“Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry ‘Lover, gold hatted, high bouncing lover,
I must have you!”
-Thomas Parke D’Invilliers.
This is the epigraph used by Fitzgerald when he began this sad love story. In barely 200 pages, the author doesn’t get into superfluous shenanigans of your average love stories. He uses complex sentences hidden with underlying meanings, which you are left deciphering for yourself. His words make you pause to look at blank walls, hoping to peel through their ambiguity to find the real meaning.
Jay Gatsby was a penniless dreamer, who became rich overnight (through mysterious means), to win back his old love, Daisy Buchanan who had by then, married the very rich Tom Buchanan.
But mind you, this story is not about love so much as it is about objectification. Gatsby a sad, desperate, innocent, recluse who deduced that an object called Daisy Buchanan, when once attained, would make his life complete and happy again. A man who thought that the past can be recreated as many times as he wanted, who strongly believed that a woman can only love one man at a time.
On the other side we have Daisy Buchanan. A bored socialite. A beautiful fool. Who at the beginning and through the words of Nick Caraway, we begin to admire:
“Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth.”
“For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her flowing face, her voice compelled me forward breathlessly as I listened- then the flow faded each light deserting her with lingering regret, like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk.”
But Daisy turned out surprisingly imperfect towards the end. Her sense of entitlement, her limited empathy, her inability to make difficult choices and her cheerful snobbery was indicative of that. Our imperfect protagonist was a needy woman who craved stability. But what she really was, is the human in us. Like Fitzgerald handed us a mirror to enable us to see how others see us.
“She didn’t see why he (Gatsby) couldn’t come. She was feeling the pressure of the world outside, and she wanted to see him and feel his presence beside her and be reassured that she was doing the right thing”
Truth is, Daisy waited for Gatsby for as long as she could. But the artificial world beckoned her and she felt pressured to a decision. She wanted stability through a force; be it through love, or money or the unquestionable practical options available to her. Is that such a bad thing?
And yes the famous American Dream. Fitzgerald challenges the hypocrisy and debauchery of it. That there really are no equal opportunities and no justice for all…and that the only people who survive any of it, are the rich and careless:
“They were careless people Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together”
All of us want a carefree life, but Fitzgerald just told us the dangers of it. That one day, you’d end up not caring about things that matter. That you could end up blowing all your hard earned money on throwing these lavish whimsical parties but not a single decent soul would turn up for your funeral.
What is great about Gatsby then? Probably nothing. His greatness was like an illusion or an act by a circus monkey on an elaborate frivolous stage, set up to seek the attention of a very specific audience (Daisy Buchanan). But the question that now comes to my mind (and which I am afraid I will never find the answer to) is, did Gatsby love Daisy or the idea of her? Gatsby’s blind belief that the ‘green light’ would finally be his, became the end of him. The tragedy isn’t in dreaming Gatsby, but it’s in chasing hopeless dreams.