The Great Gatsby felt overrated the first time I read it. I didn’t really like any of the characters, I was annoyed by how often Gastby said “Old sport”, and I struggled to understand the point of it all. I read all the critical theory on the book, which is often a great way to make you hate any book because it makes you see it through the eyes of a snobby intellectual instead of your own. After finishing it, I thought, “Great, another one of those ‘hipster classics’ that people love because it’s the cool thing to do.” But, certain moments stuck with me, so I decided to read it again, and that’s when it all clicked.
Yes, all that stuff about the “Lost Generation” and the American Dream fit the novel, but I think Gatsby resonates with people so much as a character because he represents the duality of human existence. He has the world at his fingertips, and yet he still is left wanting. People want his wealth or influence, but forget that all of that wealth and influence were meaningless to him. All he wanted was Daisy, and he stood every night at the end of his dock staring at the green light that represented everything he wanted, within his reach and yet completely unattainable all at the same time. He had built his entire life around getting her, and in the end he died without a single true friend to call his own. His sacrificed his reality for the dream, and the dream didn’t satisfy. We are all guilty of the same thing.
We all want things. The girl you think will make every thing OK. The boy that makes McDreamy look like a homeless man. The job you believe will bring you endless fulfillment. They are all good things, but they will cheapen your life if you devote all of your hopes and dreams to them. I’ve felt like Gatsby at times, focused so entirely on the endgame that I ended up ignoring the other good opportunities around me, and thankfully, unlike Gatsby, I have been able go live enough to see the error in this way of dreaming. Gatsby never really let himself exist in the moment, to let his awareness settle on the area around him instead of that dock across the bay. He had the opportunity to have an honest friend, and he threw it away just to get to Daisy.
There is nothing wrong with dreams and ambitions. Life wouldn’t be worth experiencing if we didn’t have anything to pursue, but the pursuit can often alienate other good things out of your view. Dreams are healthy. Goals are important. Desires are natural. But we can’t let those dreams and goals cut out the world and people around us. There is often an intense loneliness in dreams and desires because they are entirely kept within us. We sometimes share them with those who are important to us, but we have to live with them every night while we lie in bed wrapped in the silent dark. It doesn’t always have to be this way.
I have wanted many things in my life, a few more intensely than any others. I see the thing that I want, and when there is a pang of hope, a glimmer of potential, I find myself standing on that dock, with the soft wind along the deep dark of the sky and water surrounding me. The only light I see is that green flicker, welcoming me with open arms. It feels so close. I can almost touch it, and the light seems to be calling to me, whispering an invitation. I want it so bad I can taste it in my mouth, like the metallic taste of blood when you cut your lip. Yet, it’s out of reach, kept beyond my fingertips by some unseen hand, and then I remember I’m alone on the dock, and like Gatsby, I don’t have anyone there with me. I need to be mindful of the things/people around me when I’m chasing after the things I want, because those things and people are often the things God has put around me to make the pursuit more meaningful.
Fantasy becomes reality when we invite other people into our dreams. Don’t just stare at that green light alone. Invite people into that world to stare at it with you. Then go get it together. You don’t have to dream alone.