Upon my insomnia as of late, I read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby last night. Like many readers, I despised every character: Nick was passive, Daisy insincere and opportunistic, Tom a brute, Jordan cold, Myrtle desperate, George Wilson lifeless. But that emotion only reveals what is a part of us. Perhaps I see you as them and you see me as them too. All were remarkably unappealing except Gatsby, the tragic hero. I imagine Fitzgerald saw himself as Gatsby, at least I hope so.
The novel speaks of an heroic American past, for a nation, but also for each individual. Daisy is Jay’s “enchanted object,” a past which he sought to recreate evinced in those famous lines: “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can.” Sure we know better, but we still chase the sun.
Murakami’s novel South of the Border, West of the Sun similarly speaks of the enchanted past—Hajime’s haunted imaginations of Shimamoto. She is Gatsby’s Daisy. Hajime risks everything to recapture that which can’t be captured. The love and innocence of their youth will never return.
Robert Frost spoke of the delusions of the past in “The Road Not Taken.” This must be the most misunderstood poem in all of literature. No, it’s not about the triumph of choosing the difficult path, the one less traveled. Both paths are “equally worn and equally overlaid with un-trodden leaves.” Rather, the narrator recognizes that he may look back on his life and fabricate about the righteous path he took—believes he traveled. And he speculates this lie he may even believe.