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Here, Nick reveals Gatsby's lifelong quest to transcend his past as ultimately futile. In comparing this backward-driving force to the current of a river, Fitzgerald presents it as both inexorable and, in some sense, naturally determined. It is the inescapable lot of humanity to move backward. Therefore, any attempt at progress is the result of hubris and outsized ambition. The final line of The Great Gatsby is one of the most famous in American literature, and serves as a sort of epitaph for both Gatsby and the novel as a whole.
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."