What is the interpretation of this passage from The Great Gatsby?  "I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes...""I became aware of the old island here...

What is the interpretation of this passage from The Great Gatsby?

 "I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes..."

"I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder."

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mdelmuro eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The ending of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, including the sentence mentioned in the title of this question, hammers home the novel's dominant motif that people constantly strive for dreams that no longer exist. This passage makes use of the color green, or the "green breasts of the new world," which is a color that appears throughout the novel, particularly with the green light at the end of Daisy's dock that serves as a totem for the title character.

For the Dutch sailors, the green of New York symbolized that anything was possible. Their dreams really represented the original American Dream: that out of nothing you can make something. 

But Nick follows up this comment about this dream with the haunting line, "[Gatsby's] dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him." Gatsby set the wrong dream. He dreamed of Daisy and what she represented, an all-American girl and the idea that no matter how much money he made, he'd never have enough if he wasn't accepted by Daisy and her crowd. 

Gatsby had achieved the American Dream at the time of his death. Sure he did so by being a member of a criminal organization, but how is that any worse than achieving one's dreams by pushing out an indigenous population and making nefarious land deals? However, Gatsby failed to realize he had achieved the American Dream by the time Nick saw him for the very first time stretching his arms out toward the green light at the end of Daisy's dock.

This dream, as explained by Nick, propels all of us to push forward and "run faster, stretch out our arms farther" until the moment of our deaths. This meditation on the American Dream and the Dutch sailors seeing New York for the first time ties all the other discussions in the novel about dreams together. Dreams might push us forward, but whenever we achieve those dreams, we'll realize they are no longer our dreams.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this passage from Chapter Nine of The Great Gatsby, Nick perceives the expansive difference between the American Dream of the early explorers who stood in spiritual wonder as they contemplated a new, green, pristine world bountiful in its promise, spiritual in its beauty, and the illusionary and materialistic dream of the Jazz Age.  For the Dutch explorers, it was a land that was a natural cornucopia, promising the greatest of dreams, the American Dream, in which an unknown could rise from nothing to become a name of import. For Gatsby, his dream has not been something "commensurate to his capacity for wonder"; instead, it has been an unfulfilled dream as, despite what Gatsby has believed, the past with its "incomparable milk of wonder" cannot be repeated. The colossal vitality of his illusion" about Daisy makes Gatsby's dream unattainable as he "returns to his blue  lawn."  The values of those like Daisy are wealth, social position, and pleasure, illusionary values tied to materialism, not idealism.

e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This passage is concerned with the mental, imaginative and even spiritual response that Nick believes must have taken place in the men who landed on the shore of North America's east coast before it was developed. 

The "transitory enchanted moment" is the passing but terrifically important moment when the vision is received and experienced. This vision concerns both the vast potential represented by the continental United States as it stretches, wild, away from the shore as well as the actual future which will take place in this land. 

This is the moment when the possibility of America is seen, for the first time, and planted like a seed in the minds of the men standing there experiencing the vision.

The moment does not last but the vision does. 

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The Great Gatsby

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