The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby Chapter 9 Quotes
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That's my Middle West – not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns, but the thrilling returning trains of my youth, and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow. I am part of that, a little solemn with the feel of those long winters, a little complacent from growing up in the Carraway house in a city where dwellings are still called through decades by a family's name. (9.121-122)
This is one of the few times we see anything rural in The Great Gatsby—Nick dismissing the "wheat" and "prairies" of what we'd call the mid-west. But the wheat and prairies he's dismissing are partly the basis of American wealth. All that money they spend on the East Coast has to come from somewhere.
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. (9.182)
Now this is a passage to linger over. Before any big houses or valleys of ashes or even lost Swede towns, America in the "Dutch sailors' eyes" was a green, empty land. (They'd apparently never read 1491.) This vision of possibility is the same vision that Gatsby has—but it's no longer possible.
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 – to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther...and one fine morning– (9.149)
If there's anything more American than apple pie, it's the belief in self-improvement: that we're all capable of achieving our dreams, if we just hope and work hard enough. Unfortunately for Gatsby, that dream ends in tragedy.