What is the interpretation of this passage from The Great Gatsby?
"I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes..."
"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; 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 capacity for wonder."
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In this passage from Chapter Nine of The Great Gatsby, Nick perceives the expansive difference between the American Dream of the early explorers who stood in spiritual wonder as they contemplated a new, green, pristine world bountiful in its promise, spiritual in its beauty, and the illusionary and materialistic dream of the Jazz Age. For the Dutch explorers, it was a land that was a natural cornucopia, promising the greatest of dreams, the American Dream, in which an unknown could rise from nothing to become a name of import. For Gatsby, his dream has not been something "commensurate to his capacity for wonder"; instead, it has been an unfulfilled dream as, despite what Gatsby has believed, the past with its "incomparable milk of wonder" cannot be repeated. The colossal vitality of his illusion" about Daisy makes Gatsby's dream unattainable as he "returns to his blue lawn." The values of those like Daisy are wealth, social position, and pleasure, illusionary values tied to materialism, not idealism.
This passage is concerned with the mental, imaginative and even spiritual response that Nick believes must have taken place in the men who landed on the shore of North America's east coast before it was developed.
The "transitory enchanted moment" is the passing but terrifically important moment when the vision is received and experienced. This vision concerns both the vast potential represented by the continental United States as it stretches, wild, away from the shore as well as the actual future which will take place in this land.
This is the moment when the possibility of America is seen, for the first time, and planted like a seed in the minds of the men standing there experiencing the vision.
The moment does not last but the vision does.
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