Essay, Research Paper: Great Gatsby 15 Short Essays

Literature: Steinbeck

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Have you ever felt that there were two of you battling for control of the person
you call yourself? Have you ever felt that you weren't quite sure which one you
wanted to be in charge? All of us have at least two selves: one who wants to
work hard, get good grades, and be successful; and one who would rather lie in
the sun and listen to music and daydream. To understand F. Scott Fitzgerald, the
man and the writer, you must begin with the idea of doubleness, or twoness.
Fitzgerald himself said in a famous series of essays called The Crack Up,
"the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed
ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to
function." Everything about Fitzgerald is touched by this idea. For
example, he both loved and hated money. He was attracted to the life of the very
rich as an outsider who had very little, and at the same time he hated the
falseness and hypocrisy and cruelty of their lives. He was disciplined, knowing
that he had to have great mental and physical self-control to succeed as a
writer, but he was often unable to exercise those very qualities he knew he
would need in order to succeed. He loved his wife Zelda more than anything in
his life, and yet he hated her for destroying his talent. Part of him lived a
dazzling life full of parties, gaiety, and show; and part of him knew that this
sort of life was a complete sham. All of this doubleness Fitzgerald puts into
the novel you are about to read: The Great Gatsby. As you begin reading think
about Nick Carraway, the narrator of the novel, and Jay Gatsby, the hero of the
novel, as the two sides of Fitzgerald. Think of Fitzgerald as putting into his
two main characters both of the people that he knew he had within him. As you
read, ask yourself whether or not you have these two people within you: Nick,
the intelligent and disciplined observer; and Gatsby, the passionate and
idealistic dreamer who wants his dream so much that he will sacrifice everything
for it. Fitzgerald himself seemed genetically destined for doubleness. His
mother's father, P. F. McQuillan, went to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1857, at the
age of twenty-three. In twenty years he built up--literally from nothing--an
enormously successful wholesale business. He was a totally self-made man, and
from him Scott inherited a sense of self-reliance and a belief in hard work. The
Fitzgeralds, on the other hand, were an old Maryland family. Scott
himself--Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was his full name--was named for his
great, great, great grandfather's brother, the man who wrote "The Star
Spangled Banner." And Edward Fitzgerald, Scott's father, was a handsome,
charming man, but one who seemed more interested in the family name than in hard
work. The McQuillan and the Fitzgerald in Scott vied for control throughout his
childhood. He was a precocious child, full of energy and imagination, but he
liked to take short cuts, substituting flights of fantasy for hard work. On his
seventh birthday in 1903 he told a number of the older guests that he was the
owner of a yacht (perhaps the seeds of Gatsby's admiration for Dan Cody's yacht
in the novel). As an adolescent he loved to play theatrical games--pretending to
be drunk on a streetcar or telephoning an artificial limb company to discuss
being fitted for a false limb. He was an excellent writer and a vivid satirist
of his classmates, but his marks were not good; so, like so many Midwestern
boys, he was shipped East to boarding school, where he would be taught
discipline and hard work. In September of 1911, with the words and music of
Irving Berlin's new song "Alexander's Ragtime Band" uppermost on his
mind, he enrolled at the Newman School in Hackensack, New Jersey, a popular
Roman Catholic school among Midwestern families. Here he was to have two years
to ready himself for a good Ivy League College, preferably Princeton or Yale.
