The image of the green light in the novel Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is a significant symbol which reflects Gatsby's dream and other aspects beyond Gatsby's longing. Throughout the novel Fitzgerald uses many other images or symbols. At first, it may seem very basic, but when the symbol is closely studied, one may see the deeper meaning found within it. Fitzgerald uses these symbols to make a point across to the reader. He then uses this point and converts it into a deeper meaning, into a myth about America. The green light mentioned in the novel clearly represents and is a prime example of this.
Before examining the significance of the green light, one must learn what a symbol is. A symbol cannot be seen as a sign. The two are very different. A sign is an object which signifies something else. For example, a green traffic light instructs drivers to proceed. A symbol is much more complex than this. A symbol may also stand for something else as seen in its simplest case. A symbol sums up a large number of ideas and attitudes. The complexity of a symbol may be more intense than a sign because it can have several meanings in different situations. (Beckson and Ganz 207)
The green light is first mentioned in chapter one of the Great Gatsby. Nick, the narrator of the novel, sees Gatsby curiously stretching his arms out towards the water. Nick went to see what Gatsby was looking at and all he could see was «...nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock.»
At this point in the novel the symbol of the green light is introduced to the reader. The reader does not know that the light is on Daisy's dock. Therefore, one cannot affiliate Gatsby with Daisy. The reader does know that Nick admires Gatsby for his dream which is some way linked with the green light. The color green represents life, hope, and youth. Gatsby's fantasy will live as long as long as he remains gazing at the green light.
In chapter four of the novel, Nick finds out from Jordan that Gatsby bought the house so that Daisy would be just across the bay. Nick responds to this fact: «Then it had not been merely the stars to which he had aspired on that June night. He came alive to me, delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor.»
Until this point, Gatsby was a puzzle. Nick, at this moment, solves the puzzle: Gatsby's house and extravagant style of living is a necessity to reaching and fulfilling his dream rather than a flamboyant exhibit of wealth. The truth that Gatsby is yearning for Daisy is now apparent. This is being symbolized by the green light at the end of the dock.
Gatsby finally meets Daisy in Chapter five of the novel. The symbol of the green light becomes very evident. It becomes so distinct that Gatsby even shows Daisy the green light. He says, «If it wasn't for the mist we could see your home across the bay... You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.» Daisy is so close to fulfilling Gatsby's dream, but she falls short of what he expected. From this location in the novel, Gatsby's chances of fulfilling his dream become increasingly impossible.
Before Gatsby gets killed, Nick wonders what Gatsby could have been thinking while he layed on the mattress in the pool:
He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered
As he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon
The scarcely created. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about...
The phrase «Material without being real» is an important part of this passage. Nick was saying that Gatsby was living in a material world where he could feel, see, and touch, but which had no meaning to him. A rose does not possess beauty in itself, but it is beautiful because we feel its beauty. The green light in the same way was special only because it meant something special to Gatsby. Gatsby encounters a rose which is no more than a rose. The green light found throughout the novel represents this rose. Gatsby cannot live without this wonder, or private vision, the green light. Without it he is lifeless. In a sense, Gatsby was already dead when Wilson shoots him.
As one can see the green light is of great significance in the novel Great Gatsby. This symbol is depicted throughout the novel. It is first mentioned in the first chapter of the novel. At first, it was no more than a green light. When it is further examined in chapters four and five it becomes more evident that this green light is not Daisy, but a symbol representing Gatsby's dream of having Daisy. The fact that Daisy falls short of Gatsby's expectations is obvious. Knowing this, one can see that know matter how hard Gatsby tries to live his fantasy, he will never be able to achieve it. The green light is mentioned one last time by Nick on the last page of the book:
...I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock....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...
The main point in this quotation is that Gatsby could not get over his dream. Through this quotation and through close examination of the green light, one may learn that the force that empowers Gatsby to follow his lifelong aspiration is that of the «American Dream.» Fitzgerald, the author of the novel, through Gatsby, was able to make this myth about America and the American Dream of self-fulfillment.