Foreshadowing is a significant literary device utilized in The Great Gatsby. From the book’s opening pages, Fitzgerald hints at the book’s tragic end, with the mysterious reference to the “foul dust that floated in the wake of (Gatsby’s) dreams.” Throughout the novel, foreshadowing enforces the sense of tragic inevitability to events, as though all the characters are doomed to play out their fates. The use of foreshadowing heightens the sense that no character can escape his or her predetermined role in life.
Gatsby’s tragic fate — that he will die without having won Daisy back — is foreshadowed early on in the novel. In Chapter 1 Nick relates how, after arriving home from his first dinner with Tom, Daisy, and Jordan, he sees his neighbor, Gatsby, standing on the lawn, reaching toward the green light that Nick eventually learns is situated at the end of Daisy’s dock: “...he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward — and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness.” Nick has not yet met Gatsby but has noted his opulent house and extravagant parties. Nick also notes that, despite his material possessions and wealth, Gatsby is still yearning for something just beyond his grasp as his trembling arms stretch out toward the green light.
In this way, Nick suggests that Gatsby’s quest is toward something ephemeral. When Nick looks again, Gatsby has disappeared into the “unquiet darkness” – foreshadowing his disappearance into death at the end of the book. The inaccessibility of the green light tells us to expect a narrative in which the object of desire will never be obtained. Despite being reunited with Daisy, Gatsby is unable to fully attain her, just as the green light will never come closer to his grasp.
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