The Great Gatsby: Chapter 9

Gatsby and green lightWell after the denouement of the story, after we discover the fates of Gatsby and Nick, we get a final glimpse of Nick on the beach in front of Gatsby’s house. There seems to be nothing more to say, except perhaps a final reflection on the events of that summer of 1922. It is in that reflection that we are then treated to the most beautiful poetic prose in all of literature–the last three paragraphs of The Great Gatsby:

Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailor’s 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; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capasity for wonder.

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 ceaselessly into the past.

We are all Gatsby to some extent; or, if we are not, then we have buried those dreams so deep within us that we don’t know they exist anymore.

Those who have learned not to expect too much–those who have stopped dreaming–have stopped trying so they are not disappointed when they fail. If they didn’t want it in the first place, then it doesn’t hurt as much.

But what about those of us who, like Gatsby, refuse to give up, even in the face of failure? Should we smile at the contempt in others’ eyes? Should we pretend we don’t see how they pity us? Even as we see the future receding before us, even as we see our hopes and dreams wash away like sandcastles with the tide, should we live the life we have and forget about the life we want?

No. Not this Gatsby.

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