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Luminosity and spiritual longing for something that had vanished a long ago are probably the two main characteristics of the last two paragraphs in Chapter 1 of “The Great Gatsby”. The scene takes place shortly after Nick’s return from dinner at Tom and Daisy’s and is set in Nick’s small garden, close to Jay Gatsby’s mansion. It is then that Nick sees Gatsby for the first time, despite of the fact that he had heard so much about him before; that very first meeting is not quite as he expected, as he sees Gatsby from a completely different perspective than most people who would consider Gatsby to be a good acquaintance of theirs. Those last paragraphs illustrate Gatsby’s real nature, as well as how the scene affected Nick’s perception of Gatsby. Yet, in spite of the emotive mood, Nick is only describing the factual situation, not attaching any judgements to it just yet; the readers are the ones supposed to interpret Gatsby’s behaviour.
The image that dominates the scene is one of light and the visibly strong contrast between brightness and darkness. At first, the surroundings seem to be darkened by the “deep summer” night, but the references to “pools of light” and in fact, a “bright night” itself, create an image of something quite anachronistic, as if the night was interrupting the power of light rather than the light disturbing the lonely, sombre night. The darkness does indeed seem inadequate, as at this time it is still “loud” and “wings are beating in the trees”, even the “frogs” are “full of life”. The omnipresent noise creates a sort of perplexing mood, as despite of the superficial feeling of brightness, it is difficult to locate the source of the noise, and as nights are often associated with silence, the atmosphere becomes yet more mystical, as if the commotion were a means to conceal a great secret and grant anonymity. Connotations of the night are normally ones that may imply a level of mystery, tranquillity and contemplation, which therefore means that the night which is being described here is not a typical, everyday one – the image is somehow oxymoronic. It seems that the whole scene is surrounded by flourishing life and hope, illuminated even further by the persistent vision of light, something which in fact gives life and allows humans to survive; the light also makes the descriptions less insipid and gives the setting a sense of divinity or being raised to higher levels of existence, a sense of emotional depth. This in turn arouses suspicion in the reader; it is unclear what is being anticipated, but the whole scene is like an omen for something unforeseen.
Another distinctive characteristic of the scene is the overpowering loneliness which both the characters seem to be experiencing. The “abandoned grass roller” on which Nick sits as if to keep the meaningless object company, and the “silhouette of a moving cat” illustrate the sad, profound reality of being alone. The fact that the readers might perceive the two images as worthless, hollow ones only emphasises the sorrow and the sense of abandonment, seeing as the images are being degraded by the readers to the point that their symbolic value is disregarded. Yet they may be an allegory for Nick and Gatsby – the “grass roller” being a solid character that offers support to others to the point of self-sacrifice (in the novel Nick seems to possess that kind of personality) and the “silhouette of a moving cat”, being an allegory for Gatsby and his enigmatic, almost elusive aura; the noun “silhouette” suggests only an outline, nothing specific (after all, Gatsby’s “essence” is never revealed completely) and the adjective “moving” implies a constant change, perhaps even an escape from reality… Despite of the fact that Nick says: “I saw that I was not alone” when Jay Gatsby first appeared, both of them are indeed completely alone emotionally, as if they were missing something significant or as if they were expecting a miracle to occur and alter their empty lives: this is especially true for Gatsby.
When he sees that “a figure had emerged from the shadow” of his “neighbour’s mansion”, Nick is convinced that it is the “Great” Gatsby, the man who seemed so well-known in the area. The act of emerging “from the shadow” is portrayed beautifully in the scene, particularly if this is connected to Gatsby’s persona which is certainly an enigmatic one; here, he seems to be linked to darkness, as if that hollow emotion were a deeply engraved part of him. He was “regarding the silver pepper of the stars”; despite of his “darkness”, he seems attracted to the elusive light in the sky, the faraway objects in space that he could never reach. This longing for something unattainable could be a metaphor for his love for Daisy – she seems like one of those stars in the sky, so incredibly captivating, yet hopelessly distant. When watching the stars, Gatsby does not seem like the person he is seen as – sociable, throwing parties and engaging himself in shallow conversations with his guests. Instead, he is now perceived by the readers as a sensitive man, perhaps tired of people and their narrow mentalities; it seems that he only feels comfortable when he is alone, which is supported by his “leisurely movements” and the “secure position of his feet upon the lawn”, as if he could finally rest and stop acting in front of those enchanting stars which resemble Daisy so much.
We are also confronted with Nick’s sensitivity and good behaviour in the last two paragraphs of Chapter I. He had a pretext to “call to Gatsby” and even decided he would do so. But when he observed that Gatsby “was content to be alone”, he got a feeling that at this moment he would be seen as an intruder, disturbing Gatsby’s silent contemplation. This is similar to another situation which took place at Daisy’s, when Nick almost “murmured an apology” to Miss Baker simply for having set his eyes on her; through both these events we can see how apologetic and tactful Nick is, perhaps even to the point which would suggest being intimidated by doing something if he is not encouraged or clearly invited to do it. The way in which he behaved might also imply him seeing himself as inferior to or admiring characters who are more confident and bold, who can speak out for themselves (for example Jay Gatsby).
