Until one reads The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald, it’s impossible to contemplate the vanity of love or loving, the disillusionment and disenchantment of clinging to a heavenly past that cannot be replayed in the present life. Instead, only a pervading emptiness and compulsive desire to continue with the search for the elusive thing called love. Welcome to the life of Jay Gatsby, the protagonist in Fitzgerald’s magnum corpus.
I first read The Great Gatsby late in 2012 – December – myriad festivities impending – love and happiness in the air. However, my journey into the book could not resonate with that usual high mood.
The novel revolves around Gatsby, a former soldier (nobody is sure) and a baffling millionaire fond of referring to others as ‘old sport.’ He hosts endless parties bringing Americans of all shades in the hope of attracting a woman he used to love. Narrated in the voice of Nick Carraway, a former soldier too and ex-Yale school, the story depicts the main character’s obstinate dream to impress Daisy Buchanan – the belle of East Egg and a woman of impeccable beauty and splendour.
Though now married, Gatsby refuses to accept the truth and this maddening fixation spurs him into an overdrive to bring Daisy closer and win back her love.
How many times have we done stupid and outrageous deeds even after a humiliating rejection from the person we loved? I discovered from this book that love is an intricate and delicate process for humanity and if not handled properly, could predispose us to embarrassing situations.
‘The Great Gatsby’ has also affirmed my private fears concerning life itself. Life is a constant fleeting moment that remains a mystery even to dedicated philosophers and committed poets. T.S. Elliot in the Four Quartets ponders amidst a melancholic feeling: “As we grow older/The world becomes stranger, the pattern/ more complicated/ Of dead and living.”
Attempting to salvage a love that existed in the forgotten past, half a decade ago with all the tides and storms that characterizes that gap borders on plain lunacy. It starkly reminds me of expecting a dead person to resurrect.
The book also got me meditating on the causes of human obsession with love, materialism, spirituality or even sexuality to a point of overspending to win back that is gone.
In his paper A Cognitive Theory of Obsessions, S. Rachman notes that “…obsessions are caused by catastrophic misinterpretations of the significance of one’s intrusive thoughts (images, impulses).” He adds that such obsessions are likely to stick if individuals clutch to these warped and misplaced misinterpretations. Fortunately, if human beings purge the misinterpretations, the obsessions go.
But not Gatsby even after fiercely clashing with Daisy’s current husband, Tom Buchanan. He is determined to prove, though hopelessly futile, that his beloved Daisy still adores him. Again, he devotedly anticipates a fantasy world where a happy-ending waits for the two of them.
It brings me to the vital lesson in life of realizing our limitations and focusing on other positive things of transforming our lives for the better.
Fitzgerald’s novel echoes the haunting themes of loneliness, vanity and desolation in Ayi Kwei Armah’s book Fragments. It is about a young graduate called Baako who has returned from America to assist in nation building in his native Ghana country only to find a world turned topsy-turvy. People are inclined to fleece others especially budding writers and artists.
Baako eventually finds solace in the warm love of Dr. Juan, a woman of exquisite qualities tormented by the mounting emptiness of life and worse, the searing poverty ravaging the masses. Tasked with counseling patients such as Baako suffering from depression, it turns out she is a victim herself. A tale of the hunter turned the hunted.
The two books intersect at the point of deception of humanity in the race of life. Individuals are prepared to deceive, con, plunder or even kill to satisfy their narcissistic demands. Egocentrism has become a norm in the lives of both the young and the old proving difficult to find the difference.
Sexuality also gains prominence as an essential factor in solving our problems – real or imagined. When overwhelmed by societal responsibilities of sustaining a family and still remaining sane, men may resort to rash and reckless women in the mould of Daisy Buchanan. Or still, the modest and detached beauty as Dr. Juan for Baako.
Again, in a tumultuous bachelorhood when the prospects of marriage seem nil, all the eligible ones now taken and raising happy families; reaching out to former flames is not a farfetched dream.
As the Fitzgerald concludes towards the end of the book:
“It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther….” It’s never over.