Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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The Not-So-Great Gatsby

Res Publica

August 2005

by Samatha Vajskop

He and I had been in the same situation a hundred times before. I cannot remember exactly what made me think of it at the time—whether it was the atmosphere, the music in my head, the smell of him, or just one of those "ah ha!" moments that left as quickly as it came—but the fact of the matter is that I finally understood what had been staring me in the face all along.

We were driving in the car on the way home from softball practice. I kept staring at him out of the corner of my eye. I do that sometimes; I steal glances as though it is a sin to blatantly look. I try to stop myself from looking, but there has always been that air about him that reels me in. Every single time, he reels me in. But I stop myself from getting pulled in too close.

He did it in the car that day. He tugged me a little closer with the comment he made. We were only joking around, but I had to try one of those girl tests (you know, the ones that girls give guys to test them in relationships, or in my case, slightly—more—than—friend—ships). So I went ahead and asked him, "Wouldn’t it be funny if we ended up together?"

"Yes," he said. He paused for a moment as if for emphasis. "Yes, it would."

My heart skipped a beat. It felt just like the first time he admitted that he loved me. Loves, I mean. I know that he still does, and God knows that I still loved him. But he had to be joking. Could we get that close again? Surely not. It was not like him to say something like that without meaning it. It had to be a joke.

The rest of the car ride, I feigned conversation and interest as though nothing had happened. Deep inside, my soul was sweating with the heat of what could possibly transpire. And what was the second thing that came to my mind?

"…So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning—fork that had been struck upon a star…she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete…"

The Great Gatsby.

I present myself as Jay Gatsby when I am with him. Unlike my James Gatz counterpart, I’m smoother and funnier. I can make my move and retreat without that second—guessing drop feeling in the pit of my stomach. I move in, and I watch inconspicuously. And the boy, he is my Daisy. I search my memories of him for signs, gestures, words, and winks of love and devotion.

Upon exiting the car, I was disillusioned to find myself to be just like Gatsby. I had the alter ego, and I had a strong desire to regress into the time when my Daisy and I were together. My Daisy, however, did not share the same dream.

I used to be with him; but, just like Jay Gatsby and Daisy, that was five years ago. We were much younger then, and we barely understood ourselves, let alone what feelings we had developed for one another. For nine months into freshman year of high school, he was mine. The nice, quiet, amazing boy was mine, and I loved him. It was like a dream. Even when he was not mine after those nine months, I waited for him. And I never really understood why until I read about Jay Gatsby and Daisy.

Just as Daisy is Gatsby’s American Dream, he was mine. To Fitzgerald himself, the American Dream was not the realization of the dream, but rather the journey to it. His character, Gatsby, perverts the America Dream into that psychological need to regress into the past for the sake of an idealistic love that never truly existed. Such was my situation.

Gatsby’s fatal error—my fatal error—is the way in which he tries to win his dream. Gatsby does not work hard, earn his money, and chase Daisy with his heart and feelings. He gets his money illegally. He throws parties for complete strangers hoping that Daisy will wander across the bay and magically appear to blossom before him again. My tactics were not very different in the grand scheme of things. All that mattered to me—to Gatsby—was winning back what I had lost.

Just as it had done to Gatsby, love and desperation consumed me. Rather than moving on with life and seizing all the wonderful opportunities I had before me, I "beat on…against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." I walked the same dead—end path as Gatsby.

In the climactic scene of the novel, Gatsby feels that the only way to validate the fantasy he has been trying to live for so long is to have Daisy admit that she loves him. If she loves him, and never loved Tom, then all is well. The past may return, and they can live the storybook life of "happily ever after." But Daisy cannot admit that she loves only Gatsby. The truth is that Daisy is not the same, beautiful dream that once was. The blooming flower she once was had blossomed, wilted, and died; all that remained was a stem of that Daisy. My situation was exactly the same. My Daisy could not admit it, and he, too, wilted before my very eyes.

I, however, did not end up as Gatsby had. Gatsby failed, and part of him died when his dream was not realized.

I did falter for a moment. I thought again and again to that moment in the car with him—with my Daisy. As Fitzgerald’s words so eloquently put it, for a transitory enchanted moment, I held my breath…I was…face to face for the last time with something commensurate to my capacity for wonder…Tomorrow, I thought.

But unlike Gatsby, after a million tomorrows, I finally let go.

Samantha Vajskop is a freshman from Brecksville, Ohio, majoring in Political Science.

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