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The Great Gatsby – Dream Sequence

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            This essay is written in the form of a dream sequence involving actions and interactions that reveal more than three traits of the characters Nick and Gatsby from F.Scott Fitzgerald’s book “The Great Gatsby”, (1926). It explains the dream and how it reveals the central character, who is also the dreamer, Gatsby, and his attitudes and ambiguities in the character that are consistent with the novel. The dream starts with Gatsby in his study and is told as though narrated by him.

The Dream

            Old sport, I have a recurring dream which I need some help to understand.  It starts with me sitting in my study, writing out an invitation to the Chester Beckers who lived in East Egg.  I address and seal it with bright red sealing wax, and leave it in the basket where I leave all my correspondence for collection by my staff – they pick it up and deliver it on my behalf.  My attention then becomes absorbed by the photo of my Oxford group which stood in a gilded frame upon the wooden oak bar to the left of the table.  Try as I might, I can not find my face amongst those of my class mates.  I search and search and search the photograph for my image, but I am not there.

            I then find myself outside in my garden.  It’s sunrise, and there is a feeling of peace around me.  Suddenly there is a large clock in the centre of my garden.  It’s ticking very loudly and I start to feel stressed.  Then I am looking across the clear, shimmering water at the green light at the end of Daisy Fay’s dock – except, when I look again, the light is red.  There’s a high, spiked fence all around the water.

I pluck and eat a plum from a bush growing in my neighbor’s garden, then become aware of the presence of someone else – Nick Carraway, my other neighbor and friend.  At first Nick is on the inside of the fence, in a swimming costume, next to the water, although there is no gate through which I can get to him.  He’s seen me eat my neighbor’s plum, but he just shrugs.

Nick then breaks down the fence using a sword, and I walk up to him.  He takes my arm, beckons and leads me, and then suddenly lies down on the water – only now, Nick is wearing a sport shirt, and he has taken on the form of a bridge across the water. I can now walk across the water, over him, so to speak..  The light is green again.  I begin to run, but the distance does not get any shorter.

I hear a cry from the water, look into it and see Daisy’s daughter drowning in the water.  I quickly jump in and get her out.  Once I put her down on the bridge, she disappears.

I’m now exhausted, the light is flickering between green and red, and I look around, see my yellow coupe, get in it and drive.

But when I get to the other end, the robot has turned into Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband. Dressed in red, he appears very threatening, and I am intimidated.  The house, the dock and the light have all gone. The Hornbeams, Blackbucks, Christies and a lot of the others who attend the parties I give are all there. They are all leering nastily at me and are trying to get to me, but Nick has regained his human form and is there preventing them from coming closer to me by holding up his sword.

Then I am all alone, except for Nick, who I can still see, but he is disappearing fast. The crowd has got hold of him and is pulling him away very quickly.  Even though he is still fighting them, his actions are now ineffectual.  The water has turned into an immovable black sludge, and the sun is going down.  I’m standing right on the edge of it, teetering.  Then I wake up.

The Meaning

            The invitation he is writing signifies Gatsby’s social and generous character.  The sealing wax used to close the letter is indicative of his sense of propriety, and the basket for correspondence to be delivered shows his opulence, as well as his remoteness – although he is sociable, this one act of not delivering his own correspondence adds to the sense of secrecy and mystery there is about him.

The reference to the Oxford photograph shows that although he appears to be aloof and unaware of rumors spreading about him, he is aware that people have their suspicions about him. The fact that he cannot find his own face in it is indicative of Gatsby’s sense of incompletion or failure, as well as the mystery that surrounds him.

            The significance of Gatsby being outside in the garden at sunrise indicates the fact that at this point he feels hopeful – a new day brings new opportunities.  The clock ticking means that there is some urgency – subconsciously Gatsby knows that there is something he must do and that time may be running out.

            The significance of the water which separates Gatsby from Daisy Fay is that he subconsciously knows that there are barriers between himself and her.  This is enhanced by the green light turning red – a traditional indicator that one may not progress.  But the fact that the water is clear and shimmering reminds us that there is hope.   The spiked fence is indicative that Gatsby fears that there are some dangers separating him from Daisy.

            The appearance of Nick behind the fence, clothed in a swimming costume means that Nick, who in the beginning of the novel only records events and keeps his distance (Ping, 1980), is still inaccessible, but has a way of getting to Daisy (swimming) that Gatsby does not have.  The eating of the plum and Nick’s dismissal of the act indicate Gatsby’s criminal affinity, and Nick’s awareness and ignoring of it.  This is an ambiguity in Nick’s character as in the book he describes himself as “one of the few honest people I know” but he is prepared to ignore a dishonest act.  The fact that Nick physically breaks down the fence indicates the development of his character – he is now caught up with the people and events around him and is now fully committed.  He has become compassionate and advisory (the taking of the arm and the beckoning) and therefore accessible, (Ping, 1980).

Gatsby’s walking towards him indicates his realization of this.  Nick’s turning into a bridge indicates his  facilitating of the first meeting between Gatsby and Daisy and his ongoing support.  It also indicates that Gatsby now sees Nick as way of getting what he wants – he can almost use Nick, and certainly obtain his help.

The rescuing of Daisy’s daughter from drowning reveals an ambiguity in Gatsby’s character: Although he is possessed of criminal inclinations, is also a hero. Daisy’s daughter then disappears – in the novel, Gatsby hardly seems aware of her existence.  The flickering green and red light is an indicator that there are still obstacles.  He believes that the yellow coupe will bring him closer to Daisy and therefore gets into it when it appears.  But the appearance of an intimidating Tom dressed in red, and the disappearance of the light, house and dock are indicative of the fact that the dream is impossible.  Daisy is lost to Gatsby forever. She herself is an unattainable dream, whom Gatsby will chase and chase and chase, but circumstances dictate that he will never be able to have her.   The sun going down and the transformation of the clear, clean water into black sludge reinforce this.

The threatening presence of the partygoers being held off by Nick indicate that Gatsby is alone in the world except for one person, Nick, who is his friend and defender.  The sword is symbolic as a weapon used by one’s defender. The overpowering Nick shows that even though Nick has remained a true friend until the last, he is human. He is unable to prevent Gatsby’s ultimate fate from coming to him in the end even though he never gives up.  The teetering on the edge of the water is indicative of Gatsby’s extreme instability and vulnerability.

Gatsby knows that Nick is dependable, loyal and will fight for him, but also that he will not have the strength to change fate.   It shows loyalty, strength, honesty (but the choice to ignore it too), dependability, and compassion as traits and ambiguities of Nicks, and generosity, remoteness, attention to detail, single-mindedness, an affinity and connection with the criminal world, heroism and mysteriousness as traits and ambiguities of Gatsby’s..


            F.Scott Fitzgerald, 1926, “The Great Gatsby”, Penguin Books (reprinted 1962, Great Britain

            Ping, Tang Soo, 1980, “Notes on The Great Gatsby”, Longman York Press, Beirut, London.

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