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Lights in The Great Gatsby

Posted by: Sara Paccione | November 14, 2010 | No Comment |

One of the reoccurring themes in The Great Gatsby is lights.  In addition to the most well-known example of the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, there are other references to lights (particularly artificial lighting) as well.  When Nick goes to the apartment with Tom and Myrtle, he mentions that the “yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering” (Fitzgerald 40).  Like the green light, the lighted windows are something that people would look at and wonder about.  Gatsby focuses on Daisy’s light with longing not necessarily because he is in love with who she is, but because he dreams about what might have been.  The lights, both on the dock and in the windows, show the rest of the world that something is there, but do not give much indication as to what it is.

Nick also discusses lamps near the end of the book when he talks about his old Midwestern home: “That’s my middle-west – not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns but the thrilling, returning trains of my youth and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow” (184).  Like the other lights, these lights help Nick to create an image in his mind of something else.  While the green light makes Gatsby think about his idealized image of his past with Daisy, the Midwestern street lamps are part of Nick’s now idealized image of his old home.  However, the street lamps and lighted windows seem to be a little more welcoming than the somewhat distant green light that teases Gatsby from across the water.  These lights project images on the snow outside and are seen as something that, even though they are from Nick’s past, have not really gone away.

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