Throughout F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, millionaire Jay Gatsby spends his time pining after the woman of his dreams – Daisy Buchanan – despite her marital status. While many consider Fitzgerald’s story to be one of true love and hope, it is also one of living in the past and fearing the future. Gatsby, despite his numerous efforts to woo her over, is no longer truly in love with Daisy like he believes – he simply is in love with the idea of her.
A little over halfway through his novel, Fitzgerald reveals that Gatsby has not always been the man he has made himself to be. As a child, Gatsby grew up in rural North Dakota and always knew that he wanted to make a life for himself elsewhere. Having abandoned St. Olaf college in Minnesota after two weeks of classes, Gatsby changed his name from “James Gatz” to “Jay Gatsby,” as advised by his mentor Dan Cody, and spent a good amount of time learning the ways of the wealthy. As a young man, Gatsby dated Daisy for a few weeks just before being sent off to war. Nick later notes, as Gatsby is still spending his days trying to entice Daisy, that Gatsby wanted to recover “some idea of himself … that had gone into loving Daisy.” (pg.117) At the point in his life when Gatsby had initially met Daisy, he was not a rich man, and she was a luxury to him. Having spent the majority of his life striving to be someone he wasn’t and feeling empty, the time he spent with Daisy and in love filled the hole that had been created by his dissatisfaction for life he had been living. Years later, he still has the image of her as a sort of “holy object,” despite the wealth he’s gained, even noting that Daisy’s voice is “full of money” (pg.126) – a clear sign that it was her wealth and beauty that most encapsulated Gatsby. Had it not been, Gatsby would have not worked for his wealth and lavish lifestyle that was only meant to impress her.
After finally reconnecting with Daisy, Gatsby is so overwhelmed by the fact that he’s with her that he initially spends more time still thinking about her than actually being with her. When “Daisy put her arm through his abruptly, [and] he seemed absorbed in what he had just said,” it becomes clear to the reader that he’s more concerned with the image of them together and the feeling of being with her rather than Daisy herself. Shortly after, he considers “his count of enchanted objects [to be] diminished by one,” (pg.98) showing that he considers her to be more of a prize than a person. After almost five years of being separated from Daisy, Gatsby had created an image of her in his head that was unlike the real woman she was – he’d fostered the idea that she was a treasure of sorts. His infatuation with Daisy and anything that related to her (such the green light at the end of her dock) did nothing but assist in building up this glamorized image of her – and wound up hurting him in the end.
It becomes clear that Gatsby’s love for Daisy wasn’t nearly as reciprocated as he’d hoped once they go on a trip to New York City along with Tom, Nick, and Jordan, and conversation takes a turn for the worse. After much arguing, Gatsby attempted to coax the words “I love you” out of Daisy in order to prove that she didn’t love Tom, only to be disappointed in the fact that she “did love him once, but [she] loved [Gatsby] too,” (pg.140) the word “too” hurting Gatsby immensely. Gatsby had strived to be the only one she loved – this desire emerging from the time they spent together when he was the only man in her life. While Daisy, after their short relationship, had moved on and started a family, Gatsby was sent off to war and went five years with no relationship as intimate a his with Daisy (that were mentioned, at least, by Nick). Now that Tom is in the picture as Daisy’s husband, Gatsby attempts to pull Daisy back into the time where she was in love with him and him only. Daisy being his first and only true taste of intimacy with a “nice girl” created a dependency on her within Gatsby, and led to his fixation on her as his only chance of love. The fact that Gatsby hadn’t ever gotten to truly know the people around him – at his parties and at social events – led to his isolation, in a sense, allowing for this image he’d created of Daisy to flourish.
Despite years of buildup to the day when he’d meet Daisy once again, Gatsby’s presumed love for Daisy only wound up being a love for the idea of having her and sharing her luxurious lifestyle. Once Gatsby had reached her status, her love was no longer as magical as it had been for him as a younger and poorer man – yet he still sought after her undivided affection. Perhaps his love for her was still there – after all, why would he have continued to pursue her once reaching his social status if all he wanted was her wealth? While some of Gatsby’s motives may be vague, it is clear that all Gatsby wanted was for Daisy to love him and only him – he wanted to go back in time to when that was the truth.
“Can’t repeat the past?…Why of course you can!”
The Great Gatsby, pg.110