Gatsby – The Almost Christ-Figure, What Do You think?
By Matt Rickey - Crossmap On May 13, 2013
A strong pattern of biblical allusions establishes an image of Gatsby as Jesus. The very first description of Gatsby conjures biblical images. Gatsby is described as having "a heightened sensitivity to the promises of life" and "an extraordinary gift for hope" (6). Jesus "came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn. 10:10). Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, identifies hope as the second of the three theological virtues (13:13). Furthermore, Nick describes Gatsby's handwriting as "majestic," suggesting the kingship of Christ (46). Gatsby's kingdom, like Jesus' is "not of this world" (Jn. 18:36). When Gatsby stands in his yard, surveying the stars, Nick describes him as laying claim to a section of the "heavens" (25). Gatsby's parties are even reminiscent of biblical themes. Nick observes that "people were not invited; they went there" (45). This recalls the parable of the wedding feast, in which, lacking invited guests, the king sends his soldiers out to the highways to gather revelers. This allusion is continued when Nick comments "I had been actually invited" (45). The parable concludes with the reflection that "many are called, but few are chosen" (Mt. 22:14). At the party, one of the girls states that Gatsby "doesn't want trouble with anybody" (48). Jesus described himself as "gentle and lowly in heart" and commanded his followers to "turn the other cheek" (Mt. 11:29, 5:29). When Nick prepares to leave the party, he looks for Gatsby "to apologize for not having known him in the garden" (57). These words echo two major biblical images. First, Adam hides from God in the Garden of Eden. Even more closely tied to this image is the scene at the empty tomb where Mary Magdalene mistakes the risen Jesus for the gardener. Gatsby's mysterious origins allude to the confusion about Jesus' authority. Tom asks "where is he from, I mean? And what does he do?" (53) When Jesus preaches in the synagogue at Nazareth, the people ask "Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?" (Mt. 13:34) On at least two occasions, Gatsby tells Nick that they are "going up": first in the hydroplane and later when they "ride up" to New York for lunch (57, 68). This ascendant diction suggests that, like Jesus, Gatsby "had come from God and was going to God" (Jn. 13:3). It also follows the biblical convention by which all travel to Jerusalem is described by the Hebrew word "aliah": to go up. Fitzgerald even put Jesus' words on Gatsby's lips, as in the car when Gatsby asks Nick "what's your opinion of me anyhow?" (69) This echoes Jesus' journeying question of his disciples: "who do you say that I am?" (Mk. 8:29) This plethora of biblical references creates a pervasive backdrop for Gatsby's actions. Everything he does is placed in this context, either matching it or contrasting it.
In addition to this pattern, several strong events and images link Gatsby to Christ. The first time that Nick sees Gatsby, he is standing with arms outspread, trembling. The posture is suggestive of crucifixion. This passion image is blended with a post-resurrection reference. Nick follows Gatsby's gaze, and when he looks back, Gatsby has "vanished" (26). This model of recognition and disappearance follow the Lucan post-resurrection appearance. When Jesus "was known to" the disciples on the road to Emmaus "in the breaking of the bread" he "vanishes" from their presence (Lk. 24:35,31). Gatsby's smile has a similar transformative effect as the face of Jesus. Gatsby's has "one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it" (52). After Peter's threefold denial of Jesus "the Lord turned around and looked straight at Peter, and Peter went out and wept bitterly" (Lk. 22:61-2). Both Gatsby's and Jesus' glances are sufficient to evoke emotions of salvation. Nick experiences "eternal reassurance" while Peter understands in that moment the salvific power of the man he has denied. The repeated descriptions of Gatsby's aloofness or distance at his parties suggest a divine nature. Gatsby is seen "standing alone on the marble steps and looking from one group to another with approving eyes" (54). Nick further observes that "no French bob touched Gatsby's shoulder" (55). These details imply a distance between Gatsby and his guests. On the steps he is placed above them. The fact that the women do not lean on his shoulder recalls Jesus' injunction to Mary Magdalene "do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father" (Jn. 20:17). It also conjures the image of Jesus' failed attempt to preach in Nazareth, when the crowd
rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. but passing through the midst of them he went away (Lk. 4:29-30).
The ending of the story also supports a reading of Gatsby as Jesus. He dies for the sins of Tom and Daisy. "He himself bore [their] sins in his body by his wounds [they] have been healed" (1 Pt. 2:24). Just like Jesus, upon his death, his followers scatter to the four winds. The scriptures note that at the crucifixion, only Jesus' mother, "the disciple whom Jesus loved" and a few women were present (Jn. 19:26). At Gatsby's funeral were present his father and Nick, the guest whom Gatsby loved, or at least the guest in whom he confided.
Beyond these suggestive comparisons of Gatsby to Christ, Fitzgerald explicitly states Gatsby's quasi-divinity. Gatsby is a self-created deity. Fitzgerald explains:
The truth was that Jay Gatsby-- sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a Son of God a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that and he must be about His Father's Business (104).
Fitzgerald later expands on this pronouncement, describing how, if Gatsby kissed Daisy "his mind would never romp again like the mind of God" (117). When he does, "the incarnation was complete" (117). The identification of Gatsby with Christ is inarguable. However, despite this direct evidence, Gatsby is not a Christ-figure. The prevailing tone of the novel is one of artificiality. Nothing is as it seems. The commentary on the Jazz Age is that it is all sparkle and not substance. Nick, even when enraptured with Gatsby's smile, experiences "doubt" and wonders "if there wasn't something sinister about him after all" (69). Nick explains that Gatsby "represented everything for which [he has] and unaffected scorn" (6). The problem with Gatsby's incarnation is that it is too complete. He has come too low to hold divinity. The God whose Son Gatsby is is the God of money, power, prestige and falsehood. This lost godling is appropriate to his worldly kingdom, but his power to redeem is too limited for the fullness of Godhead. While his death saves Tom and Daisy from the law, it cannot save them from themselves.
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