Why does Gatsby reach out to the water?

(in chapter 1 of The Great Gatsby)

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

At the end of Chapter One of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby, Nick has returned from East Egg and his visit to Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s estate.  Gazing towards the mansion owned by Jay Gatsby, Nick notices that this somewhat mysterious figure is actually standing a mere fifty feet away.  While Nick contemplates introducing himself to his new neighbor, he has second thoughts as he observes Gatsby in a moment of quiet contemplation.  As Fitzgerald’s narrator, Nick, describes the scene:

“—he [Gatsby] stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward—and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock.”

It is not the water itself to which Gatsby is enchanted; it is the “single green light.”  That green light marks the end of the dock at the Buchanan estate across the bay, and represents for Gatsby the figure of Daisy Buchanan, the object of his desire.  Gatsby, and Nick, live in West Egg, the section of Long Island occupied by the nouveau riche as opposed to East Egg, the home of the established “old money” aristocracy.  The gulf dividing Gatsby from Daisy Buchanan is represented by the bay that separates their respective estates.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Well, he’s really reaching toward the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He is reaching out towards what he longs for the most, Daisy. The green light represents his love and longing for her. So if he is reaching out for the green light, then he is reaching for Daisy. The real question would be—What does Daisy represent to Gatsby? And the answer to this question is far more complicated. She represents all the he wants and that eludes him. She represents love, money, wealth, respect, and beauty. In essence, she represents the American Dream. What Gatsby is reaching out for is the same thing we all are—hope in something greater than ourselves.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Because across the water is Daisy, and he wants her so badly he can't hold still.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial