Study Guide

The Great Gatsby: Mortality Quotes

By F. Scott Fitzgerald

Mortality

 
Chapter 2
Nick Carraway

It was on the two little seats facing each other that are always the last ones left on the train. I was going up to New York to see my sister and spend the night. He had on a dress suit and patent leather shoes, and I couldn't keep my eyes off him, but every time he looked at me I had to pretend to be looking at the advertisement over his head. When we came into the station he was next to me, and his white shirt-front pressed against my arm, and so I told him I'd have to call a policeman, but he knew I lied. I was so excited that when I got into a taxi with him I didn't hardly know I wasn't getting into a subway train. All I kept thinking about, over and over, was 'You can't live forever; you can't live forever.' (2.121)

YOLO: just as dumb in the 1920s as it is now.

Chapter 7
Daisy Buchanan

"What'll we do with ourselves this afternoon?" cried Daisy, "and the day after that, and the next thirty years?"

"Don't be morbid," Jordan said. "Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall." (7.74-75)

Daisy sees life as an unending round of boredom that eventually ends in death; Jordan sees it as a constant cycle of renewal. Too bad they're both miserable.

Nick Carraway

So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight. (7.306-309)

Ouch. We just got hit over the head with a serious case of foreshadowing.

Michaelis and this man reached her first, but when they had torn open her shirtwaist, still damp with perspiration, they saw that her left breast was swinging loose like a flap, and there was no need to listen for the heart beneath. The mouth was wide open and ripped at the corners, as though she had choked a little in giving up the tremendous vitality she had stored for so long. (7.313)

When Nick first meets Myrtle, he notices how "alive" she seems—which we're pretty sure is code for "sexy." Maybe that's why she's so disgusting in death, like, the more you live the worse you die? We're not sure. But we do know that this is pretty gruesome.

I stared at (Wilson) and then at Tom, who had made a parallel discovery less than an hour before—and it occurred to me that there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well. (7.158)

Nick seems to be making the connection here between Tom and George realizing that their wives are cheating and discovering that they have some sort of terminal disease. Is that because some cherished idea is dying? Or does he suspect that this is all going to end badly?

Chapter 8
Nick Carraway

It was after we started with Gatsby toward the house that the gardener saw Wilson's body a little way off in the grass, and the holocaust was complete. (8.112-114)

Notice that Nick calls this a "holocaust." We're two decades before the World War II holocaust, so that's not a reference point here, but the word still means "mass destruction." The thing is, three bodies is tragic, but it's not exactly mass destruction. We think that something metaphoric is being destroyed here: a way of life? Nick's innocence? The American Dream?

Chapter 9
Nick Carraway

Most of those reports were a nightmare – grotesque, circumstantial, eager, and untrue. When Michaelis's testimony at the inquest brought to light Wilson's suspicions of his wife I thought the whole tale would shortly be served up in racy pasquinade – but Catherine, who might have said anything, didn't say a word. She showed a surprising amount of character about it too – looked at the coroner with determined eyes under that corrected brow of hers, and swore that her sister had never seen Gatsby, that her sister was completely happy with her husband, that her sister had been into no mischief whatever. She convinced herself of it, and cried into her handkerchief, as if the very suggestion was more than she could endure. So Wilson was reduced to a man "deranged by grief," in order that the case might remain in its simplest form. And it rested there. (9.2)

The whole sordid story almost blows up in everyone's face, but Myrtle's sister saves it. George Wilson gets a kind of dignity in death that he didn't have in life: instead of a cuckold, he's a grieving husband.

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 –

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. (9.152-153)

The problem with chasing the future is that you just end up chasing your own death. Andrew Marvell even wrote a poem about it.

Owl Eyes and Klipspringer

We straggled down quickly through the rain to the cars. Owl-eyes spoke to me by the gate.

"I couldn't get to the house," he remarked.

"Neither could anybody else."

"Go on!" He started. "Why, my God! They used to go there by the hundreds." He took off his glasses and wiped them again, outside and in.

"The poor son-of-a-b****," he said. (9.114-122)

Owl-eyes is the one person who seems to feel sorry for Gatsby, besides his father and Nick. Why? What does he see that everyone else doesn't?