Scott chose Princeton, but Princeton very nearly didn't choose him. The
doubleness in Scott is beautifully illustrated by the way in which he maneuvered
himself into Princeton. An avid writer and reader, Fitzgerald tended to read
what he liked and ignore his school work, and therefore he failed his entrance
exams during his senior year. After a "summer of study," he took them
again and failed them again. Finally on September 24, 1913, his seventeenth
birthday, he appeared before the Admissions Committee and convinced them to
accept him. Personal magnetism was able to achieve what hard work had not. One
of the things Scott inherited from his Grandfather McQuillan was ambition. Scott
was a fierce competitor, and if he wanted something badly enough he could work
like a demon. What Scott wanted were women and popularity, and the way to win
women and be popular, he had learned at Newman, was with money, good looks, and
athletics. He didn't have the first, but he had the second, and he worked very,
very hard at the third by trying out for freshman football. His problem was that
he was only 5' 6" and weighed only 130 pounds, which doesn't get one very
far in football. So he scrapped the football pads and found another outlet for
his energy and his ambition: writing musical comedies. One of the most
prestigious organizations at Princeton was and still is the Triangle Club, a
group that writes and produces a musical comedy every year. (Among its graduates
are the actors Jimmy Stewart and Jose Ferrer.) Fitzgerald devoted most of his
energies at Princeton to the Triangle Show, writing the book and lyrics in his
freshman year and the lyrics in his sophomore year. He was elected secretary of
the club, and was in line to become its president--something he wanted more than
anything in his life. But it was not to be. In December of 1915, the fall of his
junior year, he was sent home with malaria. He was told when he returned in
March that he would have to fall back a year and that he was academically
ineligible for the Triangle presidency. In the spring of 1917 his class
graduated, and Scott was left behind to complete his senior year. He never did;
instead, he enlisted in the army. Why? Perhaps because he wanted to be a hero,
and the United States was about to make the world safe for democracy. Perhaps
because college was no fun anymore. Perhaps because beautiful women love young
men in uniform. Whatever the reason, Fitzgerald left Princeton in November and
found himself in the summer of 1918 stationed at Camp Sheridan, outside
Montgomery, Alabama. Here 2nd Lieutenant Scott Fitzgerald met Miss Zelda Sayre,
who was to become his wife and the single most important influence on his life.
Zelda was seventeen, and a combination of tomboy and Southern belle. She was
used to having her own way with her traditional parents, and she very much
enjoyed being courted by the officers from Camp Sheridan, just as Daisy in The
Great Gatsby is courted by the young officers at Camp Taylor. It was love at
first sight. Just as Jay Gatsby, an outsider with no money and no respectable
family, falls utterly in love with Daisy Fay, so the Midwestern outsider Scott
Fitzgerald fell head over heels in love with the Montgomery belle Zelda Sayre.
He loved her beauty, her daring, her originality. He loved her crazy, romantic
streak which matched his own. He proposed to her, and she turned him down. Like
Jay Gatsby, he was too young and he had no money, and she could not be sure he
would ever amount to anything. So he went off to war but, unlike Gatsby, he
never got to Europe. By the time his regiment had been sent overseas, the
Armistice had been signed and his dreams of military glory had to be set aside
with the football pads and the presidency of the Triangle Club. But Scott was
determined to be famous, and in March of 1919--this time like Nick Carraway--he
went to New York to learn his trade. Scott's trade was writing and he had
written, during his long, lonely months in the army, a novel about life at
boarding school and at Princeton. But no one would publish it and Zelda, who had
finally promised to marry him, changed her mind. In what he called his
"long summer of despair," he went home to St. Paul, rewrote his novel,
and submitted it to Charles Scribner's Sons. Maxwell Perkins, a young editor who
was to become Fitzgerald's friend and supporter for life, accepted the book. In
March of 1920, Scott Fitzgerald's first novel, This Side of Paradise, was
published. This Side of Paradise made Fitzgerald famous. It also made Zelda
change her mind again. On April 3, 1920, in the Rectory of St. Patrick's
Cathedral in New York City, they were married. Within two years they became the
most notorious young couple in America, symbolizing what Fitzgerald called The
Jazz Age. The Jazz Age began, Fitzgerald tells us in his short story, "May
Day," in May of 1918. It ended with the stock market crash of 1929. The
Jazz Age brought about one of the most rapid and pervasive changes in manners
and morals the world has ever seen, changes that we are still wrestling with
today. It was a period when the younger generation--men and women alike--were
rebelling against the values and customs of their parents and grandparents.
After all, the older generation had led thousands of young men into the most
brutal and senseless war in human history. People of Fitzgerald's age had seen
death, and when they came back, they were determined to have a good time.
"How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm, now that they've seen Paree"
was one of the most popular songs of the day. And have a good time they did. The
saxophone replaced the violin; skirt hemlines went up; corsets came off; women
started smoking; and Prohibition, which was supposed to stop drinking, only
reshaped it into secret fun. The public saloon, now illegal, was replaced by the
private cocktail party, and men and women began drinking together. Parties like
the ones given by Gatsby began to thrive, and hoodlums became millionaires in a
few months by controlling the bootleg liquor business. Scott and Zelda not only
chronicled the age, they lived it. They rode down Fifth Avenue on the tops of
taxis; they dove into the fountain in front of New York's famous Plaza Hotel.
