The Great Gatsby is perhaps the greatest of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works of fictional writing. The book is not only an incredible read, but also offers an inside look into the faults that dogged life in the early part of the 20th century, commonly known as the “Jazz Age.” The Great Gatsby is considered by many scholars and readers alike as a great symbolic medium for the “Roaring Twenties,” a time that offered extraordinary promise and delivered implausible wealth to the masses. But the story in the book presents more than just the glitz and glamour of the time. It offers a look behind the proverbial curtain and presents the truth about that decade and creates an impression that has earned a place in the history of American literature (Fredrick). The book presents the audience with a slew of enviable events and a group of memorable characters on one hand, as well as referencing the negative aspects of American wealth on another. Nonetheless, one might ask what the primary foundation of the book is. Additionally, what essence and significance does the green light have in the story? These, among other questions, will be addressed in this paper, which will aim to analyze the core symbolism and meaning behind The Great Gatsby.
The green light is arguably one of the most significant symbols in The Great Gatsby. “Gatsby believed in the green light.” (Fitzgerald 26). The light symbolizes Gatsby’s dream of hope; that one day he will be in a position close enough to achieve his ultimate desire of ending up with Daisy, the love of his life. Green is the color of hope that Gatsby desperately holds on to. The light is first presented in the book when he stares at it across the bay towards the other side of the dock. Later in the book, the readers learn that the dock stands on Daisy Buchanan’s house. In the context of the story, this light symbolizes Gatsby’s dream of meeting Daisy again and an opportunity to win back her love.
Gatsby attaches his hope, dreams and, in some sense, retribution from his past actions in the green light representing the future he so desperately desires, but will not allow himself to have (Annelore et al, 73). The green light symbolizes the possibility of a new beginning in his life, the culmination of all the work and suffering he has had to endure to get to where he is. For most of his life he has lived in obscurity and has had to endure hardship and toil. The green light can in a way represent the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel for Gatsby.
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This light that is visible at night on the other side of the dork from Gatsby’s mansion is the central symbol of the book. Notably, the reader’s first glimpse of Gatsby at the end of the first chapter revolves around it. Nick, whose modest house stands adjacent to Gatsby’s mansion, realizes that he is not alone as he lingers on his lawn observing the stars. “…a figure had emerged from the shadow of my neighbor’s mansion and was standing with his hands in his pockets regarding the silver pepper of the stars. Something in his leisurely movements and the secure position of his feet upon the lawn suggested that it was Mr. Gatsby himself, come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens. I decided to call to him… But I didn’t … for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone—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 the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness.” (Fitzgerald 24).
It is hardly a stretch to conclude that the entire existence of Gatsby correlated to the symbolism of the green light. The initial sight that we have of Gatsby is a ritualistic scene that accurately delivers what the entire book is all about. Although the complete meaning of what is inherent in the symbol reveals itself gradually in the story, it is only finally summarized in the last chapter. There is a clearer definition of what the green light stands for in its particular, as opposed to its collective gist in chapter five.
Gatsby says to Daisy as they gaze outside the window of his mansion: “If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay. You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.” At the moment that Gatsby utters these words, he seems absorbed in the colossal significance of what he has just said. Considering the great distance that separated him from her it seems just mere inches from her, almost touching her. Now it was just a green flashing light on the other side of the bay. Its significance had diminished.
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Gatsby did not really fulfilled his life by getting to the green light, his inaccessible dream, because he was too caught up in his future to be concerned about his current situation. The more he achieved, the further the light seemed. The impractical and romantic future he sought after became less and less improbable to materialize, “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic 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 further…and one fine morning-So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”( Fitzgerald 189). No matter how he envisioned it or how much money he had, Gatsby could not fathom the idea that Daisy would not end up with him. By now the reader knows that indeed, he is not truly rich.
The Great Gatsby is a story of affection and tragedy that ultimately revolves around ideas and dreams, but never reality. Gatsby is an individual of great wealth and is believed to be truly rich. Or is he? The book has many disguises that have significant impacts on the lives of several characters, but mostly Gatsby’s. He had this immense notion and belief in himself of achieving enormous success and subsequently gets what he wants, particularly his love, Daisy. He does succeed in getting the riches and a luxury, but is never truly rich. He is constantly obsessed about the future and what it holds for him if different scenarios were to play out, so that he never truly lives in the moment. Because he never really appreciates life at present, he ends up doing that permanently and continuously, and by the end of the story he lives no more.
The Great Gatsby is used to show the death of the American dream which is one of success, wealth and the ultimate pursuit of happiness. Gatsby’s death in the book can be viewed as a product of the Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby fell in love with Daisy while he was enlisted in the army, almost five years prior, and did not stop loving her nor gave up his pursuit of the dream that she represented. Daisy symbolizes many things to Gatsby, his life, his dreams, and his hopes for the future. His whole reason for existence is based on the girl he left behind five years before he had to go off to war.
