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The Great Gatsby’s green light and American optimism Essay

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Metaphorically, one’s life is a navigable boat, in working against the innumerable currents – physical: inertia and entropic disorder; existential: the reality of death; and social: family (genetic and relational), race and class, along with the educational access which can define the dynamics of economic opportunity – they define, or have defined for them, their own green light. Such opportunities purportedly thrive on myths of meritocratic pluck and ingenuity, especially within the milieu of pseudo-capitalistic competition, as workers, entrepreneurs, speculators, and the like strive toward their attendant Green Lights.

However, the complexities of these “currents” that Nick mentions intersect as the tremendous opportunity some call “American Exceptionalism”; in that the first new nation in the new world rooted on expressed, but illusory, concepts like individualism, egalitarianism, and laissez-faire (“American Exceptionalism”). These green light ideals are foundative elements in the novel. This milieu furnishes optimism and audacity, in that Gatsby “… invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end” (98).

It’s within this observation that the American ideal of “starting over” is found. To generalize, the original seventeenth century settlers of North America were the old world’s Euro-Anglo rejects, those looking for a better Puritanical life in a “land o’ plenty”. This “starting over”, from the outset, was an antecedent that encapsulates the American idea of the Westerner. Colonialists moved west across the Atlantic, much like the trailblazing pioneers would, looking for opportunity, prosperity, and ultimately, identity and security, within a purposeful adventure.

This is alluded to by Nick when he considers each of the characters, Daisy, Jordan, Gatsby, and himself, pondering their compulsion to recklessly hope as a geographic designation, “… we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life” (176). In venturing forth, one has to hope and dream, uniting a sense of pragmatism that leverages the initial inspiration provoked by the Green Light. This, in a sense, is the Westernized cowboy clarity that not only discerns the Green Light, but never sees it extinguished.

At the risk of sounding like promotional material for the spirited innovation of American business magnates and technophiles, the green light may dim or flicker, but it remains the principal glimpsed beacon of American dreamers In post Great War Long Island, we find the same obligatory hope throttling within each of Fitzgerald’s characters. Such romanticized optimism is dangerous in that it can also be found in the post-World War II era of baby booming prosperity, which brought on the Pax Americana trappings of empire, decadence, and constant wealth pursuit that was the seedbed of the counterculture’s reaction to conformity.

These parallels aren’t unusual, as The Great Gatsby’s themes are distinctly present throughout certain undulations of American history. The hope Nick’s left with at novel’s end isn’t the peppery certainty that seemingly defined the post-civil war Gilded Age tales of Horatio Alger. Within the fantastical social mobility and grandiose dreams of Alger’s world is a commodified unreality. Nick has found the shallow and reactive chimera of Gatsby’s world bankrupt, and in the aftermath, he surveys America and experiences empathy.

“I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed things up and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made” (179). One finds the roles of American financiers and the cultural and governmental endorsements that brought the world to financial ruin four years ago.

And yet despite such calamity, the green light embodies a human relation to memory and history, the limits within an individual and without. These limits are best embodied by Gatsby’s death and its relation to doomed business ventures (a cautionary tale? ), not to mention Daisy’s disappearance. The Green Light shines to Nick from its distant vantage, providing a meaningful meditation on life and death that only came as a result of the novel’s journey.

At the risk of producing New Age brochure fodder, there’s a distinct futility within the ceaseless craving and striving that defines not just Americans like Gatsby, Nick, and Daisy, but humans everywhere. But especially Americans, in that the environment encourages an incessant drive to reach and realize an idyllic elsewhere of plenty, constancy, and prosperous, envious security that Fitzgerald understood and may have succumbed to.

As for the rest of us humble and voracious Americans, the Green Light is a reminder that we can always compensate for past deprivations with the glow of our forgiving futures.

Works Cited Declaration of Independence. Ushistory. org. Ed. Thomas Kindig. Independence Hall Association, N. D. Web. 29 June 2012 <http;//www. ushisory. org/declaration/document/> Fitzgerald, Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 1925. Print American Exceptionalism. Wikipedia Foundation. 7 June 2012. 29 June 2012.

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