Scott fought with waiters, and Zelda danced on tabletops. They drank too much
and passed out in corners; they drove recklessly and gave weekend parties, which
were not too different from the ones Gatsby gives in the novel and which lasted
until the small hours of Monday morning. In the midst of all this, Fitzgerald
tried to write. Part of him believed in work and tried repeatedly to discipline
himself, to go "on the wagon," to give up parties. Many years later in
a beautiful letter to his daughter Scottie, he talked about the tension of those
years: "When I was your age I lived with a great dream. The dream grew and
I learned to speak of it and make people listen. Then the dream divided one day
when I decided to marry your mother... I was a man divided--she wanted me to
work too much for her and not enough for my dream." The dream, of course,
was his dream of being a great writer. This Side of Paradise had made him famous
because it was the first novel that honestly described the life-style of the new
generation, but his work during the first three years of his marriage was not
nearly what he knew it could have been, and so in 1923 he set out to write a
book that he could be proud of. In July 1923, Zelda wrote a friend: "Scott
has started a new novel and retired into strict seclusion and celibacy."
The new novel of course was The Great Gatsby, and the ten months he devoted to
that novel was artistically the most disciplined ten months of his life. The
novel was published in the spring of 1925. Though sales were disappointing, the
criticism was very positive. Great writers like the novelist Edith Wharton and
the poet T. S. Eliot wrote Fitzgerald letters of congratulations. And Gertrude
Stein, who called Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway members of a "lost
generation," gave great praise to the book. Hemingway himself, a new friend
of Fitzgerald's in 1925, loved The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald was never again to
reach the success of Gatsby. Until 1925 the Nick Carraway in him had sustained
him enough to keep him writing well, but just as Gatsby's love for Daisy drove
him to tragedy, so Fitzgerald's love for Zelda occupied more and more of his
time. To maintain the social style she loved, he wrote stories for the popular
magazines of the time, like Cosmopolitan, Smart Set, and the Saturday Evening
Post. Maintaining a dizzying social life, Scott, Zelda, and their daughter
Scottie moved from New York City to Great Neck, Long Island (the model for West
Egg in Gatsby), eventually on to Paris and the Riviera, and finally back to the
United States. He could not finish another novel, and he could not make Zelda
happy. She became more and more depressed, and finally in April 1930, Zelda had
a complete breakdown and had to be hospitalized. The great stock market crash of
1929 had ended America's decade of prosperity, and Zelda's breakdown in 1930
ended the Fitzgerald's decade as the symbol of The Jazz Age. The party was over.
From 1930 until his death in Hollywood in 1940, Scott struggled to regain the
stature he had earned with The Great Gatsby, but he never could. He wrote Tender
is the Night, which is a beautiful novel, during the early '30s, but when the
book was published in 1934, America was not interested in a story about rich
Americans partying on the French Riviera. This was the Depression, and the
novelists in demand were Sherwood Anderson and John Steinbeck, writers who
talked about the plight of poor people. Scott continued to care for Zelda, who
was to spend the rest of her life in and out of sanitariums. He also kept
writing. But during 1935 and 1936 he had his own breakdown, which he recorded
brilliantly in the series of essays for Esquire called "The Crack Up."
Desperate for money, he took a job as a script writer for M-G-M in 1937, where
he worked on and off for the next two years. With the support of his friend the
columnist Sheilah Graham, in 1939 he began a new novel. Called The Last Tycoon,
this book was based on the career of the legendary Hollywood producer Irving
Thalberg, whom Fitzgerald greatly admired. But Fitzgerald's years of dissipation
caught up with him, and he died of a heart attack on December 21, 1940. Even
unfinished, The Last Tycoon is a fine novel, almost as good as Gatsby. But for a
long time the world didn't know that. At the time of his death all of
Fitzgerald's books were out of print. Scott who? Oh, that guy that used to write
about the '20s. Well, he was much more than that, and during the 1950s and 1960s
people started reading Scott Fitzgerald again. Today he is considered one of
America's great novelists. The Great Gatsby, along with The Scarlet Letter and
Huckleberry Finn, has become a book we can't do without if we want to understand
ourselves. Fitzgerald asks us to read this book with that same double vision
with which he wrote it. He asks us to participate emotionally in the lives of
its characters, especially Gatsby. And he asks us to stand back from them as
Nick does and see what is wrong with them. He asks us to love and to evaluate at
the same time, perhaps in the say way that Nick both loves and criticizes
Gatsby.

