10 Books of Summer: The Great Gatsby – A Sudden Emptiness
“A sudden emptiness seemed to flow now from the windows and the great doors, endowing with complete isolation the figure of the host, who stood on the porch, his hand up in a formal gesture of farewell.”
Today is going to be a little short on my half because this theme fills me with so much sadness.
Some people suggest that in the end, The Great Gatsby is actually about emptiness, about isolation and loneliness and a lot of the time, I’m inclined to agree with them.
Nick recognises Mr Gatsby as the solitary figure on a dock, looking out towards a green light on the other side of the bay. Gatsby doesn’t really have friends (unless you count Nick, which up until Nick comes into his life was not true. Or Wolfshiem. Who was never really his friend). He doesn’t have family. He had Dan Cody for a while, but an alcoholic millionaire sailing around the world with a teenager… it could make for a good movie in itself, but does it count as a friendship? The truth is, Gatsby, however great, is alone in the world. Even Daisy can’t fathom it when she first comes to the house- how does he live there all alone? Gatsby brushes it off but I got pangs of sadness for him, especially as in that moment, Daisy, the person he was hoping to become his companion, isn’t such a fan of this life he has built. Gatsby’s dreams surround him in such a cloud that they seem to shut out everyone. He knew as he was falling in love with Daisy in the beginning that to ascend he should be alone. Alone. What a solemn word.
There’s a particular passage in the book that I think is always overlooked, and that I find myself coming back to every time I think about it. It’s in Chapter III, after the party. Nick considers Gatsby’s loneliness, and also considers his own. He eats dinner alone at the Yale Club every night. He watches other people climb into cabs, and wishes he could join them in their happiness. He imagines falling in love with the women of Fifth Avenue. But Nick, again, is an observer. Only now is he beginning to feel the pain of it, of not really having a part in anybody’s life.
It’s no wonder he went back West at the end of all things, reminded of happy train station gatherings, of coming home to Christmas with the rest of the local young people.
There’s some suggestion that the book really revolves around the internal emptiness of characters- how the people of the novel attempt to fill the holes inside them with money and alcohol and parties and infidelity. I’m not so sure (maybe because I dislike some of the characters so much I’m not willing to give them this allowance)- but I feel the loneliness keenly. Nobody comes to Gatsby’s funeral except Nick, his estranged father and his servants. A man completely alone in spite of the hundreds of people flowing through his house. Sometimes I think we could change the name to “The Lonely Gatsby” (but then we might have to change the ending and sell it as a children’s book).
What do you think? Did you feel it was a strong running theme in the novel? Did it make you sympathetic? Did you relate or understand? What do you think about the theory of emptiness?