The Great Gatsby
When I first read this story, I viewed it as a tragic tale of star-crossed lovers. Poor Gatsby. Poor Daisy. Why couldn't they be together? Why couldn't Daisy have just stayed strong and admitted that she loved him? Coming to it now, in the span of years - well, just a few years longer than the span between Daisy and Gatsby's first and second meetings - now, it seems like a cautionary tale, one about how you can mess up your life when you are young, if you aren't careful, of how sometimes there are no good choices, and sometimes, if you haven't grown up, you make all the wrong decisions grasping after some ideal of what life is supposed to be.If you haven't read this yet, and you are reading it for pleasure, go away and read it. Don't read this, as it will be full of spoilers. Ok, you've been warned.When Daisy was 18, and a spoiled rich girl without plans, she met a young, poor officer, and fell in love. But being a rich girl, marrying a poor boy wasn't 'the thing to do', so he told her to wait - after the war, he would make his fortune and come back for her. But she didn't wait. This is where every reviewer I've read online finds fault with her. And I did too, when I was younger. I still hope I would've waited, in her place. But then I think, we're being too modern here, folks. Remember, women's lib came after Daisy. All the women she knew that she identified with - well, they had no marketable skills. They don't even take care of their own children. To deviate from the model she saw before her - dutiful, idle wife dressing up in pretty clothes - well, what would she have done instead? Daisy wasn't a brave girl. When she tried to be, the night before her wedding, she had her 'friend', Jordan, the voice of her place in society, of convention, around to tell her that it would never work out. To wait for Gatsby, while it might have seemed emotionally right, conventionally, it wasn't the right thing to do. She would've lost touch with her friends, her family...and what if he hadn't come back rich? Again, she had no marketable skills. What could she have done to help him? (Arguably, plenty - but not in Daisy's mind! She wasn't reading Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan - the women around her did certain things and the men did others. To think of breaking free from that pattern would not even have occurred to her!) So Daisy gets married and she hopes for the best. The best doesn't happen. Her husband cheats constantly. Except that he does seem fond of her, in a Don and Betty Draper way (you'll have to excuse me here - I never got beyond the second season of Mad Men - so little time, so many movies on Netflix.) . Life goes on. They meet with friends. They sit out in the garden and birdwatch. He buys her jewelry, takes her to Europe, etc. Life is in some kind of stasis.THEN - who should appear but her high school boyfriend! Ok, we don't know whether she went to high school, but lets think about this. She was 18 years old back then. Gatsby really was her first love. She did love him a lot back then. If he had asked her to marry him immediately, and not to wait, of course she would have. In her mind, only circumstances ever kept them apart. And now, here he is. Now that 8 years have passed, and she has a daughter and an unhappy marriage. But still, a marriage. What WOULD the right thing to do be here? What would you do, as a grown, married, adult, if your high school boyfriend showed up with the house of your dreams and a scrapbook full of photos of you, and promised to give you everything he couldn't the first time?This is where Daisy seems so young to me. Because for a moment, this looks like the right thing to do to her. She indulges it. She wants to escape from this more adult life she's been living. Forget the part about them being rich, callous and blase. That may be true. But also, it looks to me like a quarterlife crisis. She is married, and that's kind of rocky. She has a daughter that she's not quite sure what to do with. Can't they just dress up in their high school clothes and pretend to be 18 again? Because that's what she really appears to want to do. When Gatsby asks her to confront her husband, then it is forcefully brought home to her - they AREN'T kids anymore. She must feel some obligation to her family, at least to her daughter, if not to her husband - and then her husband reminds her of all the things they have been through together. Would you leave your husband for your high school boyfriend, at that point? I wouldn't. (Not that I would, in any case - sorry high school boyfriend - you were a nice guy! But it was a LONG time ago, and I kind of love my family - yes, even the big one with the moustache - thankfully NOTHING like Daisy's husband!) The book seems to present Myrtle, not just as a counterpart love story - Tom cheats, Daisy cheats, etc. - but as - well, what WOULD Daisy's life have been like if she had married Gatsby instead of Tom? Would he have been driven to make all the money? Or would she have become a Myrtle, trapped in poverty, but desperate to live in high society - hating her husband and her circumstances. I feel like, as a modern person, it's hard to have sympathy for Myrtle. You want to say, "Dude, poverty's not so bad. There's a lot of stuff I want right now, but it's not driving me to drink and run into the street or anything." But imagine, for a minute, that the women around you don't work. They don't teach you that you grow up and get a job. They teach you that if you are pretty, you will grow up and get married. Then, your husband will make the money, and you, if you have done everything right, will live this certain kind of life. Everyone you know lives this same kind of life. They go to parties. They fence on the lawn. They have tea. That's what they do. All of your friends do it. They don't work. If you were to go out and get a job - well, silly you - women don't have JOBS - well unless you're a nanny. Or a maid. But we don't associate with those guys. I would argue that, to a girl in Daisy's class in the 1920s, that's as if a modern woman were to say, "It's ok if we're poor. I'll just go work in a sweatshop." That's about the level of social prestige among her friends she would continue to have if she were going out to work. Daisy doesn't know anyone at all who is a family member or peer who works. To her, it just isn't done. In the same way that you or I, we don't say, it's ok if I can't buy my own clothes, I'll just spin them (and if you can do that, I am in total awe of you. But I can't!). It is something that is almost inconceivable to her. While she doesn't appear to have made up her mind to be totally conventional and satisfied with her life (like Jordan), she doesn't want to end up like Myrtle either. Not knowing an alternative, all she really knows how to do is 'go along to get along'.So, except for her bad driving and total disregard for hit and run accidents, I feel more sympathetic to Daisy this time around. She seems like she's just trying to do the right thing, and she hasn't yet figured out what the right thing is, and she sure doesn't have a good example around to follow, in any of her friends or, presumably, her parents, who pushed her into this life to start with and presumably live in much the same way. And Gatsby - well, I like him -- he's idealistic and sentimental, and honest (if you overlook the mob ties), and he certainly goes for what he wants...but he's kind of a creeper too, isn't he? Unhealthily attached to his teenage years. It was interesting, reading it again. What do you think? Was Gatsby and Daisy's love affair tragic, or just an unfortunate series of mistakes? What books have you read again that seemed completely different the second time around?