Nick Carraway, the narrator, is a young Midwesterner who, having graduated
from Yale in 1915 and fought in World War I ("The Great War"), has
returned home to begin a career. Like others in his generation, he is restless
and has decided to move East to New York and learn the bond business. The novel
opens early in the summer of 1922 in West Egg, Long Island, where Nick has
rented a house. Next to his place is a huge mansion complete with Gothic tower
and marble swimming pool, which belongs to a Mr. Gatsby, whom Nick has not met.
Directly across the bay from West Egg is the more fashionable community of East
Egg, where Tom and Daisy Buchanan live. Daisy is Nick's cousin and Tom, a
well-known football player at Yale, had been in the same senior society as Nick
in New Haven. Like Nick, they are Midwesterners who have come East to be a part
of the glamour and mystery of the New York City area. They invite Nick to dinner
at their mansion, and here he meets a young woman golfer named Jordan Baker, a
friend of Daisy's from Louisville, whom Daisy wants Nick to become interested
in. During dinner the phone rings, and when Tom and Daisy leave the room, Jordan
informs Nick that the caller is a "woman of Tom's from New York." The
woman's name is Myrtle Wilson, and she lives in a strange, fantastic place half
way between West Egg and New York City that Fitzgerald calls the "valley of
ashes." The valley of ashes consists of huge ash heaps and a faded yellow
brick building containing an all-night restaurant and George Wilson's garage.
Painted on a large billboard nearby is a fading advertisement for an optician:
the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, gazing out over this wasteland through a pair
of enormous yellow spectacles. One day Tom takes Nick to meet the Wilsons.
Myrtle joins them on the next train to Manhattan, and the threesome ends up,
along with a dog Myrtle buys at Pennsylvania Station, at the apartment Tom has
rented for his meetings with Myrtle. Myrtle's sister Catherine and an
unattractive couple from downstairs named McKee join them, and the six proceed
to get quite drunk. The party breaks up violently when Myrtle starts using
Daisy's name in a familiar fashion and Tom, in response, breaks her nose with a
blow of his open hand. Some weeks later Nick finally gets the opportunity to
meet his mysterious neighbor Mr. Gatsby. Gatsby gives huge parties, complete
with catered food, open bars, and orchestras. People come from everywhere to
attend these parties, but no one seems to know much about the host. Legends
about Jay Gatsby abound. Some say he was a German spy during the war, others,
that he once killed a man. Nick becomes fascinated by Gatsby. He begins watching
his host and notices that Gatsby does not drink or join in the revelry of his
own parties. One day Gatsby and Nick drive to New York together. Gatsby tells
Nick that he's from a wealthy family in the Midwest, that he was educated at
Oxford, and that he won war medals from many European countries. Nick isn't sure
what to believe. At lunch Gatsby introduces Nick to his business associate,
Meyer Wolfsheim, "the man who fixed the World Series in 1919." At tea
that afternoon Nick finds out from Jordan Baker why Gatsby has taken such an
interest in him: Gatsby is in love with Daisy Buchanan and wants Nick to arrange
a meeting between them. It seems that Gatsby, as a young officer at Camp Taylor
in 1917, had fallen in love with Daisy, then Daisy Fay. He had been sent
overseas, and she had eventually given him up, married Tom Buchanan, and had a
daughter. When Gatsby finally returned from Europe he decided to win Daisy back.
