*This article contains spoilers*
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Oh, The Great Gatsby. It’s a book every high school student in an America stumbles across in an English class. It’s a book that entices you with its haunting blue and purple cover, with yellow eyes looking out at you. It’s a book full of characters that seem shiny and golden, but really turn out to be just as selfish and dusty as everyone in West Egg.
Though first published in 1925, The Great Gatsby is quite relevant to today. The roars of the roaring twenties have faded and we don’t find ourselves surrounded by flapper girls and prohibition laws, but the questions about humanity and the themes of wealth, close-mindedness, popularity, obsession with the past, and ultimate selfishness still impact 21st-century society.
Take a look at global demographics: we have 1st world, 2nd world, and 3rd world countries purely because of the divide of wealth. It’s not a simple as West Egg, East Egg, and the Valley of Ashes between them, but when half of the world worries about buying a second car and the other half is afraid of dying in the streets, wealth has made impact.
What wealth can eventually do is layer indifference and greed in the hearts of those who have the most money. Take Daisy as an example: she’s grown up as the golden girl, and all of her decisions are based on what or who will give her the lavish lifestyle she’s used living. She leaves Gatsby in the dust when he isn’t rich enough to take care of her, and she easily goes back to her cushy lifestyle with Tom regardless of his abuse or Gatsby’s multiple proclamations of love for her.
The random guests at Gatsby’s parties are the same way. They come into his luxurious home for one party and feed off of his wealth and status. They drink, dance, and fall apart on his lawn as strangers. When he dies, not a single one of them cares to attend his funeral.
Do I dare compare themes of this book to the 21st century obsession with social media? Today, we post pictures for likes and ‘follow’ people on social media we’ve never really met before, or if we have, it was briefly at a party or some other social event. Instead of buying fake books, faking an ivy league education, and purchasing a huge mansion for the purpose of grand parties with strangers, we post and edit photos so that we are portrayed in the best light possible. In a way, we create a facade similar to that of Gatsby. We want to seem attractive, popular, and invincible. We want the world of strangers and acquaintances that we perceive to be in our social circles to see us as perfect or cool or worthy. Hello, Gatsby.
You can even see the similarities with one now familiar phrase that either ignites rapid protest or roaring support when shouted in public: “Make America Great Again.” The “again” part is the key. Gatsby and Daisy are together for a short time, but it’s enough that he looks back on their time with rose-colored glasses and convinces himself that all he needs to be happy is Daisy. He’s in-over-his-head obsessed with a girl from the past, so much so that he can’t see that she does not have the capacity to love anything besides wealth or whomever gives her wealth. Instead of forging towards the future, Gatsby does everything in his power to bring back the past. The past is the past for a reason. Attempting to bring it back will only end with his destruction, but how could Gatsby know that one day he’d be murdered for it?
I would argue that believing that America needs to “go back” is only going to be destructive to America’s future, just as it was to Gatsby’s. What do we want America to go back to? The past belongs to the past. Wishing for the it and trying to bring it back is a powerful desire, one that killed a millionaire named Jay Gatsby in a classic book and tipped an American election towards a millionaire named Donald J. Trump in real life.
The ending of The Great Gatsby doesn’t really inspire a reader’s faith in humanity and society. But I’m here to tell you that it’s 2017, not 1925. And that this is real life–not a F. Scott Fitzgerald book. It’s time to get out of our comfort zones, whether those comfort zones are wealth, indifference, ego, editing life on social media, or an obsession with how things used to be. It’s time to stand for better principles and direct our lives towards positivity, kindness, and bravery. It’s time to forge the future–your own future, the future of society, and the future of the world. One day, 2017 is going to be a year in a history book. This year is yours and mine, and this is our time to decide how we want our story to be. It starts on an individual level. Go out and do something that makes you proud to be an American or a citizen of the world. Go out and live for someone else besides yourself and explore different viewpoints.
Go out and stop being “a beautiful, little fool.” There’s better things you can be.