Danielle DiMartino Booth & George Goncalves
“As I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in the vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, April 10, 1925
As much as he had pined for it, as hard as he had worked, Jay Gatsby was never to attain the American Dream. In the end, he was a “poor son-of-a-bitch.” So observed “Owl Eyes,” the only West Egg partygoer who saw Jay Gatsby for what he was, for what we all are, flawed human beings. Unlike the leaches who brazenly partook of Gatsby’s largesse, but couldn’t be bothered when the well ran dry, Owl Eyes was one of only three people to attend the fictional icon’s funeral in addition to Nick Carraway, the young narrator, and Gatsby’s father.
One must wonder what was going through the mind of F. Scott Fitzgerald as he wrote the novel’s dark ending. Can prescience be self-fulfilling?
In the aftermath of World War I, Fitzgerald’s 1920 debut novel – This Side of Paradise – was an instant sensation providing the impressionable author entrée to a world that was previously off limits. In 1922, he and his wife Zelda moved to New York’s Long Island where they bore witness to, but never broke into, society’s old guard. Penning his next novel in the two years that followed, Fitzgerald’s vista provided the perfect backdrop for what’s been called the greatest American novel of the 20th Century – The Great Gatsby. The book was a commercial failure and did not achieve success until after his death in 1940. Fitzgerald would live out his days mired in money trouble and beset by alcoholism. And like the fictional Gatsby, Fitzgerald never made it from the West Egg to the idolized East Egg of the Island.
A century on, it’s easy to understand why the novel would have been panned in 1925. The music was roaring, the party still underway. How ill-mannered of the young novelist to hand down such an indictment of the American dream. How dare Fitzgerald question the yawning gap between the established and those who dared to aspire to greater things when the illusion was still so firmly intact. Nick, the novel’s narrator, correctly castigated Gatsby’s fantastical visions of inclusion because they were not focused on a realistic future, but looked instead “back ceaselessly to the past,” on romantically recapturing a fleeting moment in time.