“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” (189).
This passage is possibly my favorite ending to a book ever. People always talk about great opening lines in books but what about ending ones? This is just beautiful and poetic and gah.
Okay, so in the last half of the book Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, Jordan, and Nick all gather in a New York City hotel room on a really really hot day and Gatsby and Daisy confront Tom with their relationship. This is the point where Gatsby could have gotten Daisy. He could have gotten her to leave Tom and run away with him. But that’s not what Gatsby wanted. Gatsby wants Daisy to tell Tom that she never loved him. But Daisy can’t do it because she did love him. She loved Tom and she loved Gatsby too, because emotions aren’t simply black and white. Tom, who for all his faults and general assholishness, can be said to have a tighter grasp on reality than Gatsby does, quickly senses Daisy’s weakening resolve and reminds her of the good times that they had. Tom susses out his victory against Gatsby and arrogantly sends Gatsby and Daisy back home together in the same car, knowing that Daisy won’t be leaving him for Gatsby.
We’ve also learned in this half of the book that Jay Gatsby was born as James Gatz, son to poor midwest farmers. Even as a kid James had dreams and aspirations to be more and to have more. Jay Gatsby is the ultimate American self-made man. Some might argue that Gatsby got what he deserved because he didn’t come by his money honestly. His wealth is the result of bootlegging and a number of other illegal activities. But who, in this story, really came by their money honestly? Nick is well off because his grandfather paid someone to go to war for him so that he can stay home and get rich off of business that was being neglected while most men in the country were at war. That’s not an honest and decent thing to do but he made money and Nick reaps the rewards of it, without having had to work for it himself. Is Tom a better man than Gatsby because he inherited his wealth instead of working for it doing illegal things? I’d argue that no one really has the moral high ground over Gatsby in this story. He is the “Great” Gatsby because, despite whatever he’s done to make his money, his ideals and his dreams have remained pure. He bought a great big mansion across the bay from Daisy, he let people come over and party every weekend in the hopes that Daisy might wander in to one of the parties, he provides free booze to the party goers and never drinks himself. In a corrupt society marred by the pursuit of excess, Gatsby had in his heart one incorruptible dream. On the surface that was the Daisy that he knew as a young man. Really what it was is the version of himself when he first fell in love with Daisy. The young man who had had a taste of wealth and all the grooming for it but had no money himself. The young man who fell in love with Daisy’s mansion and dreamed of the life he would have if he had money. The thing is, it’s one thing to dream of becoming a millionaire and to have all these ideas of what you would do with the money and another thing to actually become a millionaire and to have all of the responsibility that comes with it. It seems that Gatsby was never satisfied with his reality, even when it seems like his childhood dreams had come true. Gatsby was always chasing the elusive green light, the version of himself that had been left in the past.
The first half of the book is filled with foreshadowing. When Tom and Nick stop by Wilson’s on their way to New York, we get the description of the eyes of Dr. TJ Eckleburg. The eyes framed in golden glasses that will be witness to Myrtle’s death. The accident itself is foreshadowed in an epic drunk driving scene where one of the partygoers at Gatsby’s drunkenly attempts to drive, crashes the car in the driveway causing one of the wheels to fall off and then attempts to continue to drive the car with 3 wheels. Don’t drink and drive, kids. That’s the lesson here. And that scene, while comic, clearly foreshadows a car accident that will be much more disastrous and tragic. Jordan also talks to Nick about her driving skills, or lack of them, and says that a bad driver is only safe until she meets another bad driver. Again, foreshadowing a scene of bad driving and also bad luck.
I think The Great Gatsby kind of set the bar for tragic irony. Myrtle sees Tom, Jordan (who she mistakes for Daisy), and Nick in Gatsby’s yellow car on their way to New York. Tom sends Gatsby and Daisy home in the yellow car and Myrtle thinks it’s Tom. She jumps out to wave him down and Daisy, driving the car, runs her over and speeds away. Gatsby takes the fall for Daisy and hides the car. Wilson believes that whoever was driving the car is the man that Myrtle was having an affair with. He goes to Tom and Tom tells him that the car belongs to Gatsby. Wilson kills Gatsby and then himself. Newspapers report that Gatsby was having an affair with Myrtle and that he ran her over and Wilson killed him. The world, or the upper crust society of New York, believes he got what he deserved. Where his mansion was once filled with people enjoying his music and his liquor, Gatsby’s funeral is attended by no one but Nick, his dad, and owl eyed man.
“I couldn’t forgive him or like him but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…”
Tom and Daisy aren’t inherently bad people. They are, as Nick says, careless. Growing up with the wealth and privilege that they did, they’ve never had to be truly accountable for their actions. Money and influence can take care of pretty much anything for them. And so it is here, they walk away publicly unscathed while Gatsby loses his life taking the blame for Tom’s affair. And he loses his reputation taking the fall for Daisy’s reckless driving. The Great Gatsby.