Because F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" focuses on a love that seems unattainable and unrealistic, I believe that there are life lessons from "The Great Gatsby" that are important to discuss. As one of my favorite novels, I sighed when I first read the story of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, two literary souls seemingly doomed to repeat the past. I am sure that I am not the only one who felt the melancholy hanging over these two characters; I think that regret is a large part of the human condition. Whether you have read the book or seen the 1974/2013 movie adaptation, these life lessons from "The Great Gatsby" will show you why living in the past is not a great idea.
1. Love on the Pedestal
One of the first life lessons from "The Great Gatsby" is that love is universal. Therefore, everyone will experience heartbreak. People often face difficulties when they fall for someone who comes from a different socioeconomic background/social class. This may cause them to think that their loved one is out of their league. This dangerous line of thought is explored through passages and scenes of Gatsby constantly thinking that Daisy is too good for him or that his mansion and meaningless exploits will not be good enough for her. Whether you believe that their love is unrequited or eternal, ill-fated or destined, it is hinted that Gatsby's idea of love may be disillusioned because of the fact that he places Daisy on a pedestal.
2. Visions of You
Through Gatsby's actions, I learned that it is sometimes necessary to be weary of people who seem like they are "too good to be true." F. Scott Fitzgerald's story shows the consequences/aftermath of desperately building up a replicated image of a person in your mind. Doing so only makes it hard to discern reality from the imaginary. Gatsby was trying to build his future based on Daisy's shadow. Sadly, this was only a pseudo-representation of a woman that he remembered from years ago. "Things are sweeter when they're lost. I know--because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly, Dot, and when I got it it turned to dust in my hand." The message behind this quote from Fitzgerald's "The Beautiful and Damned" can certainly be applied to the context of this story.
3. The past and Present
Narrator Nick Carraway's famous line "you can't repeat the past" has always remained with me long after I finished reading the novel. In Luhrmann's adaptation, it's even easier to hear the conviction in Gatsby's voice as he replies "But of course you can!" This ties in with the previous theme in the sense that the past should remain in the past. With time, the images that you remember about certain people or places can change. I have often found myself thinking about the past, and whether there was anything that could've been done to tip certain events in my favor. The main point is that there is no use trying to imitate a memory.
4. The Love of Money
I will admit that Luhrmann's version of "The Great Gatsby," although exceedingly intricate and highly gratifying, first seemed a bit contradictory to the main point that Fitzgerald was trying to make in the novel. Reading about these characters that were so flawed led me to the impression that Fitzgerald despised the money hungry. Hearing about the amount of money spent towards making and promoting the 2013 adaptation made me question whether this idea would be portrayed in a successful manner. However, after seeing the film three times with people whose opinions varied, I came to the conclusion that Luhrmann's version was in tune with Fitzgerald's vision; it was very easy to believe the performances of the actors because of the copious riches they possessed in the film. The main lesson you learn from reading or watching "The Great Gatsby" is that being rich, while enjoyable, will not change who you are on the inside. Money does not change people; being consumed by greed and pride does. The Buchanan family is the physical embodiment of this sentiment. "Proud people breed sad sorrows for themselves." I wholeheartedly agree with Emily Brontë's statement that being extremely arrogant can lead to stress and misfortune. Pride is a dangerous vice to have; there is a vast difference between confidence and arrogance!
5. Liquid Coincidence
I've always thought of the novel as a satire against the vices that those living in the Roaring Twenties fell into. I try to think of books in a perspective separate from the life of the author. That being said, it is hard to ignore the irony behind the fact that Fitzgerald sometimes got lost in the same vices that he criticizes in the story. Because of society's expectations during "The Gilded Age," many people turned to alcohol as a source of fun. However, excessive drinking can lead to lowered inhibitions and regret.
6. Keep Trying
As you many know, Gatsby came from a less than desirable beginning. Yet, he somehow manages to turn his luck around. David Viscott once said "If you could get up the courage to begin, you have the courage to succeed." Despite Gatsby's luck evolving from a less than stellar practice, the overall message still applies. In other words, what I took from this is that it is never too late to change your future. Everyone has to stumble through obstacles and pain. You will only grow from the trials and tribulations that you face!
While this may sound silly after this almost macabre list, this last point is sure to be a contester in this list of morals. It is generally accepted that costume designer Catherine Martin certainly outdid herself when creating sketches for each character's wardrobe. From newcomer Elizabeth Debicki's (depicting Jordan Baker) silk tunic to Leonardo DiCaprio's pink linen suit, the influence of the 1920's era on fashion was both evident and painstakingly accurate. I have always been obsessed with vintage finds, making this one of my favorite lessons: any event is an excuse to dress fabulously! Ladies, there is nothing wrong with wanting to "dress to the nines" on a casual day. It was hard for me to not lust over Elizabeth Debicki's overall wardrobe in the film! Her chic style reaffirmed the fact that you should never be afraid to embrace your inner fashionista and wear what you want!
As we see in both the book and film, every character struggles with different vices and virtues. I think that this is why "The Great Gatsby" has appealed to so many readers regardless of the time period. There are many life lessons from "The Great Gatsby" that can be obtained from every page in the novel and each word uttered in the film, a fact that shows how universal Fitzgerald's opinion on human nature is. Are there any other lessons that you think are successfully portrayed in "The Great Gatsby"?