His first step was to buy a house in West Egg. From here he could look across
the bay to the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He expected her to turn
up at one of his parties, and when she didn't, he asked Jordan to ask Nick to
ask Daisy. And so Nick does. A few days later, in the rain, Gatsby and Daisy
meet for the first time in five years. Gatsby is at first terrified, then
tremendously excited. He takes Nick and Daisy on a tour of his house and grounds
and shows them all his possessions, even his beautiful shirts from England. He
shows Daisy the green light that he has been watching, and he insists that
Klipspringer, "the boarder," play the piano for them. Klipspringer
plays "Ain't We Got Fun," and Nick leaves. Now, halfway through the
book, Nick gives us some information about who Gatsby really is. He was
originally James Gatz, the son of farm people from North Dakota. He had gone to
St. Olaf College in Minnesota, dropped out because the college failed to promote
his romantic dreams about himself, and ended up on the south shore of Lake
Superior earning room and board by digging clams and fishing for salmon. One day
he saw the beautiful yacht of the millionaire Dan Cody and borrowed a rowboat to
warn Cody of an impending storm. Cody took the seventeen-year-old boy on as
steward, mate, and secretary. When Cody died, he left the boy, now Jay Gatsby, a
legacy of $25,000, which the boy never got because of the jealousy of Cody's
mistress. The story of Gatsby's past breaks off, and Nick resumes his narration
of Gatsby's renewed courtship of Daisy during the summer of 1929. Daisy and Tom
come to one of Gatsby's parties, but Tom is put off by the vulgarity of Gatsby's
world, and Daisy does not have a good time. Though Gatsby has been seeing Daisy,
he's increasingly frustrated by his inability to recreate the magic of their
time together in Louisville five years before. The affair between Daisy and
Gatsby now comes out into the open. Tom, Daisy, Gatsby, Nick, and Jordan--the
five major characters--all meet for lunch at the Buchanans and then decide to
drive to New York. Daisy and Gatsby end up going together in the Buchanans' blue
coupe, Tom, Nick, and Jordan drive in Gatsby's yellow Rolls Royce. The couple
stop for gas at Wilson's garage, and Myrtle Wilson, watching from her window
over the garage, thinks the car belongs to Tom. The five arrive in the city and
engage the parlor of a suite at the Plaza Hotel. Tom, drunk and agitated by now,
starts ragging Gatsby about his past and attacking him for his phony English
habit of calling people "old sport." Gatsby retaliates by telling Tom
that Daisy is going to leave him. Tom calls Gatsby a cheap bootlegger. Like
cowboys in the Old West, they duel back and forth for Daisy until Tom wins.
Daisy will not go away with Gatsby, and the five-year dream is over. Tom sends
Daisy and Gatsby home together in the yellow Rolls Royce, knowing that he has
nothing more to fear. A couple of hours later Tom follows with Nick and Jordan.
When they reach the valley of ashes, they see crowds of people in police cars.
Someone was struck by a car coming from New York. That someone, they discover,
was Myrtle Wilson, and the car had to be Gatsby's yellow Rolls Royce. When Nick
gets back to East Egg, he finds Gatsby hiding in the shrubbery outside the
Buchanans' house, unwilling to leave for fear that Tom might hurt Daisy. Gatsby
tells Nick that Daisy was driving, but that--of course--he will take the blame.
Nick leaves Gatsby "watching over nothing." Nick goes to work the next
morning, but is too worried about Gatsby to stay in New York. He takes an early
train back to West Egg but arrives at Gatsby's too late. His friend's body is
floating on an inflated mattress in the swimming pool, and George Wilson's dead
body, revolver in hand, lies nearby on the grass. The crazed husband had spent
the entire morning tracking down the driver of the yellow Rolls Royce. He found
Gatsby before Nick did. Nick tries to phone Daisy and Tom, but is told they've
left town with no forwarding address. Calls to Meyer Wolfsheim produce similar
results. Nick, it seems, is Gatsby's only friend. News of Gatsby's murder is
printed in a Chicago newspaper, where it is read by his father, Mr. Henry C.
Gatz, now of Minnesota. Mr. Gatz arrives for the funeral, which is attended only
by Nick, Owl Eyes (who loved Gatsby's books), and a smattering of servants.
Meyer Wolfsheim, of course, has refused to get involved. Even Mr. Klipspringer,
"the boarder," has sent his excuses. Mr. Gatz, who loves his son very
much, shows Nick a book which Jimmy owned as a boy. In the flyleaf Gatsby had
written a schedule for self improvement: exercise, study, sport, and work. How
far Gatsby had come from that dream, to this meaningless death! Disgusted and
disillusioned by what he has experienced, Nick decides to leave New York and
return to the Midwest. He ends his relationship with Jordan Baker and learns
from Tom Buchanan that it was he, Tom, who told Wilson where Gatsby lived.
Before Nick leaves the East, he stands one more time on the beach near Gatsby's
house looking out at the green light that his friend had worshipped. Here he
pays his final tribute to Gatsby and to the dream for which he lived--and
died.

