There’s an air of despondence and disquiet in The Great Gatsby, by the end it feels as though I’ve missed something. Maybe that was Fitzgerald’s intention– to leave a void, the kind felt by many of his ‘lost generation.’
The story centers around Jay Gatsby and Daisy. In many ways it’s almost more about her than Gatsby because everything he’s built was for her. He’s larger than life in what he does but in so many scenes with him there’s almost a stillness– like he’s not really there. He’s elusive only wanting to be caught by Daisy. She represses her development as a character; has barricaded her nature being and doing what society expects. She puts on a show and enjoys the limelight it gives her. She knows there’s more to life, but doesn’t do anything to break free and explore it. I don’t necessarily mean by traveling but by living with heart and honesty.
Gatsby tries to show and encourage her, but his outlook is skewed, missing a level of morality. He has vision and passion for life but collects power and money by whatever means he can. He forgets that time alters people, that Daisy Buchanan isn’t the same maiden Daisy he knew before the war. The past is there, it can’t be resurrected but it shapes who we are. Gatsby refuses to believe he can’t relive it. Daisy makes a capital mistake, a crime that narrows down her greatest weakness as fear. She runs back to Tom, hiding behind his position and wealth, even though Gatsby gives her protection by not exposing her and taking the blame.
Her action breaks the spell– never fully committed to living, after Gatsby’s death, she’s like a snuffed out candle, hardening back into how she was before the fire, pretending to have a life; complacent with superficial pleasantries. Tom makes snide racial remarks, one being how interracial marriage upsets family life. A comment that is not only base but shows what a hypocrite he is.
America was seen as the place to start fresh regardless of the past you didn’t have to settle with what’s happened but could change it. The narrator, Nick Carraway, is the only one who sees, changes, and throws his care for society away. Perhaps a hidden message in his last name? Maybe this is why it’s so often termed a quintessential American novel.
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.
There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams — not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.
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.
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.