Why I Love The Great Gatsby

It was testimony to the romantic speculation he inspired that there were whispers about him from those who had found little that it was necessary to whisper about in this world. ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

By now, it’s rather trite to love ‘The Great Gatsby’ as I do, but I consider it a guilty pleasure, and the mark of a non-hipster, to unabashedly revel in those things I really like. As I get older, I find it less and less necessary to conform to what is deemed cool, and if I fall in your indubitably-and-unmistakably-mistaken estimation of me, so be it. When asked to put my finger on it, I usually falter, stumbling over explanations, trying vainly to put across the emotional resonance it held for me at the time in my life when I first read it, but basically it boils down to this: I love the way Fitzgerald writes. Some loudly scoff and condemn such a comment. Save your complaints for someone who agrees with you.

“”Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages you’ve had.”” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

In some ways, the novel represents the person I most wanted to one day become, and the unattainability of that person. To such an end, it works almost too perfectly – and in the ultimately hopeless plight of Mr. Gatsby, I recognize and realize the falterings and shortcomings of a life left with dreams that didn’t come true, and do my best to reconcile them.

But his heart was in a constant, turbulent riot. The most grotesque and fantastic conceits haunted him in his bed at night. A universe of ineffable gaudiness spun itself out in his brain while the clock ticked on the wash-stand and the moon soaked with wet light his tangled clothes upon the floor. Each night he added to the pattern of his fancies until drowsiness closed down upon some vivid scene with an oblivious embrace. For a while these reveries provided an outlet for his imagination; they were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy’s wing. ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

As lush and romantic as much of it is, it’s also rife with loneliness. Fitzgerald seemed to understand that romance didn’t necessarily mean a life that wasn’t lonely, and sometimes romantic entanglements were the surest route to finding yourself alone. The marriages here are violent and murderous. They are a warning, perhaps. But they are also a haven. Most marriages don’t just happen. There is usually history there. Love as well. And to dare think that a marriage is easily understood, the puzzles of a life together easily solved or figured out, is to invite certain destruction. Even in the most innocent relationship in the book, one person is not to be trusted – whether that’s in the simple, desperate move to stay on top in a game of golf, or the life-long deceit of a love long faded. Everyone is alone.

 At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others – poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner – young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life. ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

Yet in that loneliness was a stunning beauty, and a gorgeousness that only a loner and lover of solitude could appreciate and understand. For Gatsby, so much of his life was lived in anticipation, in the hope and possibility of what was to come, or never to come, and it was lived alone. In empty ball rooms while workers prepped the kitchen, in hidden enclaves while guests bounded across the expanse of his lawn, in the quiet lapping of water in a laughter-less pool, in the barren recesses of a dusty heart that wanted so badly to love it could never work – and even if he’d gotten the girl, in the end, it wouldn’t be right.

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 so 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. ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

It’s the Great American novel because it so singularly and specifically captures a moment in our history, while universally painting the ideal of the individual, and all the inherent flaws with which we are endowed. It never gives up, it never stops trying, even as it never quite realizes the American Dream – not the real secret dream of our hearts, the one that doesn’t involve money and success, fashion and fame, sparkle and charm. There is no happy ending, only then, only now…

 Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder. ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow 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.

~ F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby


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