The Ghostly Heart

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

Like Clare, I was very uneasy when I heard that Baz Luhrman was directing the newest film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, as I’m not a fan of his adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. I had actually decided to wait and rent it when it came out on DVD, because I didn’t want to waste $10 on a Baz Luhrman film. But Clare urged me to see it after she went to see it in theaters, and I decided that if I was going to continue to bash Luhrman and be bitter about the whole ordeal, I should do it intelligently. I went with my younger brother, Jack, and as the movie progressed, I looked over and realized that we were both leaning forward in our seats, engrossed. When Jack and I left the theater, we were still pretty sucked into the story, and it took us about an hour to formulate all of our thoughts about the movie. But Jack said something as we left the theater that I found really interesting. He said, “I really liked and hated Gatsby at the same time. And I think that’s because he reminded me of myself.”

I’ve been mulling over what my brother said about Gatsby for a week now, and I think I now have some conclusions about why I found that statement so profound. Clare wrote about why Fitzgerald’s story is still relevant today, and I want to focus in on one aspect in her argument—Gatsby himself. Jay Gatsby, although he is a mysterious figure at the beginning of Fitzgerald’s novel, is flesh and blood at the end, a character to whom everyone can relate in some way. I think the easiest way, as an English major, to back this argument up will be through quotations from the novel itself. So here it goes. I’ll let good old F. Scott speak for himself.

“[Gatsby had] an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again… He wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was.” Gatsby has an almost childlike sense of optimism that he has held onto throughout the years, and it makes him seem almost invincible for most of the novel. He burns with this energy and hope that I think we all once had, but it has been chipped away by the world around us over time until our expectations for life become “realistic” and “practical”. Gatsby’s expectations are not realistic, and they are not practical. Instead, he seeks to attain the unattainable.

The unattainable thing that Gatsby seeks to attain is his lost love, Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby pours all of his hope and desire into this dream, and believes that if he can find Daisy again, if he can just get her to love him back, he will be okay. He will be happy and fulfilled. We all think this way in life. If we just get that raise, that grade, lose those five pounds… We will have made it. We’ll be safe, secure, happy. Even after Gatsby is reunited with Daisy, though, he does not feel fulfilled.  “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.”

Gatsby put all of his faith and hope in this young woman, built a huge shrine of a mansion for her while awaiting her arrival. And yet even in their reunion, Daisy tumbles short of his dreams. Gatsby places his hopes and dreams at the feet of a woman who is as flawed as anyone, and the unsteady foundation of his hopes begins to crumble almost immediately. When we get that raise, that grade, lose those five pounds, do we feel safe, secure, or happy? In my experience, this isn’t the case.

“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.” The last lines of the novel have always haunted me. And they are the backbone to the reason that I think Gatsby’s story is universal, as Fitzgerald switches from talking about Gatsby to “we” and “us”.  Like Gatsby, we too seek after things that we believe will fulfill us and make us happy. And often, like Gatsby, we find that these things tumble short of our dreams. And so we run faster, stretch our arms farther, reaching for the next thing. But will those things, once attained, fulfill us?

I have come to the conclusion that I liked Luhrman’s adaptation of Gatsby, because he did a great job of conveying Gatsby’s nature in his film, and even ended the film with those beautifully damning lines above. Will the things we seek fulfill us? That is the question left hanging in the air at the end of this novel, and I think that this is why this book is so haunting, its story so powerful, and its message so relevant today.

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