“I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others—young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.”
—The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s timeless classic, The Great Gatsby, reveals a mystical tale of a man (Jay Gatsby) infatuated with opulence, obsessed with reliving the past, and secretly engrossed in loneliness. Through Nick Carraway’s eyes, we glimpse into the sparkling world of Gatsby and of the Jazz Age in post-war, pre-Great Depression America—a time when the country’s youth shunned traditional culture in pursuit of pleasure in gluttonous abundance.
The much-anticipated feature-film adaptation of Fitzgerald’s magnum opus hits theaters and perhaps new audiences today. As the trailers suggest, director Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom, Moulin Rouge, Romeo+Juliet) masterfully brings Fitzgerald’s palpable prose to technicolor life. (On a personal note, the merging of one of my favorite books with one of my favorite directors is almost more than I can bear.)
If the movie does justice to its source, it will bring to light the hopelessness of Gatsby’s lavish yet ultimately tragic life. His money does not afford him the opportunity to repeat the past nor to acquire what he longs for most: Daisy Buchanan.
Through much of the story, Gatsby remains drawn to the green light that shines from across the bay leading to Daisy’s home, and he clings to the hope of a future that lingers just beyond reach. In the end, Gatsby’s wealth, popularity, and charm prove inadequate remedies for his loneliness.
The same can be said about humanity’s deepest longings.
In part 2 of “All the Lonely Believers,” Kenneth Samples makes the case that humans are built with an internal need for transcendence and that this need suggests the existence of a “transcendental external reality (God) to fulfill this powerful internal need.”
“People will feel a deep-seated loneliness if they are alienated from God,” he says, which is a reasonable expectation if, as the Bible reveals, humans were created in the image of God. Samples expands on this topic by pointing to Christian philosophers Blaise Pascal and Augustine, both of whom argued that “human beings have a god-shaped vacuum within them.”
In Pensées, Pascal describes “this infinite abyss” that “can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.” In Confessions, Augustine offers this prayer to God: “man cannot be content unless he praises you” and “our hearts will find no peace until they rest in you.”
He believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther….And one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
–The Great Gatsby
Gatsby’s struggle serves as a poignant reminder of the frustration and despair that come with pursuing temporal pleasure. To believe, like Gatsby did, in the green light only to have it elude us is futile and pushes us farther away from what our souls crave.