Nick Carraway is the narrator of The Great Gatsby; he is also a character in
the novel. When you think about him, you have to think about what Fitzgerald is
using him for. You also have to look at him as a person. Nick, is first of all,
Fitzgerald's means of making his story more realistic. Because Nick is
experiencing events and telling us about them in his own words, we're more
likely to believe the story. After a while we almost begin to experience the
events as Nick does; the I of each of us as readers replaces the I of Nick. (For
more details, see "Point of View.") Nick is a narrator whose values
you should have no trouble identifying or at least sympathizing with. He's not
mad or blind to what's going on around him. He's a pretty solid young man who
has graduated from Yale University, served his country in the First World War,
and decided to go into the bond business. He comes from a solid Midwestern
family, from whom he has learned some pretty basic values. He is honest, but not
Puritanical or narrow minded. He is tolerant, understanding, and not hasty to
judge people. He is the sort of person you might talk to if you wanted a
sympathetic ear. But his toleration has limits. He doesn't approve of
everything. These are some of the qualities that make Nick a reliable narrator,
someone whose story we are likely to believe. It seems often that his values are
pretty close to those of the author. Nick is in a perfect position to tell the
story. He is a cousin of Daisy Buchanan's, he was in the same senior society as
Tom Buchanan at Yale, and he has rented, during the summer of 1922, a house
right next to Jay Gatsby. He knows all the characters well enough to be present
at the crucial scenes in the novel. The information he doesn't have but needs in
order to tell his story, he gets from other characters like Jordan Baker, the
Greek restaurant owner Michaelis, and Gatsby himself. Nick knows things because
people confess to him, and people confess to him because he is tolerant,
understanding, and sympathetic. Nick has that capacity, which Fitzgerald felt
was so terribly important (see The Author and His Times), of holding two
contradictory opinions at the same time. He both admires Gatsby and disapproves
of him. He admires Gatsby both because of his dream and because of his basic
innocence; and he disapproves of Gatsby for his vulgar materialism and his
corrupt business practices. (Nick does not want to become involved with Meyer
Wolfsheim, Gatsby's underworld "connection.") One of the things that
makes Nick special is that he understands Gatsby. Nobody else in the novel-not
even Daisy-really understands him. Nick is, at the novel's end, Gatsby's only
friend, even though he disapproves of many things which Gatsby stands for.
Almost nobody comes to Gatsby's funeral, and if it weren't for Nick, there would
probably not even have been a funeral. Would you have gone? Some readers think
Nick is too sympathetic to Gatsby. They think that Nick ought to be mature
enough to see what is wrong with Gatsby's dream. They feel that Nick should be
more critical of Gatsby, and force us as readers to be more critical, too. They
believe that Nick in the closing pages, is too sentimental and that his judgment
is not as reliable as we might think. There's no critical agreement on this
issue, so you'll have to make up your own minds as you read the book. As you're
deciding about Nick's powers of judgment--particularly in the opening and
closing pages where he talks about himself--keep in mind that Nick is a
Midwesterner and his values are colored by the values of the world in which he
grew up. Many readers have remarked that the novel is based on a contrast
between the solid, traditional, conservative Midwest and the glamorous,
glittering, fast-paced world of the East. Nick (like Scott Fitzgerald, his
creator) is from Minnesota. He comes East to experience the new and exciting
world of New York that is very different from Minneapolis-St. Paul. At the end,
he chooses to leave the East and return to the Midwest. By that choice he seems
to be saying to us that he has tried the East and found it missing something he
needs: a basic set of values. So he goes home, where values still exist. Think
about the two worlds--the Midwest and the East and what they represented for
Nick (and by extension, Fitzgerald) and what they might represent for you.

