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'...his dream must have seemed so close...'

THE GREAT GATSBY

by F. Scott Fitzgerald


SPOILER ALERT.....

This classic American novel from 1925 traces the life of a mysterious man named Jay Gatsby through the eyes of his friend, Nick Carraway. Gatsby is an enigma. He lives in an impossibly extravagant mansion in an exclusive part of New York. He throws lavish parties and yet his guests barely know him. He seems to be an observer of others, detached from his surroundings. As the novel progresses, we come to understand he has curated this lifestyle with the sole aim of enticing a former lover, Daisy, back into his life. Consumed by this aspiration, Gatsby puts on an impressive display. Yet his preoccupation blinds him to the very real flaws in Daisy's character and the inconvenient fact that she is married. At the end of the novel, after Daisy has casually rejected Gatsby, Nick muses on Gatsby's fate:

'...his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him...'

For me, this observation beautifully captures the essence of Gatsby's downfall. He has, as Nick observes, been reaching for a 'dream'. Yet dreams are, by their nature, outlandish and ethereal. In Gatsby's case, the dream is a highly idealised version of his past. By investing all his energy in trying to re-create his mis-remembered past, Gatsby remains blind to the inconvenient truths of his present. In this way, he is doomed to fail.

 

A preoccupation with the past can signify avoidance of a problem in the here-and-now. Casting a more objective eye over the past can reveal the 'not-so-good' alongside the 'good' and, in embracing a more holistic view, we are more likely to let go of unrealistic hopes. This, in turn, frees us to find ways of coping that accommodate the reality of our present day lives, and are therefore more likely to bring us peace of mind.

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