The Great, Sad Gatsby

The eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg on the billboard between New York and West Egg.

My son fell asleep in my arms tonight as I read aloud the end of The Great Gatsby. How could he not remain riveted and awake by that taut narrative of American dreaming, greed, corruption, renown, unrequited desire—and deep, abiding sadness? Maybe because he’s only six, or because he was really, really tired.

I can say nothing insightful about this novel that hasn’t been said countless times before and far better. But I loved every moment I spent with it, and nearly every passage. One in particular struck me tonight. It was an exchange between the narrator, Nick Carraway, and his would-be lover, Jordan Baker, long after their tenuous affair was over:

“Nevertheless, you did throw me over,” said Jordan suddenly. “You threw me over on the telephone. I don’t give a damn about you now, but it was a new experience for me, and I felt a little dizzy for a while.”
We shook hands.
“Oh, and do you remember”—she added—“a conversation we had once about driving a car?”
“Why—not exactly.”
“You said a bad driver was only safe until she met another bad driver? Well, I met another bad driver, didn’t I? I mean it was careless of me to make such a wrong guess. I thought you were rather an honest, straightforward person. I thought it was your secret pride.”
“I’m thirty,” I said. “I’m five years too old to lie to myself and call it honor.”
She didn’t answer. Angry, and half in love with her, and tremendously sorry, I turned away.

“I like the cover,” my son said, before he fell. “The eyes look very, very sad.”

“They certainly do,” I said. “What do you think that means?”

“We’re all sad sometimes,” he said, as his lids slowed with sleep.

We are indeed. We all want to love and be loved. And will do what it takes to get there. When it fails, we’ll be sad. What was true in 1925 is true nearly a hundred years hence. And it was probably true for the proto-Neanderthals 600,000 years ago and will probably be true until the last human breath is taken.

Sleep well, my son. I hope that you’ll somehow be spared such sadness–but something tells me you won’t.