GATSBY. Gatsby? Gatsby.
I’ve stayed away from the subject of Gatsby for some years because I simply couldn’t deal with it. Gatsby made me infinitely angry at F. Scott Fitzgerald.
A romantic at heart, (what I used to call a ‘romantic realist’) frequently perturbed at the intrusion of those brutes who seem to live only to burst bubbles that they might then feed on the air, or helium, that escapes said bubbles, Gatsby just makes me mad. Because who doesn’t fall in love with Gatsby? Throwing elaborate parties, inviting people he really hasn’t any interest in, that he might spend any time at all with Daisy. My copy of this book is in I don’t know where exactly so I’m googling, though I did, not long ago, watch most of the original film, again, on youtube. You Tube, the most unromantic sounding thing, isn’t it? So utterly unrefined? ( and you know I do love youtube.)
So Gatsby, I’m practically swooning at the thought. Not long after moving into this house, on a Summer night, there was music, live jazz, coming from a house across the alley on the next street. They had strung lights over their yard that I could just barely see. I stood at the fence listening for a long time, their laughter rising with the music, imagining that I could hear the ice in the glasses, thinking of… Gatsby.
I’ve read the book, looked at the book, the number of pages, turned it over in my hands, marveled at it as though it were a Rubiks Cube of literature that I can’t quite solve. Because it’s perfect. understand that I am speaking as a writer here with an appreciation for craft, because make no mistake, Gatsby is a horrible story about horrible people. It is not a happy story. Gatsby, is a tragedy. But you know, as a piece of writing, it’s just perfect. But I want Daisy rescued. I do. Maybe it’s a psychological archetype of the fairy tale that appeals to the Disney Princess images of youth, however hi-jacked those were from the Brother’s Grimm, and how quickly we’ve forgotten the dark origins of those tales, maybe that’s what it is about Gatsby, because Gatsby measures up, doesn’t he? Perfectly so. Gatsby returns with his fortunes to try to claim Daisy again but she is damaged. Five years with brutish Tom have changed her, she is bitter, her heart perpetually broken by a life that looks one way and is another. The crude life she shares with Tom has become not comfortable, not acceptable, but familiar until she hardly notices the brutality of it at all, with the exception of moments when some barb gets in. But then Gatsby returns, provides a contrast, there is enough of a spark still in her to give her, and, of course Gatsby, hope. She doesn’t like the party Gatsby throws and his feelings are hurt but I think he doesn’t understand, I think she doesn’t like the party because she knows, now, what it leads to, those parties and those interactions. Daisy has become removed from the world, the cuts have been deep and her vision has narrowed with the laser like precision of a hawk on the hunt only what Daisy sees are all the things that she can never really say anything about, all the lies and all the things that have the potential to do more damage. Daisy goes along to get along. I think she’s often mischaracterized as being more shallow than she really is. Gatsby has money, if it were a matter of her being shallow, there’s no reason not to just go with Gatsby right away. But were she to trust Gatsby, to leave Tom for Gatsby, she’d have to be willing to believe in love again. Because she loves Gatsby and knows that he loves her, and that opens the door to the possibility of being hurt, again. While Gatsby wants to remind her of the joy of life to share that with her, Daisy is made all too aware of the pain of life by Tom. There is some part of Daisy that just can’t get her mind around it, that things could be good again.
Fitzgerald is brilliant. Tom, Jordan, Myrtle, these characters are horrible people. Daisy teeters on the edge of it. I found myself wanting so much for Gatsby to just take her, to just get her away from Tom long enough for her to be okay again. And when Daisy hits Myrtle, you see her recede in fear to the seeming safety of her ‘known’ world and Tom swooping right in, using it to his advantage. Myrtle’s gone, why shouldn’t he try to keep Daisy, divorce being so pesky, and he hates Gatsby anyway.
It makes me angry because it’s perfect, because it is a perfect exaggeration of the depths of the darkness of human nature. Characters reduced from all their learned civilization to their basic emotional needs. Every one of these characters is suffering from an emotional lack in their lives so great that they are then compelled to seek an end to that suffering, and the juxtaposition of the material wealth is stunning. They have everything, and they have nothing.
Daisy has shut down because Daisy is a romantic and Tom is a brute. So Tom finds Myrtle, unrefined, childlike, completely selfish, taking whatever is offered because Myrtle’s life at the garage with George is brutish to her so that Tom seems romantic and in her eyes he can be the hero again, find a bit of salve for Daisy’s disdain. Myrtle’s husband, breaks my heart every time and we’re glad really, in some way, when Myrtle dies. Nick and Jordan almost seem like cardboard at times but they are an exaggeration of those characters in life too, they are observing, they are moving things along, trading information, though both of them seemingly without much emotion at all for most of the story. But Gatsby, he’s in love with Daisy, he’s lying about his life, about who he is, because of it, because somewhere in him he thinks he’s got to do that, so Gatsby has his issues too and we sympathize, he’s fallen in love above what he feels is his station in life, so we are forgiving Gatsby from the word go for his fabrications, we don’t even notice them because we so get that, don’t we? Gatsby is trying to be worthy. Gatsby wants Daisy to choose him, on her own, but maybe doesn’t understand that in the state of mind she was in, after so many years with Tom, she’s just constantly, instinctively, hedging her bets because most of her choices have been between devils.
I know the story of The Great Gatsby. I think that’s why I prefer “Tender is the Night.” I want Gatsby and Daisy to be together, have a happy life, and it’s one of those books that leaves us, at conclusion, feeling as dissatisfied as the characters in some way because it doesn’t cough up the happy ending. It’s one of those stories where women say things like, If Gatsby wanted me I’d go with him in a heartbeat.( And maybe men say that Gatsby should have just taken her?) With “Tender is the Night,” Fitzgerald takes us on an equally arduous ride but with a softer conclusion in some ways, the main characters divorce, survive, and Fitzgerald demonstrates again his own understanding of human nature, and his own life, through the veil of fiction.