Gatsby's Sacrifices

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Gatsby's Sacrifice
Spring 1996
The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God-- a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that-- and he must be about His Father's business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end (99). James Gatz was already "about his Father's business" when he carefully sketched out a schedule for self improvement on the back of his "Hopalong Cassidy" book. He had already realized what his dream was and had created his own personal religion, which was one of romantic ideals: wealth, youth, and beauty. Gatsby, "a son of God," strived to obtain the "vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty," and to incarnate these ideals with reality. Like Jesus Christ came here as an incarnation of man and the divine, "the perfect word entering the imperfect world-- and yet remaining perfect" (Christensen, 154-155), Gatsby is referred to as "a son of God" because through his invention of Jay Gatsby, James Gatz tried to incarnate his ideal dream with reality. Daisy becomes the embodiment of that dream because she is the personification of his romantic ideals. For him she represents his youth and is the epitomy of beauty. Gatsby, "with the religious conviction peculiar to saints, pursues an ideal, a mystical union, not with God, but with the life embodied in Daisy Fay" (Allen, 104). He becomes disillusioned into thinking the ideal is actually obtainable, and the realization that he will never be able to obtain his dream is what destroys him in the end. Gatsby realizes that Daisy isn't all he thought she was, and with this his dream collapses. The symbolic implications of this can be realized when studying Fitzgerald's religious beliefs and other religious imagery in the novel. Through Gatsby's disillusionment, Fitzgerald makes a profound statement about humanity. In order to understand the religious imagery in The Great Gatsby, one must first understand Fitzgerald's own ideas on religion. Fitzgerald was a troubled man much of his life, and was a victim of psychological and emotional turmoil. Fitzgerald's friend, John Peale Bishop once remarked he had "the rare faculty of being able to experience romantic and ingenuous emotions and a half hour later regard them with satiric detachment." Fitzgerald had an "almost religious awe that he felt toward the idealization of great wealth and the romanticization of sexual love, by both of which he felt simultaneously attracted and repulsed, enchanted and offended" (McQuade, 1308). This ambivalence is shown in his religious beliefs. He had a love/ hate relationship with the Catholic Church. He was repulsed by the Church, but the Church had much influence over his moral decisions throughout his life. Fitzgerald once said, "'Parties are a form of suicide, I love them, but the old Catholic in me secretly disapproves.' Fitzgerald's midwestern Puritanism or middle-class Catholicism was his salvation, as burdensome as it might have been at times. It was... what kept him from denying his obligation to his family and his artistic integrity" (Allen, 88). One night in 1921, a friend of Fitzgerald's heard him mutter a strange comment. "God damn the Catholic Church; God damn the Church; God damn God!" he said (Allen, 92). It was three years before he would write The Great Gatsby. In the years preceding this incident, he would often visit with a priest by the name of John Barron to talk about "Fitzgerald's writing as well as other literary and religious matters" (Allen, 91). Barron noticed his "spiritual instability," and "his natural response to Fitzgerald's iconoclasms was a quiet "Scott, quit being a damn fool'" (Allen, 92). Fitzgerald left the Catholic Church and became skeptical as to whether or not Jesus was the Son of God. Fitzgerald's...
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