Obama as Jay Gatsby?
Jay Gatsby was the wannabe from North Dakota who re-invented himself.
Fitzgerald initially presents Gatsby as the aloof, enigmatic host of the unbelievably opulent parties thrown every week at his mansion. He appears surrounded by spectacular luxury, courted by powerful men and beautiful women. He is the subject of a whirlwind of gossip throughout New York and is already a kind of legendary celebrity before he is ever introduced to the reader. Fitzgerald propels the novel forward through the early chapters by shrouding Gatsby’s background and the source of his wealth in mystery…
Fitzgerald uses… delayed character revelation to emphasize the theatrical quality of Gatsby’s approach to life, which is an important part of his personality. Gatsby has literally created his own character, even changing his name from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby to represent his reinvention of himself. As his relentless quest for Daisy demonstrates, Gatsby has an extraordinary ability to transform his hopes and dreams into reality; at the beginning of the novel, he appears to the reader just as he desires to appear to the world. This talent for self-invention is what gives Gatsby his quality of “greatness”: indeed, the title “The Great Gatsby” is reminiscent of billings for such vaudeville magicians as “The Great Houdini” and “The Great Blackstone,” suggesting that the persona of Jay Gatsby is a masterful illusion.
Name changes? Re-invention? Mysterious and myriad backstories? Unfounded assertions of “greatness”? Later, new-found wealth and opulence? It seems Barry Oh! is cut from the same cloth as Gatsby according to How Obama became black.
In one letter to Alex [McNear, who briefly became Obama’s girlfriend], he told her that it seemed all his Pakistani friends were headed toward the business world, and his old high school buddies from Honolulu were “moving toward the mainstream.” Where did that leave him? “I must admit large dollops of envy for both groups,” he wrote. “Caught without a class, a structure, or tradition to support me, in a sense the choice to take a different path is made for me . . . the only way to assuage my feelings of isolation are to absorb all the traditions [of all the] classes; make them mine, me theirs.”
Here, at age 22, was an idea that would become a key to understanding Obama the politician and public figure.
And a telling comment from Obama friend Mir Mahboob Mahmood (you could not make up such a name and deliver it with a straight face), a student at Columbia Law School:
“…Barack was the most deliberate person I ever met in terms of constructing his own identity, and . . . that was an important period for him, first the shift from not international but American, number one, and then not white, but black.”
We all have the freedom of choice to “invent” ourselves in any way we see fit when we find ourselves dissatisfied with our lot in life or when uncomfortable in our own skin. And yet, most of us don’t find it necessary to do so with as much deliberateness as either Jay Gatsby or Barry Obama.
For the fictional Gatsby, it all ended tragically; as it concerns the surreal Obama administration, America continues to live the anti-dream.