Contemplating The Great Gatsby

A man came to Ibrāhīm Ibn Adham, a Muslim scholar, with a gift. Ibrāhīm put a condition on the man that in order for him to take the gift the man must be wealthy. The man responded that he was wealthy. Ibrāhīm asked him how much he had. The man said that he had so-and-so amount of money. Ibrāhīm asked the man if he would like a larger amount, and the man replied in the affirmative.  Ibrāhīm Ibn Adham told the man that he would not accept the gift because the man was not wealthy (i.e. he was not content with what he had)[1]. The characters in Gatsby do not appear to have any contentment of heart.

In spite of the wealth that they possess, which one normally assumes is the means to happiness, they appear bored and… normal, for lack of a better word. By normal I mean that they are not trying to do anything grand or even significant. Much like the man in the Lovesong, they are aiming so painfully low, and I find it hard to excuse them, not to speak of that guy in Lovesong, for being so nonchalant about life. These characters are wasting away the precious minutes of their existence, as much as fictional characters have an existence, eavesdropping on people on the telephone, gossiping about the butler’s nose, trying to wreck other people’s marriages in the pursuit of “true love”, or, as in the case of Nick, standing by the side of the road watching life go by.

One would hope that they would be doing something more important, or at least be of benefit to their fellow man. One would hope that they would find something better to do with the money they have been blessed with other than wasting it on parties. I wonder if that is not the point of the book, that it is a fiery cannonball blasted into the midst of the upper class with a smiley face on it, just to add insult to injury. Is the author sticking his tongue out at the rich people whose affluence he’s been denied, while pointing out that those riches are not the source of happiness? Is he trying to say that “true riches lies in contentment”? Or is he just pining, like Nick and Gatsby, for something he can’t have? I’m inclined to say that it is a mixture of the two, since we, as human beings, are complicated and very rarely can one stand on the outside and paint another using only one brush without getting to know that individual.

[1] Ibn Asad Al-Muhasabiy Al Basriy, Harith. Risalatul Mustarshideen. Beirut: Darul Bashairil Islamiyyah, 2005. Print.

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