First published in 1925, The Great Gatsby is a novel by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is widely considered as one of the greatest works in English literature and along with Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it is the foremost contender for the title of the “Great American Novel”. Many lines from the book are still analyzed by enthusiasts and several have become legendary. Here are the 10 most famous quotations from The Great Gatsby with their explanation.
Baker says these words to Nick Carraway at a party thrown by Jay Gatsby. Though they seem absurd, they actually make sense in a way. At a small gathering, everyone is expected to contribute to the topic being discussed and it is difficult to have a one-on-one conversation with someone without being overheard. Also, everyone is aware of what is happening and what is being said. While a large party provides an opportunity to have intimate discussions in small groups as there are so many people and so much happening. Also, there is no social expectation to talk to all who are present at the party.
This phrase echoes in Nick’s ears when he puts his arm around Jordan Baker. It categorizes people into four types according to their state in romance – the ones who are being pursued, the ones who are pursuing someone, the ones who are busy in a relationship and the ones who have grown tired of it all.
This famous line is said by Wolfshiem while giving an excuse to Nick Carraway when Nick presses him to attend Jay Gatsby’s funeral. It simply means that one should faithfully honor one’s friendship to a person while he is alive and that it is pointless to remorse and display your love for him when he is no more.
This famous description of Gatsby’s smile is the first time Nick talks in detail about a trait of Gatsby, giving the reader an insight into his character. He says that the smile is such that you might come across it no more than four or five times in your life. It gave you the feeling that Gatsby had chosen you out of the whole external world and perceived the best impression you could possibly hope to convey. Gatsby’s smile can be linked to his earlier defined quality of having an ‘extraordinary gift for hope’. The trait of optimism can be inferred from this line which would be essential in making his smile as special as it has been described.
Nick shouts these words across the lawn to Gatsby as the novel nears its end. This is his final statement to Gatsby before Gatsby is killed. Nick goes on to say that he is glad he said that as it was the only compliment he ever gave Gatsby. Nick believes and conveys to Gatsby that his virtues would weigh as much as all the virtues combined of the entire rotten lot he is with. The ‘whole damn bunch’ refers to Daisy, Tom and Jordan; and more widely to high society.
This is perhaps the most insightful description of Jay Gatsby’s character given by Nick Carraway in the novel. He says that Gatsby, as we was, rose from his own ideal concept of himself which he invented when he was seventeen and then faithfully stuck to it till the very end. The lines suggest that Gatsby is a self-made man and has stuck to his idea of himself. Nick also compares Gatsby to Jesus. Fitzgerald perhaps compares the pursuit of Christ to serve the flawed world to Gatsby’s flawed dream which appears beautiful to him but actually has no real value. The comparison may also be in reference to Ernest Renan’s “The Life of Jesus”, where Christ is described as a man who created the illusion for himself that he was divine, and brought himself to ruin by refusing to recognize the reality that denied his self-conception.
This line is Gatsby’s famous response to Nick when Nick tells him, “You can’t repeat the past”. It underlines Gatsby’s unrealistic desire of recreating the past exactly as it was to attain a perfect future. He not only wants the present to be like the time when he and Daisy were together but also wants to erase the last five years in which they weren’t. In another scene in the novel it is not enough for Gatsby for Daisy to say that she loves him but he wants her to also say that she never loved Tom. The impossibility of Gatsby’s dream to be realized entirely is one of the most important aspects of the novel through which Fitzgerald hints at the impossibility of attaining the American dream.
The last passage of Great Gatsby is considered one of the saddest in American literature. It comments on the profound complexity of differentiating between guilt and innocence; and shows us how unfair our society is. This line gives us Nick’s take on Daisy and Tom, who according to him care little about how their actions would impact the lives of others as they have the luxury to go back to the comfort of their money and carelessness; while others are left to suffer the dire consequences of their irresponsible actions. Through these words, Nick not only describes the attitude of two important characters of the novel but also shows how the inability to care for anything can be more monstrous than outright cruelty.
Daisy says these words in the presence of Nick and Jordan while her husband Tom is probably conversing with his mistress. The line is spoken in context to the situation of females at the time in high society. Daisy is cynical about her child’s future hoping she will be such a fool that she wouldn’t be able to perceive the ills of men in this male dominated society. She believes beauty and lack of intelligence to see through things are the best qualities a woman can possess to lead a comfortable and happy life in this world. The words said by Daisy give an insight to her ability to discern; and about her being unsatisfied and downhearted with her present situation in which her husband is cheating on her.
These are the most famous lines in the novel and the words with which Nick Carraway concludes his story. The green light, which Gatsby stares at, at the beginning of the novel, is one of the most famous symbols ever used in literature. It represents Jay Gatsby’s longing to reunite with Daisy, a ‘foul dusted’ dream he pursues throughout the novel. Here, Fitzgerald directly links Gatsby’s dream to the American dream to attain a fulfilling future, which he believes is moving farther away with their efforts. He adds that despite this, in future, people will try harder to attain more and more till one day it will all be over, like it was for Gatsby. In the last line, Fitzgerald compares the American dream to a boat making an effort to travel against the current. Like the boat, the dream, instead of moving towards realization, is being pushed back into the past. Fitzgerald is neither approving nor cynical about the American dream but reveals, what according to him, is its true melancholy nature.
A Dream Denied to Fitzgerald
When The Great Gatsby was first released, it sold fewer than 20,000 copies. The reviews were mixed and the novel was considered a failure. However, Fitzgerald did receive praise for his work from several renowned literary figures including T. S. Eliot and Edith Wharton. F. Scott Fitzgerald died on December 21, 1940 believing, what now is considered his magnum opus, to be a forgotten work. There was a surge in interest in the novel during the Second World War and by 1960 it was selling 50,000 copies per year. In 1998, it was voted by the Modern Library as the best American novel of the twentieth century. The Great Gatsby has sold over 25 million copies worldwide as of 2013 and annually sells an additional 500,000 copies.