for him really.  If only he could have really listened to Daisy and tried to understand where she was coming from in all of this.  I believe they could have had a beautiful love story that lasted the rest of their lives if he had had more wisdom.  But aren't we ALL guilty of that (having handled things improperly due to lack of wisdom and insight)!!!  I am, over and over and over again...
Once one looks at Gatsby both close up and from a distance, I believe he was Great in a very unique way:  His pure heart, his innocent mind and his ability to hope and dream big.  Maybe I've met one or two men in my life vaguely resembling Jay Gatsby's character.  Maybe.  I believe he meant no harm.  I believe he truly loved someone for the long haul, as in forever.  I believe he was good.  All of this being said in the awareness that he was certainly not perfect and did not always make wholesome choices.  I feel sorry for the old sport.  Did he ever have a chance in this world?  Upon giving my judgment, I say that he indeed was The Great Gatsby.  Not perfect, not a god, but a very unique and special man with a light within him I wish I have seen more of in others in my life.  I would like to be the recipient of this epic smile he gave Nick Carraway.  "He smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced--or seemed to face--the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey." Perhaps one day I shall be so blessed.  :)