Lehan, Richard. “The Great Gatsby – The Text as Construct.” F. Scott Fitzgerald: New Perspectives, edited by Jackson R Bryer et al., University of Georgia Press, 2000, pp. 78–89, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/. ProQuest EBook Central.
In his chapter in the book F. Scott Fitzgerald: New Perspectives, Richard Lehan discusses The Great Gatsby and the influence that Romanticism had on the writing of the novel. Lehan claims that Fitzgerald’s writing can be analyzed through a lens that focuses on Romanticism and particularly the aspect of it that unites physical and visionary realms. In this sense, Gatsby is portrayed to be Godlike, and as Lehan states, “[s]uch a creation implies vision, and the novel keeps coming back to the matter of sight through the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg, […] and the eyes of Nick that get more myopic as the novel proceeds, until we end with the eyes of Gatsby whose sight is transformed from the resplendent to the ordinary the day he loses Daisy” (p 81). Lehan goes on to discuss the other half of this aforementioned unity: Tom Buchanan and the city representing the physical realm. Tom is seen as the opposite of an American Dream chaser, having grown up rich and planning to stay that way through preventing others from rising. The meeting of these two realms, the vision Gatsby has created for himself and the opposing environment in which he lives, allows Lehan to argue that the Romantic period very strongly shaped the entire premise of the novel. He goes further to state that this setup prompts the love story between Daisy and Gatsby occurring just too late to be successful, as the vision of their love was restricted by the physical conditions of time, wealth, and other conflicting relationships.
While I do agree that Fitzgerald was inevitably influenced by Romanticism, I believe that it is too excessive to claim that Gatsby’s vision is Godlike in its Romantic definition. In Romanticism, the idea that someone is Godlike regards namely their ability to create and hold power. It is nearly indisputable that Gatsby was able to create a life for himself, more or less starting from nothing and growing into a life full of high wealth and extreme influence. The evidence of Gatsby’s success, ]presents itself endlessly throughout the novel, from the luxurious party he hosts so often to having a person working for him dedicated solely to squeezing oranges for fresh juice. The argument I would make, however, is that Lehan is using a definition of “Godlike” that is consistent with that from the early 1800s to analyze a novel written in the 1920s. By the time Fitzgerald wrote and published The Great Gatsby, religion was a largely influential aspect of the American culture. Its integration made people consider the term “Godlike” differently, inevitably noting the importance of righteousness and what it means to be holy in their own definitions, which then expanded to the great public. Because of the difference in the definitions of Godlike between the time Gatsby is written and the era the definition that Lehan uses was popular, it is unfair to claim that Fitzgerald defined “Godlike” in the way that Lehan claims as it simply did not coincide with the culture he was immersed in at the time of his writing. Therefore, I will argue that Gatsby is not, in fact, “Godlike” when using Fitzgerald’s probable understanding of the word, incorporating holiness, as opposed to the one that is claimed by Lehan that he used from a century before.
Despite the evidence of his many material accomplishments, Gatsby’s vision does not fulfil the righteous part of the definition of “Godlike.” Part of Lehan’s argument is how much forward-thinking Gatsby’s life plan required in order to get where he is in the novel both financially and physically. It is indisputable that Gatsby had to work very hard and have a confidence in himself to achieve his newfound wealth, but this plan was not holy in any sense. One could debate that love is a driving force that connects people to God, as Gatsby was undoubtedly inspired by a forbidden love which is admirable and arguably respectable in a religious light. However, the vision is not fulfilled in holy ways, removing this “Godlike” title from Gatsby’s goal. It is argued that perhaps Gatsby’s ultimate objective is love which in itself cannot be unholy. Yet, the love that Gatsby is trying to obtain is forbidden because Daisy is already married, a commitment in the sanction of God. It would be, in fact, unholy for Gatsby to try to break up this marriage and pursue a married woman, which is exactly what he does throughout the entire novel. This is brought to the surface when Gatsby begins saying that Daisy never loved Tom and that Gatsby and Daisy have been in love for five years, trying to prove that Gatsby is the one deserving of Daisy’s love. Tom, an unlikely protagonist in this instance, points this out himself in chapter 7 saying, “I can’t speak about what happened five years ago because I didn’t know Daisy then, […] Daisy loved me when she married me and she loves me now” (Fitzgerald, 131). Here, Tom is clear to say that the past relationship between Gatsby and Daisy is now almost entirely irrelevant because now Daisy and himself are married and have been for some time. If Gatsby was Godlike in the aspect of righteousness, which I believe was an important part of Fitzgerald’s understanding of what it means to be Godlike, he would not need to be told anything by the husband of the woman he is pursuing because, simply, the woman being pursued would not have a husband in the first place.
Furthermore, this godlike vision is further seen to be less admirable because of the means by which it is executed. Coming from humble beginnings, Gatsby automatically has some respect given to him by the reader and is the perfect subject for the American Dream to play out through. However, much of Gatsby’s financial successes are revealed by Tom during the same argument regarding Daisy’s love. Tom tells that, “[Gatsby] and Wolfsheim brought up a lot of side-street drug-stores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter. That’s one of his little stunts” (Fitzgerald 133). Through this, readers learn that at least part of the wealth that Gatsby has acquired is from an illegal business run by himself and a friend, making him a criminal and his pursuits of money immoral. Also, Tom informs that this was not his only avenue, and likely not the only illegal avenue, of gaining his wealth in saying that bootlegging was only “one of his little stunts.” This leaves readers unsettled and left to only question what other illegal things Gatsby had done for money and if they were much worse than the illegal sale of alcohol. If his vision of wealth was Godlike by Fitzergald’s assumed understanding, Gatsby would not have used such an immoral and sinful avenue in hopes of reaching it. Lehan claims that Gatsby has a godlike vision that is only not fulfilled because of the physical restrictions that are in place, such as Daisy’s marriage. However, both Gatsby’s end goal of a lover who is married and the means of achieving it through criminal activity are far from divine; furthermore, the definition of Godlike used by Lehan does not fully encompass what Fitzgerald most likely believed Godlike to mean, debunking Lehan’s claim that this particular Romantic-inspired format is the one that The Great Gatsby is written around.