I can’t remember the last play I had seen at the Springer Opera House in Columbus before this past week. It had been years. I went often in high school, seeing “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail,” “A Christmas Carol,” and many other literary classics brought to life on the Springer’s lovely stage.
Completely out of the blue, my son announced this year that he was taking me to see “The Great Gatsby” at the Springer for my birthday. What a perfect surprise. There is no doubt in my mind that Gatsby is the most flawless American novel, the sad and tragic tale of the destruction that happens when the noble “American Dream” is distorted by people who can’t see beyond themselves.
Fitzgerald’s book has always broken my heart. As an undergraduate at Auburn, I did much of my research on “The American Dream,” the concept that, regardless of background or gender or bloodline or religious belief, each person in this country should have the same opportunity, through initiative and thrift, to be free from want and fear.
I rejoiced with Walt Whitman over the Dream’s victories and lamented with Langston Hughes over its failures. I went to Massachusetts to walk in the footsteps of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. I lived and breathed American literature, and what it promised. That background served me well the decades I taught at Auburn University, and it prepared the way to the job I have now, teaching graduate courses in American literature for Southern New Hampshire University, many of them focusing on what has become of that original American Dream, how it has been sullied by excess.
The Springer was, if anything, even lovelier than I remembered. The actors were excellent. The evening was perfect. The American Dream is suffering right now, but as long as Fitzgerald’s beautiful and tragic story of Jay Gatsby can still fill a theatre on a cold February night, there is hope that some little boy or girl from the middle of nowhere can reclaim the original Dream for us all.
Marian Carcache welcomes
comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.