Most readers are taught that the light at the end of Daisy’s dock is hugely important to understanding The Great Gatsby. Their teachers wax poetic about the symbolism and meaning behind the light referencing Gatsby’s comments in chapter 5 and Nick’s comments at the end of the book. I tend to think that the light, like the parties, is just an illusion. They are there to distract us as readers and to distract the characters within the story. The parties are the perfect place to do business, to not notice smugglers at the water’s edge, for illicit meetings between people who shouldn’t normally be seen together. Fitzgerald spends three paragraphs naming all the people and types of people who come to the parties. And, yes, the parties are obviously for Daisy, everything Gatsby does in an increasingly shady manner is to be worthy of her financially.
Like Myrtle, Gatsby doesn’t understand the agreement between Tom and Daisy, none of us do. However they appear at different moments, they are ultimately loyal to each other. Faithfulness in a marriage isn’t always about sex. As we can see with many political or celebrity marriages, the ones that stay are the ones that often surprise us; who knows what agreements are constantly renegotiated by the wealthy? For a long time marriages were arranged at the highest end of the socio-economic ladder and at the lowest end; in both situations they were for business, money, and contacts.
We fool ourselves today by believing marriage is about love. Love as a feeling is an illusion. Love in action is real. We love our friends and are loyal to our patrons. We love ourselves (sometimes). And some people love the idea of love, the twitterpation that comes from a new crush, the sexual attraction that feels like a magnetic pull. Many people get married for that feeling thinking it will always be around. Other people are serial monogamists because they want the feeling and understand that it is fleeting. This is the essence of why Daisy Buchanan would never have worked with Jay Gatsby. She is too pragmatic and he is too much the starry-eyed romantic.
Every glimpse we get in the novel of the Buchanan’s relationship makes it seem toxic. We are supposed to be rooting for Jay Gatsby to get the girl. Jay Gatsby, who determined his whole persona at the age of seventeen, is still stuck in that mentality. It’s the same pattern of thinking that has men today shoving their “niceness” at women and then their misogyny at those same women for “friend zoning” or otherwise rejecting their romantic overtures. I find it hard to see Jay Gatsby in a positive light with my modern perceptions about how people treat each other. I feel for his character, trapped in that teenage mindset of what’s cool and what’s real, but I don’t root for him to get Daisy. There are hints throughout the book that she will destroy him. In the end Tom will never leave Daisy and Daisy will never leave Tom because they are far too conventional to consider divorce. Part of their social standing stems from the drama and rumor they evoke. They are entertainment for many of their peers and they take as much enjoyment from the pain or drama their peers inflict on each other.
Love is an illusion as presented in The Great Gatsby. The parties Gatsby throws are clever misdirection and brand building. The light at the end of the dock is unreachable. However, loyalty and friendship carry the book. We can’t ever fully believe first-person narrators, but we can tell how they really feel about the subjects of their stories. We can see Nick’s real respect and love for James Gatz.