Even if you detest The Great Gatsby, it’s probably fair to say that many of us were at least a little intrigued by the idea of Leonardo DiCaprio playing the role of Jay Gatsby in the most recent incarnation of the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It felt a little like he was taking on the role of author, character and larger-than-life star–all in one grand gesture. But, why are we so fascinated by the figure–that the man becomes larger than life (a masked hero-of-sorts)?
What is it that makes us both love and hate Gatsby? We want to be him–live that life of glitz-and-glam. But, then… Is it jealousy or a twisted sense of inevitable justice that makes us also want to see Gatsby fail (crash-and-burn)?
He’s a fascinating figure to me. I love him as a character, because he built a fabulous life for himself. He seemed so close to really fulfilling the American Dream, and he was so in love with Daisy (or, at least, they certainly believed they were in love).
So, why do I love Gatsby (James Gatz)?
- American-Dream Success Story: We love Jay Gatsby because he stands for (and shows) everything we’ve been told to expect out of life. He succeeded. He overcame the overwhelming obstacles to become the man we see in the novel. He dreamed an impossible dream… but is it ever really a reality? Or does that illusory dream remain “a green light that burns all night…”?
- Autobiographical-Character: No discussion of Gatsby could be complete without at least mentioning some of the parallels between the character and the author (F. Scott Fitzgerald). Both men came from less-than-illustrious beginnings. Both fell in love with women who came from wealth.
- Jazz Man: Gatsby is spontaneous and fun. He throws huge, loud, and well-attended parties–attended by the most illustrious personages. He can’t buy all the refined culture, but he’s great at faking it. He lies well enough, and nobody really wants to question his authenticity.
- Self-Made Man: Jay Gatsby continues to evolve through the course of the novel. When asked about inheriting his money, he says, “I did, old sport… but I lost most of it in the big panic – the panic of the war.” Then, he says, “I was in the drug business and then I was in the oil business. But I’m not in either one now.” He becomes a man who is part of the Jazz-Age upper echelon.
- “Real” & Heroic: Gatsby is a powerful businessman, with questionable connections and a good deal of money to back him up. He may have created (and then continually revised) many of the details of his biographical history, but when it comes right down to it, he’s willing to take the blame upon himself (no matter what the personal cost).
- Lover On-The-Sly: “Their eyes met, and they stared together at each other, alone in space.” Daisy loves Gatsby, and he reciprocates that affection ten-fold–through slight-of-glance and innuendo, by words never spoken (though heavily fraught with meaning). It all means something to them, but we must read between the lines.
- Fated Martyr: Jay Gatsby lived for a dream, and he died for it too. The characters in The Great Gatsby are fools, and we are foolish right along with them. We dare to dream, to even imagine the impossible American Dream. But, fictions of love are fated to a terrible disaster. Is this, then, some modern-day Romeo and Juliet (turning William Shakespeare’s classic on its ear)?