The Charleston in the 2020s
Elizabeth Prater | Wednesday, March 10, 2021
Looking out onto West Quad, you can occasionally see the splendor of the men of Duncan Hall, clad in their trademark green blazers. How does one of the newest men’s dorms on campus gain such status in their emblems of class and style? I can’t help but find striking similarities but as to Jay Gatsby’s estate.
Located in West Egg, Gatsby’s estate is the paradigm of power, identifiable to narrator Nick Carraway by the green light that is visible from across the water. Everyone is captivated by Jay Gatsby and the wealth that he seems to perpetuate with each extravagant party.
While I could spend a lengthy amount of time attempting to draw out parallels between the iconic work of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Duncan Hall, I believe stronger connections can be established between the themes of the book and life lessons that can be gleaned from it.
Jay Gatsby is not initially a man of means. He grows up in the agricultural domain of the Midwest, where he then moves to New York to pursue what English teachers across America engrain into students’ heads as the “American Dream.” At the end of the novel, we realize that perhaps he never fully achieves this dream, despite his bounds of riches.
While “The Great Gatsby” is a cult-favorite for required reading lists, I believe the novel offers some real merit, despite its overuse and interesting 2013 adaptation. (Sorry Leo.)
In a way, I think a lot of Notre Dame students resemble a version of Jay Gatsby. Many of us have large aspirations, pursuing higher education for a myriad of reasons. We toiled over every standardized test that was thrown our way, spent all of our time in club meetings and wrote personal statements that attempted to sum our life thus far in an unreasonable word count.
As I walk around campus, I can’t help but feel grateful. For the dome in the distance, the swans that beautifully grace the lakes — from a safe distance — and the playing of the Alma Mater on game day. All of my past study sessions seem worth it when I’m able to call Notre Dame my home.
However, I hope that we continue to look at “The Great Gatsby” as a reminder to check our motivations for pursuing such accolades. Gatsby believed that his increase in wealth would win over Daisy’s heart, but of course, his desire never came true.
When you are spending all hours of the night at Hesburgh Library, perhaps you chase graduating with Latin honors or getting into a prestigious law school. But what do these goals mean without purpose?
One can spend an entire lifetime pursuing a plethora of degrees, trophies and filling one’s bank account. However, at the end of the day, will these things fulfill us? Will they make us happy? Or will we be like Gatsby, succumbing to loneliness after a night of luxury?
I’m not necessarily advocating for everlasting altruism to be our savior, nor saying that we can’t aim to achieve such ambitions. However, I think it’s important to have an anchor that grounds us, reminding us of our humanity and the transitory nature of life. None of our possessions — whether material or that of power — are a given. One day, we can wake up, and everything for which we have worked can dissipate under irrepressible forces that we cannot explain. What then, will be the thing that brings us hope? What will bring us joy?
They say that history repeats itself every century, and there are outstanding applications to how we can analyze “The Great Gatsby” in a modern context. The 2020s haven’t been off to a great start, but through the chaos, we are offered a time of reflection and an inspection of our inner selves.
Although many students roll their eyes when they are given this book to read in schools across the nation, we should heed Jay Gatsby’s story. It spews a tale that is familiar to many high achievers of the 21st century — that is, of ephemeral fulfillment and eternal dissatisfaction.
In other words, once we achieve something, as is the case with Gatsby, it is never quite enough. In an effort to go forward, one can become so backwards that one loses sight of what is truly important. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Elizabeth Prater is a first-year student with double majors in marketing and the Program of Liberal Studies. In her free time, she manages her Goldendoodle’s Instagram account (@genevieve_the_cute_dog) which has over 23K followers. She can be reached at [email protected] or @elizabethlianap on Twitter.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.