Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Literature's Unsung Hero (or, Who Gatsby Might Have Been)

This summer, I had the opportunity to spend many luxurious hours reading. I tried out some new books, and I dove into "old favorites." There is something so comforting about re-reading favorite books that I fell in love with years ago. It's like sitting down for a conversation with an old friend; nothing's changed, and yet many things have changed. Grasping a particular book, I am brought back to all the previous places where I've read it. 

A book that I re-read this summer was one I fell in love with back in my early teenage days. It tells the story of one of literature's great unsung heroes. In 1928, Mr. Blue, by Myles Connolly, was published. At just 115 pages, it's small and an easy-read. But remember: great things come in small packages. This book follows the life and antics of J. Blue, a young man in New York City. In the introduction of the book, John B. Breslin, S.J. compares and contrasts J. Blue with Jay Gatsby, of The Great Gatsby. Both were young men living in the Roaring Twenties, and both Mr. Blue and The Great Gatsby are written in the voices of narrators who observe the lives of these men.

Yet, in the words of Breslin, "J. Blue was the man whom the ambitious Jay Gatsby might have become had he steered by a higher truth than the sound of money in Daisy Buchanan's voice." 

As a side note, I think it would be really cool if this book was paired up with The Great Gatsby in literature classes, so that students could compare and contrast Blue and Gatsby, look at their motives and lives, and discuss their searches of the infinite (because they both do this in different ways). But anyways, back to Blue...

J. Blue is hard to pin down. He's a bit of a free-spirited 1920s Franciscan. Whether it's flying a huge kite on the top of a skyscraper building, or describing a potential plot of an apocalyptic motion picture, Blue lives fearlessly, freely, and abundantly. This book doesn't really follow one strict order of events; it basically records the narrator's life as impacted by his interactions with Blue. The reader is placed alongside the narrator, encountering Blue in page after page. The reader, along with the narrator, is challenged to view the world as Blue does: with wonder and awe. The narrator reflects that, " He somehow gave you the impression that we were all crazy and he alone was sane." The character of J. Blue challenges us to leap outside of our comfort zones and to live passionately. 

I believe that J. Blue is an unsung hero of literature. He does not allow himself to be molded into the ideals of society, but steps out with intensity and purpose, seeking to passionately love and bring joy to the world. He may not be well-known in the classrooms around the U.S., but his nobility shines true nonetheless. 

I want to close with the words of J. Blue himself: 

"Play life safe, and you'll keep out of harm. Be careful, be cautious, and you'll never die on Saint Helena. Your failure is measured by your aspirations. Aspire not, and you cannot fail. Columbus died in chains. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Let us all live snugly--and life will soon be little more than a thick, gelatinous stream of comfortability and ignorance." 

No comments:

Post a Comment