In chapter one of The Great Gatsby, what is the significance of the green light?

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podunc | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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Fitzgerald, a master of symbols, makes the color green significant in his novel:

"The green, introduced first as the light at the end of a dock, has ambivalent interpretations. Green typically is associated with growth, spring, and new life. It signals “Go! Go! Go!” presumably for any generation. It is the color of money. All of these meanings apply in The Great Gatsby. Primarily, it is connected with Daisy, who turns out to be an unworthy dream. Colors, then, not only vivify images and create a picturesque vista for the reader but also facilitate Fitzgerald’s thematic commentary about reality and dreams."


The green light in particular is a sight that makes Gatsby "tremble." For him it is a beacon, a north star that points to his great love, Daisy. In chapter one, it is Nick who sees Gatsby look watch this light and stretch out his arms to it--a gesture full of longing and desire.

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dneshan | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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The green light that Gatsby looks out at from his backyard is located on Daisy’s dock. This light represents two different things to Gatsby. First and most obviously, it symbolizes Daisy – when he looks at that light he is thinking of Daisy. The second thing that this green light might represent to Gatsby is his envy (since green is the color of envy) or jealousy toward Tom for what he has that Gatsby wants – Daisy. Nick also makes mention of this green light at the end of the novel, saying that it is what everyone reaches for; therefore, it is also possible that this green light is also a symbol of the American Dream for Gatsby.
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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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It symbolizes the attainment of his goal:  Daisy.  He first sees the green light at the end of the dock at her home.  As his character becomes more clear to Daisy and she comes to the conclusion that his wealth has not come from honest dealings, the green light becomes enfolded in fog and mist.  It signifies at this point in the book that he will not achieve his goal of Daisy as his wife and mother of his children.

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taangerine | Student, Grade 12 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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The green light signifies hope for Jay Gatsby. It represents his desire for Daisy who is his true love that will one day return to him. 

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melissa1106 | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

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The green light is a symbol of a ray of hope for Gatsby. It also represents longing and desire. It symbolizes hope because Gatsby looks at it at the end of his dock and hopes that one day Daisy will return to him. It also represents longing because he longed for a future with Daisy and for a successful life that would be enough to please her. 

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teacherslmf | Elementary School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

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The green light is a complex piece of symbolism in the book. The most obvious reason is the green light is symbolic of Gatsby's longing for Daisy, but that is not everything the green light stands for. Daisy is just a part of it, but the green light means much more. Gatsby has spent his whole life longing for a better life including:  money, success, acceptance, and to have Daisy. And no matter how much he wealth and material possessions he has, he never feels complete. Even with a large house is full of different people, all of them seeking his attention, he still wishes just for Daisy. He created a place for her in his dreams. Therefore, the green light stands for all of Gatsby's wants and dreams. And when Nick talks about the green light at the end of the book he says "It eluded us then, but that's no matter- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms out farther...." . Nick extends the green light to everyone. Everyone has something that they long and search for that is just out of reach.

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lit24 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Ch 1 : "a single green light, minute and far away,that might have been the end of a dock."

Ch 9: "the green light at the end of Daisy's dock."

A dock marks the starting and concluding point of a boat's journey.

The plot--not the story--of the novel begins and ends with a reference to the green light which marks Daisy's dock. Hence its symbolic importance.

The plot begins (ch 1) with Gatsby "trembling" as he stretched out his hands towards Daisy his magnificent obsession and it ends with the narrator remarking on Gatsby's sense of wonder when he first identified the green light of Daisy's dock (ch.9).

The operative word is "trembling" which could connote fear and anxiety; anticipation and expectation; and orgasmic ecstasy:

  • Gatsby might have felt fear and anxiety because any moment his shady and nefarious past could be revealed to Daisy.
  • Gatsby might have felt anticipation and expectation that he would soon fulfil his lifelong fantasy of attaining Daisy. Was he trembling like a witch doctor who was invoking some kind of supernatural spirit to enable him to possess Daisy?
  • Was the very thought of Daisy enough to make him 'tremble' as he had an orgasm? "Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us." (ch 9).