Ignore the green light


“If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay. You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.” A quote by Jay Gatsby, from “The Great Gatsby,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

You may not think of it in those terms, but we all have a “green light,” some undying yet seemingly unattainable desire for something. If you’re unfamiliar with the reference, let me point you toward the classic novel.

The book was written and set in the 1920s during New York’s Jazz Age, a time of prohibition, excess, and the American “consumer culture.” For Fitzgerald’s title character, a green light set at the end of a boat dock represented all that Gatsby desired or deemed of value in life. For across the water were his dreams — a woman named Daisy and her whirlwind, ritzy, lifestyle.

To be worthy of Daisy’s attention, though, Gatsby thought he had to attain a lifestyle that, in those days, was unreachable unless you were born into it. Growing up impoverished in rural North Dakota, he saw money and prestige as the means to fit into Daisy’s world, and true happiness. In reality, however, Daisy, though from a wealthy and estimable family, wasn’t happy at all. Instead, she saw her place in that society as a stranglehold, a prison sentence.

Gatsby eventually got what he wanted, or did he? I won’t spoil the end for you — go read it. You don’t get the right feel of this from movies. Either way, the moral here is that chasing the green light may not be all it’s cracked up to be after all. I suppose, however, it really depends on what your green light represents, doesn’t it? That begs the question, what is your “green light?”

Is there anything you want so badly that you would change who you are as a person or alter your values just to get it? I’m pretty sure I don’t have anything like that. I’ve never been someone who cared anything about social position, prestige, or money, other than to support myself and my family without too much struggle.

Likewise, I never cared much about how people saw me or where I fit in so-called, “social circles.” If you don’t like me, you know where the door is, I’m not changing to suit your sensibilities. No one should have to do that.

To me, the green light represents something out of our reach, not so much because of socioeconomic status, but who we are as individuals. But, if I have to be something artificial in order for people to accept me into some popular collective, then I don’t want to be around them in the first place. I have never understood those who pretend to be something they’re not just to fit in with a group or climb some social ladder. I guess my ambitions just lay elsewhere.

In the novel, I think the problem with Gatsby’s vision of happiness, as with so many people, is how narrow, artificial, and ill-informed it was from the start. He wanted the money and social success so badly, he was willing to be something other than himself just to be with someone who didn’t even want to live in that world. It could be said that Daisy wanted out as badly as he wanted into it.

I’m not saying we should all simply accept our station, especially not if you’re really unhappy. But the life you want and the people you share it with should reflect who you really are, not who others think you should be. Don’t change just to assimilate to some idealistic world that probably isn’t what you think it is anyway.

Where does that leave us – and Gatsby? He saw Daisy’s green light as a beacon, lighting his way to financial and social salvation, but things rarely work out that way. My advice, for whatever it’s worth, is to ignore the green light and concentrate on what really drives you, the “you” that you are now. If you want to change for the good, to grow, that’s amazing! But do it for yourself, not someone else.

Gery Deer is a Greene County resident and columnist. He can be reached at www.gldcommunications.com.

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