The Word on the Week

The Great Gatsby

There is nothing like a mystery man to whet the imagination and Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby, which reached our cinemas this week, does just that.

Jay Gatsby’s origins are unknown. The source of his wealth is unknown. His occupation is unknown. How he came to throw these glittering parties in his fake French chateau on Long Island is unknown.

There are allusions to Gatsby having been to Trinity College, Oxford. Some surmise that he is perhaps a German spy. There is a rumour that he killed a man. Others wonder if he got his wealth through some illicit practice such as bootlegging whiskey.

Set in America in the roaring twenties with all the glitz of the “flapper” culture and the unbridled energy of jazz music the book had to have romance! In fact all that Gatsby had created was designed to impress his former lady friend, Daisy Buchannan, now married to Tom, a detail which Gatsby chooses to ignore! However Gatsby is nothing if not an optimist. He refuses to believe that the past cannot be recreated.

In pursuit of a real relationship in his fake world he becomes embroiled in more tangled relationships and his dream ends with a bullet fired as a result of mistaken identity. Few turned up at his funeral; the epitaph mentioned his label “great” but even that has to be taken ironically.

Perhaps the writer of Ecclesiastes sums up Gatsby’s lifestyle best, “Meaningless! Meaningless! says the teacher. Everything is meaningless!

(chapter 12 verse 8). And so it is without God!

In contrast to Jesus who wanted people to discover his identity Gatsby wished his past to remain a mystery.

The question Jesus put to his disciples “who do you say I am” is as relevant today as it was when St Peter got it right – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” St Matthew then records that this identification of Jesus triggered the revelation of his betrayal, death and resurrection (chapter 16 verses 15/21).

There was purpose, not meaningless, in Jesus reply. He knew what he had come to do. He did not simply speak about it – he did it and that sense of purpose has characterised the lives of his followers to this day. He prayed “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (St John Chapter 17 verses 17/21).