“He stretched out his arms toward the dark water” – this portrait of a man making a gesture so irrational and abstract is strangely captivating. At first, we know nothing of the “single green light” shining from “far away”, but that is probably the most momentous element of the whole scene. On a physical level, Gatsby seems to be reaching out towards the green light in the distance, as if he wanted to capture it (which is naturally impossible); the “dark water”acts as an antithesis to the light, causing it to appear more saturated and vivid, which further emphasises the profound meaning of that “green light”. But on a deeper level, one can see how moving that gesture is in reality. Gatsby is stretching out his arms in an embrace, as if he wanted all of that “minute” light to himself and could not satisfy himself with only a small, elusive fragment that he imagines to be getting. One interpretation of this could be that Gatsby is desperately looking for support or at least some faith, something he could hold on to in life, hence the “green light”, seeing as the colour green often connotes rebirth and hope. What strikes me about this is the way Gatsby is clinging on to something virtually non-existent: the light is evidently only a visual phenomenon and the only kind of hope it could give to someone is vain, temporary hope. Perhaps the concept of escapism is suitable in this context – Gatsby seems to not completely accept his own reality, as if he himself was an anachronism and belonged to a different life. The green light visible in the distance might let him leave his own self momentarily and lose himself in a world of illusion, dictated by the game of lights on that “deep summer night”.
Even though Gatsby’s behaviour might now seem meaningful, in my opinion there is a much sadder, deeper meaning. I believe that the light being embraced by Gatsby is a metaphorical representation of Daisy, a woman whom he still profoundly loves, even though now this love may have become platonic in nature. Deducing facts about Daisy from earlier descriptions of her, we can compare her quite easily to the light that Gatsby is embracing: whenever Nick described her presence in the room, the room seemed filled with positivity and beauty, Daisy herself being a metaphorical light which creates an optimistic, bright atmosphere – Nick writes that she had a “glowing face”, that a “stirring warmth flowed from her”, that she had “bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth”, all these phrases describing Daisy as an extremely charming woman who seemed to shine like a diamond. Therefore, Fitzgerald managed to create a beautifully suitable metaphor for her – the sense of hope contained in the “green light” even alludes to the hope and happiness that she could bring to Gatsby’s life. Following this interpretation, by attempting to embrace the light, Gatsby was in fact embracing an imaginary picture of Daisy, believing that she is pure light. Her gentleness and daintiness resemble the fragility of the light.
There are some clear similarities between Daisy and Gatsby, visible as soon as in Chapter I: they both cling on to things which are not reliable at all. While Gatsby is hanging on to the light, Daisy seems to be addicted to words, her own and the ones that others utter. Another quality of theirs is that they are both actors in front of other people – they make themselves look strong and confident, but in reality they are only weak and seem to not be able to cope with life; their essence is concealed behind fake appearances and superficial behaviours. These peculiar insecurities almost suggest that perhaps they are destined for each other: seeing as they are both vulnerable, sensitive characters, they would surely discover their real selves together.
Gatsby’s sudden disappearance from his lawn is unexpected for Nick: “he had vanished”, he writes, as if Gatsby were a ghost or illusion, vanishing softly, unnoticed. The use of the word “vanished” creates an even more enigmatic and secretive atmosphere around him, as if he really was a “silhouette of a moving cat” or a madman trying to embrace light. His disappearance was as unforeseen as his appearance. Then Nick “was alone again in the unquiet darkness”. The adjective “unquiet” used in this context seems to refer to the emotional meaning of the word, rather than physical (“noise”). Because of the vagueness of the scene, Nick is left confused, his thoughts are “unquiet” and he seems to be experiencing mental chaos. Somehow Gatsby’s short appearance did have an effect on Nick’s state of mind, forcing him to change his views.
In conclusion, stories about Gatsby and the way others view him made him seem inaccessible, grand and pretentious, yet this scene shows him as a vulnerable man, more personal and human-like. In a way, this is disillusionment for Nick (as well as the readers), as at that point he should have stopped idealizing Gatsby, because his weaknesses were exposed and it was evident that Gatsby is not the man that others have portrayed – that is the new, realistic impression we get. Yet this does not mean that Gatsby’s personality is revealed; quite the opposite, he now becomes even more enigmatic as we can see that there is a part of him which cannot be understood easily. Light plays a vivid role in this scene, as it illustrates that revelation and creates a more dramatic mood, highlighting the significance of each event. The atmosphere and symbolism are possibly the most beautiful elements of the scene – the night seems to represent reality, whereas the light symbolises illusion. When the two are imagined simultaneously, especially with the sense of abandonment and loneliness, a magnificent portrait is painted – one of silent tragedy.
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