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Could you please tell me the literal and metaphorical meaning of "drifted his way" in...

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coutelle | Valedictorian

Posted July 17, 2013 at 10:43 PM via web

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Could you please tell me the literal and metaphorical meaning of "drifted his way" in this excerpt from chapter five of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald?

"He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way."

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 18, 2013 at 12:02 AM (Answer #1)

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The sentence you mention is found in chapter five of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Chapter five is significant because Jay Gatsby meets Daisy Buchanan for the first time in five years. This sentence is spoken by the narrator, Nick Carraway, as he reflects on what he sees in Gatsby after this meeting.

Obviously the he in this sentence refers to Gatsby; the it is the most important word, because that is what Gatsby adds to with "every bright feather that drifted his way." The it to which Nick refers is Gatsby's illusion (dream) of Daisy. 

Almost five years! 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. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.

Over the last five years, Gatsby has been working diligently to somehow make himself worthy of Daisy's love. Gatsby is a man of tremendous romanticism, and he has created for himself a vision of Daisy that she could never meet, even if she were perfect--which she certainly is not. 

Nick says Gatsby has taken his illusion (of who Daisy is) and has consistently been adding to it, decorating it ("decking it out") with every new romantic fantasy and imagination ("bright feather") that "drifted his way."

The literal meaning of the phrase "drifted his way" is that Gatsby has applied every random thought, every imagination which has crossed his mind, into his romanticized illusion of Daisy. It is a vision so grand that, as Nick says, nothing real can compare to the imagined reality.

Metaphorically, the phrase "drifted his way" is a reference to the life Gatsby has lived to get to this moment. This phrase occurs at the end of chapter five; in chapter six, Nick reveals everything he has learned about the young James Gatz. He was born in North Dakota, sailed with a rich man on a yacht, met a girl named Daisy in Chicago, went off to war, and did what he had to do to earn a whole lot of money before landing in West Egg across the sound from Daisy.

Though he has always had purpose, Gatsby has lived the life of a drifter. In all of his travels and sojourns, Gatsby undoubtedly gathered many of the unrealistic expectations and ideals which he has for his beloved Daisy. Unfortunately, Gatsby's illusion is just that--an illusion.

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