The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
To truly understand The Great Gatsby you have to have lost something. You have to feel like life cheated you out of something, that life has the ability to promise you something and just as easily pretend that it never promised anything and it has no idea what you’re talking about.
This is what I tell my students when I teach Gatsby. Yeah, I can be a depressing person/educator at times, but I stand by it. My students are usually swept up with the glamour of the jazz era; they fall for the glitz, the excess, the parties. I mean who wouldn’t be swept up? The “yellow cocktail music” of Fitzgerald’s language and his depictions of the the bawdy, glittering parties entrance us all as we dream of a different time of beautiful, inconsequential indulgence. The dream gets my students hooked, but it is the pervasive disillusionment with this dream that has always struck me, has always made me feel a deep connection with Fitzgerald and his characters.
I was first introduced to The Great Gatsby as a junior in college, and my 20 year old self fell in love more with Fitzgerald’s writing more than his message. I remember getting through the first couple of pages and just thinking that it simply wasn’t fair. I mean, I had been writing angsty poetry for six years, and, now, after being exposed to Fitzgerald, I had no hope of ever being as good of a writer. He ruined it for all of us. I was intoxicated with Fitzgerald’s words which were as gorgeous and lush as the world he created with them.
I first began teaching this novel in my early twenties, a time when all my dreams for my future were met with wave after wave of harsh reality. I couldn’t find a job. I couldn’t move out of my parent’s house. When I did find a job, I lost it. I didn’t have time to write or be creative or live the life I wanted. It took being disillusioned for me to really fall in love with his message.
Since then, I’ve re-read Gatsby easily over ten times, and I’ve always taken away something new. Every single time that I’ve finished Gatsby, I’ve looked at that excessively long em dash on his final page, and felt myself reaching across the sound of my life, against the choppy water attempting to look through that fog to see that green light at the end of the dock.
That I too “believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And one fine morning—”
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Fitzgerald makes his readers dream as Gatsby dreams: we can have it all–the infamous parties, the endless money, the easy love– without consequences. However, through the story of the infamous Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald shows us that we are hitching our boats to the wrong dream. Nothing worth dreaming about is easy. Nothing worth dreaming about comes without consequences.
Lit & Love,