The Great Gatsby Questions and Answers
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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What are some symbols, imagery, and highlights throughout The Great Gatsby about Gatsby's failure to achieve his personal dreams?

One of the key symbols of Gatsby's failure to achieve his dream is the green light. The water imagery at the end of the novel is another. Gatsby does achieve many of his personal dreams but fails to achieve what may be his greatest dream, reclaiming Daisy's love. He has his wealth and possessions, but he desperately wants to recreate the past, which is, of course, impossible.

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What is striking about Gatsby is that in many ways he does achieve what he set out to do. He went from nothing to everything. He completely reinvented himself, he made boatloads of money, he bought a massive house, he throws extravagant parties, and there is no end to his material possessions. He has, it would seem, achieved the American Dream. Yet his life is missing something: Daisy. In some ways, all that he has done is for her—to recreate their love and, quixotically, stop time. He even tells Nick:

Can't repeat the past? Why of course you can!

Something that represents both his dream and his inability to achieve his dream is the famous green light. Green often stands for health, rebirth, and, not coincidentally, money, which is a major theme of the book. Yet the light is also distant, and so it almost taunts Gatsby as he looks out at it, reminding him of what he can't have. However, I don't think Gatsby has the insight or self-awareness to examine the impossibility of his dreams and so would not look at himself as a failure, nor do most of the people around him. He fails to give up on his dream and he ends up dead. The emptiness of his life becomes clear when hardly anyone comes to his funeral, except for Nick and a few others. Nick, who has more insight about Gatsby than almost anyone, articulates the failure of Gatsby (and others) to escape the past in the novel's iconic final line, which also is an example of how water imagery is used to emphasize the futility of Gatsby's dreams:

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Gatsby, whose new life began on a boat, is the boat that cannot escape the current of the past.

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