What does Nick metaphorically compare us to in the closing lines of The Great Gatsby?

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letterswapwithm eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree that yes, Fitzgerald is comparing us to boats, but if you read the paragraph from the line before the last, it helps put it into perspective

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning ——

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

Essentially, it seems as though Nick looks at Gatsby's pursuit and failure and says, "But hey, aren't we all like that? Trying to reconcile things in our past to our present, trying to revive the dreams we loved, but lost?" I think Nick is comparing us all to Gatsby, pursing the things we want because it's in the American culture to believe if we try, we will succeed. And if we fail, we must try again. And while we will often times succeed, we are all fighting with some aspect of our past that want to redeem in our future.

lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the closing lines of The Great Gatsby, Nick compares us to boats that beat against the current in the ocean. Metaphorically, he states that we are as boats that beat on:

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

Nick is saying that life is like a current that is pushing and pulling against our boats, trying to keep us in the past. Gatsby definitely lived in the past. He loved the Daisy of the past. He could not move into the future for the current beat on his boat and held him ceaselessly in the past. Gatsby is definitely a character who was bound to the past. For this reason, he was unhappy. He loved Daisy and could not let go of the past when Daisy loved him. Daisy had moved on in a way, now bound to Tom. Sadly, Gatsby died still living in the past.  


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The Great Gatsby

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