There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams – not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion.  It had gone beyond her, beyond everything.  He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion.

The Great Gatsby

Many of you will have seen Baz Luhrmann’s film The Great Gatsby and perhaps you have read the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I first read The Great Gatsby when I was a university student of English Literature in the seventies and was utterly fascinated with this tale of obsession.  One definition of obsession is, ‘the domination of one’s thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire etc’, and this is exactly what happened to Jay Gatsby.   Gatsby’s entire person and his life were dominated by his desire for Daisy, the idea that he could recapture what he had experienced five years earlier and move forward into the future with this desire fulfilled and this dream realised.  His thoughts and feelings were of nothing other, his resources were all channelled into this, his choices had one outcome in sight.  Every human being has dreams, ideals, vision or goals, and often people throw themselves wholeheartedly and passionately into the fulfillment of these.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this and often this passion and dedication lead to lives of great generosity, courage and even heroism.  So it is interesting to reflect on the question of what constitutes an obsession as opposed to the healthy pursuit of a vision, and why obsession can be destructive rather than life-engendering. 

In the story of Jay Gatsby we find some answers to that question.  What we see most obviously and tragically is that Gatsby’s world shrank.  Reality for him became smaller and smaller and yet paradoxically, it became huge.  The fulfillment of his dream consumed him, blocking out other realities.  It was his all, but at the same time his vision was constricted and diminished.  He withdrew into an inner world, and there he nurtured his dream and his plans to realise it, and the boundaries of his experience of reality shrank accordingly.  Such was the domination of this desire that he became unable to engage with the actual, objective realities surrounding the fulfillment of this dream.  He was unable to permit them to inform and shape his decisions.  And as a result, the realisation of this dream became more and more impossible, for Gatsby, unable to accept the realities of the situation, was living in an illusion.  As Nick Carroway says in the quote above, ‘It had gone beyond her, beyond everything.  He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion’.  Obsession takes on a life of its own and becomes the master of all.  Gatsby’s obsession was symbolised by the flashing green light at the end of the dock on the opposite side of the bay where Daisy lived.  It was the single point of Gatsby’s focus.

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Ms Kerry McCullough

Spirituality and Liturgy Coordinator