After reading the book The Great Gatsby, the author, F. Scott Fitzgerald imparts upon the reader a very specific impression of glamour and allurement in a “perfect,” yet shallow, upper class society. Even the front cover of the book itself illuminates the flair and attractive lights that would appeal to those of wealth. But John Rewald Seurat s painting of the “Man at a Parapet” shows the complete opposite image. Seurat s dismal use of specificity and drab use of color is everything that a man like Gatsby and the people at his parties would despise. Hence we have the perfect metaphorical contrast; Nick s inner struggle between being surrounded by beautifully rotten people or himself alone as a true man; which one is more ethical to live in? When Nick comes to the point in his life where he is torn between the two, is when Nick s metamorphosis takes place. Through the duration of the novel, he experiences an epiphany through the observation of the false life Gatsby leads, then comes to a realization that he cannot help nor change such superficial values in those surrounding him, therefore attempts to make his own life, a life with true meaning. The “Man at a Parapet,” parallel to the poem, is standing alone “in the unquiet darkness.” Artistically speaking, the only darkness in the painting is the man himself and the shade in which he is under. Nick is that “man,” whose true darkness really comes from the depths of his own solitude. Different from in the book, Nick seems to be quite the socialite; he is always attending to Gatsbys parties, lunch outings with Daisy and Tom, trips to town with Jordan Baker, etc., and never once does he admit to anyone (accept to the reader) how “purposeless and alone” he sometimes feels. The “man” in the painting is glancing out towards a large, blurred image of a building. That image is seemingly Gatsby s mansion and the significance of the parapet (which is a balcony in a castle) verifies that Nick is somewhere inside the walls of this building. The metaphor that the parapet signifies towards the book is that Nick was always involved somewhere within Gatsby s rich, complex life, yet he was still somewhat apart from it all along. In the very first chapter, just as in the poem, Nick begins to tell a past story, a flashback and perhaps this story can be presumably narrated in isolation now, due to the unknown outcome that the book later reveals. He seems almost at peace with himself for now Nick knows he rides far above the pettiness and “obvious suppressions” that only shallow people possess:”Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes but after a certain point, I don t care what it s founded on. When I came back from the East last autumn I felt I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart -it was an extraordrinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again. No-Gatsby turned out alright in the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elation s of men.” (pg. 6-7)One could very easily take Nick for a snob in the very first chapter, even possibly take him as a lonely, condescending, introverted man with nothing else better to do than to look down upon the rest of society. But then there is this radiant light that shines throughout Nick s words. This light seems to ride above all that Nick has ever seen or experienced, and this light s name is Jay Gatsby. The poem, “The Green Light” relays the image of Gatsby s parties and how Nick was swept into this world of “all such things.” From the beginning to the end of the story, Nick is very much so aware that people of money, (like Daisy and Tom) are often shallow and arrogant people, so he separates himself from people like them on one level:”I am still afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my fatherly snobbishly suggested and I snobbishly repeat , a sense of fundamental decencies is parceled out unequally at birth.” (pg. 6)But Nick discovers one man, with whom he has such an absolute fascination for,that for a brief moment in his lifetime, Nick s initial morality seems to dissolve and he enters Gatsby s environment. In this environment, he meets a woman named Jordan Baker and becomes romantically involved with her. Unfortunately, Jordan herself is a careless person who is indifferent towards most people except herself. She brings out a superficiality in Nick that is clearly represented in the beginning of the book.
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“For awhile I lost sight of Jordan Baker, and then in midsummer I found her again. At first I was flattered to go places with her because she was a golf champion and everyone knew her name. Then it was something more. I wasn t actually in love, but I felt a sort of tender curiosity ..She was incurably dishonest It made no difference to me. Dishonesty in a woman is something you never blame deeply- I was casually sorry, and then I forgot.” (pg. 62- 63)It is not until the very last chapter, (after Gatsby s death and the Buchanan s departure) and after “the holocaust was complete” (p.170), that Nick realizes how dangerous complacency can be when it s counterpart is superficiality. Nick expresses this discovery when he officially ends his relationship with Jordan Baker and the epiphany is now visible.” You said a bad driver was only safe until she met another bad driver? Well, I met another bad driver didn t I? I mean it was careless of me to make such a wrong guess. I thought you were rather an honest, straightforward person. I thought it was your secret pride. I m thirty, I said. I m five years to old to lie to myself and call it honor. She didn t answer. Angry, and half in love with her, and tremendously sorry, I turned away.”In the end, the “Green Light” is what destroys the life of Jay Gatsby and helps create a more meaningful one for Nick Carraway. Gatsby leaves much debris of his lonely life behind and Nick is leftover to pick up the pieces. For instance, Meyer Wolfsheim and Klipspringer won t even come to his funeral and Nick tries with all his good will to convince them to come. Even Gatsby s very own father had only a picture to show for his son s life and of his attainments.” Jimmy sent me this picture. He took at out his wallet with trembling fingers. Look there. It was a photograph of the house, cracked in the corners and dirty with many hands. He pointed out every detail to me eagerly. Look there! and then sought admiration from my eyes.” (p. 180) In the process of picking up all these pieces, the reader begins to see that Nick was Gatsby s only friend in the world, the only person who truly sacrificed a bit of honest emotion for him. But, just like in the poem, Nick sees how “Gatsby s house once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams.”(p 189) What is meant by this, is that Nick has found the falsehood in the “Green Light” and that Jay Gatsby is the light s most perfect symbol. Although “Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves”(p.157), Nick learns (from watching Gatsby) that wealth imprisons nothing but failed dreams and no human connection if wealth is the only thing you have to cling to. Resorting back to Seurat s painting with the understanding of Nick s epiphany, the “Man at a Parapet” could seem more isolated then ever, blurred and dismal all the same . If that “man” were to be Nick Carraway, whose epiphany of detachment from a depthless society has just occurred, the question still remains: Does Nick find peace or loneliness at the new station in life he has brought himself to? “And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby s wonder when he first picked the green light at the end of Daisy s dock. He had come a long way to his blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close he could hardly fail to grasp it 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 one fine morning–” Nick knows far to well that trying to dictate your own destiny, the way James Gatz did, could actually be quite possible. But does that make you an honest man nonetheless? The answer is no. So Nick “beats on,” living his life alone, but not purposeless this time. Of course, he will always be pulled back into his past someway, somehow, but it is only there as a reminder. It is honorable to be just like that “Man at a Parapet,” safe within the single windowed knowledge that life is, truly and solely, based upon what you make of yourself and the true person that you are.