Light and happiness

Gatsby’s house is often brightly lit, signifying his impressive wealth, as electricity was still an expensive commodity in the 1920s. Gatsby’s parties are illuminated by ‘constantly changing light’ and he lights up his house from ‘tower to cellar’ at the start of Chapter 5, even though there is no party, seemingly in anticipation of the reunion with Daisy. When Gatsby and Daisy have met each other and had some time to adjust, Nick notes that Gatsby ‘literally glowed’ and ‘smiled like a weather man, like an ecstatic patron of recurrent light’.

The lights go out

Light symbolism is also used to represent Gatsby’s retreat from the public eye:

the lights in his house failed to go on one Saturday night – and, as obscurely as it had begun, his career as Trimalchio was over.

Daisy’s rejection of Gatsby, as narrated by Gatsby via Nick, is also marked by the absence of light:

Nothing happened…. I waited, and about four o’clock she came to the window and stood there for a minute and then turned out the light.

Daisy’s green light

The green light at the end of Daisy’s dock is another powerful symbol in this novel. First noted in Chapter 1, in a passage which has many references to light and dark, the green light is ‘minute and far away’. It is obscured by mist when Gatsby reveals the significance of the light to Daisy in Chapter 5. This revelation sparks an important comment on symbols from Nick:

Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had 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.

Nick’s comments here suggest that symbols can gain and lose meanings, but the light remains meaningful to Nick as he ponders the journey taken by Gatsby in the final lines of the novel:

He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him… Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…
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