Gatsby, Draper, and Where Freedom Really Lies

This week I co-wrote and published a piece over at Christianity Today on Jay Gatsby and Don Draper, the protagonists (not quite “heroes”) of The Great Gatsby and Mad Men, two hot commodities in pop culture right now. There are some striking similarities between these men, despite the fact that Gatsby “lived” forty years before Draper.

After seeing Gatsby at a press screening last week, my co-writer and I felt there was some intuitive link between them, and we pushed it back and forth till we hit on something: worshiping self—even if it looks like it’s for others—is a surefire way to the bad life.

The trouble at root is this: Gatsby and Draper worship the image of Gatsby and Draper, and don’t love the people around them. They chose, with the freedom afforded them by the American experiment, to remake themselves in their own image and likeness. They took the ideas Sartre espouses and just went for it, wholesale; they looked the void in the eye and decided to walk away. But they couldn’t get away from their core, their soul, who they really were. The self-image they worshipped could never fully eclipse the self-loathing that prompted them to re-create themselves in the first place.

I’d love to hear what you think—especially if you’re familiar with either or both of the stories!

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  • Susan Gerard

    Very interesting and insightful. Both deny who they really are, and lose the opportunity to be truly loved and affirmed. I do find Gatsby to be a more sympathetic character, though, taking the fall for Daisy; it would be interesting to see if/how he would have recovered had he lived. Don seems hopeless.