Within this passage, which marks the very end of the novel, Fitzgerald depicts the downfall of Gatsby’s American Dream in particular. He uses form, structure and language in ways which heighten the effect that he is trying to create, and also end the novel on a thought-provoking note. The American dream, characterised in the novel by the accumulation of wealth and material possessions, is effectively shown shattered in this passage, due to the choices Fitzgerald made regarding form, structure and language.
The first paragraph of the extract is fragmented, with long sentences which change topic within themselves. Fitzgerald chose this structure in order to present Carraway’s mind at the time as being fragmented, and that he strips away at the layers of the American Dream, to reveal the ugly truth. The truth, which he avoids, as he ‘didn’t want to hear it’. This presents a very negative tone.
In the second paragraph, Fitzgerald uses very visual, vibrant language, ‘gleaming, dazzling… vivid’, in order to present the superficial, seemingly positive side of the Dream, here represented by Gatsby’s parties; in using visual language, Fitzgerald is expressing the superficial nature of the Dream, which is visually appealing, but wholly unfulfilling underneath. Fitzgerald also uses language to describe the fading of the dream, ‘laughter, faint and incessant’, which seems in a way paradoxical; faint and incessant are almost a binary pair, somewhat contradictory. The effect of this is to highlight the illogical, almost nightmarish, nature of the failed American Dream. That Fitzgerald chooses the word ‘material’ to describe the car is a minor language point, which serves merely to further emphasise a point, rather than to make a point in itself.
Fitzgerald’s use of structure in the second paragraph is notable with the phrase ‘but I didn’t investigate’, as it clearly links to the ‘I didn’t want to hear it’ which ended the first paragraph. This emphasises the negative tone and form of the idea. That this sentence is left unfinished is another example of the fragmented structure of this passage, and indicates a perhaps disillusioned tone. The final sentence of the second paragraph, however, is one of the most poignant in the whole passage: ‘didn’t know the party was over.’ This is because of the various layers of meaning that can be read into it, and the metaphorical nature of the phrase; the party could be seen as Gatsby’s life, which was full of parties, which has been ended. It can also be linked to the fact that this is the end of the novel, because the novel documented Gatsby’s life. Finally, one can deduce that the party was the pursuit of the American Dream, a pursuit which ended in tragedy for Gatsby. Fitzgerald’s use of this line is one which gives the reader many interpretations, all regarding in some way or another the failure of the American Dream.
In the third paragraph, Gatsby’s house is described as a ‘huge incoherent failure’. Fitzgerald’s choice of language here is clearly intended to reflect the American Dream; Gatsby didn’t understand the ‘true’ American Dream, instead taking the common route of seeking wealth, whereas the American Dream isn’t about wealth specifically, but that striving to achieve goals makes them possible, reachable. This word ‘incoherent’ here is used to describe Gatsby’s failure to truly understand the dream, and also is Fitzgerald’s way of criticising the materialistic interpretation of the Dream as being incoherent. The word ‘failure’ is without a doubt a direct reference to the failure of the Dream for Gatsby. There is also a sound effect linking ‘huge’ and ‘incoherent’, the repeated ‘h’ sound. The effect of this is to emphasise and accentuate the scale of the failure.
The structure of this passage fades from light to dark as it progresses, reflecting the American dream, which fades away; Fitzgerald begins using words such as ‘gleaming’ and ‘dazzling’, but by the fourth paragraph, he states ‘there were hardly any lights’, using words like ‘shadowy’ to describe motion. This transition to darkness reflects the increasingly darkening tone of the piece, which goes to show the decay and ultimate failure of the idealistic concept of the American Dream.
The American Dream is taken literally, as Fitzgerald relates the ideas to the past, of Dutch sailors seeing the ‘flowering’ America, the ‘fresh, green breast of the new world.’ The imagery here is of very natural things, with ‘flowers’ and ‘fresh’ness. This makes it seem very pure, compared to the artificial, superficial, materialistic nature of Gatsby’s American Dream. This is also a very physical description, again creating a contrast with the non-physical concepts which are explored shortly after.
Shortly after the descriptions of Dutch sailors, Carraway muses upon Gatsby’s Dream once more, considering the time when Gatsby first ‘picked out that green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.’ Fitzgerald has here made a clear link between the desires of Gatsby and of the sailors, using ‘green’ as a linking word; the sailors seek physical, green earth, whereas Gatsby seeks a light, representing Daisy’s presence. Also, that the dock is described as ‘Daisy’s’, when it is in fact Tom’s dock, is representative of Fitzgerald’s desire to stress that Gatsby’s American Dream, his superobjective, is Daisy.
Fitzgerald uses the phrase ‘his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it’ in order to point out the seemingly close-reach of dreams, when in fact they may be unattainable; that Gatsby dies before achieving his is testament to that. Also, it presents the American Dream as being insubstantial, as there is nothing that is ‘graspable’ about it; this is because of Gatsby’s interpretation of it is materialistic, lacking in substance.
The ‘orgastic future that year by year recedes before us’ is a phrase which, at first, appears to make little sense. However, Fitzgerald uses such a phrase to encourage the reader to think about it; the ‘orgastic future’ is a fantasy future, not the true chronological future – it represents the desired, or expected, future of the American Dream, as opposed to the actuality. This explains how the apparent future can ‘recede’; it is the future sought for that recedes, never is in grasp. In Gatsby’s case, he essentially seeks to recreate the past with Daisy (this being his American Dream), but the past cannot be recreated, despite Gatsby’s aspirations. This fantastical future is also mentioned satirically at the close of the paragraph: ‘And one fine morning-‘. This cut-off line represents the wistful thoughts of those pursuing the Dream, and the hopes and thoughts that one day they will be achieved. It is said in a form as if from the point of view of one in pursuit of the Dream, which gives it the satirical quality.
The closing line of the passage, and indeed the entire novel itself, ‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past’ is a final reflection of those pursuing the American Dream. The repetitive alliteration of ‘b’ in ‘beat’, ‘boats’, ‘borne’ and ‘back’ is almost brutal in sound, and certainly portrays the concept of struggle; Fitzgerald clearly chose this alliterative phrase to give the literary impression of a struggle ‘against the current.’ The sound effect of these words overall, alliteration aside, also seems to portray a futile, driving effort. This seems to describe Gatsby, who struggled to win Daisy against the circumstances (not least her marriage to Tom), and eventually died as a result. He was dragged back by the ‘current’ into his grave, in the case of the novel, rather than ‘the past’, which he sought.