Cliff notes version, for those who pretended to read it in high school:
In the beginning, our narrator, Nick, moves out to one of the New York “egg” islands to sell the shit out of some bonds. He lives in a cute, little shack in the shadow of this big ass mansion. The mysterious Gatsby lives in this stately home next door. The only thing Nick can see from the get-go is that Gatsby is an apparent party man. He throws wild and exciting shindigs that people rush across the water, uninvited, to attend. Nick gets invited to one (is the only person to get a true invite). Gatsby is in love with Nick’s cousin, Daisy. Gatsby and Daisy used to be sweethearts and Gatsby wants to go back there. Later in the story Gatsby will have Nick set up a meeting for he and Daisy. Daisy lives on the opposite egg island from Gatsby, just out of reach. The dock at the end of her
property has a green light Gatsby can see from his home. As he stares at this light each evening, he hopes against hope that Daisy still loves him. However, Daisy is currently married to Tom, who is just the worst. Daisy and Gatsby do reconnect, courtesy of Nick setting up the aforementioned “surprise” date. Daisy refuses to leave her hubby though even after realizing she loves and misses Gatsby. He is sad, of course, but hopeful that Daisy will change her mind in the end. Freak car accident occurs after a day in town when Gatsby and Daisy come clean to Tom about their recent reconnecting. Daisy, driving home from the conflict, runs over a woman in the street (her husband’s mistress, would you believe). Gatsby takes the blame for this death thinking himself the protector of Daisy. Widowed hubby of the mistress-slain kills Gatsby whist he swims in his pool and awaits the phone call from Daisy where she will surely tell him she’s leaving Tom now that he knows her flame for Gatsby hasn’t completely gone out. Daisy never calls. Daisy skips the funeral. Daisy is the worst.
Now that the background is out of the way –
I have a green light tattoo. I got it, because I want to be like Gatsby; to have his specific kind of hope. Nick calls Gatsby the most hopeful man he’s ever met; and Nick, as our narrator, is reliable. He’s perhaps the only reliable person in a story full of drinking, lies, and mysterious parties. Nick also calls himself the only honest person he knows. Bottom line: we trust Nick. We must. What he says is the closest thing to truth we have. You can certainly read this book and think that Gatsby is a sad sap living in the past and pining after a woman who has clearly moved on. You’re not wrong. Gatsby does long for Daisy and what they used to have. He wants to repeat the past. He says as much and believes he it can be done. Admittedly, this isn’t great. He’s not really trying to live in the past; he’s more trying to recapture that lost magic for the present. He’s hopeful that he can be as happy as he once was. I don’t think you can’t fault him for that. That’s human nature; longing for a simpler time… before homework, bills, regret, and before we all became so damn jaded.
Again, you can view Gatsby as a man with blind hope and just stop there. His obsession with the past was unhealthy, yes. The parties didn’t bring Daisy back for good, so maybe he wasted all his time. If you stop here, you’d be missing the complete picture of the man, though. In a world full of pessimism and negativity and frankly way too much bullshit, you have be happy, hopeful, and positive when you can. You must hope for the best must see the best in the world and its people. Self-fulfilling prophecy and all that jazz — see what I did there? Novel about the Jazz age…………. Moving on.
If you look for the best, you’ll see some of the best. Works the other way too. You assume everything is the worst, then you’ll only pick up on the worst. You think you’re bad at your job or can’t make friends, that will be your reality. Take heart, have some confidence and some hope, y’all.
Easier said than done. I get it. My mind is a dark, dark place; immediately thinking the worst in all instances. As a child, I remember being absolutely certain that every time my mom went somewhere without me, she was burning up in a fiery car accident. I knew it.
