Rockefeller was once asked when he would be wealthy enough and he said, “After one more dollar.” When Rockefeller died, he was worth the equivalent of 340 billion dollars. Why was he not satisfied? In the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author explores the unattainable in the book. We meet Gatsby at the beginning of the book as an enigma, a mystery that everyone is trying to crack. According to everyone else, he is perfect, but the narrator is not so sure about that. As the reader continues to read, we know that Gatsby wants the unattainable, but we watch as Gatsby slowly self-destructs himself. I found myself asking at the end of the book, why was he not satisfied? While reading this book, I came up with three things that we can learn from this classic.
First, we can learn about not dwelling in the past.How many people have said, “In the good old days” or “life was so much better when…?” I find myself saying this more and more frequently as I grow older. Many times we see the past as beautiful and magical and very different then what actually happened. F. Scott Fitzgerald shows what happens to a character that only wants to live in the past. From the very beginning, Gatsby is not present. His friends are those that he can use, even the narrator is used by the end of the story. Even the story is written past tense rather than in the present. Gatsby tries to grasp what was in the past, but doesn’t realize that it is unattainable. Even if he got the girl, he would still have a daughter to take care of.
Many times we look to the past wishing to change something, but not wanting to realize that whatever happened in the past cannot be changed. Being a history graduate student, it is my job to know what happened in the past. However, knowing what happened in the past and dwelling in the past is two very different things. The Lord wants us to learn from past mistakes and move on once we have asked for forgiveness. We cannot simply turn the clock back and ask for a repeat.
Second, we can learn that we affect those around us. Daisy, Tom, and Gatsby struggled with being satisfied with what they had been given in life. They had everything, but they wanted more. At the end of the story, the main characters had wrecked havoc on the lesser character’s lives. For instance, Mr. and Mrs. Watson die because of the lust of Tom. Gatsby dies because of Daisy and the narrator moves away because of Gatsby.
Whatever a person does, does affect the lives around them. Sometimes we are tempted to believe that whatever we do, does not affect those around us. Being the eldest of four, I knew that whatever I did or didn’t do would be observed by my younger siblings. Whatever I did outside the home would be observed by the younger generation that knew me. I once had friends that I looked up too that I watched. We affect many people around us that we do not even realize. Just the other day someone knew me because they had seen me with my sister. Scary…
Third, we learn about being satisfied with what the Lord has given us. None of the characters in the book were satisfied with what they had. The author portrays them as bored, wealthy brats, I mean aristocrats. It reminds me of Ariel in The Little Mermaid. I hated that movie because Ariel wanted more and more and more. The main characters in the story wanted more. Tom wanted to have a mistress, but still wanted to have his wife. Gatsby wanted Daisy even though she was married. The narrator wanted a different life even though he had enough out west. Each character was not satisfied, even though they were considered the luckiest people alive.
Sometimes I feel like I am not satisfied with what I have. Sometimes I think that I would be happier with a better GPA, a higher-paying job, a different degree and so on. However, I need to learn to appreciate what the Lord has given me. Having the privilege of traveling to foreign countries has allowed me to see the poverty of other people. I have helped children that have no shoes, children that did not have a roof over their head (seriously!), and children without parents or parents that could no longer take care of them. I can still remember the first time that I saw poverty and I hope that the image seared in my brain would never go away.