Lorelai: He’s liked you for ten years?
Lorelai: Wow. That is some serious Great Gatsby pining.
Sookie: I know.
Lorelai: You’re his Daisy.
Sookie: I am? I’m his Daisy. I’m someone’s Daisy.
– Gilmore Girls, Season 3, Episode 11
The scene quoted above makes me grimace just a little. I understand the point of the reference. In Fitzgerald’s classic, Gatsby worships Daisy so intensely that he is willing to sacrifice anything for her. In isolation, that kind of devotion might seem enchanting or romantic.
In The Great Gatsby, though, it’s quite dark. Gatsby pays dearly for his blind devotion to Daisy. Besides that, what he worships is a figment of his imagination. The Daisy of Gatsby’s dreams doesn’t exist.
I’ve been dipping into The Great Gatsby this week, inspired by another book I’m rereading, Azar Nafisi’s memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran. Nafisi recounts her years teaching literature in Tehran, both within the university system and in her home with a group of students she hand selected for a book group. The memoir is divided into four parts, with the works of a particular author providing the theme for each section. Part II is called “Gatsby” and explores the darker side of dreams, both within Fitzgerald’s novel and within the Islamic Republic of Iran as Nafisi experienced it.
“Be careful with your dreams,” she writes. “One day they may just come true.”
This isn’t how I usually think of dreams, generally speaking. The word “dream” tends to connote idealism, aspiration. It has an antonym, “nightmare.” In Nafisi’s memoir as in Gatsby, dreams morph into nightmares so that we can no longer distinguish one from the other.
Part of me doesn’t know what to do with this. Must dreams always come to grief? Is this the takeaway? That we should not aspire to achieve ideals? Must dreams, by necessity, remain always out of reach? Is this about accepting the inevitability of imperfection? Is it about understanding the fragility of dreams, their unreality? Does it mean taking care to conceptualize what they would look like made material?
I wonder if the point is to not have an answer but to linger in the wondering, to proceed, as Nafisi urges, with caution. These last line of The Great Gatsby makes it seem so: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”