‘The Great Gatsby’, Truth, Lies, and Disappointment

I recently re-read The Great Gatsby for the first time since I was seventeen or so, and my timing was accidental but impeccable. The book’s narrator Nick Carraway turns 30 during the novel, and I am about to do so myself in two hours and 20 minutes. But that’s all coincidence; what I was really inspired to write about was dreams, and disappointment.

Both the novel and the character of Gatsby have a reputation as the essence of party, and while I knew that the point, clear as neon lights, is that this all is a façade, it still surprised me that Gatsby is awkward, almost from his first appearance. He talks to Nick for some time before they come to realise he hasn’t introduced himself – at his own party. Nick, an astute and cynical observer, describes him thus.

“Precisely at that point it vanished—and I was looking at an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. Some time before he introduced himself I’d got a strong impression that he was picking his words with care.”

We all experience the routine of choosing particular words for particular people as part of moving through the world. But there are situations where your focus narrows just as if your conversation was a pivotal scene in a novel. For example, when you are autistic, when you are trying to attract someone important, and especially when you are trying to do both. It is objectively absurd to enter conversation asking yourself “Who do I want them to think I am?”, and hope that this person first does not notice this fakery, and second, somehow still likes you how you truly want to be liked. But I at least have done this before and will do it again.

The Great Gatsby has a reputation for being over-analysed, so let’s assume for a moment that Daisy, the object of the eponymous Gatsby’s adoration in the novel, is not the American Dream or money or anything but another human being, and that Gatsby is another. One of the high points of the novel is the scene where Gatsby introduces Daisy to his extravagant home and possessions, all of which he has built up in the hope of attracting her. Now think for a moment of objects that are broadly considered valuable and impressive. Mansions. Swimming pools. Champagne. Luxurious food. Antiques, maybe. How many more would you list, until you got to…shirts?

I found the scene where Gatsby shows Daisy his enormous collection of shirts to be one of the most human scenes between them, precisely because, as lovely as they might be[1], shirts are not generally impressive. But Gatsby clearly likes them a lot, and so does Daisy, for she cries “stormily […] “‘It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such—such beautiful shirts before.”” To love a person, in Gatsby’s book, is simultaneously to wish to be an awe-inspiring, legendary version of yourself, but also to hope they like fancy shirts as much as you do.

Even long before the conclusion of the novel, which I’m not going to describe because of spoilers, our narrator Nick can see where this is going:

“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams — not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. […] No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”

Few of us will go as far as Gatsby does for Daisy, but to me what he feels about her is, at its core, relatable. Having a romantic dream of another person is about so much more than them. When you experience disappointment, what you’re letting go of is not just that person but also who you wanted to be with them; that legendary version of yourself.[2] It is so powerful a thing that it would almost be helpful if you did not need them to sustain it, but once they go the dream must go with them. That phrase, “his ghostly heart”, seem to suggest that a man can dream himself out of your own body, but eventually he must return to it.  

I don’t know if it’s Asperger’s that makes me a very pragmatic thinker or just my personality and background, but I believe there can be no promises out of disappointment. You don’t know if you will ever meet someone who inspires you that much again, or if you should. You can go through the famous bargaining stage of “What if I had…” “What if I said…”, but nobody is going to give you the answer to your questions. I found The Great Gatsby more moving now than I did as a teenager, as I have come to know what an enemy I am to myself, before, during and after my ideas.

The only thing that can be done about disappointment, is not to let it stop you. In the next decade of my life I look forward to being free from dreams.

“It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning– So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

[1] I am currently wearing an excellent shirt myself. It is red and fancy and it fits me beautifully, AND I got it brand new from a charity shop.

[2] Another aspect of it is the hope of fulfilling that societal pressure to be partnered, but we don’t need two posts in a row about that.

Published by loveautistic

A collaborative blog about love, romance, sex, sexuality, gender, relationships, and selfhood as experienced when you are autistic.

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