, Research Paper
STARTING OVER AND HAVING IT ALL
The Edenic Myth in The Great Gatsby
Picture this: You are the director of a high budget feature film. You are in the process of filming a brilliant scene in which a man and a woman have just escaped from a near-death situation and have found themselves atop a mountain in the pouring rain, but alas, safe and out of harm’s way. In the midst of all the insanity, they realize that their attraction for each other is love at its finest, and as they prepare for a beautiful, passionate, Hollywood-style kiss, the treacherous storm clouds above them dissipate into a clear, star-filled sky strategically designed to intensify this glorious moment. They embrace, and they kiss. It is a long, fabulous kiss. Or, so they thought. When the kiss is complete, they stare into each other’s eyes, and from the sidelines we hear, “Cut!”
“What was wrong with that?” demands the leading man. “That was perfect!”
“Oh, no it wasn’t.” you reply. “There was nothing perfect about it. The rain stopped too early, the wind was blowing too hard, and the two of you just kissed like you’ve never met!”
“So, what do you want to do?” snaps the leading lady. “You want to do it again?”
“Yes, I do.” You answer. “And again, and again, and again. Until we get it right. I want this scene to be perfect!”
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could do things repeatedly until we were delighted with the results? Wouldn’t it be grand to stop at a certain point, evaluate what we have done thus far, decide what was not perfect, and subsequently perfect it? In reality, most of us are aware that this is simply not an option. Knowing that we cannot change what has already happened is perhaps a large reason why many of us feel regret as we get older. When reflecting on our lives, we tend to use phrases like, “If I could do it all over again, I would never ” or “If I knew then what I know now ” It is our own way of expressing the real truth: what’s done is done. One of the main characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby did not seem to have the capacity to make this realization. In fact, as we explore the Edenic Myth in this story, we will see that Jay Gatsby’s illusion of what should be was shattered once he tried to turn the fantasy into reality.
The Great Gatsby takes place during The Roaring Twenties, or the Jazz Age as Fitzgerald named it. It was a period when the most enjoyed pastimes were drinking (which was illegal at the time), dancing, promiscuity, and all around partying. It was a fabulous time. America was a rich country; there was plenty of everything to go around, including money. It was a romantic time; people were expressing themselves and experimenting sexually more than ever before. Social status was important to all. Parties with important, influential, rich people, and celebrities, were popular in many circles. For some, it was a time of deception.
The Edenic Myth is the notion that one could create the perfect place forever by starting over again. It is the idea that one could change history by negating the past. It would be much like creating a new Eden, a paradise where Adam and Eve lived before they ate the forbidden fruit. Jay Gatsby thought he could erase certain events in his past – the negative elements – allowing him to start over with only those things that would make him virtuous and give him ultimate happiness. In Jay Gatsby’s case, ultimate happiness would be the reunion between him and Daisy Buchanan.
Jay and Daisy met five years prior while he was a soldier in the army, and enjoyed a short-lived fiery romance. They fell in love almost immediately, but he knew that there would never be a place for him in her life. He did not share the economic or family background with Daisy that would enable him to be an appropriate suitor. Daisy’s family had enjoyed the richness of wealth for many generations, but Jay Gatsby’s family were poor farmers who could barely earn a living. However, this did not stop Jay from vowing to himself that he would change the course of his life, become rich, and somehow win Daisy’s love. Jay was also leaving to go overseas shortly after they met, so their interlude would be brief anyway. Daisy did not want him to go, but knew she had no other options. Nevertheless, they never forgot each other. In fact, Jay Gatsby’s love for Daisy Buchanan was so strong that he would spend the next five years of his life planning their reunion; planning for the day when the two of them would meet again. This time, however, he would be welcomed into her family with open arms. So, the process of re-creating himself began.
It is never quite clear how Jay earned all of his money. We do know that he became a millionaire, but we are strongly led to believe that his earnings were obtained by illegal means. Sadly enough, Daisy Buchanan and her social class were so important to Jay that he forfeited his pride and his morals in order to be rich. It did not seem to affect him as it would a more respectable person because he was blinded by his love for Daisy. Now that he was rich, he certainly couldn’t tell anyone where the money came from, so he would have to create a story that would explain this wealth. The story Jay told was that he was the son of some wealthy people in the middle-west who were all dead. He therefore inherited their millions. The lies did not stop there. In the name of love, he became Oxford educated, and explained that he attended Oxford because all of his ancestors did, and it was a family tradition. Now he had the finances, the education, and the economic background to fit into Daisy’s social class.
However, Daisy had moved on. Four years ago she met a strong, handsome, extremely wealthy man named Tom Buchanan who belonged to her social class, and to whom she was promptly wed. It wasn’t that she had forgotten about Jay, it was just that she knew she must move on. Jay had heard about her marriage and accepted it. After all, she had not known that Jay became a successful man, who now also came from a very wealthy family. In Jay Gatsby’s eyes, if she had known, surely she would have rushed into his arms.