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Initially, James Gatz was an average person that was going nowhere. After many decorations in the army, he returned to find that the woman he loved had married another. He was determined to win her back. He changed his name to Gatsby, an individual that embodied hope and not desolation. (Hoffman 27). This entirely different person was more ambitious than the old one. Gatsby was a true romantic, his character built on the dreams of another, one that was developing for five years.
Gatsby was terrified to see Daisy again. He did not know what to do or expect; only that he expected her to reciprocate his love with the same burning passion as he has loved her all these years. After the great amount of time that had passed, Gatsby crafted a character based on the love of his life. He expected that Daisy would be the same, believing no time could affect his deep feelings. He created this whole masquerade to impress her. And Daisy, being one that is easily swayed, played this little game and followed along. She did not comprehend that this was not a game for him.
Like a horse leading a carriage, Daisy led Gatsby on. He was too preoccupied with his past and his pathetic attempt to experience it to see that she was bringing him to his demise. As the story unfolded, Gatsby came to learn about the true nature of Daisy, the Daisy that was the player. Nonetheless, he still loved her and he even took the blame for killing Tom’s mistress. He would do anything for her, but he did not receive anything in return.
Daisy Buchanan brought death upon Gatsby. It was her husband that pointed out the direction in jealously; it was her selfish personality that destroyed his love; it was her that pulled the trigger that silenced Gatsby’s heart. His altruism was for her. Yet, she betrayed this person who was built just for her. “…they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their . . . vast carelessness . . . and let other people clean up the mess they had made . . .” Fitzgerald (102) quips that Daisy destroyed Gatsby, but he had no choice, as this character was made for her.
Gatsby’s dream was to be part of the “elite upper class”. His belief was that becoming part of the upper class would make him, somewhat, a better person. The quality of life he was exposed by his parents led him to reject them because they were “unsuccessful farm people,” and in his eyes, were much lower in life than what he hoped to attain. Daisy was a member of the upper class. By winning her heart, Gatsby believed that he could fulfill his dreams. Einem references the book The Theme and the Narrator of The Great Gatsby by observing that throughout the book, Gatsby is mysterious alone and obsessed.
Gatsby is not able to attain an upper class status because he was not born into it. Although he had made plenty of money, he did not receive much appreciation or recognition from the upper class. New York knew that Gatsby wasn’t really a big deal in the area, and that he wasn’t born in an affluent or wealth family. Moreover, he could not be in a relationship with Daisy because of the class disparity. Gatsby’s dream is often referred to as the “American Dream.” This dream was particularly common during the Modern Age. As Harold (64) observes in Modern Critical Views: F. Scott Fitzgerald , there was an important connection between the tragedy of American civilization and that of Gatsby’s individual tragedy. The upper class was not impressed by people who managed to go from rags to riches. The elite never recognized nor accepted anybody from the lower class. They were afraid of such individuals, because this would elevate more of them into the upper class. They wanted to feel important, and they could only do that if they could look down upon the majority bottom class. In a twist of circumstance, Daisy needs Gatsby’s help to save her from going to prison. Daisy can’t handle the fact that she took another person’s life in a car accident, and Gatsby is willing to take the fall for it. She goes along with the story that he was the one driving the car. The victim’s husband takes revenge by killing Gatsby, and Daisy does not even care. Carraway remarks after Gatsby’s funeral service that, “Daisy hadn’t sent a message or even a flower,” (Fitzgerald 183). She didn’t feel any need to. Gatsby was of a lower class. He was born into it and he died in it. That was the way things were.
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Gatsby met Daisy during the war, and he was one of many soldiers that pursued her. In Gatsby’s eyes, Daisy was always special because of her status in society. In an attempt to win her heart, Gatsby uses Nick Carraway to invite her over to his house. He came over to his house, and got a chance to be with Daisy again. He hired help to prepare Nick’s lawn and ordered for fresh flowers to fill the house. As much as he did all this to impress Daisy, he had done this for his own sake. He wanted to feel affluent. According to Fahey (70) in Scott Fitzgerald and the American Dream, Gatsby associates cost with value, quantity with quality.” Gatsby had placed Daisy on an incredible pedestal. When Gatsby and Daisy finally do see each other again after five years, he realized that she was not as “wonderful” as he had pictured her. Nick remarks, “There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams—not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion,” (Fitzgerald, 101). Gatsby had a huge dream to join the upper class, and he thought he could attain it.
From the first day that James Gatz started planning his “big future” as a young boy until the day of his death, he always had an innate poise of getting what he desired. In the end, he never did get what he ultimately wanted, his green light, but he believed in it so much that he never stopped seeking it out. Bewley (21) quips that “The green light is successful because, apart from its visual effectiveness as it gleams across the bay, it embodies the profound naiveté of Gatsby’s sense of the future, while simultaneously suggesting the historicity of his hope.” Gatsby was ungrateful, gullible and guilty of dreaming and allowing himself to believe there could be a life better than he had at that time, so he did not really get to live life in the present. Time after time he reached for the green light, and each time he would be pulled further and further away from reality, until he finally had his life taken away from him.
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