I’m not one for melodrama. Love triangles can make for good entertainment, but they always make me a little uncomfortable. I hate watching people act careless with one another’s hearts. How could you have the audacity to hurt someone you love, or to hurt someone who loves you that you don’t love back? That’s just plain cruel.
The world isn’t as morally ambiguous as people make it out to be. Some things are right, and some things are wrong. Some people are honest, and some are not to be trusted. And as much as we may try to blame others for our problems, deep down inside, we know that we’re both the cause and the solution to everything we’re going through.
Reading the Great Gatsby for the Kate Escape Book Club has reminded me no matter how great the odds are, or how shady our counterparts, in the end, our biggest battle is with ourselves. When we want too much. We dream too big. We push too hard. And it causes us to fall. In a way, Daisy epitomizes Gatsby’s version of the American Dream. We’d been led to believe we can have whatever we want, even if what we want cannot be possessed, so long as we demand it. We think that we can will things to be true. The problem is, we really can’t.
Gatsby twists his moral compass to get the wealth and stature he thinks he needs to make Daisy happy. He justifies his lies as a means to an end, choosing not to acknowledge that he has won Daisy’s heart under false pretenses. When finally faced with the realization that he has pushed too hard and lost it all, Gatsby crumbles.
Our biggest folly is in remaining too stuck on a concrete final end goal, and success in achieving that goal will make us happy. New clothes, new status and new love won’t change anything about who we are on the inside. We’ll never reach that, “Okay, I’m done now” moment. And that’s a good thing.
We must instead see our goals as constantly moving targets to aim toward and adjust along the way. Some of the roads we take may feel circuitous and long, but all keep us moving forward, and teach us about ourselves. Gatsby’s big mistake was in choosing to ignore those “teachable moments” in his ultra-focused obsession with winning Daisy.
Gatsby loses himself when he tried to be the person Daisy wanted him to be, or did he ever really know himself? His self-worth seems forever hinged on winning acceptance into the wealthy elite. Gatsby must be cool, because look how many parties he throws for people who could care less about him?
It’s easy for us align our personalities with the person we think people want us to be. It’s much harder to get where we want to be by capitalizing on who we are. That’s how Gatsby fell, and it also how Nick made it out okay — he never allowed himself to be defined by his surroundings. He never got wrapped up in the melodrama of it all. Instead, he wafted through the summer and left a passive observer and left with minimal emotional distress and a drawer full of stories to tell.
In the end, Gatsby teaches us a valuable lesson: only when we accept ourselves can we truly be at peace with the past.