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Could you please tell me the meaning of "became aware" and "here" in the following...

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coutelle | Valedictorian

Posted April 28, 2013 at 6:28 PM via web

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Could you please tell me the meaning of "became aware" and "here" in the following excerpt from the last page of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald?

The structure of the sentence is not clear for me. Does it mean that he became "conscious of the old island where he was such as when it flowered once" or "that he became conscious that this old island had flowered once" or "that he became conscious that what he saw here, in this very place, was the old island that flowered once" or "that he had the impression to see before his eyes the old island, such as it flowered once"?

The Great Gatsby, Excerpt:

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 sailors' 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.

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K.P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted April 28, 2013 at 7:24 PM (Answer #1)

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I applaud you for asking this question. You have singled out one of the weaknesses in Fitzgerald's writing and in The Great Gatsby, his sometimes rambling syntax (though not all will agree that Fitzgerald and Gatsby have weaknesses). I've used font changes in the excerpt above to indicate the troublesome section in bold and the sections that are relevant to understanding in italics. Let's start with a paraphrase of the excerpt, including the surrounding bits that illuminate its meaning, then work backwards from there to arrive at an explanation.

PARAPHRASE

... the shadowy, unearthly, moving ghost-like glow of a ferryboat across the moonlit waters. As the moon rose higher in the sky, spreading its mystical rays further afield, the houses, suddenly inessential to the reality and immortality of nature, began to fade and melt before my mysticized vision, further and further away, until gradually I became aware of the shadowy glow of the ancient island, here, now, undergirding the present day island of Gatsby's moonbeam dreams--aware of the old island that had flowered once in bygone times for conquering Dutch sailors' eyes who saw the fresh, green breast of mother earth in the sought for new world.

This paraphrase shows that through metaphor and analogy plus symbolism, Fitzgerald attempts to join a metaphoric dreamlike mystical setting with Nick's dreamlike mystical experience. These then symbolize Gatsby's experience with Daisy and his dreamlike and mystical feelings about and of longing for her, his own new world.

Now, to more directly address your question. From the paraphrase and description of the literary devices employed by Fitzgerald in this dubious excerpt, you can see that the passage is built on non-literal figures. The literal meaning of "I became aware of the old island here that flowered once" is this. Nick, in a mystical, transcendental moment, not a purely rational moment, had a transcendent experience in which he felt himself transported back in a vision to an earlier time when the indigenous flora and fauna covered the island where, in the reality of his present time, superfluous mansions sit.  

In terms of your suggestions, a correct understanding of "became aware" and "here" might be expressed in a combination of this, "conscious of the old island where he was such as when it flowered once," and this "the impression to see before his eyes the old island, such as it flowered once." We'll combine these this way: Nick became conscious of a mystical impression in the here and now of seeing the island as it had existed and flowered once long ago. 

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