America in a sense is a country defined largely by the fact that its many children have been deceived and robbed. The allegiance and values we pledge ourselves to are largely the exact opposite principles upon which the country has been founded upon in the eyes of many. And yet, as ageless now as it was to the distant pilgrims who sought this golden land, the American Dream’s banner still waves precociously and piously over the ramparts of our collective ambition. If ever there was a mythological literary figure to represent the sheer incorruptibility of the American Dream, it must surely be Jay Gatsby.
Honor, meritocracy, the aristocracy of reason and ambition, are supposedly the principles upon which our spurious democracy was founded. Yet in a cursory review of the history of our country we find a nation founded upon acts of dishonor, chauvinism, and avarice. Divorced from the past, we still find in the present that the great promise of self actualization and moxie are not the gilded keys to America’s True Promise that we were led to believe as children. If our National pride is sickly, and our promise tainted, where then does that leave us?
For some this cynicism lends itself to an abject apathy that manifests itself in the proliferation of internet memes and a spattering of irreverent media decrying the death of meaning and utter listlessness of the universe. To others, the truth is a means to take the reigns from the cold indifference of circumstance and plow the solid rock into form and beauty. This is what separates Jay Gatsby from the millennial, and makes him utterly timeless. He is at once The Dreamer, and The Dream.
Much of his life in the Roaring 20’s has analogues today, issues over wealth and class, he defined himself by his lack and his desire. He reforged himself using the very tools that America itself was built on, profiteering. This is not a slight against the man however, in fact what makes him ultimately redeemable and incorruptible (despite wealth’s ability to corrode) is his remarkably pure vision, one of impossible, all consuming, love and achievement. He wanted only to afford that which he could never hope to own. He loved Daisy Buchanan more than she deserved to be loved, not because she was a being unworthy, but because he had already taken her all those years ago and the Daisy he met later was not the same person. His expectations of her could never be matched because she was Daisy Buchanan and not Daisy Fay. Maybe Mrs. Buchanan would have had enough of the love he sought, but how many of us secretly love the phantom of someone, still here but long gone. A dream is timeless, a moment that can feel like eternity and yet fades so subtly. It is a moment that exists and is real, utterly devoid of any temporal reference and yet it can be something that takes root in us and blossoms through our actions.
If we were like Jay Gatsby would we too be Great? If we held on to some impossible incorruptible dream, would we too be granted the temperance to seize our success from the acrid slobbering jowls of America? Or would we too be swept up in the Great Delusion that encourages us to punch in another hour as Columbia and her many confederates pick us like leaves from the Tree of Life to line their laurels?
In either case there is something to be said for The Dream and The Dreamer. What I take from Jay Gatsby is that we are mortal without our dreams. Not our dreams collectively, but our defining dream. Our dream is our compass, and our past our sail, it doesn’t matter that its America. When our dream is impossible to taint, there are no heights we cannot reach, no riches without us, no devil’s claws can latch to our skin. We can all be Great too…