A man falls in love with a woman. He feels he cannot offer her the kind of life that love deserves, or requires. He realizes that America is a place where the poor can become rich, but that this they must in secret, the more so if they mean to do it quickly. The greatest acquisitions are the most private. He feels the woman would be shocked to see what he has understood about infinite acquisition.
It is a strange kind of piety that thinks so much of respectability that wishes to acquire & preserve the appearance of respectability. But only children, lovers, & barbarians are so apt to believe in appearances, to make so much of the images of things that the things themselves are left unexamined. Gatsby is all three wrapped up in one. We’ll learn a lot knowing him.
His beloved is astounded by his acquisitions, by their tyrannic mastery or command to love. She is no lover; she likes to be loved, though. He offers her an entire life, which shocks her, who wanted only a little life. Gatsby thinks to attract the woman by throwing the most spectacular parties. This judgment of her character proves correct, but not in the way he thinks. He advertises pleasure & all the lovers & beloveds come to him as if his house were a temple.
Gatsby is deluded by the images of things. Beauty always presents a whole apparent at once, to be glimpsed or grasped by eye & mind as a whole. This convinces Gatsby that love is forever. That the woman will love him always. This is a strange delusion created by the simple psychological fact that he loves her unconditionally. This is an error of judgment only lovers commit.
Gatsby is not blind to the good, but he has learned that the good is essentially a criminal enterprise. This is what he hides, always unsuccessfully. The beautiful shines through, though, calling & announcing paradise. Gatsby knows that America’s favorite pastime is a fraud: He does business with the man who arranged the results of the World Series of 1919. This reminds us with horrible comedy of the Great War.
America is about putting courage into fortune. Manly self-assertion is the game. Gatsby is the American self-made man. It turns out he did not make himself. He made what he was taught by the city. He wants to be loved by America – how can Gatsby want respectable love by making a woman an adulteress? He must think the woman is America. This is not a tragedy, but almost comic – Machiavelli without the happy end. Really, the life of the lover is death. This Gatsby cannot accept.
It’s been said that each generation gets the Gatsby they deserve. All have deserved Gatsby