Gatsby’s Green Light: Where’d Middlemarch Go?

Yes, I’m still reading Middlemarch. And I’m still loving reading Middlemarch. But, in case you didn’t know, Middlemarch is, like, a super long book. And I made the (now admittedly) poor decision of finishing all the published George R.R. Martin books right before I started this challenge. So I jumped right from 1,000 page long books in to a 900 page long book and…well, that’s just a lot of pages, to be completely honest. So while I’m actually at a rather delicious spot *SPOILERS* and Casaubon has just died, and forbidden in his will that Will and Dorothea can’t marry, which of course left me clutching the book to my chest and going NOOOOOO because, lets me honest, that usually means that they can’t get married **END SPOILERS** I decided that I needed that feeling of ‘accomplishment’ that sounds silly to talk about but can actually be quite a powerful force in this particular reader’s mojo. So on Sunday I decided to pick up a book that I’ve been pretending to have read for years, but have never actually gotten through: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (which you probably gathered from the title).

Fitzgerald is actually one of my favorite writers, and for a long time I thought about naming my future son Amory, until I realized that he’d be condemned to a life of being mocked even more than the average child. I first read This Side of Paradise and I fell in love with the kind of character that Fitzgerald creates: this 1920s Princeton boy, too cultured for his own good, desperately trying to appear better than he is, his heart set on the ‘American Dream’ of being known and knowing those who are well known, of having a pretty lady and sparkly champagne; yet all of his characters are also filled with this sense of ennui and ‘never quite good enough’-ism. This dichotomy has always drawn me in to Ftizgerald’s world of the flapping 20s and moonshiners and celebrities. He’s an author who can transport, and to be honest I don’t know why it took me as long as it did to sit down with one of his seminal works, especially when this book has been on multiple syllabi throughout my schooling years (this being one of the titles that I now feel that the American educational system got right in it’s requirements).

So, I wanna talk about Gatsby. And, it should probably come as no surprise, this means talking about the infamous green light:

This green light has come to represent the novel for a lot of readers, and this reader is no exception. This green light stands for all the dreams that Gatsby has, the lies that he’s built his life upon, and, most importantly, his eternal longing for Daisy. It’s a haunting symbol, and seems to be one of the few things that doesn’t change throughout all of the other tumult of the novel. It’s one of the first and last things that Nick Carraway associates with his ‘friend’ Mr. Gatsby, and every time we see Gatsby gazing at the light, the scene has a kind of sadness that hangs around it. The light is seen multiple times, but the last time is my favorite:

“And as I sat there, brooding on the unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. he had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.” p. 189

It’s hear that the green light comes to stand for, in my opinion, the saddest theme of the novel – the fact that our dreams, no matter how longingly or fervently we long for them, can often fail to live up to all the things we invest in them. It’s a saddening thing to have happen, but it’s also a learning moment. And, while I’m a happily engaged reader who has a wonderful family and a relatively blessed life, I’m one of a lot of people who know what its like to spend your mental power investing in a dream, only to have that dream fail and leave a more bitter than sweet taste in the mouth (I’m thinking specifically of that rather painful time I didn’t get in to any of the six graduate schools I applied to for my English MA). So it’s easy to empathize with Gatsby’s disappointment and total loss of direction after he finally meets Daisy and things don’t go well.

I also find the character of Gatsby to be absolutely fascinating. I mean, he admits that he is entirely a creation of his own mind. Imagine what kind of brain power that must take! I mean, we all have white lies, and parts of ourselves that we try to emphasize over other parts. But Gatsby doesn’t just lie about his life – he literally creates his life. He invents every part of himself – his wealth, his relationships with other people, everything. And he does it all for Daisy. In fact, there are few things he cares about besides Daisy – he lets it all go when she doesn’t approve. His parties shut down, his facade fades, and he doesn’t even care about murdering a woman in the street. He literally only cares for Daisy. It’s a single-sightedness that is tragic, frightening, and a little awe-inspiring. (TOTAL SIDE NOTE: While I’m unsure how I feel about the trailer for the 2012Great Gatsbyfilm, I do think that Leo makes a rather fitting Gatsby:

All in all, I started and finished the book in a day. I didn’t think when I started that this would be my first book, but it is, and I really do think it’s a great start to this whole project! I’ll be back in a day or two with another update on Middlemarch, but I think I kind of like this whole ‘pairing a big book with a little one’ scheme, and due to the new list that I’ve adopted for Jillian’s wonderful Classics Club (you can see my post on the topic here) I’m thinking about starting the Narnia books, the first of which is The Magician‘s Nephew. What do you guys think – is that a good way to do it? Or should I not split the time and focus on getting through the higher number of pages first? Happy reading!