I went to see “The Great Gatsby” tonight with a co-worker and found myself strangely drawn to Fitzgerald’s tale. When I read the book several years ago, my relative youth and inexperience added little to the novel, leaving me disappointed. Now, an active participant in a society that in many ways reflects the carelessness, disillusionment, and endless striving after “happiness” seen in Fitzgerald’s depiction of the 1920’s, I find myself reconsidering my previous judgment of The Great Gatsby.
The narrator, Nick Halloway (Tobey MacGuire), repeatedly describes himself as being “both inside and outside” of the endless cycle of alcohol, shallow women, and secrets. Depicted as a distant, thoughtful observer, Halloway provided an avenue through which the other character’s lives unfolded in tragic disillusionment. Aside from my own repeated flashbacks of MacGuire as Peter Parker of Spiderman 3, he executed the role of Halloway with precision, clearly displaying the internal conflict between Halloway’s own moral compass and his loyalty to various other characters.
Perhaps what struck me most about the film was Halloway’s final judgment of Gatsby: that “he had hope.” Fitzgerald presents the world with a man whose entire life is built around a dream. And in the getting of this dream, Gatsby falls in love with a girl who changes his dream forever. No longer is his achievement of the “American Dream” about him. Now, everything Gatsby does is built around Daisy and his hope in and for her love. In the end, at Gatsby’s death, when Halloway and Gatsby’s father are the only ones mourning, it is clear just how disillusioned Gatsby was. Daisy turned on the one person who tried to protect her, and society turned on the man once loved unconditionally.
But perhaps most disappointing is that the hope that drives Gatsby and for which Halloway remembers him, is a failed hope. And, amongst the numerous parallels and themes of the story, themes of a father’s love for his prodigal son, the depth of wealth’s insignificance, and of loyalty vs. morality, Gatsby’s tragedy shines as the crowning point. Because in the tragic disillusionment that drove Gatsby, I see the gloriousness of the opportunity that I have for hope.
As a Christian, I have chosen to place my hope on Jesus Christ, the one thing that will not fail. As Gatsby’s tale so aptly reminds, fame, fortune, and even love will fade. What a tragedy then, that I so often take my eyes and hope off of Christ and look to the charms of this life. Charms, that like Gatsby’s hope in Daisy, cannot fulfill my emptiness. It does not matter how fast of a motorcycle I drive, or how athletic I am, or how much wealth I accumulate. All. Of. It. Is. Empty.
While this is not the accepted or popular interpretation of Fitzgerald’s classic American novel, for the Christian, I believe it can stand as a reminder to set our eyes firmly on the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus, as well as a sobering reminder of where all other hope leads.
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
“The Solid Rock”
by Keith W. Ward