Monday, July 9, 2012

What Gatsby Teaches Us about Humanity

F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my favorite authors. I feel a little guilty saying that, since I have only read three of his novels: This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and the Damned, and The Great Gatsby (many, many times). Still, I have found myself totally engrossed in all three of these novels, despite the fact that none of them are action-driven stories. Fitzgerald has a way of bringing you into a world and allowing you to submerge yourself in it. My wife loves reading fantasy and sci-fi (as well as classics, and, well, pretty much everything). I don't really like reading sci-fi and fantasy; I jokingly tell her that Fitzgerald is my favorite fantasy author because he brings me into a different world.
That said, I was thrilled when I found out that a new movie version of The Great Gatsby is due this December. I was even more thrilled when I found out that Leonardo Dicaprio will star as the title character. It's due out this Christmas. Can't wait!
I got so excited when I heard this news that I had to read the book again, and I did so this last month. It was, as always, a joy to read. Fitzgerald once again transported me into a world in which amoral characters struggled their way through life, trying to make sense of things. The narrator, Nick Carraway, walks the reader through 1920s New York with all its glamour and confusion.
Fitzgerald's choice of Carraway as a narrator is telling because he is probably the least interesting character in the story. We are meant to relate to him. He is everyman. He is unassuming and unexceptional. At one point he tells the reader that he is one of the few honest people he knows.
I won't walk through the entire plot (some of you know it; those of you who don't should read it), but events spiral out of control and tragedy strikes the characters in the story. In the end, Nick Carraway finds himself troubled and often disgusted by the characters in the story, even those who were his closest friends. Fitzgerald is unflinching as he writes about humanity chasing after the wind, pursuing empty and elusive pleasures. While he is not promoting a Christian worldview, he seems to have a grasp on the lostness and evil of mankind.
Or does he?
In this reading, I was struck by the fact that Carraway was disgusted by everyone. . .except himself. This despite the fact that he participated in raucous partying, aided an extramarital affair, assisted in covering up a different affair, and regularly looked the other way when evil and deception ran rampant. He seemed to have no sense of his own culpability in the tragedies that occurred in the book.
I don't know if this is how Fitzgerald saw himself, as an innocent onlooker, watching other human beings make a mess of their lives. But I do know that this is often how we see ourselves. We complain about the loss of morals, about the corruption in Washington, about the warlords in Africa, and about the starvation that results from greed. We are troubled about the evil in the world, but we often overlook our role in it. Even as believers in Jesus, this is easy to do.
The person who has embraced Jesus must never see himself as Nick Carraway, a good and moral person surrounded by evil and corruption (and often looking the other way or helping it continue). The believer must embrace the fact that he is Gatsby, he is Tom Buchanan, he is Meyer Wolfsheim (these allusions are much more meaningful if you know the book). We are Hitler and Bin Laden and O.J. Simpson. We are broken and lost and evil people who are only rescued from the evil in the world and the evil within by the powerful sacrifice of Jesus Christ and by his certain return.
Fitzgerald brilliantly walks us through a journey of humanity's empty pursuit of meaning under the sun. However, he gives us no real solution. The incarnation of Jesus Christ brings the meaning and salvation that we so long for.

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