Earlier this week, I wrote about how literature can be religion, about how great writing like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s can have a transparent quality that can show us clear to the depths of human experience. In response to my last post about The Great Gatsby, some people commented very understandably that this great American novel celebrates the old ruinous American dream of accumulating riches and striving to get the girl at any cost. I agree! But it also reveals the source and nature of suffering–the way clinging to desire separates us from reality–in a beautiful crystalline way. Here is Gatsby after he finally reconnects with Daisy, the object of his heart’s desire. After tea, Gatsby is showing Daisy and his neighbor Nick through the mansion and the grounds he bought to be near her, to one day impress her:
“After the house, we were to see the grounds and the swimming pool, and the hydroplane and the mid-summer flowers–but outside Gatsby’s window it began to rain again, so we stood in a row looking at the corrugated surface of the Sound.
‘If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay, said Gatsby. ‘You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.”
Daisy put her arm through his abruptly, but he seemed absorbed in what he had just said. Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.”