The Great Gatsby
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. " - F. Scott Fitzgerald
The final line of The Great Gatsby, the Fitzgerald novel that defined the jazz age. It was the era that ushered in modernity, a time of material excess, liberation and intoxication. But even in the midst of the party, Fitzgerald could sense the toll such decadence takes on the human soul.
Like so many other Fitzgerald fans, we adore this quotation and its kaleidoscopic meanings. Gatsby, surrounded by unimaginable wealth, prestige and fanfare, dreams only of a future with Daisy that will recreate their past. And yet, his past is what prevents him from attaining that bright future. All pomp and circumstance aside, Gatsby is deeply relatable. Everyone, in their own way, aspires to their own vision of “one fine day.” Everyone is reaching toward the green light. And like Gatsby, we are all eventually borne, against our will, into the past.
In our illustration, a figure rows toward an ethereal, glimmering girl, her dress forming the bay. Her belt resembles a shining city, and a green jewel dangles from a string of pearls.
With one hand she sets the sun, with the other she lifts the moon.
Read an excerpt from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald:
Gatsby’s house was still empty when I left—the grass on his lawn had grown as long as mine. One of the taxi drivers in the village never took a fare past the entrance gate without stopping for a minute and pointing inside; perhaps it was he who drove Daisy and Gatsby over to East Egg the night of the accident, and perhaps he had made a story about it all his own. I didn’t want to hear it and I avoided him when I got off the train.
I spent my Saturday nights in New York because those gleaming, dazzling parties of his were with me so vividly that I could still hear the music and the laughter, faint and incessant, from his garden, and the cars going up and down his drive. One night I did hear a material car there, and saw its lights stop at his front steps. But I didn’t investigate. Probably it was some final guest who had been away at the ends of the earth and didn’t know that the party was over.
On the last night, with my trunk packed and my car sold to the grocer, I went over and looked at that huge incoherent failure of a house once more. On the white steps an obscene word, scrawled by some boy with a piece of brick, stood out clearly in the moonlight, and I erased it, drawing my shoe raspingly along the stone. Then I wandered down to the beach and sprawled out on the sand.
Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
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 further… And one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.