Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have heard of The Great Gatsby. A timeless classic from F. Scott Fitzgerald about the ultimately hopeful Jay Gatsby who falls in love with the rich, selfish Daisy Buchanan in Long Island, New York, during the roaring jazz age of the 1920s. It’s a tragic, yet beautiful story that stays with you, touching on the American Dream, but it also warns us of the dangers and pitfalls of being unable to let something go.
Jay Gatsby is the man who has everything. But one thing will always be out of his reach. Everybody who is anybody is seen at his glittering parties. Day and night his Long Island mansion buzzes with bright young things drinking, dancing, and debating his mysterious character. For Gatsby—young, handsome, and fabulously rich—always seems alone in the crowd, watching and waiting, though no one knows what for. Beneath the shimmering surface of his life he is hiding a secret: a silent longing that can never be fulfilled. And soon this destructive obsession will force his world to unravel.
Let me start by saying I love The Great Gatsby, it’s one of my all-time favourite books, and I utterly adore Gatsby himself. He is an incredibly rare and special man with a unique temperament in tough and cynical world.
Nick, our protagonist, describes Gatsby as a man with an “extraordinary gift for hope”, and tells us that it’s his “romantic readiness” that distinguishes him from everybody else. He is the type of character who you can’t help but love and sympathise with, even when you can see that things aren’t going to turn out well for him.
The Great Gatsby is an incredibly personal story to Fitzgerald, who based a lot of Nick and Gatsby’s characters and Gatsby’s ideals from himself, and based some of Daisy’s traits from his love Zelda. Even how Gatsby met Daisy is a reflection of how he met Zelda. Perhaps that’s why Gatsby is easy to relate to, because at the core he stemmed from real person and from a true life love story.
It’s impossible not to mention the themes Fitzgerald wove into this story when we talk about The Great Gatsby: the recklessness of the rich, the American Dream, class, love and marriage – the list is endless. But the most interesting thing about the story, for me, is its message: we are driven by the desire to right the past, and in doing so we are inevitably drawn back to it, repeating its mistakes.
This is summed up in the last few lines of novel, which read:
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic 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 then one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
At the end of the book, Nick looks across to East Egg – like Gatsby must’ve done thousands of times whilst imaging he was back in the past in 1917 with Daisy – and is able to imagine himself in the past. He relates it to the way the European sailors must’ve felt as they looked at what they thought was an untouched continent where they could live and start fresh and undo the mistakes of the past.
To Gatsby, that untouched condiment was Daisy, and to him the green light at the end of her dock represented a way for him to turn back the clock and start over with her, to undo the past and create a different and better future with her with a fresh start.
With this final line, Fitzgerald focuses on the universal struggle of human beings to move forward in life and achieve their dreams whilst simultaneously trying to move on from and recreate the past. We all hope to move toward a future that we hope will right the past, and yet, most of us are unable to do it because we’re caught in this loop that holds us back, i.e., the current that draws us backward as we row forward toward the green light, and end up repeating it’s mistakes.
However, what we can learn and take from Gatsby, is that although he gets wrapped up in the past in trying to turn his dream into reality, he never loses optimism and never gives up on that dream, even when it seemed futile. At the beginning of the novel, Nick admits that it’s Gatsby’s dream that inspires his deep admiration for him. It’s important that we don’t give up on the dream we all have inside us, because it’s the dream that keep us paddling. And that is critically important.