The Month of Fitzgerald

So We Beat On: The Last Lines of The Great Gatsby

To celebrate the ninetieth anniversary of the publication of  The Great Gatsby we collected comments from writers on how Gatsby has influenced their work. Here, authors meditate on the novel’s brilliant last lines.

If there were a contest for the best opening lines in American fiction it would be a draw between Moby-Dick and The Sun Also Rises, but F. Scott Fitzgerald certainly would win for the best closing lines in American fiction, which not only complete The Great Gatsby perfectly, but also say a lot about Fitzgerald and about the American Dream, his own dream which ended so cruelly for him.

“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. 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, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

“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 our arms further . . . And one fine morning—

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

It will be a long time, perhaps never, before American fiction produces a better end to a novel than that.

—Michael Korda, author of Clouds of Glory

F. Scott Fitzgerald certainly would win for the best closing lines in American fiction.

The last sentence of The Great Gatsby always makes me feel so pleasantly melancholy.

—Anne Tyler, author of A Spool of Blue Thread

The last few pages of The Great Gatsby are a sort of eulogy for Jay Gatsby, preceded by an account of the tragedy.  With Nick you mourn and recount, recount and mourn, and in this way Fitzgerald gets at the recursive nature of grief.  It’s no wonder that this is a book we—all of us—read again and again in our effort to understand what, exactly, it is we’ve lost.

As spare and stripped down as the narrative purports to be, there is an elliptical nature to Fitzgerald’s third novel. It refuses to say what it’s saying, or it says it over and over, and still you can’t quite hold on to it. Much like prayer.

—Annie Liontas, author of Let Me Explain You

The last line of The Great Gatsby . . . seems to mean something different every time I read it, and it is such hauntingly beautiful prose.

—Charlie Lovett, author of The Bookman’s Tale

The Great Gatsby still knocks me out with the last haunting lines: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

—Caroline Leavitt, author of Is This Tomorrow

It has to come down to this: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

—Ethan Canin, author of The Palace Thief

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

By F. Scott Fitzgerald