I have always been intrigued by the mystery of Gatsby:
‘I think he killed a man,’ [Jordan said] and had the effect of stimulating my curiousity. I would have accepted without question the information that Gatsby sprang from the swamps of Louisiana or from the lower East Side of New York. That was comprehensible. But young men didn’t–at least in my provincial inexperience I believed they didn’t–drift coolly out of nowhere and buy a palace on Long Island Sound
The phrase ‘only in America’ comes to mind thinking of a place where even Jets and Sharks can come together reminiscient of a Shakespearan Romeo and Juliet. Only in America can Gatsby rise from nothing and become “something.” While the phrase is utterly flawed and corrupted by the nostalgic tendencies, I wonder also if the idea of ‘only in America’ also deteroriates our trust in tradition. The great innovator of the twentieth century–Henry Ford–noted that history and tradition are “more or less bunk” and the only thing that we should give a “tinker’s dam” about is the here and now. Robin Williams performance in The Deat Poet’s Society emphasizes the American love of carpe diem.
And yet, Williams performance and the mystery of Gatsby raise up a central point about Western Civilization: have we so valued this rising from the ashes–coming from nowhere–that the places we come from really become nowhere and nothing. Joe Biden emphasizes his rise from the working class and Barack Obama call for a world where we don’t see things in terms of red states and blue states. But this is exactly the question: Should the red states abandon their traditions and their values for the politics of ‘change.’
Who is Gatsby? Are we to know the traditions that shaped him? Are we to know the traditions that shape our lives? Or do we now live in a Western traditionless world where the mystery of Gatsby will reign?