Towards the end of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, there is a famous often quoted passage which runs as follows:
” 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 hands farther…. And one fine morning _________ “
That extra – long dash at the end of the final sentence fragment has been subjected to much scholarly analysis and interpretation. All kinds of meanings have been read into it. Some critics have even suggested that it represents the end of Gatsby’s own dock, the one where we see him at the end of Chapter 1, stretching out his arms to Daisy Buchanan’s dock across Long Island Sound. They postulate that if ” we run faster, stretch out our arms farther”, we will one day , inevitably, fall off the end of the dock and drown, just as Gatsby drowns in his pool.
When I first read about this interpretation, I thought to myself ” How can anyone read so much into a dash, no matter how long it is? ” Fitzgerald’s writing is often deliberately vague and larded with symbols and it has spawned a veritable cottage industry of analysis and comment. However, this particular suggestion, I thought, was too fanciful, the product of an over active imagination.
Then, by the merest chance, I read a review of Saul Bellow’s collected non-fiction in the New York Times Sunday Review of April 27th. In the review, Martin Amis reproduces a passage from Bellow’s ” Deep Readers of the World, Beware’ ( 1959). In it, Bellow imagines the following classroom conversation:
” Why , sir” the student wonders, ” does Achilles drag the body of Hector around the walls of Troy? … Well, you see, sir, the ‘ Iliad ‘ is full of circles – shields, chariot wheels, and other round figures. And, you know what Plato said about circles. The Greeks were all made for geometry.”
” Bless your crew-cut, head” the professor replies, ” for such a beautiful thought. Your approach is both deep and serious.Still I always believed that Achilles did it because he was so angry.”
Amis adds “ Critics should cleave to the human element and not just laminate the text with additional obscurities“.
I couldn’t agree more.