The Great Gatsby

by: F. Scott Fitzgerald

The American Dream

1

[H]e stretched out his arms toward the dark water. . . . I . . . distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far way. . . . When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished. . . .

Nick observes Gatsby standing alone on his dock before he formally meets them. Gatsby is stretching his arms toward the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. For Gatsby, this light represents Daisy, his lost love; in the wider context of the book and its arguments about the American Dream, the green light can also be seen as symbolizing money, success, and the past. The inaccessibility of the green light is an important element of its symbolism.

2

‘Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge,’ I thought; ‘anything at all. . . .’ Even Gatsby could happen, without any particular wonder.

This passage comes as Nick and Gatsby drive into New York City for lunch. Gatsby has just revealed to Nick the mostly false story of his life as the son of a wealthy family in the Midwest and a wealthy young man in Europe, which Nick has a hard time believing. Gatsby’s ability to achieve seems limitless to Nick, especially in the large and liberated city of New York. The quote also suggests that America in general, and New York City in particular, are essential to Gatsby’s success. Nick implies that becoming successful without having a verified connection to a wealthy family is only possible in the United States.

3

We drew in deep breaths . . . as we walked back . . . through the cold vestibules, unutterably aware of our identity with this country for one strange hour, before we melted indistinguishably into it again.

This quote comes at the end of the novel, when Nick recalls being in college and taking the train home to the Midwest with his fellow students. After the train leaves Chicago and begins heading west, Nick and his friends are aware of themselves as true Westerners, which to Nick is very different from being an Easterner. The novel, he says, is really a novel about the West, where he and the other primary characters came from, and goes so far as to blame their inability to adapt to the East for all that happened.

4

Why they came East I don’t know. . . . I had no sight into Daisy’s heart, but I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game.

Nick’s early criticism of Tom expresses a fundamental attribute of Tom’s personality: his aimlessness. Tom had great success as a football player at Yale, but he now tends to focus on that accomplishment instead of moving forward in life. Thanks to Tom’s wealth, athleticism, and good looks, the “dramatic turbulence” of the old football game may be the only challenge that he ever really faced in life. Although Tom is the book’s antagonist, this quote reveals that, like the other characters, he is consumed by nostalgia and a desire to relive the past. This passage does have a critical tone, since Nick implies that Tom could remedy his nostalgia by ceasing to coast on his privilege and success.

5

But [Doctor Eckleburg’s] eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under the sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.

This passage describes an old advertisement for Doctor T.J. Eckleburg’s optometry practice that is along the road through the “valley of ashes” between Long Island and New York City. Nick first sees this advertisement when he goes to the valley of ashes to meet Tom’s mistress, Myrtle. In this section, the eyes seem to represent the superficiality of wealth and fame, as the once-majestic advertisement suffers under the inevitable onslaught of weather. Later in the novel, Myrtle’s husband compares the giant eyes to the eyes of God, suggesting that the faded, weather-beaten eyes symbolize the breakdown of religious institutions such as the church, and a loss of faith following the end of the First World War. Another interpretation is that the eyes symbolize self-awareness and clarity of vision, as a major theme of the book is Gatsby’s blindness to reality.


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