Did Jay Gatsby love Daisy? I read The Great Gatsby in high school and, I’m sorry to say, I don’t remember much about it except that it was kind of romantic. And that billboard with the eyes of God staring down on everyone was unforgettable. But I just saw the movie and as I watched Leonardo DiCaprio’s great performance, my faith in Jay’s love faded by the minute.
There’s no doubt that he made a great sacrifice for Daisy at the end of the movie – you all know what I’m talking about, but I won’t mention it specifically in case there is someone who doesn’t remember the end of the story. Anyway, that act of self-giving colors our interpretation of his love – we believe he truly loved her because only love seems capable of such a heroic act. But I wonder what would emerge if we could put that act aside for a moment and examine Jay’s attitude towards Daisy with a colder eye, like the eyes on the billboard.
Fact One: Jay fell in love with Daisy as a soldier at a dance under a moonlit sky the night before he was being shipped overseas. We can hear his thoughts. He tells us that if he falls in love with this girl, he knows his life will be changed forever. That’s perfect, because Jay has been on a mission to change his life. Born into poverty, he has been chasing after success and wealth ever since. A wealthy man took him under his wing and Jay took this man for his model, imitating his mannerisms down to the odd phrase, “old chap”. All his life, Jay has felt empty and in that moment on that fateful night, he grasped at love as a way to fill up the hollow spaces. That the object of his love was Daisy seems to have been a complete coincidence.
Fact Two: Daisy chose another man to marry. Oops. And the other man was successful and wealthy, exactly what Jay wanted to be. He found himself replaced by his future self, the self he dreams of being. At one point, Daisy’s cousin, Nick, tells Jay that he can’t relive the past, but Jay insists that he can. Indeed, that is exactly what he is trying to do. He wants to rewind the tape to the moment when Daisy chose someone else so she can see that she had really chosen him all along. Are you lost? Well, Jay is a bit lost, too. He doesn’t love Daisy as much as he loves being chosen by her, a choosing that will let him know he has become the somebody he has longed to be.
Fact Three: Not only does Jay want Daisy to leave her husband, he wants her to tell her husband that she never loved him. Though she tries to do so, she fails because it just isn’t true. She did love her husband and maybe still does. (Why Daisy loves men who use and abuse her is another story!) Nick pleads with Jay not to ask more of Daisy than she can give, but Jay won’t accept less than a complete rewriting of history. Daisy must choose him – she must never have chosen anyone else. Why? Because nothing less than total possession of this woman will satisfy him. His love is obsessive. Daisy is an object he must possess, like his mansion and his money, objects that signify he has become someone real.
Okay, I know – the great sacrifice. Maybe what Jay is able to do for Daisy at the end is something truly loving. Or maybe it’s about keeping his grasp on her. Surely, if the gesture had succeeded, she would be indebted to him for life. However you interpret the ending, up to that point Jay’s feelings for Daisy are self-serving and manipulative, not love at all.
I always wondered what was so great about Gatsby. Maybe the title refers to the impossible-to-fill emptiness he felt inside. Did he love Daisy? Perhaps in the only way he knew how.
Gatsby didn’t understand his obstacles to true love. Too often we find ourselves in the same predicament. Helping to identify these obstacles is what I had in mind when I wrote The Wicked Truth About Love. Gatsby and Daisy would have learned a lot about themselves if they had taken the quiz in my book. Give it a try yourself at thewickedtruthaboutlove.com.
Image: Carey Mulligan and Leonardo DiCaprio as Daisy and Gatsby