Sarah is a junior in high school who is currently ahead of her English class, writing college level literary analysis essays.
The Great Gatsby
Dreams mature proportionally with each individual person; the other direct correlation is the amount of hope one possesses as they age. Young children dream big and become deeply invested in even the smallest of fantasies, although there is no pessimism in sight in this time of our lives, the longer you live, the more corruption you witness in the world around you. Privilege, bribery, false accusations, justice, and lack thereof are just a few variables that change society, usually for the worse. Once in a blue moon, an adult can possess the same extraordinary hope as that of a child, despite all the obstacles in the way of achieving their greatest desires. In his novel, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald elaborates on these ideas: corruption, dreams, and hope. The emphatic, consistent application of symbolism, implemented through the green light at the end of Daisy Buchanan’s dock, is essential for readers’ understanding of the protagonist, Jay Gatsby’s hope and determination; it ultimately represents our dreams and what destroys them.
The initial introduction of the green light and its important role in the novel’s plot occurs during the rising action. Nick has returned from visiting his cousin, Daisy, in her lavish mansion across the bay in East Egg, when he notices Gatsby in the dark looking out at the Long Island Sound. Nick wants to call out to him but his intuition tells him Gatsby is content to be alone. In his observation of his mysteriously wealthy neighbor, he states, “He stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, as far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward - and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been at the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness.” As the narrator, Nick is reflecting on these events, now with more insight, he realizes the colossal significance behind the green light. Although it may seem insignificant at first, Gatsby is reaching for Daisy, the green light on her dock indicating that he is finally so close to the love of his life again and he is counting on them being together for eternity. The inclusion of the words “dark” and “far away” suggests that this dream will be difficult for Gatsby to attain and though at the time the light appears so bright and full of hope, things will not work out well for him and Daisy in the end. As readers analyze this quote, we can also gather that Gatsby himself, even the most hopeful man, knows deep down that he will not succeed because he is trembling as he reaches out. The man in charge of his own destiny, a Godlike character, is unsteady even after 5 years spent becoming wealthy so he would be good enough for a woman of Daisy’s status, his wealth, no matter how brilliant, will never be as good as Tom Buchanan’s old money. Fitzgerald juxtaposes East and West Egg throughout the novel to illustrate the competition during the time period of old money and new money. Among these characters, new money does not garner as much respect as old, reliable money passed down through generations and continuing to expand into powerful American monopolies. There is a tyrannical characteristic to the characters in East Egg corresponding to the corruption of monopolies and control of industry. Later in the story, when Daisy and Gatsby are reunited, he tells her about the green light, saying, “ ‘If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay,’ said Gatsby. ‘You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.’ Daisy put her arm through his abruptly, but he seemed absorbed in what he had just said. Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.” The mist is meant to illustrate the invisible barrier between Gatsby and his dream girl: he will never be respected like a man from old money. Even with Daisy, the love of his life, standing next to him with her arm through his, he can not clearly see the green light, his ultimate dream of a bright future with her. The utilization of the words burn, vanished, separated, and diminished connote a negative outcome to their reunion. Typically a reunion is viewed as a positive experience, but Fitzgerald makes sure readers pay attention to this specific quote, by using word choices such as great, colossal, and forever to emphasize the importance of this moment in Gatsby’s life. The narrator draws attention to the vanishing of the green light that was once as close as a star to the moon; the light is the star or his “wish on a star” fantasy, and the moon is the illusion of Daisy. Throughout the novel, Daisy is always wearing white, a symbol of innocence, purity, and good. However, the motif of Daisy’s voice reveals her darker side, mirroring a siren who uses her beautiful voice to lure sailors to their death. She is portrayed as an innocent angel, though deep down she is something unattainable: a mere illusion. Daisy was corrupted by her husband, Tom, and her family who value money over love. The moon only seems bright to us because it is a reflection of the sun’s powerful light. Daisy is glorified for her old money, though Gatsby has created his own destiny and gets no credit for it. In Gatsby’s creation of this unattainable dream, he has become so devoted to her that he is blind to her flaws and projecting his own good values onto her seemingly innocent personality and hypnotic voice. Finally, in the resolution, Nick poetically reflects on the overarching themes established in the book. “And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night. Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter-tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther...And one fine morning-So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back carelessly into the past.” This quote is the grand finale of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece; it is the last words Nick leaves us with. The narrator creates a comparison between Dutch sailors first discovering the old, unknown world and Gatsby’s wonder when he first saw the green light signaling the presence of his dream, just out of reach. However, the old, unknown world for Gatsby is the reality of forever being inferior to the wealthy girl he loves, who is surrounded by old money. The green light is also symbolic of the presence of money in society separating Gatsby in West Egg from Daisy in East Egg. The inclusion of Gatsby coming a long way to this blue lawn is representative of the tangible foundation these dreams were built upon: the property across the bay. The association to the color blue is significant because Gatsby’s mansion is a primary ingredient to achieving his dream; it illustrates the financial stability, reliability, serenity, and wisdom he can finally provide Daisy. Nick explains Gatsby was unaware that he had already lost all his hope “back in that vast obscurity beyond the city”: The Valley of the Ashes. The Valley of the Ashes, a place associated with poverty and death, was not coincidentally where Daisy ran over Myrtle in Gatsby’s yellow car and carelessly kept driving. The color of Gatsby’s car, yellow, is a symbol of corruption and cowardice. This is the critical turning point where Daisy commits a crime, but other people pay for it, exposing her excessive carelessness as someone with money and therefore the power to get away with anything. Her true colors are revealed, like the flower she was named after, Daisy Buchanan appears innocent and white on the outside but is yellow and corrupt at her core. The word choice of recedes, boats, and current, continues the motif of Daisy’s beautiful siren voice through ocean imagery. The use of eluded also connects back to the illusion of innocent Daisy and her comment, “the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” This language use, and the inclusion of the phrase “that’s no matter,” emphasizes the theme of illusions and the spectacular façade of Jay Gatsby. The phrase is important when applied to our society because people often overlook corruption and lies which only encourage it. That is just one of the obstacles in the way of achieving our dreams and the American Dream, represented by the green light.
The American Dream is a phenomenon known around the world to be an incredible opportunity to achieve your dreams, but everything is not always as it seems. Hope can only get you so far when our society is filled with corrupt politicians and businessmen, puppeteers pulling the strings behind the scenes. Gatsby was born with all the ingredients to create his destiny: imagination, ambition, hope, determination, and compassion. In those five years apart from Daisy, Gatsby created a glorified version of her that he associates with the green light on her dock, a version that is far more perfect than who he reunited with. In Fitzgerald’s novel, the protagonist, Jay Gatsby creates such high expectations linked to the symbolic green light, that the rest of the corrupt characters disappoint him, eventually destroying the grand world he has fabricated from his humble beginnings and extraordinary imagination.
© 2021 Sarah Cucinello