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Choke and the Great Gatsby: Obsession with Self Worth

In: English and Literature

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Choke and The Great Gatsby: Obsession with Self Worth The desperation found in the lack of affection an individual receives can lead one to alter themselves and their lives to achieve the affection they desire. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald shows the desperate lengths one may go to in order to be with the person they want. Gatsby changes his entire life to win Daisy’s heart, chasing the dream which her lifestyle represents to him. Daisy also happens to risk her marriage to be with someone who appreciates her, unlike her husband who tries to relive his glory days through an affair. Some characters go to more creative actions to achieve their desires. In Choke by Chuck Palahniuk, the main character is a sex addict and a conman, dealing with his lost childhood his mother provided. His mother faces mental illness in a nursing home, after being unstable her whole life and never understanding the affect she had on her son. His best friend is also a sex addict, but his tendencies come out in different ways which tend to drive people away. Every character in this book has a different way of dealing with the feeling of insignificance the lack of love instilled in them. The characters from Choke by Chuck Palahniuk, and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, all show an insatiable craving for affection and purpose among the people around them because they never possessed it themselves. Although expressed in different ways, these characters all have personal issues relating to an obsession with love, significance, and low self worth which result in losing themselves.

In the pursuit of achieving affection and love, the characters tend to lose the essence of who they are. In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby desperately wants to win Daisy’s heart, and in doing that he believes he must drastically change his lifestyle. He changes his name, his address, his standard of living, and his entire personality simply to impress the girl he claims to love. However, the true purpose of this façade is to mold himself into the person he wishes to be. At the end of the novel, Gatsby’s father shows Nick an old journal Gatsby used to write in, filled with things he needed to do, such as practicing elocution and poise and reading an improving book. As this is revealed, Gatsby’s identity comes into question and it is proven that he has lost who he is to be a part of Daisy’s life. Victor, from Choke, has no constant source of love in his life. Growing up fatherless with a crack-addicted mother, he grows up to never be satisfied with the amount of love he receives, apropos of his addiction. Throughout the novel, Victor finds affection through playing the victim, anonymous sex with strangers, and being a never-ending source of apologies for delusional old women. When talking about all of the women he has slept with, his desire for intimacy proves ineffective as the author writes, “At the time, I thought each of them was going to be somebody special, but without their clothes, they could’ve been anybody” (117). This shows Victor’s constant struggle for the feeling of love he can not seem to grasp, which is why he sleeps with so many women. Vincent talks about being a “performance artist doing dinner theater” and also about “playing scapegoat” which sums up all of the people he could be (61). He uses these acts to make the people he sees come to terms with tragic events that happened in their lives, or to make someone feel like a hero. In return, he gets the happiness and warmth from the people he helps, although the reasons they feel this way are purely an act. The acts they put on are also an affectation caused by the feeling of insignificance. A prominent issue that each character faces in the two novels is the need to be needed, or to have a purpose. In The Great Gatsby, despite the luxurious and carefree lives of the wealthy East Eggers, the characters seem unable to attain happiness. The Buchanan’s marriage is quietly falling apart as Tom cannot settle peacefully in one place and Daisy feels the love in their marriage fading. When the narrator describes Tom, he says that he "would drift off forever seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game" (10). This sums up the fundamental nature of Tom’s adulterous ways, as he cheats on his wife with no shame and tries to relive his glory days as a successful, young man without any responsibility except to do what he loves. When he was the star of the football team, he was loved and the whole university depended on him. Because he got older and was married and had a child and a house, he had nothing more to do and feels purposeless. He already has the love of his wife, but he needs more; in Myrtle he finds a woman who needs him. She feeds off of his wealth, his status, and claims to need his love. Having a woman on the side that is not already well-off and needs more out of him makes him feel important again. Daisy knows that Tom does not need her because he has a mistress and her feelings are clear when she says, “’…Tom was God knows where. I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling…’” (21). The feeling of abandonment Daisy experiences cause her to accept the admiration she receives from Gatsby, and she convinces herself she truly wants to be with him. Seeing the lengths that Gatsby goes to simply to be in her presence makes her feel wanted and needed and longed for, which is why she is willing to cheat on her husband with him and claim to love him over her husband. Vincent Mancini, more than anyone, exhibits the desperate need for purpose in his life. He does some unconventional things to satisfy this need; mostly, he pretends to choke in