The Great Gatsby

by: F. Scott Fitzgerald

What Does the Ending Mean?

Although the main events of the novel end with Gatsby’s murder and George’s suicide, The Great Gatsby concludes with a chapter in which Nick reflects on the aftermath of Gatsby’s death. This final chapter furnishes Nick with more information about the mysterious Gatsby and his struggle to climb the social ladder. Nick meets Gatsby’s father, Henry C. Gatz, a “solemn” and “helpless” old man who believed his son had a bright future. Mr. Gatz also discovers and shares with Nick records of Gatsby’s self-improvement routines, saying: “Jimmy was bound to get ahead.” In addition to shedding light on Gatsby’s character, the final chapter also demonstrates just how alone Gatsby really was in life. Although Nick contacts many of Gatsby’s acquaintances as he organizes the funeral, almost no one shows up to pay respects. Daisy, who has run away with Tom, doesn’t even bother to send flowers or a note. The only person to appear, aside from Nick and Mr. Gatz, is Owl Eyes, who concludes the funeral with words that sum up Gatsby’s tragic life: “The poor son-of-a-bitch.”

In the book’s final pages, Nick ties his story of Gatsby to the idea of the American Dream, a notion that Nick imagines was born when Dutch sailors first arrived in the place that would become New York. Nick recreates the historical moment of discovery: “I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams...” The Dutch both literally and figuratively cleared the way for Gatsby. Not only did they cut down the trees where his house would later be built, but in doing so they also laid the foundations for a “new world” that would later become the United States of America. In Nick’s mind, the moment of initial discovery was perhaps “the last time in history” when humans encountered something expansive enough to match their natural “capacity for wonder.” Hence, the American Dream was born before America even came into being.

Nick links the American Dream to Gatsby’s love for Daisy, in that both are unattainable. As Nick explains on the novel’s final page, Gatsby spent years hoping for a happy future with Daisy, but this future always receded into the distance. Nick claims that Gatsby’s hopes for the future were elusive because they didn’t relate to the future at all. Instead, these hopes actually bore him “back ceaselessly into the past,” back to that promise-filled moment when the Dutch sailors first set eyes on America. Nick puts the matter thus: “[Gatsby] 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.” In the end, then, both Gatsby and America are tragic because they remain trapped in an old dream that has not and may never become a reality.