Buy this book at
To Past Reviews Index
Back to Last Page

The Big ReadThe Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Average Review Rating Average Rating 9/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Wordsworth Editions Ltd

Published : 1992, 1925

Copyright : Wordsworth Editions Ltd 1992

ISBN-10 : PB 1-85326-041-X
ISBN-13 : PB 978-1-85326-041-4

Publisher's Write-Up

With an Introduction and Notes by Guy Reynolds, University of Kent at Canterbury, this book is generally considered to be F. Scott Fitzgerald's finest novel.

The Great Gatsby is a consummate summary of the "roaring twenties", and a devastating expose of the "Jazz Age". Through the narration of Nick Carraway, the reader is taken into the superficially glittering world of the mansions which lined the Long Island shore in the 1920s, to encounter Nick's cousin Daisy, her brash but wealthy husband Tom Buchanan, Jay Gatsby and the mystery that surrounds him.

Column Ends


Reader Reviews

Why not Submit a Review your own Review for this book?

Review by Chloe Lizotte (300911) Rating (9/10)

Review by Chloe Lizotte
Rating 9/10
Boats against the Current: The Role of the Green Light in The Great Gatsby.

The concept of a flawless future is one that most people aspire to but can never fully obtain. This idea of completely achieving one's dreams, a facet of the classic 'American Dream,' is central to the plot of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby. The book follows Jay Gatsby as he struggles to pursue his ambitions in life, which lead him to Daisy Buchanan. Despite the fact that Gatsby's relationship with Daisy ended five years earlier, he is determined that he can revive the past and, in so doing, live the life he always dreamed of. From his house, Gatsby often sees a green light at the end of Daisy's dock, which is a crucial motif in the book. The green light symbolizes Gatsby's hopes and dreams of an ideal life, yet even though he ceaselessly reaches out in the direction of this guiding light, he is oblivious to the unattainable nature of his wishes.

While Gatsby is pursuing Daisy, the green light calls out to him as a representation of the future he longs for. The introduction of Gatsby's character in the novel serves as an indication of his major conflict. Nick catches sight of Gatsby standing alone in his yard one summer night, "stretch[ing] his arms toward the dark water in a curious way" while "trembling" (20-21). Nick's eyes drift across the water in the direction of Gatsby's arms and he is able to discern "nothing except a single green light, minute and far way" (21). Later, Nick discovers that the green light shines from the end of Daisy's dock. However, Gatsby reaches not only for Daisy herself but for his idea of Daisy and the utopian future he associates with her. Looking across the water to the light, Gatsby's dreams appear so attainable, yet just beyond his grasp. After Jordan informs Nick that Gatsby bought his house specifically so that Daisy would be across the water, he muses that "it had not merely been the stars to which [Gatsby] had aspired on that June night" (78). In a sense, Gatsby is reaching for the stars as well. He heavily idealizes all of his dreams and builds them up to a stellar level. If he reunites with Daisy, Gatsby has no doubt that his life will simply fall into place, his visions of an immaculate, flawless future finally coming alive. Even though it becomes clear that Gatsby's dreams are more corrupt than they seem, he endlessly thirsts for the impeccable future embodied by the green light.

In addition, it is worth noting that the green colour of the light itself manifests Gatsby's envy of what lies across the water. Gatsby's jealousy of Tom, Daisy's husband, is palpable throughout the novel, as Gatsby strongly desires everything about the life Tom lives. His marriage to Daisy only fuels Gatsby's state of mental hysteria. Nick quickly realizes that Gatsby "wanted nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: ‘I never loved you'" (109). In the ideal future Gatsby envisions, Tom never existed. Everything is exactly the way it was five years earlier, before Gatsby left Daisy to go off to war. Blinded by his complete attachment to the idea of Daisy, Gatsby convinces himself that Daisy never fell out of love with him, believing Tom to be a mere aberration (of?) from Daisy's true feelings.

The green colour of the light also connects to the green colour of the money and wealth Gatsby has longed for his entire life. Even at a young age, Gatsby incessantly dreams of "a universe of ineffable gaudiness" (99) and excess that he wishes he could indulge in, a consequence of being raised in a poor household. Near the end of the novel, it is revealed that money, class, and social status are the true reasons why Gatsby pursues Daisy in the first place. Because of his modest upbringing, Gatsby feels that he has "no real right" (149) to Daisy and perceives her in terms of her "value" (149). The sumptuousness of Daisy's life lures Gatsby in, drawing him to associate a life with Daisy with a life of luxury and money. Gatsby's financially-oriented goals lead him to pursue Daisy so persistently, the idea of Daisy and the wealth she represents epitomizing his visions of perfection.

Though Gatsby concentrates all of his energy on attaining this ideal future, it escapes him that his dreams are actually unattainable. Nick comments that Gatsby "talked a lot about the past, and [he] gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy" (110). Gatsby spends his time focusing on a phase of his life that has already passed - he recalls the glorified flawlessness of that time and wants nothing more than to re-create it. His perceptions of reality are skewed towards his obsession with reviving this memory, and then fails to pick up on the fact that his dreams only exist as a memory. In the beginning of the book, the waves of the Sound are the only barrier between Gatsby and that elusive green light, much like time separates him from his ambitions. At the end of the book, Nick looks out at the Sound reflecting upon Gatsby's ubiquitous hope in his dreams. He notes that though Gatsby's "dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it" (180), he did not understand that it had already drifted away five years earlier. Similar to the waves of the Sound, these moments in time drift past before one can realize it. The cornerstone of life is its transitory nature. Gatsby loses himself to visions of his glorified past, separated from the object of his obsession by subtly elapsed time.

As the book draws to a close, Nick elaborates on the significance of the green light. The last line of the book summarizes Gatsby's struggle over the course of the book: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past" (180). Not only is this a stunning final sentence, it also ties the book together very effectively. Gatsby's dreams send him delving into his past and attempting to transfer these dreams to his future. Though the green light represents everything that was pure about the future for him, it directs him backwards in life instead of forwards. Gatsby's boat has already passed by Daisy, and he never comes to understand that it is time to move on. Though everyone continues to drift in their respective boats towards that ever-unreachable future, fighting the current brings one a step backward. Allowing the current to take control may lead the boat into uncharted waters, but letting life plot its own course also may make that elusive green light more clearly defined than ever.
Chloe Lizotte ( 2011)

Back to Top of Page
Column Ends