Sunday, February 14, 2010

Jung and "The Great Gatsby" and encountering the Shadow

Cover art for "The Great Gatsby," designed by Francis Cugat in 1925.

Back in January I had a dream I called "Jungian Eye" and it's a dream I've thought much about and toyed with in the past few weeks. Click here to read it in its entirety. In it, I'm learning about something I call the "Jungian Eye"--an all-knowing/omniscient force--and muse that one could re-read F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" from a Jungian perspective.

I like synchronicity and like to follow the rabbit-hole when it's presented to me, so I went off in search of the book and re-read it to see if anything popped out at me this time around (a few things did!) I also dug a little into Fitzgerald's life and discovered that he mentions Carl Jung several times in "Tender is the Night"--something I didn't know but find very interesting considering Zelda's mental breakdown in 1930.

Much of my reading of "The Great Gatsby" was spent considering the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. I've always been intrigued by these disembodied eyes that exist in the one intersection in the book where illusion and reality rub against each other and elements of Jung's Shadow emerge into the light. Fitzgerald mentions the eyes on the first page of chapter two:

"But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic--their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens and then sank down himself into eternal blindness or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days of sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground" (pp. 27-28).
The eyes see much. They take in Nick Carraway's daily transit from West Egg to New York, witness Tom Buchanan's affair with Myrtle Wilson, see George Wilson's break down upon realizing Myrtle's unfaithfulness, stare at Daisy Buchanan when she accidentally kills Myrtle with Gatsby's car, and look upon George's grief and his resulting decision towards the book's close. They are the eyes that "see everything."

And because Fitzgerald spends so many pages devoted to the clash between reality and illusion, the consequence is that his characters must clash about too, forced to create double lives to accommodate their residence in these two worlds. Fitzgerald's point, methinks, is that it becomes impossible to maintain two identities for very long. At some point, the repressed side will surface and destruction may follow. This, as Jung points out, is not necessarily a bad thing. One can find much gold there, as well as opportunities for integration and wholeness.

The places where this occurs in the book were rather clear to me. Perhaps the best example is the part where Gatsby gives Daisy Buchanan a chance to speak her complete truth about her feelings for him in front of her husband, Tom Buchanan, but she cannot do it and later reacts hysterically, accidentally killing Myrtle due to her reckless driving. Is this one of the Shadow's temper tantrums? Would it have occurred if Daisy could've given her repressed emotions a voice?
"It passed, and he began to talk excitedly to Daisy, denying everything, defending his name against accusations that had not been made. But with every word she was drawing further and further into herself, so he gave that up and only the dead dream fought on as the afternoon slipped away, trying to touch what was no longer tangible, struggling unhappily, undespairingly, towards that lost voice across the room.

The voice begged again to go. 'Please, Tom! I can't stand this anymore.' Her frightened eyes told that whatever intentions, whatever courage she had had, were definitely gone" (p. 142)."
Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson in "Owning Your Own Shadow" writes about the importance of giving the Shadow ritualized opportunities for expression so that it doesn't disable the conscious mind to speak its truth at some later, and often rather inopportune, point. Johnson points out that one of the ways to live with one's unwanted elements is to honor what they're trying to tell you in a way that's not hurtful to anyone else, including you. So, what might this look like? One could allow the Shadow element within you to vent out loud about something that bugs you for 5 minutes. You could scream into a pillow. You could paint it it out. Allow yourself to write a letter and then burn it. Picture it as a whiny small child and listen to what it's complaining about with love.

In his book, Johnson shares the story of having some rather contentious house guests stay for a few days. His cranky feelings towards them build and build and he does nothing to give them an outlet. After his guests left, Johnson still didn't do anything to neutralize his cranky feelings and decides that some beautiful flowers might be a nice pick-me-up reward for surviving the weekend. What happens? He ends up picking a fight with the gardener instead. His point? Because he had not honored his Shadow while he was experiencing distress, it popped out and unleashed itself inappropriately at a later point in time.

So, maybe the "Jungian Eye" then is really about integrating oneself--the conscious I with the unconscious I. The unconscious and the Shadow which resides there don't have to be frightening. Personally, I'm grateful my Shadow exists because it's a blessed guide. No other part of me calls my conscious mind's bluff like it does and I can always trust it to let me know when I'm honoring the unspoken parts of myself and when I'm not. And I find that dreams are a great place to meet the Shadow and to learn from it.


Pat Tillett said...

Holy crap....You are deep! Reading your posts make me wish I hadn't destroyed so many brain cells...

I think I'm going to read "Gatsby" again. I've forgotten a great deal of it, except that I loved the fact that "Nick" started out as a total outsider to the goings on next door. But eventually, he was part of the story.

David said...

Hi, GK. I agree with Pat, you are super deep!I'm fascinated with Carl Jung, but I only know what I've managed to find on google and wikipedia. Since you write about Jung so often, and since he *is* your literary boyfriend, I was wondering if you might be able to suggest the best book/place to start if I want to learn more about Jung and his ideas?

Pat Tillett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pat Tillett said...

I'm punished again by the brain cell killing of the 60's and 70's, but I think one of Jung's core beliefs, was that EVERYTHING means something. Especially so, if it came from your unconscious mind.

A Walk in the World said...

Hi, Pat!

Yea! You know, it was interesting reading "Gatsby" this time around. I felt like I was clinging to Nick to ground me in the midst of so many changing personas. He's the only one that feels grounded to me and do you think that's why he pairs with Jordan? Let me know!

Hi, Dave.

Oh, there's a ton of great stuff about Jung. I'd start with his autobiography called "Memories, Dreams, Reflections." He talks about how he fell into it and what led him to wonder if our dreams mean more than we think they do! I think you'll love it...I found it totally validating!


from what I can tell in my study of Jung, he DID believe everything either came for within oneself or from the collective unconscious. And you're right. There are no coincidences. The day before you emailed I dreamt that I was in Japan and was kayaking out to a lost city that had sharks swimming around it. I think it's funny that your hat has a shark on it. By chance are you writing from Japan?

Pat Tillett said...

Okay, this is testing the limits of my memory...
Nick was my focal point as well. I remember being a bit confused at times though, was I liking Nick the narrator, or Nick the character? Not sure...

I know this isn't going to answer your question correctly, but my main memory of Nick and Jordan, is the fact that he let her go at the end. Even though he loved her I think he was initially attracted to her because she was so aloof and had a "don't give a shit attitude."
Sorry, I know there is more there, but I just can't remember it. I'm surprised I remembered what I did. I'm going to read it again. Soon!!!

Your dream is very interesting. No, I'm not writing from Japan, but my wife is Japanese and I've been there a few times.

A Walk in the World said...

I know what you mean about Nick. I felt the exact same way and I'll be keen to hear what you strikes you about "Gatsby" when you read it.

Yeah, Jordan did have that aloof quality but at least she was honest about it. What I found interesting about her is that she allows herself to step outside norms but wasn't willing to accept a guy who did that.

This is exciting!

Pat Tillett said...

I see you haven't posted in a while. I ordered the book!
Say, if you have the time, I'd be interested to get your take on my blog. Not the "current events" stuff (there isn't much of that), but my stories...

A Walk in the World said...


Have you started reading the book yet? So keen to get your impressions!

Pat Tillett said...

Hey there,
I'm glad you asked me that, because the store hasn't called me yet...I gotta go down there.