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The Great Gatsby

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Green-Lighted Great Gatsby |

Ah, The Great Gatsby. I first read it the summer before my senior year of high school to prep for my AP English class. Then, read it again [for that class] right before graduation. I remember liking it back then and a vague sense of the storyline has lingered in my memory, but I didn’t list it among my favourites, nor was I moved to read any further works by Fitzgerald. But when I reread it this month for my bookclub, I couldn’t put it down.

If you haven’t yet read The Great Gatsby, or if it’s been a long time since you read it: pick a day this summer, go outside, and read this book. It’s less than 200 pages and will only take you a few hours. Even if you don’t like the plot or the characters, you won’t want to miss reading the words of a writer like Fitzgerald who chooses and lays each word out like a perfectly strung pearl necklace.

Great Gatsby |

This story provokes all kinds of questions and thoughts, but I want to focus on Fitzgerald’s depiction of Gatsby as the one with an extraordinary gift for hope.

{Spoiler Alert} If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, the rest of this post may give a few things away — I’m not going into specific plot points, but I do reference generalities about how the story ends.

First off, I’d like to posit that Gatsby is a Four on the Enneagram and that his story is a beautifully tragic warning for those whose hope would be hope for the wrong thing.* For someone with a “Four” personality (yes, I am one such), your inner world is more real than your outer world and dreams are your oxygen. Not surprising then, that much of the world’s art and beauty has been created by Fours, nor that many of the world’s tragic stories have Fours as their primary characters. Such is the case with Gatsby.

Nick [the narrator] introduces Gatsby by writing:

If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life….This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the “creative temperament” – it was 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. 

And Gatsby’s hope is a lived reality — he takes steps to make his dreams come true. Fitzgerald’s fluffy-seeming epigraph (then wear the gold hat, if that will move her…) becomes the tenuous poetic bridge Gatsby builds and walks across in hope of Daisy. And that is the heart-wrenching tragedy — Gatsby diminishes his extraordinary gift by locating it all in Daisy, who has no such corresponding receptivity to living hopes and dreams. His hope cannot grow in her and so it becomes a stillborn dream.

Another tragedy I noticed this time, particularly after watching Luhrman’s film, was that no one in Gatsby’s story can match or best him as a hoper or dreamer. If there were another such person in his life, he may have been challenged to broaden his dreams. Hopes and dreams need to grow, not diminish. But who can he turn to for advice or inspiration if everyone around him is merely aware of what’s within their grasp?

Hopes and dreams cannot live in the past, though they can be formed there. Hoping and dreaming is about possibility, expectation, the future. I’m beginning to see Nick as the possibly hopeful ending to Gatsby’s tragedy. Through the telling of the story, he seems to be catching on to the fact that we each carry the past within us, but our choices lie in the present, and our hopes in the future.

I think my favourite quote from the book is on page one: Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. To me this speaks of holding space for hope — leaving room for dreams to breathe. And if Nick can say this after living through the story he’s about to tell, then I think he may have received a little of Gatsby’s gift.

*from T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets; thanks to Michelle B. for noting the connection

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What struck you about The Great Gatsby?

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bet mercer

Bet Mercer is a poet-photographer who writes at Gimme Some Reads and Everyday Poetry. She loves quotes, reading her favourite books over again, great conversation, laughter, trees, films, and travelling the world. Follow along with Bet on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr, Etsy and Google+.

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0 comments on “The Great Gatsby”

  1. I hear echos of one of our last conversations and see your description of Gatsby in you as well as Fitzgerald “who chooses and lays each word out like a perfectly strung pearl necklace.”

  2. Nicely done, Bet! I LOVE this sentence: “His hope cannot grow in her and so it becomes a stillborn dream.” I’ve never heard Gatsby’s dilemma summarized so, but it’s perfect. And OF COURSE I have to say thanks for another good Eliot connection, and thanks to Michelle, too.

    • Thanks, Mags. And yeah – kudos to Michelle! There’s so much to think about with that Eliot quote, but if I thought about it too long I’d never finish the post. ;)

  3. Well of course I love this. And you say it even better here than when you told me some of these ideas in person. I rarely see things through a lens of hope, but in this case I would have easily missed a great perspective on a really great book.

    • Thanks for talking it through with me — and reminding me of one of my favourite Eliot quotes. That poem applies in pretty much every situation.

  4. I love that you enneagram’d him. Let’s start always trying to call out the
    Enneagram type of characters in our book club books.