I could teach The Great Gatsby forever and ever. And the last page? Come on. I get shivers every time I read it. I read the last passage to my kids on Thursday and told them simply to listen to the language. Who cares if there are some tough words, some abstract arguments— just listen:
“…Gradually, I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
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 out our arms farther…And one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
—The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (pg. 180)
I recited the passage for them, practically from memory. I put a big sign up on the board: “Ms. T’s Favorite Passage in All of Literature!” I showed them the original manuscript in F. Scott’s handwriting. And they had such an insightful and powerful discussion about the passage— about why we’ve lost that sense of wonder, about what the green light symbolizes, about why we’re “borne back ceaselessly into the past”…they kicked ass, basically, and I have to believe that a lot of that is because of my passion for this book. Since the first day of the unit, I’ve approached every single discussion with intense excitement, because I love it so much and I want them to love it too. And more than anything else, this is why teachers should have choice in their curriculum. Because this kind of passion…it can’t be scripted.