The title of this novel is The Great Gatsby. If you like paradoxes, start
with this one: he is neither great nor Gatsby (his real name was Gatz). He is a
crook, a bootlegger who has involved himself with Meyer Wolfsheim, the man who
fixed the 1919 World Series. He has committed crimes in order to buy the house
he feels he needs to win the woman he loves, who happens to be another man's
wife. Thus a central question for us as readers is, why should we love such a
man? Or, to put it in other word, what makes Gatsby great? Why, despite all
these things, does Fitzgerald invite us to cry out with Nick, "'They're a
rotten crowd'... 'You're worth the whole damn bunch put together.'"? We are
asked to love Gatsby, even admire him to a point, because of his dream. That
dream is what separates Gatsby from what Nick calls the "foul dust [that]
floated in the wake of his dreams..." It is not merely what is known as the
American Dream of Success--the belief that every man can rise to success no
matter what his beginnings. It is a kind of romantic idealism, "some
heightened sensitivity to the promises of life," Nick calls it. It is a
belief in fairytales and princesses and happy endings, a faith that life can be
special, remarkable, beautiful. Gatsby is not interested in power for its own
sake or in money or prestige. What he wants is his dream, and that dream is
embodied in Daisy. He must have her, and, as the novel's epigraph on the title
page suggests, he will do anything that is required in order to win her. But
dreams don't always show on the outside. The Great Gatsby is a kind of mystery
story with Gatsby as the mystery. Who is he? All the way through the novel
people keep asking that question and answering it falsely. They answer it
falsely because they aren't really interested in who Gatsby is. They have heard
things about him--that he killed a man, that he was a German spy in World War
I--and they pass these bits of gossip on to other people. So the myth of
Gatsby--the collection of false stories about him--hides the Gatsby that we come
gradually to know through the efforts of Nick Carraway. Nick genuinely cares who
Gatsby is, and in Chapters IV, VI, VIII, and IX he presents us with the story of
Gatsby's past as he has learned it from Jordan Baker, from Gatsby himself, and
eventually, from Gatsby's father. No one else but Nick knows or understands
Gatsby's background except maybe his father and Owl Eyes--and they,
significantly, are the only ones present at his funeral. Fitzgerald invites us
to share Nick's understanding of Gatsby as we read the novel. He makes us see
behind the surface of the man who at first glance looks like a young roughneck.
And he forces us to ask, as we finish the book, what this dream is that Gatsby
has dedicated himself to. Is it a worthwhile dream? Is it our dream, too? Can we
love Gatsby and be critical of his dream at the same time? Fitzgerald makes us
ask these questions and then lets us find our own answers.

Tom Buchanan, Nick tells us, "had been one of the most powerful ends
that ever played football at New Haven--a national figure in a way, one of those
men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything
afterward savors of anticlimax." He is also very wealthy, having brought a
string of polo ponies from Lake Forest to Long Island. This double power--the
size of his body and his bankroll--colors our feelings about Tom Buchanan.
Because he is both very strong and very rich, Tom is used to having his own way.
Nick describes him as having "a rather hard mouth" and "two
shining arrogant eyes." When we first meet him in Chapter I, he reveals his
crude belief in his own superiority by telling Nick that he has just read a book
called The Rise of the Colored Empires. The book warns that if white people are
not careful, the black races will rise up and overwhelm them. Tom clearly
believes it. Tom is having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, the wife of George
Wilson, who runs a garage in the valley of ashes. Myrtle seems to have a dark
sexual vitality that attracts Tom, and he keeps an apartment for her in New
York, where he takes Nick in Chapter II. Here he again shows how little he
thinks of anyone beside himself when he casually breaks Myrtle's nose with the
back of his hand, because she is shouting "Daisy! Daisy!" in a vulgar
fashion. Between Chapters II and VII we see little of Tom, but in Chapter VII he
emerges as a central figure. It is Tom who pushes the affair between Gatsby and
Daisy out into the open by asking Gatsby point blank, "'What kind of a row
are you trying to cause in my house anyway?" It is Tom who verbally
outduels Gatsby to win his wife back and deflate his rival's dream. And it is
Tom who, after the death of Myrtle Wilson, tells George Wilson that Gatsby was
the killer and then hustles Daisy out of the area until the affair blows over.
Fitzgerald describes Tom and Daisy as careless people who break things and then
retreat into their wealth and let other people clean up their messes. It's a
particularly apt metaphor for Tom, who cannot understand why Nick should have
any ill feelings about Gatsby's death. After all, Tom was only protecting his
wife. Nick shakes hands with Tom in the final chapter because "...I saw
that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified." Yet Tom's behavior
was not justifiable, and when Nick refers to the "foul dust" that
floated in the wake of Gatsby's dream, he seems to be speaking of Tom Buchanan
more than anyone else. It is Tom as much as anyone who sends Nick back to the
Midwest, where there are still values one can believe in.

