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 ——

from F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby (Chapter IX) on Rap Genius

Meaning

The American “Dream”

With a retrospective melancholy, Nick evokes the true nature of the American Dream. Despite Gatsby’s belief in the Dream — the green light in the distance — Daisy is gone, floating away as if on a cloud of wealth, and Gatsby still hasn’t obtained the “old wealth” across the shore. Nick breaks off with harsh aposiopesis from the statement “And one fine morning—” to emphasize how Gatsby’s dream is dead. And one fine morning, like Gatsby, we will wake up to discover that our American Dream is exactly what it sounds like; just a dream.

Gatsby’s hopes for an “orgastic future,” the pinnacle of life itself, haven’t come to fruition. Instead, his future “recedes,” lapsing from day to day to day, stretching until his death. He has become just as invisible as his nameless origins, as his servants, and the members of the “unseen” lower class.

Even though no one really gets what they want in this story and the “American Dream” is portrayed as something of a scam, Fitzgerald predicts that we as Americans will still pursue our dreams as intensely as Gatsby chased after Daisy. Even if our dreams are unachievable and out of reach, like Gatsby in pursuit of his “green light,” we will still fight against the current for it until we can’t any longer. Even though describing the progress of Americans as “boats against the current” comes off as somewhat degrading, the overall impression is that Fitzgerald is impressed at how even a generation as lazy and corrupt as this one still possesses that undying desire to achieve their dreams.

The boat metaphor also suggests that although we strive to move forward, we will always find ourselves looking backward to the past, imitating it in our attempts to recapture it. One could go as far as to say that this is a version of the expression, “History repeats itself.” Or as William Faulkner famously put it in Requiem for a Nun, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Fitzgerald loved Romantic poetry and may have been inspired in this passage by Tennyson’s Ulysses, for whom

“…all experience is an arch wherethrough / Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades / For ever and for ever when I move.”

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