What does the last sentence in chapter 9 mean? Keeping the last three paragraphs in mind, what does this sentence mean? Does it refer to death? Please explain.

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The last line of The Great Gatsby is often thought to refer to Gatsby's constant need to recapture the past, as is epitomized in his quest to win back Daisy's love. The last line reemphasizes this essential theme of the book.


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This is an elusive statement, but if we put it into the context of the three paragraphs preceding it, we get some clues as to what Fitzgerald means.

As Nick stands looking out across the sound in the shadowy twilight, the houses fade away, and he is able to imagine he is in the past, at the time when the first Dutch sailors saw the "fresh, green breast of the new world" and were filled with wonder. Nick then, in the next paragraph, turns to Gatsby's dream, which, like the green breast of the new world, is a green light representing enchantment—in his case, Daisy.

In both instances, the sailors and Gatsby are faced with the possibility of realizing a magnificent dream. Here is an untouched (or so the sailors thought) new continent where Europeans could start afresh and undo the mistakes of the past. Gatsby too wants to turn back the clock and start over with Daisy, to undo the past and, with a fresh start, create a better future.

In the end, like Gatsby, we all race toward a future that we will hope will right the past. "We beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past": it is the desire to right the past that drives us, and yet, inevitably, we are drawn back into it, repeating its mistakes. Dreams are illusions, but as we know from the novel's opening, it is Gatsby's dream that inspires Nick's deep admiration. It is the dream that keeps us paddling and is ultimately important.

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In The Great Gatsby, the last sentence reads:

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

This refers to the dualities of Gatsby and America.

At the end of the novel, Nick aligns himself Gatsby.  Nick says Gatsby is worth the whole damn bunch (the Buchanans and Jordan, et al) put together.  So, Nick is saying he will get into Gatsby's boat, the one that only sailed backwards on the sea of history--into the past to recapture his childhood dreams.  Why do you think Nick goes back to his home, the Midwest and narrates the entire novel from there?  It's an idealistic, quixotic quest--both Romantic and hopeless.

Gatsby looked like a Romantic hero to Nick: he was a self-made man, a rags to riches story, a symbol of the American dream.  But, when Nick get close enough, he saw that Gatsby was...

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