The Great Gatsby and Existential Crises

Jay Gatsby fell in love with Daisy Buchanan. His love for her remains somewhat of an elusive mystery. What appears, superficially, to be a quite authentic love hides beneath its layers an illusionary passion. This love he had towards Daisy was based on an image he had created of Daisy which did (or, as I suppose, did not) correspond to the actual historical (and holistic) figure of Daisy. Gatsby loved this image so much that he had no time to reflect upon whether or not he actually saw Daisy for who she really was. Thus, in my opinion, Gatsby had before him an historical figure (namely, Daisy Buchanan) which was placed before him as an object. This subjective person (namely, Gatsby) placed his eyes and mind upon Daisy. She stood there before him naked and cold. And yet, as we all know, there is no such thing, for the most part, I should say, as objective truth. All truth appears before as an object (in the historical world) and is, thus, quite subjective. We never encounter the truth; we only process the “truth” with our minds. We only “see” the truth with all of our biases attached to it. What makes truth objective is our ability to agree upon a consensus (e.g., the ball in front of all of us is indeed blue and weighs 10 pounds)—further, we call objective truths objective truths when our subjective mental image corresponds most accurately to that objective truth. And so, in other words, Gatsby’s Daisy was strictly “Gatsby’s Daisy” and nobody else’s. She was his and his alone. And yet, his image of her may have corresponded to the historical person (or it may have not). For example, Gatsby may have imagined Daisy to be in love with him regardless of his financial status. He may have had this image in his subjective mind which did not correspond to the historical figure. What would we call such an image? Would we call it an objective truth? No, we would call it a subjective truth quite rightly. But what if he really saw her as a greedy and careless person? And what if, in “real” life, she really was a greedy girl? What if we all could agree on that fact? What if we all could agree that she indeed was greedy and only cared for money? Sure, we could label all of her lavish spending and selfish purchases as “greedy”; however, we could not really call this an objective truth in any meaningful sense. It is still a subjective truth because we never really “know” who the “real” Daisy really is. Only Daisy knows who Daisy is. What we encounter is a person who is an object and we create and interpret whatever it is that they do in our mind’s eye. Our subjective truths only become objective truths if they correspond to the historical figure accurately. And how could we prove that? We cannot. It still requires faith. Maybe Daisy isn’t greedy. Maybe she just wants to appear greedy. Maybe she is a kind soul who wants to have fun with a bunch of philosophers and wants to prove them wrong. Maybe. Thus, even with so-called objective truths, there are still large quantities of subjectivity involved. Does Gatsby really love Daisy? Let us review love for a moment. If I tell you that I love my mother because she raised me, and you find out that my mother never actually raised me, do you think that my love for my mother is actually real? What if, upon the moment that you revealed to me my lack of knowledge, and my “love” ceased to exist for my mother, what would that suggest? In other words, if the person you love is not actually the person you love then you do not really love the person you claim to love. Soren Kierkegaard hit this straight on the dot when he said, “When it is a duty in loving to love the people we see, then in loving the actual individual person it is important that one does not substitute an imaginary idea of how we think or could wish that this person should be. The one who does this does not love the person he sees but again something unseen, his own idea or something similar.” In my opinion, Gatsby only had two forms of love that would have been possible: informed and uniformed love. Informed love is love that knows the individual on an intimate level; uninformed love is commonly known as “blind love,” this is the love that, I think, Gatsby had. He simply chose to love Daisy despite her failures. He loved her because he chose her. He loved her because he was committed to the idea of loving her, whoever that “her” was so long as it was embodied in the actual historical figure of Daisy Buchanan. His love was covenantal, not based upon her current status, or her past status, but her status as it related to that imaginary covenant of his between him and her. She was the one he selected and chose to love. He could have, in theory, been informed about her “true” character. He could have loved her nonetheless, too. This would have been seen as an informed love but as a love that cast a blind eye nonetheless upon the other party’s failures. All of us are Gatsbys. We all have to deal with the problem of existential reality. We all have to come to terms with both others and ourselves. We all face the dilemma of meaningless existence and we seek to find meaning, if not in ourselves, then in others. Gatsby chose to find that meaning in Daisy. She was the one he chose to love. We all have to make choices. However, the real existential crisis occurs not in loving others but in how our love for ourselves relates to others. If I assert myself, and choose myself, what happens when I also chose others? If I choose to express myself and assert my individuality by being stupid—yet the one whom I love and have chosen to love despises my stupidity—when do I draw the line and cease to be myself? Do I accept criticism from the one I have chosen to love and do I chose to change myself? In other words, in asserting myself I am asserting my freedom as an individual—yet, sometimes, in making one choice, I automatically annul another. Thus, by choosing not to be stupid in public (though that may be a part of “me”), I have nonetheless chosen myself because this self of mine loves my wife dearly. This self has chosen that my relationship with my wife is more important to me than my ability to be stupid in public. I have lost a part of me, so to speak, but I have regained another. But where do we draw the line? When do we say to others, “Enough is enough, I will not change that aspect of me. That is who I am and you have swore to love me for who I am”? I think the line between “yourself” and “yourself” is very fine indeed! This “self” that has chosen to express itself has also chosen to engage with others—by choosing to engage with others, and by becoming a social creature, the self begins to integrate itself with other “selves” who influence the self to become a “new self.” (In other words, humans are constantly changing and evolving; this is the fluidity of human nature.) Where do we draw the line between the “self” of yesterday (who was angry and acting stupid in public) and the “self” of today (who, upon the wife’s request, chose to remain calm and serene during the dinner party)? Who am I? Am I the I of yesteryear or of today? That is the existential dilemma. The Great Gatsby did not love Daisy in any meaningful sense of the word. He had a one-way love that may be termed a “mono-love.” He “loved” her but she never loved him back. If, according to the Hebrew Bible, love is to be viewed as primarily covenantal, then Gatsby, sadly, never loved a single woman in his life. For a covenantal love would require an agreement between two parties. It would have to be a dialogue not a monologue. And so, the Great Gatsby is not so great after all. He is just another human being trying to make sense of the existential problem of existence. written by Moses Y. Mikheyev

2 thoughts on “The Great Gatsby and Existential Crises

  1. I loved the movie as well — LOVED it. But Daisy’s response in the astounding “shirt scene” is somewhat ambiguous, no? One could be forgiven for laughing, because of course it’s not the damned shirts she loves — yet, yet, it sort of IS the shirts, or, at least, the money they represent. We’re not exactly sure what’s going through that (mostly shallow, mostly materialistic) mind of hers. Certainly, caught up in the sensuous, romantic moment, she regrets having chosen money over love five years earlier. But does she regret her decision because she now realizes love trumps money or because she’s discovered that Gatsby is now swimming in money — so she can have her cake and eat it too? The essential answer doesn’t come until the end, where Daisy’s actions are not so ambiguous — she chooses money. Again. Poor Gatsby! — there’s that naive hopefulness — he thought Daisy was more than she actually was….

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