The American Dream: A Lighthouse in the Fog

           “…there was one persistent story that he didn’t live in a house at all, but in a boat that looked like a house and was moved secretly up and down the Long Island shore.”                                                                                                                                                       (Ch. 6, pg. 91)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

   You are a sailor on a boat in the middle of the sea. It has been like this for years. You, swaying in the uncertain waves,hoping the wind will pick up and push you in some sort of direction. Days are long and unrelenting: every noise, every shadow,  and every surrounding is known and ordinary. Except in the dark. Once the sun pulls away from the sky and the moon carries the water with it, you lose all familiarity. Even the stars become clouded in the fog, and the waves begin to slop into your boat. You lose a centimeter of air as your boat slowly fills with water. The atmosphere becomes moist, the wind furious, sea foam crowds the edges of your boat, the sky opens up-  revealing swarms of rain coming down  in torrents.  You panic. A light flashes in the distance. You pause, reach for an oar, and propel yourself to the curious light. It flashes again- muted and blurry. You can’t tell if you’re moving or not for the horizon seems endless. The flicker now becomes a beam of light- blinding your vision. Through the blaze, you are able to identify a towering structure as waves collide with its long,sturdy exterior. This gleam illuminates your entire boat, and it almost doesn’t feel like a boat at all, but like your mother’s kitchen. The wood almost transforms into a clean oak table, old handkerchiefs become table cloths, and the once clamorous waves now sway in a way that embodies gentle jazz. You reach out, trying to encapsulate the light- and without missing a single beat- the light trails out of your sight and turns to catch another sailor’s eyes- caught in the same storm as you.

And you are left in the dark.

                                                                              “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”   (Chapter 9, pg. 154) 


       There is much debate as to what the green light in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, The Great Gatsby,  symbolizes.  There is a clear and simple answer to this and that’s, The American Dream.  However, if there’s such a straightforward answer then why do we question it so much? Why do we apply themes to the color of the light, the proximity of Gatsby to the light, and its relation to Daisy? As we discuss these connotations, we often miss the answer that is plainly staring us in the face. So let’s start simple;

What is the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock?

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According to SAT study guides, the green light is emitted by an electric lamp that is at the end of Tom and Daisy’s boat dock. Its literal purpose is to warn boats at night, and during stormy weather that there is a structure there- therefore it is always on. Based on this information alone, the source of the green light demonstrates multiple connections to the American Dream. The fact that the lamp is electric represents how industrial appliances were a sign of the wealthy- hence the green color.

Why the hell is Gatsby so obsessed with it?

The green light is introduced at the same time that the reader sees Gatsby. Here we have Gatsby: a symbol of new money, and a literal representation of what all men thought they wanted and deserved: their own piece of the American dream. And the green light: a symbol of Gatsby’s dreams, hopes, and desires to repeat the past, and after that is destroyed- the light becomes a universal motivation for all to achieve more than they already have. To outsiders, Gatsby had everything- a mansion, unlimited quantities of booze, food, music, time, company, and money. Gatsby was an idol for anyone who wanted to make it big.

“…a figure had emerged from the shadow of my neighbor’s mansion …he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way,… Involuntarily I glanced seaward–and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was  alone again in the unquiet darkness.”  ( Chapter 1, pg. 33) 

  When Nick first encounters Gatsby, he is coming home after a dinner at the Buchanan house and sees Gatsby standing on his lawn, stretching his arms out towards the green light across the bay . The fact that we see Gatsby and the light simultaneously is important since we are able to see all that Gatsby is(a mysterious, rich, hidden figure) and has( a luxurious mansion),but also all everything that Gatsby isn’t(Daisy Buchanan’s lover) and doesn’t have( real wealth and power). Here, the color of the light is most significant since it illustrates Gatsby’s envy for everyone living on East Egg( the truly wealthy live there, based off of inheritance), and Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband. This green, this envy, this light, is Gatsby’s calling- the final piece to his life puzzle.

What do lighthouses have to do with it? 

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For the sake of definition, a lighthouse is ” a tower with a bright light at the top, located at an important or dangerous place regarding navigation (travel over water). The two main purposes of a lighthouse are to serve as a navigational aid and to warn boats of dangerous areas. It is like a traffic sign on the sea. So the message of the lighthouse might be – STAY AWAY, DANGER, BEWARE, or COME THIS WAY.”

I find this definition incredibly insightful when I consider the green light as a “navigational aid” to Gatsby. Initially, the green light is a beacon pulling Gatsby out of the dark and towards Daisy. To him, the light is saying, “COME THIS WAY!”, or, in truer aspects, it is Gatsby communicating this to the light. However, when the light is mentioned again in the novel it is during the reignited love affair between Gatsby and Daisy. Now that he had her in his arms, the green light at the end of her dock becomes less enchanting and mysterious, and is shrouded by mist over the bay. When fog obstructs a lighthouse’s beam, it is nearly impossible for a sailor to find the lighthouse.  Due to the blockage of the green light, Gatsby loses the illusion revolving around the idea of Daisy. When you erase the magnificence attached to the green light, it is simply an electric lantern. The same thing occurs when you strip Daisy of her allure- she is simply a bored, rich girl trapped in an unhappy marriage. And, believe it or not, the same thing happens when you remove the sense of hope from the American Dream, and it becomes another unachievable goal for many helpless Americans.

