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First published in 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is often cited as one of the best books of the twentieth century.

Once you get a taste of Fitzgerald’s masterful use of words, it’s easy to see why it’s so beloved, and why so many lines resonate with readers and stand out even on their own.

To celebrate this classic book, we’ve rounded up the best Gatsby quotes and offered explanations of each line’s meaning and significance in relation to the larger themes found throughout the story.

Memorable Gatsby Quotes

Below are some of the most famous and significant quotes from The Great Gatsby, along with explanations of their meanings relative to the rest of the text.

“I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

This quote, which appears early on in the book as Daisy describes her hopes for her infant daughter to Nick and Jordan. It reveals a bit about Daisy’s character and values, but is also a reflection of social values during this time.

Daisy has grown up and still lives in a social environment that doesn’t really value intelligence in women, and while this line feels a bit sardonic, it doesn’t seem that Daisy is exactly challenging those values, either.

In fact, she herself seems to embody those standards, using thoughtless giddiness and materialistic pleasures perhaps to escape the tension of her love for Gatsby while being married to Tom.

“He had one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced, or seemed to face, the whole external world for an instant and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself.”

This observation, made by Nick in Chapter 3, offers a vivid portrait of Gatsby’s character and trademark charisma. Gatsby has the ability to make anyone he smiles at feel as though they are understood and that he chose them out of “the whole external world.”

However, as the book continues, Fitzgerald deconstructs the larger-than-life persona Gatsby crafted for himself at the age of 17.

“And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”

Jordan delivers this memorable line to Nick Carraway early on at one of Gatsby’s legendary parties. Nick describes Jordan as “incurably dishonest,” and that she avoids “clever, shrewd men.”

We might presume, then, that Jordan also avoids small parties because she has fewer options for escape and may get trapped in conversations with people who could call her out for her dishonesty or manipulation.

(It’s worth nothing that she had also been accused of cheating in a golf tournament, until witnesses retracted their statements.)

“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 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.”

This passage is found at the very end of the book, right before the final lines. At this point, Gatsby is dead, Nick is no longer in Long Island, and Daisy is long gone with Tom and her baby.

Nick tries to imagine how Gatsby must have felt upon first seeing Daisy’s green light at the end of her dock, just across the bay from his own home.

Throughout the entire book, light remains a symbol of our elusive desires, but as we see in this line and the final lines that follow, the object of Gatsby’s desire—Daisy’s love—was stuck in the past, yet he tried so hard in vain to get it back.

“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams—not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”

Nick makes this observation as he leaves Gatsby and Daisy alone once they’ve finally been reunited after five years.

He concludes that after five years of fantasizing about Daisy and dreaming of this moment, Daisy—even with all her charm—must have fallen short of the idea Gatsby has come to idolize.

“There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.”

After Jordan reveals that Gatsby purchased his elaborate mansion just to be close to Daisy and impress her, Nick comes to this generalization based on the people in his own life.

Daisy is ignored by her husband, and wants to be pursued. Gatsby actively pursues her. Likewise, Jordan also wants to be pursued, and Nick obliges, until he realizes she is as superficial and dishonest as Tom and Daisy.

Many of the characters pursue lifestyles of artificial busyness to the point of exhaustion, or they realize that what they are chasing is unobtainable.

“’Can’t repeat the past?’ he cried incredulously. ‘Why of course you can!’
He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.”

This quote reflects Gatsby’s state of delusion, as he insists that he can repeat the past and get Daisy to love him like she did five years ago, despite the fact that she is now married with a child and he has built a life on lies just to impress her.

He has undying faith in the past, and truly believes that with just one more flashy party or another expensive car, Daisy will be his again.

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

One might say that this statement carries irony (even though Jordan says it sincerely) because spring usually symbolizes rebirth and new life, whereas fall is a season symbolic of death and conclusion.

And in fact, the events that unfold for the main characters are more reflective of this theme, as affairs and fatal accidents cast a permanent shadow over their lives.

“It takes two to make an accident.”

This statement, in some ways, foreshadows Myrtle’s violent death, as she is later struck by Daisy’s car.

The line is delivered by Jordan, as she explains to Nick why she doesn’t worry about her own reckless driving, and it reflects her careless attitude toward others and life.


“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and . . . then retreated back into their money . . . and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

This passage summarizes Tom and Daisy’s selfish, careless actions that rule their dysfunctional lives. At the end of the story, after making a mess of their own lives and the people around them (including two violent deaths) Tom and Daisy leave town with their daughter. Their lives will probably remain unaffected by the chaos they’ve created.

What Is the Most Important Quote in The Great Gatsby?

One of the most quoted and important lines from the Great Gatsby can be found in the final passage:

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 out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

There’s a lot to unpack here, which is why we’ve got a whole post dedicated to the last line of The Great Gatsby. It explains the symbolism and how this final line ties in with the book’s larger themes.

What Is Gatsby’s Catch Phrase?

Gatsby adopts the catch phrase “old sport,” which he often uses to address his male friends and peers.

This term of endearment was popular among the upper classes of England and North America during the early 20th century, which is important because Gatsby insists on calling himself an “Oxford man.”

Reading Modern Classics

In less than five years, The Great Gatsby will turn 100, but this story continues to touch and inspire new generations of readers and writers alike.

If you want to improve your craft or simply find excellent books that have stood the test of time, reach for the best modern classics. When it comes to truly good writing, it doesn’t matter if it was published 5 or 205 years ago; the story feels just as fresh and impactful as time marches on.

Do you have a favorite quote or scene from The Great Gatsby? Share it with us in the comments below!

 

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