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Careless people

"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back to their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together …”

How did they manage? I wondered. How could Daisy leave with Tom as Gatsby lay dead in the mansion built for her? How could she make him wait so long for her call? How could Tom say he never knew his mistress as she laid torn open on a dirty table, tears still streaming down her cheeks? 

They were careless people. 

I’ve often wondered what makes a classic like “The Great Gatsby.” I’m beginning to suspect it has something to do with a timeless story whose relevance leaps with urgency from the pages, seeping into our own dialogues and stories even as they unfold before us.

“The Great Gatsby” has it all. There is the always-relevant theme of love¬¬—crazy, all-consuming love. We see a deepening tension between beauty and goodness. Lana Del Rey’s whimsical melody whirls in the background as Gatsby and Daisy sneak away from his party to neighbor Nick Carraway’s yard: Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful? 

Much like Gatsby’s phony accent—a North Dakota man trying to fit the Northeastern part—the soundtrack seems misguided at first. Beyonce and Florence + the Machine playing in a 1920s scene is somehow anachronistic, we think. The blend of the much-beloved storyline coupled with pop music disorients us. But as song after song tumble to our ears, Gatsby’s accent and the songs all fit. They all fit, drawing us in, disorienting us, but this time with our permission. 

The imagined characters of F. Scott Fitzgerald bask in the opulence of a stranger’s extravagant party. Cars of the 1920s roar up the gravel drive, passengers swaying and dangling from the topless Model Js. The alcohol is bottomless. Confetti and music fill the air. 

Gatbsy’s world reminds me of a place I always wanted to write about. It is a place of money—mysteriously begotten and explained in whispers. “Mr. Smith works in investments” or “manages stocks,” when, in actuality, he is the heir to some oil company or the orchestrator of Wall Street conquests past.

Tucked into the eastern shoreline of South Florida is this place, the little town of Sewall’s Point. It owes its history to the failed fruition of corporate plans. In years past, it was hoped to be a port, a stretch of Flagler’s railroad, even a pineapple plantation. All these efforts fell through. None bore any fruit. But it and its neighboring Sailfish Point now serve as winter homes to corporate greats like the Kiplingers, Bloomingdales, Carnegies and Walgreens.

I now live “within and without” this world of money and privilege, but I can remember a time when my part could only be described as intimately within. I was often allured by the gatherings thrown by faceless hosts; I took part in the peacocking and pomp whirled inside the youth and privilege. 

I can remember Homecoming, when some of our Calculus classmates drew with paint pens on their more modest cars in the school parking lot. Alongside “Go Team,” “#6” and “Beat County” were drawings of me and other insiders as a form of strange decoration. My sketch, denoted “G,” was a faceless girl with a high-waisted skirt and headband. We giggled, sang a song, deeming any critiques to be some shade of jealous.

We were within that rich, charmed world, so vastly unaware of how all others might perceive it.

We were careless people. 

I can remember discussing whether one misstep of a friend was grounds for cutting all ties and banishment from the inner circle. I can remember wanting so desperately to be within this small, elite group and more secretly, more desperately, to be without. Like Nick Carraway, I felt trapped in limbo, within and without, a third wheel to my own story. I was too young, too within, too drawn in and too consumed to break away. I confused greatness with goodness time after time after regrettable time. 

Time away from this beautiful place allows us to see it as others once did. It has taken a true break for me to disentangle the warm fondness for this place as the site of my childhood with the ugly truth of who I was in adolescence here. 

With each return, I cannot help but remember whom I once wronged with my carelessness and who had wronged me with their own. I cannot help but realize how my circumstances clouded my self-awareness, making everything feel distant, expendable. 

Those were some of my more formative and confused years, but I come here now only for summer and time off. With each visit, I gaze out to the white-speckled blue of the inlet. And in these moments, I share with Gatsby a conviction of hope that Nick Carraway so admired. I feel the promise of a life lived more carefully, and I question the problems of such a semi-charmed place. I hope that others may tread more carefully, understanding sooner than I the implications and pitfalls of privilege. I hope that others might see the danger in carelessness and be drawn back home, but never again consumed. 

Gracie Willert is a Trinity senior. Her second summer column will run on June 13. 


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