In The Great Gatsby, how is Gatsby's dream "behind him," somewhere among the "dark hills" of the United States?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Chapter Nine, disillusioned himself with the superficiality of the "careless people" who inhabit East Egg and the other "bad drivers" such as Jordan Baker--those people who do not consider the effects their actions have upon others around them, Nick Carroway prepares to return to the Midwest where there are yet wholesome values.  He gazes at Gatsby's overgrown lawn where his house sits empty.  As Nick wanders down to the beach, he notices that the large summer homes are now closed and the "inessential houses...melt away" as in his imagination he bcomes aware of Long Island was when the Dutch first arrived, a time when the American Dream was a wonderous image.

This reflection causes Nick to meditate upon Gatsby's wonder when he first focused upon the green light 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....

This juxtaposition of Gatsby's dream on his "blue lawn" with the wondrous dream of the Dutch points to the illusionary quality of Gatsby's ill-fated dream of recapturing a past that itself was not real.  For, what Gatsby believed was love with Daisy in the past was itself an illusion; therefore, his hopes of reclaiming Daisy were "already behind him" before he arrived on West Egg. Indeed, everything about Gatsby's reclamation of happiness with Daisy has been illusionary--his mansion an "imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy"; the rooms imitative of those of Marie Antoinette; Gatsby's name and persona all fabrications of an Oxford man. Unlike the Dutch discoverer, who saw something "commensurate to his capacity to wonder," Gatsby perceived a cloudy dream, obscured by a green light.

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stolperia's profile pic

stolperia | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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This closing couple of paragraphs of the novel contains Nick's final reflections on the life and aspirations of Jay Gatsby, originally known as James Gatz. Nick ends the story having more respect and affection for Gatsby than for any of the other principal characters, but he recognizes that Gatsby was living a fantasy and that the illusion of reality he had created was doomed.

Nick understands what Gatsby never grasped; that the American Dream and Gatsby's personal dream were just that - dreams, which are only very rarely achieved. Thinking of Gatsby, Nick muses, "his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it." Once Gatsby abandoned the reality and the roots of his factual family in the solid values of the rolling Midwestern farm hills and fields, however, his dream "was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city." Gatsby's destiny was to be "borne back ceaselessly into the past."

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