Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can.


Have you ever read a book and imagined it to be so fantastical that no tangible reality could encompass the magical world made of words you hold in your hands? That to you, it couldn’t be portrayed by humans or sets or be limited to a screen in front of you?

This is exactly how I felt about F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s The Great Gatsby. Felt being the operative, past-tense verb.

I’ll admit, I am a little biased. I absolutely love Carry Mulligan and Leonardo DiCaprio is the one that got away (he was my first love… albeit he’ll never know). But, as a lover of the novel, the movie had a level of greatness to accomplish. It definitely did.

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

The fantastical aspects of the book are varied; however, Tom and Daisy are at the top of the list. Their selfishness, carelessness and ability to come back to each other at the end of the night made me both hate them to their core, while wondering at the complexity of their relationships.

“I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

You get the sense that Daisy despises her husband, that she feels trapped by her femininity–a common feeling among the ’20s flappers–but you don’t see her even attempting to flee. Even worse, she finds safety in her husband and she retreats into Tom’s brute arms. Brilliant, bright, beautiful Daisy becomes that beautiful little fool at the end of the story.

“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 eternal 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.”

Gatsby wasn’t real to me because he was a child in a grown man’s body. Everything he said was so jovial and optimistic, but ultimately naive, as Daisy was never his to have.

“He snatched out his hand desperately as if to snatch only a wisp of air, to save a fragment of the spot that she had made lovely for him. But it was all going by too fast now for his burred eyes and he knew that he had lost that part of it, the freshest and the best, forever.”

He’s the most complex character–Daisy follows as a scathingly-close second–because he is such a immoral man, yet F. Scott makes him into the American heartthrob.

“And I remember he looked at her in that way that all young girls want to be looked at.”

It’s like: “ladies… it’s totally OK to fall in love with a crook, a thief or a gangster… just so long as he is using his bounty to buy you extravagant things and says he loves you very, very much.” I get that this is kind of a stretch and I’m besmirching this great love story by taking things out of context.

But to that I say this: The Great Gatsby is not a love story, and it was never meant to be interpreted as such. There is love, or forms of it, in the book everywhere. The lost love of Daisy and Jay, revisited momentarily. The new beginnings of love of Nick and Jordan, ended prematurely. The one-sided love of the Wilsons, and how Myrtle’s captivation led to her death. And the comfortable love of the Buchanans, and how Daisy couldn’t leave her husband… but why not?

“I’ve heard it said that Daisy’s murmur was only to make people lean toward her; an irrelevant criticism that made it no less charming.”

I hate Daisy. I hate how deluded she is by society. She is constantly at war within herself to do what is right or to do what she wants. She was broken the day she was forced into her marriage, and from that day on she was changed. She became a woman, subjected to a man. She let society win. ALSO, I hate how she thinks everyone is in love with her–even though it seems like everyone kinda sorta is…

So if not to tell the lost love story… what is the purpose of this novel? Image

“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.”

When turning the final pages of the novel or soaking in the finale of the movie, I’m left with an overwhelming happy feeling. Not like: “thank god that Gatsby guy dies, I was getting so sick of that ‘old sport’ shit.” But more like I learned a lesson that Gatsby never knew, but that Daisy always realized.

“Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can.”

But Gatsby, your optimism failed you. You cannot. No one can. We all make decisions, and sometimes we want so badly to close our eyes and take it back, we can’t. We have to carry on and make adjustments and compromises and recreations, maybe. Maybe you could have gotten Daisy. If circumstances had been different. Had Myrtle Wilson not ran out to the car. Had Gatsby not lost his temper. Had Tom not recounted the tender, sweet memories. Or had Gatsby simply allowed them to run away together, maybe. We’ll never know.

“And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes–a fresh, green breast of the new world. 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.”


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