The Timeless Message of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” by Gregory Hilton

 “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”


I visited the grave of F. Scott Fitzgerald this morning in Rockville. Fitzgerald is one of the two greatest American authors of the 20th century, but he spent only a short time in Maryland. His tombstone says “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” It is the last line from “The Great Gatsby,” arguably Fitzgerald’s finest work and certainly the book for which he is best known.
The grave site is in a small cemetery at St. Mary’s Catholic Church at the busy intersection of Routes 355 (Rockville Pike) and 28. It is almost the first grave you encounter when you enter the cemetery.
What is the meaning of the quote on the tombstone? The narrator believes Gatsby’s life was focused on the past. Gatsby achieved wealth, fame, and the lifestyle he worked so hard for, but he never had Daisy. He got as close to her as he could. Five years after their first meeting he finally met with her again, but Daisy doesn’t live up to his dream. She chooses her husband Tom over him, and doesn’t lend herself to the dream as fully as Gatsby did.
Many people look at the book as a commentary about class distinctions. I often think of this because of my efforts with major donors for various charities. “The Great Gatsby” movie contains a scene where Gatsby is showing Daisy a full closet of beautiful custom made shirts. The point is that no matter how many shirts Gatsby had, no matter how rich and famous he became, no matter how much Daisy raised his hopes, Gatsby wasn’t going to make it into the club. The club is ruthless, and it killed him.
Tom and Daisy Buchanan represent old money, which does not accept Gatsby. The class distinctions between Daisy, a true upper class maiden, who can never lower herself to accept Gatsby, the aspirant to a class rank which wealth and parties cannot buy.
Gatsby’s dream and hope of her and himself is what drove him, with the hope that she would come to his parties or that he would visit East Egg. When his dream was so close to being reality, it shattered.
Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald is often overlooked. She was the subject of Nancy Mitford’s “Zelda: A Biography.” It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and spent weeks on The New York Times best-seller list. The book emphasizes Zelda’s artistic talent.
Her mother did not like the paintings and burned at least 30 of them, but today they are quite valuable. Many are on display at the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. Mitford portrays Zelda as a woman whose unappreciated potential was suppressed by a patriarchal society.

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