DEVELOPMENT By creating his own identity, Gatsby was a self made man. He became what he wanted to be, and achieved this by himself. He succeeded in changing the course of his life; being born into poverty, he forged his way to wealth and prosperity. It seems like creating one’s own identity is a wonderful thing, however at what cost does this new identity come? Although one can change one’s lot in life by moving to better locations, this comes at the cost of cutting the ties with one’s roots.
When Gatsby left North Dakota, he not only cut his ties with the land that he lived on, but also with all the people and places with which he identified himself when he was a child. When leaving home, he not only left the house he lived in, but he abandoned his mother and father and family members. He cut his ties with his neighbors and his town. For Gatsby, none of these ties were important because he believed that he could create his own identity independent of his relationships with others.
Since he did not rely on others for any bearings for his identity, it becomes completely subjective and dependent solely upon his own whims and fancies. This identity thus, has no relation to reality. What then does it mean to have one’s identity rooted in reality? To live in reality means to live in relationship to others — to be dependent upon others and for others to depend upon oneself. It is only an imaginary dream world in which one is totally self-sufficient and in need of no help from others.
This can be seen at one of the most basic levels of human existence: a man does not bring about his own existence without being dependent upon his father and mother. Likewise, when a child grows up he is dependent upon his family and those in the larger social community. In adult life this dependance upon others does not cease. When one tries to be completely disconnected and independent of others, one digs a death trap for oneself. This person will eventually face his own individual insufficiency and inadequacy, but will then have nowhere to turn because he has cut off all ties.
Thus, ultimately Gatsby’s dream of creating his own identity proved impossible because he had lost his connection with others which was cut off when he abandoned his family and left North Dakota. Gatsby not only left his family and North Dakota home, but he based his new self-made identity upon the acquisition of wealth. For Gatsby, wealth became the goal of his life, and with wealth and the fame which came with it, he hoped to win the love and admiration of Daisy. Gatsby’s identity was tailor-made to produce the most wealth, and upon attaining wealth to attract the most attention to this wealth.
He worked and labored in order to buy and maintain his huge mansion in West Egg, and also publicly flaunted his wealth by throwing many lavish parties. Gatsby completely ignored the spiritual dimension of personal identity; wealth was not able to fulfill Gatsby. What he really wanted was to love Daisy and to be loved by her, but he thought that he could attain her love by having much money. Gatsby never learned the fact that money cannot buy everything; money cannot buy love. It cannot buy the true and genuine interpersonal relationships for which he longed.
As a result, Gatsby was materially wealthy, while being in spiritual poverty. Gatsby fabricated his identity around a dream and the attainment of wealth. His identity was, in reality, no identity at all. Gatsby became a lie and he deceived himself by his own lies. This false identity eventually caught up with him in his inability to win Daisy’s love. This false identity consumed Gatsby, and he thought that he was what he was not. Thus, by seeking his happiness in an unreal identity, Gatsby “beat on” with his “[boat] against the current. ” (pg. 89) Gatsby’s search for happiness was a loosing battle because he was seeking it in something unreal, but which he thought was real. CLIMAX How can anyone be happy? How can one know if they are living in reality or living a life of images and deceptive identities? Is there really any hope for happiness, or is life merely the vain effort to row a boat upstream? DENOUEMENT Man does not determine his own identity. In his book Leisure the Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper speaks of man being “at one with himself, when he is in accord with his own being. ” (pg. 30)
In order to be able to be in accord with one’s own being, one’s being must have an objective identity. One has to be in accord with this identity in order to find fulfillment and happiness. Thus, the path toward a self-made identity chosen by Gatsby does not lead to fulfillment. Not only must man be “in harmony with himself” (33), but Pieper also says that man must be “in agreement with the world and its meaning. ” (33) The world, human life, and the human person have meaning in and of themselves. This meaning is not contrived or invented on an individual basis and relative to each person.
Gatsby invented his own identity because he was not in harmony with himself or the world. Being out of harmony with the world and his own nature meant that Gatsby did not realize his connectedness to other people and to all of reality. Gatsby’s identity placed himself at the center of the universe. Instead of being part of a larger whole outside of himself, Gatsby wanted to fabricate a world in which everything served him and was ordered towards his own desires. For example, Gatsby did not care that Daisy was already married and had a child.
Since everything was ordered toward himself, he had the right to get Daisy just because he wanted her. The reason Jay Gatsby lived in this disconnected way resulted from his mentality of individualism. Individualism is pervades American society as a result of democracy. Each man considers himself the center of the universe and equal with everyone else. Individualism causes people to see themselves as autonomous and neither dependent upon nor connected to those around themselves. In American culture, this individualistic mentality is held up as an ideal.
America extols the self-made man, because he is an individual and need not look to anyone except himself. Gatsby lived the ideal American individualistic life which caused him to loose touch with his human nature. Pieper says that man’s nature is to be in harmony with oneself and the whole world. For there to be harmony between oneself and the whole world, one must see the natural connection between himself and other people, and likewise with plants and animals. Individualism made this harmony impossible, and as a result Gatsby never reached fulfillment from following his self-made identity.
CONCLUSION “Extreme Makeover” encourages Americans to live in unreality. The story of Gatsby is repeated over and over in the lives of many Americans who strive to make their own identity. America is truly a land of opportunity, but the wealth and resources found in America must be used in accordance with human nature. Just because the opportunity is available for a man to abandon his family and social roots and make his own life on the opposite side of the country, does not mean that this will lead to fulfillment and happiness.
Americans must discover their own connectedness to others around them. They must learn that human nature is not something to be fabricated by each individual, but is something common to all men which binds them together. The Gatsby-like life, although seemingly exciting and thrilling, leaves the human person impoverished. Although man may try to invent his own identity, he will never have harmony with himself and with others unless he accepts what and who he already is.