The Ending & Last Line of The Great Gatsby: Analysis

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  • 0:00 The American Dream
  • 1:24 The Dream Falls Apart
  • 2:43 Analysis of Ending and…
  • 5:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kimberly Myers

Kimberly has taught college writing and rhetoric and has a master's degree in Comparative Literature.

'So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.' This is considered one of the greatest closing lines in American literature. This discussion will connect the line to connotations of the American dream, human experience in general, and specific context from The Great Gatsby.

The American Dream

F. Scott Fitzgerald's best known novel, The Great Gatsby, is often read as a critique of the American Dream - the idea that with enough hard work and a little luck, any dream is reachable. In this dream, America is characterized as the land of opportunity and rags to riches success stories.

Initially, Jay Gatsby seems exactly like one of these American Dream success stories. The majority of the narrator's account of Gatsby's rise and fall depicts him throwing extravagant parties and conducting vague, yet wildly profitable business deals. At first, the root of Gatsby's all-consuming desire to make a name and fortune for himself is unclear, perhaps just an effect of his less-than-affluent beginnings. However, as the plot unfolds, we learn that he is desperate to make himself acceptable to his lost love, Daisy.

After their young romance, Daisy went on to marry well, and Gatsby set about chasing his American Dream. Far from just dreaming of riches, though, Gatsby dreamed of virtually erasing the years that he and Daisy had been separated and picking up with her as if no time had passed and as if her marriage and the birth of her child had not happened.

The Dream Falls Apart

Slowly, the perfection of Gatsby's carefully constructed American Dream begins to crumble. We learn that his business success has come from illegally bootlegging liquor during the Prohibition era, and the personal history he has created for himself is full of exaggerations that border on downright lies. As his image crumbles under pressure from Daisy's husband's questioning, Gatsby puts more and more pressure on Daisy to leave her husband and profess that she never loved him. With such a profession, Gatsby could be secure in his belief that he and Daisy were always meant to be and that he was her only true love.

The events quickly spiral out of Gatsby's control. Daisy falls apart emotionally, causing a tragic traffic accident. Gatsby conceals Daisy's involvement and desperately tries to make plans to run away with her, but he is left waiting for a call from Daisy that never comes. Believing that Gatsby is responsible for the death of his wife, a local mechanic sneaks onto Gatsby's estate and shoots Gatsby dead in his swimming pool. Nick Carraway, Gatsby's friend and Daisy's cousin, is left as the only griever at Gatsby's funeral and eventually as the only storyteller, the narrator of The Great Gatsby.

Analysis of Ending and Final Lines

As he reflects on Gatsby's life, Nick writes:

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's estate is across a small bay from Daisy's home. The green light on the end of her dock functions as a symbol of Gatsby's dream for the future. It is close enough to see, but he is still separated from it by an expanse of water. He has come so far, yet he has still not achieved his dream. Gatsby doesn't realize that his dream must always be connected to the past, because it is based on a past reality, not the way things exist in the present.

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