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By Frances Hornbostel, V Form
The Essence of Luminescence: Light in The Great Gatsby
In The Great Gatsby, light is emblematic of the uncanny attraction to Jay Gatsby’s wealth and power, illuminating the warmth and clarity it brings as well as its isolation and superficiality. Light is ever-present throughout the novel, reflecting changes from dark, tempestuous times to brighter, more jubilant ones. These lighting shifts can be controlled by natural forces, immune to man’s intervention, or manipulated through artificial lighting, bought and directed by the buyer. Gatsby’s life, a whirlpool of bright lights ornamenting his extravagant wealth, is overwhelmingly attractive to those around him. He draws them in like moths to a flame as Nick notes early on, witnessing one of Gatsby’s ostentatious parties. Gatsby’s manipulation of light to highlight positive aspects of himself shows his attempts to control how people perceive him, further revealing the powers of isolation and superficiality light can have. Light is particularly revelatory in chapter five, where Gatsby’s manipulation is paramount in fabricating a perfect meeting with Daisy, the woman he has loved for the five years they have been apart.
After Gatsby invites Daisy over to his house, she excitedly brings him over to the window to show him that “the rain was still falling, but the darkness had parted in the west, and there was a pink and golden billow of foamy clouds above the sea” (Fitzgerald 94). Chapter five is set in isolation, away from mistresses, husbands, and reality, allowing Daisy and Gatsby to exist, for this chapter, at least, in a timeless state of idyllic bliss. However, the storm still raged, Tom was still a man bursting out in bouts of anger while was cheating with Myrtle, and their marriage still constricted Daisy at the ring finger. Daisy refuses to face these realities in chapter five as she lets herself float in the almost tangible softness of the pastel-painted clouds above the horizon, existing precariously between a storm and the raging force of the sea. Yet, rain is still falling around them, illustrating gravity’s heavy push on the dark elements outside of the floating oasis of billowing clouds that Daisy envisions, seemingly untouchable by gravity. The fragility of this state that is too perfect to be true alludes to its disintegration as reality hits after chapter five.(more…)