restaurants to give others a chance to be a hero, and for him to be the weak victim that they come to love. He keeps his mother crippled and sick, when he could save her, because he likes the fact that she needs him to stay alive. When explaining why he wants her to stay sick he says, “I'm terrified of losing her, but if I don't, I may lose myself" (119). In admitting this, Vincent shows that he is so desperate to be needed, that if he does not have someone relying on him, he would not be himself. He also talks about his sexual addiction, and how he cannot remember all the women he slept with. He admits to believing that each girl could have been someone special and says, “What I want is to be needed. What I need is to be indispensible to somebody. Who I need is somebody that will eat up all my free time, my ego, my attention. Somebody addicted to me. A mutual addiction” (118). This realization shows the incessant need he feels to have purpose in someone’s life. Not only does he acknowledge the craving he has for purpose, but he expresses the fact that he wants a particular person to have purpose for. In an effort to win the love of Daisy, Gatsby achieves great things to make himself worthy of her. Maarit Johnson states that “An individual's sense of self-worth can be attached to support and love given by others or to achievements and living up to one's own or others' standards” (Blatt & Zuroff. 1992: Crocker. 2002: Johnson & Blom. 2007). In his attachment to affection, Gatsby displays a willingness to give himself up to the confines of the societal differences between Daisy and himself. He becomes successful and achieves the upper class status in order to simply be in her presence. The fact that he “invents” himself and Jay Gatsby sprung from his “platonic conception of himself” shows that he gives himself high standards to live up to, and in those standards he hopes to achieve old money status (104). In order to do so, he vies for the love of Daisy. He convinces himself that he was in love with her and needs her in his life, but in reality he is in love with her lifestyle. When Gatsby is talking to Nick about wanting to restore the past he had with Daisy, Nick expresses that “He talked a lot about the past and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy” (117). Nick realizes that Gatsby’s infatuation with Daisy has more to do with him than it does with Daisy. Nevertheless, Gatsby craves not only affection, but mostly attention from others. He needs Daisy to love him so that he can fulfill the persona he created for himself, and he puts himself out there with his extravagant parties so everyone will know his name. As Blatt (1974) and Bowlby (1980) have argued, “major frustrations concerning the caregiver's nurture and love in a developmental phase when basic sense of self-love and security are founded, create emotional dependency” (Depressive Styles, Self-Esteem Structure, and Health: A Dynamic Approach to Differential Vulnerability in Self Criticism and Dependency). This is a convincing argument for why Vincent Mancini is so dependent on strangers for love, because he never had a father and his mother was a crack addict who floated in and out of his life. His desperation for affection is shown through his crazy antics, such as when he fakes choking in restaurants and declares that, "You had to risk your life to get love. You had to get right to the edge of death to ever be saved" (77). This shows his distorted thinking process which leads him to believe that he can make strangers love him by letting them save him. Because he believes this so strongly, he performs this stunt weekly to get his daily dose of affection. In his pursuit for the warmth and care of others, he also has constant anonymous sex. He pleases the women in the nursing home by accepting the blame for incidents that haunt their lives and apologizing, making them grateful and affectionate toward him. In explaining his incessant craving for love and acceptance Vincent says, "That if you could acquire enough, accomplish enough, you’d never want to own or do another thing. That if you could eat or sleep enough, you’d never need more. That if enough people loved you, you’d stop needing love" (38). Being deprived of this love and security from his childhood, Vincent is convinced that there is only a certain amount of love he needs to possess. However, he cannot curb his desire for intimate connections and continues these acts to sustain it. The effects of low self worth and a lack of affection can cause serious mental dilemma and desperation. Society brainwashes people to believe that being loved is the most important thing in life. Gatsby feels pressured to impress Daisy, knowing that she is impressed only by great wealth. He feels that in order to complete his life as a wealthy, upper-class man, he needs the love of a wealthy, upper-class woman. People have begun to believe that being loved shows significance and that it is the main goal in life. Vincent is never given love from his family, which results in his low self esteem. He strives for the love he never received, feeling as though his accomplishments as a medical graduate are not important if he does not achieve the feeling of love. More and more, American families do not value family ties and expressed emotions as much. The effects this has on children are unpronounced until troubling tendencies come about. The experiences exhibited by Gatsby and Vincent are extreme, but these effects can potentially be even more damaging. Some people, when faced with such low self esteem and feelings of loneliness, can become depressed and suicidal. In today’s society, the need for love is expressed far too greatly. The importance of it should not be as stressed as it is, and because of this individuals may suffer greatly from feeling worthless without it.

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