Dear reviewers, critics, and term paper writers,
I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I’m tired of being told that the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock is the Dream, capital D. If you’re writing another review, term paper, whatever on The Great Gatsby and you’re about to say that again, please capital D, Don’t! You’re doing a disservice to the book and moreover a disservice to yourself as you parrot the interpretation that everyone already knows is the “deeper meaning.”
You probably read the book and want to defend yourself, saying “Well, Nick Carraway, the narrator and Fitzgerald’s main mouthpiece makes the comparison between America’s idealized Dream and the green light.” Well, old sport, that still makes you a parrot, albeit a parrot that can read. Is expediency an excuse, taking whatever a character says for the truth, without need to think or go deeper? I can give you hundreds of examples of unreliable narrators, but that’s not the point.
The point is that we, the teachers who read book reports, the audiences who read reviews, the public in general, are bored of reading the same thing. Your “deeper meaning” doesn’t even hold up well once you take a minute to think about it. And with everyone talking about Gatsby and the American Dream, the media glutting on the spectacle and superficiality, it has been unavoidable to think about.
What do green lights mean to everyone? What have they meant since traffic signals were invented? Advance, intersection ahead. A version of “getting the green light” has likely existed even before the first electric traffic signals were being installed around the U.S. at the turn of the twentieth century, if not earlier.
The green light is much more than the American Dream, it’s foreshadowing of the inevitable intersection of Daisy and Gatsby ahead and the illusion of advancement in general. The last line of the book reveals that it is much more than just an indictment of the American Dream, it’s a renunciation of society itself and the fantasy of advancing at all as “we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” (my emphasis added). That last line doesn’t make much sense if it’s all just about the American Dream.
So there you go, that “deeper meaning” is a freebie and you have my permission to use it the next time you write something about The Great Gatsby. That comes from a few minutes of thinking about cars, which is pretty much what the book revolves around. Think about the other profound meanings you might come up with if, say, you knew something about boats.