Jay bought a house directly across the river from Daisy’s house. He could see the green light that glowed every evening by the dock of her house, and it became hugely significant to him. In some miniscule way, he knew a little about her life. He could see the home in which his lost love was living. His anticipation of when they would finally meet again existed in that green light. He even had a beautiful garden in his backyard symbolizing Eden, the paradise she would enter when she arrived at his house. At this point, he simply needed a way to get her there. He threw lavish parties, attracting a huge crowd of wealthy and famous people. Jay knew almost no one that attended these parties, and it appeared as though no one cared who the host was, either. They just loved a good party, and this was a good place for one. So, Jay walked around, practically a ghost in his own house, caring about nothing but the hope that Daisy Buchanan would somehow find her way there. She never did.
Finally, Jay asked Nick Caraway, the narrator of the story, to invite Daisy Buchanan over to his house for a visit. Nick was Jay’s next door neighbor and Daisy’s cousin. This would be the only way, in Jay’s opinion, that they would ever have contact.
The plans were made for Daisy to visit her cousin Nick at his house. When it came, Jay Gatsby was a panic-stricken nervous wreck. Everything had to be perfect. Both his house and Nick’s house had to be spotless. There had to be enough – and the right kind of – flowers waiting for her at Nick’s house. Nick’s lawn had to be mowed. Everything had to be perfect. It was a wonder that Jay didn’t have a nervous breakdown that day. It was as though he was becoming completely unglued.
The fact is, if Jay Gatsby had not been so idealistic, burying himself in fantasies and untruths, that day would not have been so hard for him. He had created such images; both of himself to other people, and of Daisy in his own mind, that he became so deluded as to what was actually real. After five years of living purely on misguided hope and idealistic rationale, he had put Daisy on a pedestal that was so high, even he could not fathom actually reaching out and grabbing her. The idea of her beauty, her voice, and her social status had become so distorted in his mind, that she was practically a goddess to him, and no longer a real person. In fact, one could argue that Jay Gatsby was not in love with Daisy Buchanan at all, but rather the idea of her.
The moment their eyes met was simultaneously beautiful and tragic. They were so thrilled to see each other, yet the fantasy of her had nourished itself for so long that there was no room for truth. They talked, laughed, and cried. They reminisced about old times. Jay took her for a walk through his mansion, and at every sigh of approval or disapproval of his possessions Jay adopted the same opinion. If she didn’t like a statue in his living room, then neither did he. If she loved a certain picture, then it became his favorite. At first, Daisy was flattered by the way that Jay saw her. Tom, her husband, had seen her as a regular person, not as a goddess. It certainly boosted her ego. However, Daisy Buchanan was a person: A real person, with real human qualities, and real faults. There was no way that she could ever hope to live up to Jay’s view of her. It simply was not possible.
For a little while, Daisy and Jay spent time together. She would sneak over to his house for a few hours here and there. It was fabulous. It was like a fantasy for both of them. They could escape into their own little world, and pretend it was five years ago. Jay even fired his entire staff so that no one would speak of what they were doing. In Jay’s eyes, it was a new Eden. It was a dream come true. In Daisy’s eyes, it was an exciting rendezvous. It was something her neglected love life had needed. It made her feel like woman. However, it was not to last. Daisy’s excitement was temporary, and when the day came that she had to chose between the two, Jay Gatsby was in for a rude awakening.
When faced with this decision, Daisy chose Tom. Jay’s Fantasy had crumbled. Could Daisy actually prefer Tom to him? How could that be? He had struggled over the past five years to create a perfect place for her in his life. Surely, she could see this. What was happening? Reality was happening.
The fact was that Daisy did love Tom. Tom was a solid, stable, wealthy man that was part of her social class. Her family knew his family; there was a lot of history between them. Daisy just wanted a little excitement in her life, and since Tom had been unfaithful also, she felt it was acceptable. It was not as if Daisy didn’t have strong feelings for Jay. She could remember how much they cared about each other, and it gave her a warm, comfortable feeling inside. But, that was five years ago. She had moved on, and made a life for herself with someone else. That was the way that it was, and nothing could change it. Besides, just because Jay was rich did not mean that he belonged to her social class. It was something that was passed down through the generations. It was not something one could create on a whim.
Jay Gatsby wanted what most of us want. To go back, negate the past as if it never existed, and get a second chance at a perfect life. As much as we all would love to fix our mistakes, we know that in reality it is simply not possible. The hands of time will always go forward; they will never turn back. There is not, nor will there ever be, a perfect world. There is just a world where we do the best that we can. Jay Gatsby could not accept this. He believed that if he wanted it bad enough, he could create a perfect world: A new Eden. He could not. And, because he chose to fight this internal war alone, that is how he died: Alone, and a beaten man.