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The conclusion of any novel should be both memorable for the reader and resonate with the main themes of the novel (i. e. the ultimate viewpoint of the author). “The Great Gatsby” manages to do this successfully, but only thanks to the last page of the novel, which contains exceptionally poignant and expressive writing.
By the end of the novel, the main action of the novel (i. e. he passage between the confrontation of Gatsby and Tom at the Plaza Hotel and the deaths of Gatsby and Wilson) has happened: the novel has reached its climax, and now it is losing momentum fast. This leads to an inevitable feeling that the rest of the novel is somewhat of a formality, included merely to tie up the loose ends of the storyline.
This lends this last section of a thought-provoking novel a rather artificial feeling, rather self-conscious and detached segment.
By the time the reader reaches the very last section, the novel has lost the frenetic pace and contrast that characterised the chapters immediately preceding this conclusion and so the reader may be losing interest, meaning the ending is not memorable thus far. Fitzgerald has, though, worked very hard to emphasise many themes (Gatsby’s funeral is poorly attended, showing his lack of actual status, Tom’s defiance and indifference, showing the amorality of the upper classes) in the closing stages of the novel, even through the lack of action in these closing stages.
In the very last section of the novel (from “Gatsby’s house was still empty when I left”), Nick’s reflection is highly melancholic and contemplative – Fitzgerald employs many aspects of narrative here to convey a sense of sombre finality. The lack of voice in this last section contributes to the feeling of loneliness (perhaps indicative of the true loneliness of Gatsby’s life, even during his rampant parties, let alone in his death) and allows the narrative to become focused on Nick’s brooding and pensive viewpoint.
A good example of Nick’s viewpoint is the description of Gatsby’s mansion as a “huge incoherent failure of a house”, reinforcing the idea that Nick pushes throughout the novel: that social mobility is impossible, and that Gatsby’s attempt to transform himself into a member of the elite social circles has failed (the failure here symbolised by the “brand spanking new” mock-Gothic mansion).
The setting also shows the ultimate futility of Gatsby’s dream: “the grass on his lawn had grown as long as mine” – the reader is reminded of Gatsby’s disdain of Nick’s lawn when discussing the possibility of a reunion with Daisy, which only further stresses that all of Gatsby’s hard work can be so easily undone, also showing the strength of time, and how no-one (not even the Great Gatsby) can emerge from a battle with time victorious; “On the white steps (of Gatsby’s mansion) an obscene word, scrawled by some boy with a piece of brick, stood out clearly in the moonlight” – this highlights the facts that Gatsby could never really integrate into East American society and that there are very few people that care for him (also shown by the pitiful attendance at his funeral).
The “American Dream” is also dealt with in this final section, with Fitzgerald touching upon the dreams of the first American settlers and their similarities to those of Gatsby: they both saw a country with the scope for infinite possibility; a wondrous opportunity to re-invent themselves in a new land. Where this may have once been true, it does not need to be stated by Fitzgerald that Gatsby has failed to achieve this, adding to the feeling of sympathy and sheer sadness in the ending of the novel, portraying Gatsby, once again, as a victim of the changed times (i. e. a time where social classes have become fixed). Fitzgerald has hinted to the importance of time in the section already (as shown above): he also employs time as a device twice more, the second instance being one of the most powerful devices in the entire novel.
The first instance is when Nick describes spending his “Saturday nights in New York” because he was constantly reminded of Gatsby’s “dazzling, gleaming” parties when in West Egg, showing how Nick’s life has been greatly impacted upon by Gatsby, but also showing how he wishes to forget the oppressive revelry and decadence of those parties, the latter of which shows that Gatsby’s attempts to make himself popular end up pushing even those closest to him away, again highlighting the harsh hopelessness of his dream. The second (incredibly powerful) instance where Fitzgerald uses time embodies many themes of the book: “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.
It eludes us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further… And one fine morning – So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. It is on this note that Fitzgerald ends the novel, a note of despair at the foolishness of human optimism; a note of frustration at the impossibility of reaching the “green light”, regardless of its seeming proximity; a note of hopelessness concerning the irresistible pull of the past, haunting those who strive to transcend its boundaries. The moving ambiguity of the final segment shows Nick neither rejecting nor accepting the “American Dream” as a reality, merely his thoughts on the difficulty in achieving it, interlaced with a thoughtful farewell to his friend, who tried and failed to transform his dreams into a reality. It is, then, the last page or so of “The Great Gatsby” that saves the conclusion of the story.
Previously, Fitzgerald had pushed the story into a state of relaxed formality which, following the breakneck pace of the climactic scenes, seemed almost irrelevant. The novel had made the transition from action to contemplation effectively, but was in danger of stagnating into a rather lifeless ending. It is on the last pages, where Nick (Fitzgerald) describes the fruitlessness of dreams with such expressiveness, that the ending transforms from being slightly formulaic into being a swirling cocktail of emotions and ideas on life, touching on issues almost shockingly fundamental with the characteristic exquisite simplicity that flows through the veins of this brilliant tale, making the conclusion both memorable for the reader and reflective of the prevalent themes of the novel.