'And One Fine Morning': Gatsby, Obama, and the Resurrection of Hope

By Hawkes, Lesley | Social Alternatives, Third Quarter 2009 | Go to article overview

'And One Fine Morning': Gatsby, Obama, and the Resurrection of Hope


Hawkes, Lesley, Social Alternatives


Hope is a word that has re-emerged in the light of Obama's stunning win in the United States election. In this time of economic gloom and the reality of bleak recession and unprecedented job losses the United States has embraced the hopeful message of Barack Obama. For many years 'hope' has been a word that has been lost, forgotten, and banished to the margins of romantic longing and wishful thinking. Hope is also a word that has been much discussed in relation to the iconic The Great Gatsby but usually in a negative fashion to demonstrate the unattainability of the American dream. Marcella Taylor called Gatsby "the unfinished American Epic" which focused on the "passing of the last utopian frontier" and suggested the significance of this passing on American society as a whole. In the last few months, however, hope has made a return and one gets the feeling that Fitzgerald's words 'but that's no matter-to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther . . . And one fine morning' - are once again being heard.

Hope is a word that has re-emerged in the light of Obama's stunning win in the United States election. In this time of economic gloom and the reality of bleak recession and unprecedented job losses the United States has embraced the hopeful message of Barack Obama. For many years, especially the years under the Bush administration 'hope' had been a word that had been lost, forgotten, and banished to the margins of romantic longing and wishful thinking. Whereas President Bush brought up connotations of dystopian rule and the fear of voicelessness Obama has managed to bring a country together with the uniting symbol of hope. This feat is even more remarkable if one considers that Obama has managed to do this in a time when the country is economically at its weakest: 'Well, we're already starting to see flickers of hope out there' (Obama 2009, 2).

The United States has always been a country that has sought symbols of unity and these symbols have usually been ones that emphasise youthfulness rather than maturity because youthfulness encompasses the ideals of continued change, evolution, and the promise of a fresh start. D. H. Lawrence went as far as to say 'that is the true myth of America. She starts old, old, wrinkled and writhing in an old skin. And there is a gradual sloughing off of the old skin, towards a new youth. It is the myth of America' (Lawrence in Lewis 1955, 1). Lawrence emphasises that this youthfulness is a story, a self-created and self-generated myth. The United States, as a settler nation, was founded on ideas of fresh starts and possibilities. Nowhere are these concepts of fresh starts and possibilities more clearly represented than in F Scott Fitzgerald's iconic The Great Gatsby. This famous American novel reveals the struggles that take place in the sloughing off of the old skin, towards a new and hopeful youth. Contemporary America has entered a new and exciting phase but it is not enough to offer empty symbols of unity and promise. Throughout The Great Gatsby hope is dismantled and rebuilt. Youthful possibilities pulsate throughout the story and energise and re-energise the story. Barack Obama has become President after a period of the dismantling of hope but he has managed to rebuild and encourage visions of hopeful promises and longings. He has made America believe again in fresh starts and possibilities.

Of course, the United States was not an unsettled nation when the Puritans landed. The Indigenous peoples already had in place a very complex and successful structure of land ownership and societal rules. However, for explorers and for the later Puritans, America offered up a land of indefinite hope: 'It provoked Utopian social hopes, millenarian visions of history, new scientific inquiries, new dreams of mercantilism, profit and greed, new funds for the artistic imagination' (Ruland and Bradbury 1992, 4). Its bounty, both imaginatively and idealistically, seemed endless. …

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