Fitzgerald and the Wish-Dream

I have been auditing a class this semester as 1) a trial-run for a masters program and 2) a new outlet to chase my obsession with the expatriate modernist writers. It’s a class centered on American lit from the reconstruction period up to the start of World War II.

Since I’m auditing, I don’t have to do the class work outside of the readings. As such, I don’t get to write the papers (because I’m that person.) While reading The Great Gatsby this past week, I’ve had some musings that may not be totally up your alley, but I have a point. Trust me, I do.

In reading the book for the third time, I have to say it is a pretty damn near perfect novel. If you have not read Fitzgerald’s bird-flip to the jazz age, I highly recommend it. (March is national reading month, after all.)

The descriptions, the symbolism, the balance, the prophetic nature—the heaviness of graceful prose. I cannot wax enough.

What really strikes me though is his grasp on reality in the midst of what could be. He gives it all away on the second page of the novel:

No—Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short winded elations of men.

This is his thesis. This dust in the wake of dream—it’s what each of the characters are caught up in. It’s what Fitzgerald is finding himself surrounded by. It’s where many of us find our lives headed.

You see, Gatsby—and I believe Fitzgerald to an extent—was chasing a wish-dream. The novel rides the tension of the fantasy Gatsby has created to live in reality and the reality that cannot keep the fantasy alive.

I think Fitzgerald was exploring if the wish-dream of his time. Was avoiding the heavy despair of the war with the gayety and whimsy of the twenties sustainable? Could the party and the money and the booze last forever without consequence?

But we all know what goes up must do something.

The characters are all avoiding consequence in one capacity or another. They run from mourning, or refuse to accept loss, or simply just want to think of nothing but their own pleasure for however long they can. Fitzgerald chases his suspicion that this cannot be maintained.

Gatsby was published in 1925, four years before the stock market crash—before the roaring twenties came to a roaring halt. But the novel was written like he knew all along.

Because we all know that when we avoid the heaviness, when we cover our brokenness, when we never take the chance to mourn, that it all begins to come crashing in. The wish-dream is not all it appears to be and by avoiding consequences, new ones emerge.

To embrace when we’ve lost, to accept what is, rather than trying to continually rev the engine of our car despite the missing wheel—it’s necessary. It’s hard by healthy.

In this life, we do not get the dream. We do get a chance to embrace what is in front of us with grace and courage. We get the chance to risk in what is, rather than hide in what could be. And as I believe Fitzgerald realized too late, we are the better for accepting that.

As Fitzgerald mourns a lack of nobility in his world, we can find that that kind of courage is still available to us. But are we willing to accept was is?

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