Last summer I was in Paris and a man stepped onto my subway car and started shouting. He was poor and begging for money, but really just trying to get everyone’s attention. He told us that he’d be in our car until the next stop and then get off, but if we could hand him some money on his way out, it would help him. I don’t speak French. There’s a man I don’t know shouting on a subway car, and I thought, “This is how I die. This man has a gun, has a bomb, has a knife an we’re all about to die.” I had tears in my eyes, I was looking for a way out, I was praying. Then he left, and I was fine. I assumed that I wouldn’t be though, I always think I won’t be.
I have a glass-half-empty mindset, I’m a pessimist, [Here, Insert other euphemisms for negativity for all eternity.] Gatsby is not this; he is the opposite. This amazing capacity for hope resides in him as his natural view of life. Nick sees this, because Nick’s a pessimist. He can’t understand Gatsby’s thought process and tries to bring him back to (his version) of reality. But perception is reality. That’s a fundamental difference in happy people and angry people. The problem is never really the problem, but how you feel about it and how you deal with it. You can be positive, tackle it, and move on. Or you can wallow in self-pity and doubt and think the world is out to get you. Gatsby’s positivity can be summed up in my favorite paragraph in the entire world. Yes, the whole world and all the books in it. Every. Last. One. It is the paragraph in which Nick meets Gatsby. Nick is at a Gatsby party for the first time and he’s never met the man behind the champagne and fireworks. Wandering around, Nick gets more and more drunk and listens to folks theorize about Gatsby. They talk about if he has killed anyone, what side of the war he was on, and what kind of royalty he’s related to. Nick bumps into Gatsby, doesn’t know it’s him, and starts spewing off all the ignorant rumors that he’s been hearing all night. He asks Gatsby what he thinks about this Gatsby fellow. Gatsby stands there like, “Oh, it me!” **Cue the embarrassment. Nick is fumbling now, he’s ashamed, he’s horrified, he wants to leave. But Gatsby smiles at him understandingly. He knows Nick’s never met him. How could he know what he looks like? He tries to put Nick at ease with an easy-going smile. And everyone knows what that looks like. Everyone had been on the giving or receiving end of this. Don’t know which fork to use? Someone points and smiles. Don’t know which way the bathroom is, someone points and smiles. Accidentally trip or go through the wrong door? Look for the smile! Everyone had been put at ease before. That’s literally all Fitzgerald had to say: “He smiled understandingly.” That is not what he said though, Gatsby is too important and too pure to just call him understanding. This is Gatsby:
“He smiled understandingly. Much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced, or seemed to face the whole external world for an instant and then focused on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the opinion of you that at your best you hoped to convey.”
So that’s it. That is the hope and positivity that’s ingrained in him. His very being serves to make others feel at ease, protected, and immediately comfortable in their own skin. Understood you as you wanted to be understood. Are you kidding me? How reassuring is that? Had the exact opinion of you that you wanted to convey on your very best day? Yes, please. Sign me up for friends like this. Friends that build you up and believe the best of you no matter what. This is the first damn time Nick and Gatsby have met and already Gatsby thinks the world of Nick. He knows that Nick is drunk and is excited to be at this party and is just trying to fit in. Knows that he’s immediately sorry and that he’s a better person than his drunk ass is coming off as. This is our intro to Gatsby. This is who he is as a being. This light and hope that no one else has. No one else even comes close. He places all this hope and love on undeserving Daisy, but still… that’s the hope I want. At the end of the day, I wish I had this capacity. I just hope I can see the people deserving of it.
At the book’s conclusion, you can feel about Gatsby however you want. I think he’s an optimist and a dreamer; the ultimate optimist, really. Nick’s last words to Gatsby before he’s murdered are these, and I completely agree: “They’re a rotten crowd. You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.” And he is. He’s better than stupid Daisy and Tom and every other character. He’s better than Nick, even though Nick’s not half bad. He’s better than me, and I will forever try to be that good. That’s what the green light is to me; a reminder. Something that I can look at, as Gatsby did across the water, and hope for the best in this world. There is still beauty here and I am determined to find it.