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Topics: F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Jesus Pages: 5 (1112 words) Published: April 21, 2014
The Explicator, Vol. 68, No. 2, 119–121, 2010
Copyright C Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 0014-4940 print / 1939-926X online
DOI: 10.1080/00144941003723873

THOMAS DILWORTH
University of Windsor

The Passion of Gatsby: Evocation of Jesus
in Fitzgerald’s THE GREAT GATSBY
Keywords: F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Passion

Douglas Taylor was the first to explore at length Gatsby’s symbolic identification with Jesus, and other interpreters have noted it, including Robert Emmitt, who sees Gatsby as being informed by the archetype of the dying god. These and other interpreters have noticed evocations of the Passion of Christ near the conclusion of the novel. There, Gatsby evokes Jesus carrying his cross. On the last day of his life, Gatsby went from his house to its garage, picked up an inflated air mattress, and “shouldered” it (128)—not the usual way to carry an air mattress. This alone might not recall conventional depictions of Jesus carrying his cross over one shoulder, but Gatsby is about to die on this air mattress.1 The association is strengthened by what happens next. On his way to his swimming pool, “he stopped and shifted it a little, and the chauffeur asked him if he needed help, but he shook his head” (128). The chauffeur is a would-be Simon of Cyrene, who, for a while, carries Jesus’s cross for him (Matt. 27.32). After his death, moreover, as the air mattress revolves slowly, Gatsby’s blood flows into the water of the swimming pool, making “a thin red circle in the water” (129). This mixture of blood and water may evoke, as Taylor suggests (37), the “blood and water” flowing from the side of Jesus after he was pierced in the side by a spear (John 19.34).

The ironically cushy, “pneumatic mattress” symbolizes the inflated, airy, or spiritual romanticism which gets Gatsby killed (128). It is what motivates him to keep Daisy’s secret about her accidentally killing Myrtle Wilson. The same romantic love keeps him awake the night before his death, during his vigil at the Buchanan house—which recalls the vigil Jesus keeps in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his crucifixion. Whether or not Gatsby suffers agony akin to

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Jesus’s, like Jesus he keeps his vigil in a garden, the back garden of the Buchanan’s house. Moreover, just as Jesus suffers alone while his disciples sleep, Gatsby is left alone by Nick Carraway, who goes home to sleep. (Carraway is, in a sense, Gatsby’s disciple and his evangelist, given that he writes his story.) Carraway “le[aves] him standing there . . . watching over nothing” (116). The word “watching” recalls Jesus in the Gethsemane enjoining his disciples, “watch with me” and observing, “you could not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26.38–39). With all this in mind, it seems more than mere coincidence that Jay Gatsby shares with Jesus the first initial of his first name. It is a name Gatsby gives himself “at the specific moment that witnessed the beginning of his career” as a savior (78): he is rowing out to warn Dan Cody that he has anchored “over the most insidious flat on Lake Superior” and “that a wind might catch him and break him up in half an hour” (78).

As a redeemer, Gatsby is a Jesus figure in various senses. As an idealizing romantic, he attempts to redeem his own experience of the world. For Carraway, Gatsby’s romantic dedication is, to a large extent, imaginatively redemptive of the crass materialism typifying most other characters in the novel. And Gatsby is ultimately a Jesus figure in that he dies for Daisy’s sin. Her killing Myrtle is accidental and therefore cannot be a sin, but she flees the scene of the accident, and that is a sin as well as a crime. Gatsby has intentionally taken her crime upon himself. When Carraway asks him if Daisy was driving, Gatsby replies, “Yes, . . . but of course I’ll say I was” (114).

Echoes of the New Testament late in the novel extend earlier imagery of Gatsby’s self-invention. In chapter 6,...


Cited: The Bible. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991.
Christensen, Bryce J. “The Mystery of Ungodliness: Renan’s Life of Jesus as a Subtext for F. Scott
Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.” Christianity and Literature 36:1 (1986), 15–23
25 Jan. 2010.
Bowling Green: Bowling Green UP, 1976. 273–89. Print.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Oxford UP, 1998. Print.
Taylor, Douglas. “The Great Gatsby: Style and Myth.” University of Kansas City Review 20 (1953),
30–40
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