Why is this comparison relevant to The American Dream and humanity as a whole?

The American Dream is a navigational force for many Americans living in lower classes. The Dream is a hope for salvation from poverty, or “dangerous waters”, the same way a lighthouse beam is a saving grace for ships caught in storms. I was able to represent this through my narrative, as I was comparing the American Dream to a lighthouse beam. A country such as America, moves as a whole; however, one cannot ignore the definite inequalities within its system. Anyone who hasn’t achieved the Dream is an inconvenience for those who have- and those who worked for the dream are an inconvenience to those who inherited it.

   “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….”   (Chapter 9,  pg. 154)                                                                                                                                             

    The idea to “Make America Great Again,” is embedded in the action of becoming better by going back in the past. Through a logical perspective, this is redundant; however, it makes sense since the American Dream thrived 95 years ago. For that reason, in order to successfully achieve the American Dream, one must work harder every single day by integrating old values into their lifestyle yet still adapt to current times. This is why the American Dream is an impossible one.


We are all sailors drifting through the sea of life, searching for our own green light to guide us to success- without it, we are left in the fog, in the dark- to our own mindless senses and in-capabilities.


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2 thoughts on “The American Dream: A Lighthouse in the Fog

  1. Dear Liz,

    I just LOVED the way you chose to introduce your piece. I’ve always been a sucker for vivid imagery–In my opinion, it’s one the best ways to hook your reader (within reason and depending on the genre of writing, of course 😉 ) This being said, I thought your intro was a great springboard for thought and “aha”s. Your description of the light from the lighthouse reminded me of a siren’s song; that is, like a siren, the light lures the sailor farther out to sea–and it almost taunts him while doing so. Within your introduction, of course, the sailor is not drowned, as he typically is in stories about sirens. However, the fact that the light dissipates just as the sailor reaches the lighthouse is, in itself, a recipe for disaster; he is left to navigate his boat blindly in the storm due to this absence of light, which could very well lead to his drowning. This idea–that of the fatal allure of the siren–can be further likened to Gatsby’s own life. Because, in the grand scheme of things, it was the green light that essentially led to his death. Gatsby’s pursual of the green light was a sort of metaphor for his pursual of Daisy’s love; like the light, she was fickle. At one moment, she had promised to leave Tom for Gatsby and, at the next moment, she wanted nothing more than to be with Tom. Furthermore, like a siren, Daisy wreaked havoc and destruction in Gatsby’s life; she broke his heart and so effortlessly allowed him to take the fall for the murder of Myrtle which cost him his own life. Ironically, even though he had been shot, his body had been found in a swimming pool, almost as if he had been drowned the same way a siren would drown a sailor.

    See? Mega-springboard for thought, and that was right from the getgo, just from the first paragraph. Very engaging! Great job!

    What I would offer in terms of improvement is that you integrate more matter into your writing. I feel like. with the majority of your ideas, you only grazed the surface in regards to depth and analysis. I would have liked to have seen some more elaboration. For example, at one point you had said, “Based on this information alone, the source of the green light demonstrates multiple connections to the American Dream.” What are these multiple connections? I think you may have briefly touched upon these connections later on, but It’s also important to weave these connections and ideas throughout the entire piece as a whole opposed to just alluding to them sporadically. For me, I still understood what you were trying to say because I’m familiar with the novel. But, like we’ve learned in class, it’s important to try and write as though our readers have limited knowledge regarding the subject matter hand. This will also help with cohesion. And, on the topic of cohesion, I would also suggest using actual transition phrases, words, and ideas to connect your thoughts opposed to using questions. I think this would have also helped weave your ideas throughout the entire piece as a whole opposed to just relevant fragments here and there.

    Also, I was taking a look at the flash poetry on your personal blog the other day. There was one poem that really struck me:

    from now on I am no longer the

    light emitted from the lighthouse

    but the structure itself,

    I hope you find your way through the fog,

    without me.

    ((((a push in the right direction))))

    First of all–UGH, SO GOOD. Second of all, just out of curiosity, was this poem inspired by your blog post and The Great Gatsby? Or was it the poem that inspired the blog post? I’d like to know!

    Lots of love,

  2. Dearest Jade,

    Thank you so much for your comment! I absolutely love how you elaborated on my idea with the sirens! Such a good analysis! I’m so happy that my post inspired that because it’s super valuable and the missing piece to what I was trying to say, haha.

    I was really caught up with the connections I was trying to make to my idea and the text so the matter kind of got lost in the process. Thanks for noticing that, and I’ll make sure to really watch for that in my writing.

    Also, the blog was inspired by the poem, haha. Thanks so much again for your feedback and kind words, as well as checking up on my blog, lol.



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