We say, “we told you so,” though we did the opposite.
Nick says, as he leaves New York to return home, that all the Midwesterners in his story—Tom, Daisy, Jordan, Gatsby, Nick himself—were somehow inherently ill-suited to the East. This world is no place for a writer, and Nick’s mythopoeia and fabrication reveal him as nothing if not a writer.
That feeling you got, that this was a tragedy about the American Dream, where does that feeling come from?
The tragedy bit can be surmised from Gatsby’s alleged thoughts upon being shot dead in a pool: “he must have felt that he had lost the old, warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream.” This is Oedipus gashing his eyes out—the tragic realization of a life having gone exactly as we’d thought it hadn’t.
And the American Dream bit is best distilled from the Manifest Destiny furor Nick works himself into on the last page, comparing Gatsby to the Dutch settlers, saying, “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.” Gatsby explicitly has no such tragic notion of the future and, far from feeling he has “lost the old, warm world,” he is still hot on Daisy’s trail when he is shot, still scheming to “repeat the past” because he’s still unaware she has chosen her life with Tom.
The reality is that Gatsby is not a tragic dreamer but rather the kind of entitled, status-obsessed crook you used to glower at from Zuccotti Park.Gatsby’s death is not some cathartic finale to his dreaming, not his just deserts or providence—he is shot by mistake, because Wilson thinks he killed his wife. The first time Nick sees it he says that it “faced—or seemed to face—the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.” When Gatsby smiles again at the end of a party, Nick feels “there seemed to be a pleasant significance in [Nick’s] having been among the last to leave, as if [Gatsby] had desired it all the time.” The last time we see the smile is the last time the two men see each other; as Nick leaves he shouts back, “They’re a rotten crowd.So this impression Nick left when you first read the book can be safely put aside. You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.” In response, Gatsby “first …Still, the fundamental dishonesty is Nick’s aggrandizement of Gatsby—a selfish, shallow, calculating man—into a romanticized symbol of the American Dream.(I contend that that impression the book left on you in high school is purposeful.) Shaken by this summer out East—the murder of a friend, the recognition that he and Jordan and the whole world are not what he thought—Nick’s book is a kind of therapy.When two girls recognize Jordan at a party (the honor is not mutual), Jordan responds with what Nick thinks is tact, but which is in fact sheer enigma: ‘You’ve dyed your hair since then,’ remarked Jordan, and I started, but the girls had casually moved on and her remark was addressed to the premature moon, produced like the supper, no doubt, out of a caterer’s basket.I have no idea why she would say such a thing to the moon, and neither does Nick, but we can feel him trying to loosen up, trying to take this world on its own worthless terms.After a successful campaign to manipulate his neighbor (our Nick) into setting up an ambush, Gatsby convinces Daisy to throw her life away, neglect her own feelings (that she did once love Tom), and set off with him.But all Gatsby’s traps and trappings aren’t enough and Daisy crumbles at the confrontation with her husband. Nick himself confesses that, after a month of friendship, he had “found, to [his] disappointment, that [Gatsby] had little to say.” The friendship is built principally on Nick’s fantasies: for example, Gatsby’s smile.Yet to call Nick unreliable is perhaps to look for the wrong kind of truth.The book is honest not as an objective account of Jay Gatsby—Fitzgerald came 50 years too late to lie to himself and call it realism—but as an account of Nick’s feelings.