Working notes – Lead #1 “The Green Light in Great Gatsby” (posted Blackboard in Feb.)
Student Learning Objective: Students will examine works of literature through various “lenses” such as close reading with focus on various interpretations of possible symbols and then compare with formal critical perspectives (e.g. economic/class/Marxist).
Ask students’ thoughts on green and the general meaning of the color: significance? List their ideas and examples from The Great Gatsby: Nature, growth, plants, water, life, money or prosperity, jealousy, sickness, what else?
Examples from text: leather car seat ch 4 (68) ch 7 (127), dock light (below), Gatz’s jersey ch 6 (104), Daisy’s kissing/dance card ch 6 (111), Sound ch 7 (124), grass/golf links ch 8 (162), train tickets “clasped tight in…gloved hands” Ch 9 (184), …breast of the new world ch9 (189)
Green Light 1 (Bruccoli-prefaced addition)
Something in his leisurely movements and the secure position of his feet upon the lawn suggested that it was Mr. Gatsby himself, come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens.
I decided to call to him. Miss Baker had mentioned him at dinner, and that would do for an introduction. But I didn’t call to him for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone–he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward—and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness (25-26) Ch. 1.
Significance of outstretched arms? Prayer? Child reaching for mother? Grasping? What else? Does it matter there was only a single green light?
Green light 2-3
He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel which lost their …
After the house, we were to see the grounds and the swimming pool, and the hydroplane and the midsummer flowers–but outside Gatsby’s window it began to rain again so we stood in a row looking at the corrugated surface of the Sound.
“If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay,” said Gatsby. “You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.”
Daisy put her arm through his abruptly but he seemed absorbed in what he had just said. Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one (98) Ch. 5.
How did the meaning of the light change? Why was it “vanished forever”? Heavenly to earthly, how?
Green light 4-5
And as I sat there brooding on the old, 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. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by
year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow
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 (189) Ch. 9.
How does the narrator/Nick’s voice change here? What effects does that have on the reader? What do the bold lines mean?
“At this point, Gatsby’s dream becomes completely transcended: from ‘I’ and ‘he,’ the narrator passes on to ‘we,’ through a process of assimilation: ‘Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.’ We have now become Gatsby, but at the same time Gatsby is us, Gatsby is every man. And the green light is much more than the light ‘at the end of Daisy’s dock;” it is now called ‘the orgastic future.” We know Fitzgerald meant ‘orgastic,’ which, he said, ‘is the adjective for “orgasm” and it expresses exactly the intended ecstasy. It is not a bit dirty.’ (Johnson 116).
“Throughout the novel Gatsby is associated with the night, and more particularly with the moon… Hence it is surely significant that on the last pages of the novel Nick Carraway—alone in the night—wanders over to Gatsby’s house in the moonlight, sprawls on the sand, and thinks of Gatsby’s wonder when he picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. For a moment, perhaps, Nick felt a sense of identity with the moon person who had lived and died next door” (Donaldson 138).
“Money has created this artificial, denatured world, ‘material without being real’ for, as Marx reminds us, with the money to buy everything comes the power to change ‘reality into mere representation’… commodity fetishism—the passionate chase after symbolic representations of other men’s desires [as seen in] Gatsby’s sense of the ‘colossal significance of the green light at the end of her dock ‘now vanished forever.’ ‘Now it was again a green light on a dock.’ But this symbolic stripping away of the symbolic brings not elation but a sense of loss: ‘His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.’”(207).
Donaldson, Scott. “The Trouble with Nick.” Critical Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Ed. Scott Donaldson. New York: G.K. Hall & Co., 1984. Print.
Johnson, Christiane. “The Great Gatsby: The Final Vision.” Critical Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Ed. Scott Donaldson. New York: G.K. Hall & Co., 1984. Print.
Posnock, Ross. “A New World, Material Without Being Real”: Critique of Capitalism in The Great Gatsby.” Critical Essays on F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ed. Scott Donaldson. New York: G.K. Hall & Co., 1984. Print.