She was born Daisy Fay in Louisville, Kentucky, and her color is white. When
Jordan Baker, in Chapter IV, tells Nick about the first meeting between Gatsby
and Daisy in October 1917, she says of Daisy, "She dressed in white, and
had a little white roadster, and all day long the telephone rang in her house
and excited young officers from Camp Taylor demanded the privilege of
monopolizing her that night." Throughout The Great Gatsby Daisy is
described almost in fairytale language. The name Fay means "fairy" or
"sprite." "Daisy," of course, suggests the flower, fresh and
bright as spring, yet fragile and without the strength to resist the heat and
dryness of summer. Daisy is the princess in the tower, the golden girl that
every man dreams of possessing. She is beautiful and rich and innocent and pure
(at least on the surface) in her whiteness. But that whiteness, as you will
notice, is mixed with the yellow of gold and the inevitable corruption that
money brings. Though Daisy seems pure and white, she is a mixture of things,
just like the flower for which she was named (see Schneider in
"Critics"). Fitzgerald suggests the nature of this mixture beautifully
in the famous passage from Chapter VII about her voice: "She's got an
indiscreet voice," I remarked. "It's full of-" I hesitated.
"Her voice is full of money," he said suddenly. That was it. I'd never
understood it before. It was full of money--that was the inexhaustible charm
that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it.... High in
a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl.... Like money, Daisy
promises more than she gives. Her voice seems to offer everything, but she's
born to disappoint. She is the sort of person who is better to dream about than
to actually possess. Fitzgerald--with that double vision we discussed in The
Author and His Times section of this guide--knew very well both the attractions
and the limitations of women like Daisy, who is modeled in many ways upon his
wife Zelda. Gatsby worships Daisy, and Nick distrusts her--just as Scott both
worshipped and distrusted Zelda. Gatsby loves Daisy too much to see what is
wrong with her. Nick stands back and sees the way Daisy lets other people take
care of her in crises. If you want to study the nature of Daisy's weakness, look
especially at her behavior on the night before her wedding and on the night of
Myrtle Wilson's death. Daisy, unlike Tom, uses her money rather than her body or
her personality to bully others. She uses her money to protect her from reality,
and when reality threatens to hurt her, she cries and goes inside the protective
womb her money has made. Be careful not to identify Daisy with the green light
at the end of her dock. The green light is the promise, the dream. Daisy herself
is much less than that. Even Gatsby must realize that having Daisy in the flesh
is much, much less than what he imagined it would be when he fell in love with
the idea of her.

Jordan Baker's most striking quality is her dishonesty. She is tough and
aggressive--a tournament golfer who is so hardened by competition that she is
willing to do anything to win. At the end of Chapter IV, when Nick is telling us
about Jordan, he remembers a story about her first major tournament. Apparently
she moved her ball to improve her lie (!), but when the matter was being
investigated, the caddy and the only other witness to the incident retracted
their stories and nothing was proved against her. The incident should stay with
you throughout the novel, reminding you (as it reminds Nick) that Jordan is the
smart new woman, the opportunist who will do whatever she must to be successful
in her world. In many ways Jordan Baker symbolizes a new type of woman that was
emerging in the Twenties. She is hard and self-sufficient, and she adopts
whatever morals suit her situation. She has cut herself off from the older
generation. She wears the kind of clothes that suit her; she smokes, she drinks,
and has sex because she enjoys them. You may wish to explore Jordan as the new
woman of the Twenties by looking at the manners and character traits she
reveals. Note such things as her name (a masculine name), her body (hard,
athletic, boyish, small-breasted), her style (blunt, cynical, bored), and her
social background (she is cut off from past generations by having almost no
family). Another important aspect of Jordan is her function in the novel.
Fitzgerald needs her to get the story told. Because she is Daisy's friend from
Louisville, she can supply Nick with information he would not have otherwise.
She also serves as a link between the major characters, moving back and forth
between the world of East Egg (Tom and Daisy's house) and West Egg (Gatsby's and
Nick's houses). She is rich enough to be comfortable among the East Eggers but
enough of a social hustler to appear at Gatsby's parties. Jordan serves still
another purpose: Nick's girlfriend during the summer of 1922. The Nick-Jordan
romance serves as a nice sub-plot to the Gatsby-Jordan relationship, and allows
you to compare and contrast a romantic-idealistic love with a very practical
relationship made on a temporary basis by two worldly people of the time. If you
want to explore the Nick-Jordan relationship and the possible reasons why Nick
becomes involved with her and then breaks the relationship off, you'll need to
look particularly at three passages: Nick's comments toward the end of Chapter
III; the phone call between Nick and Jordan in Chapter VIII; and their final
conversation in Chapter IX. We'll take a close look at these passages later
on.

The setting in The Great Gatsby is very important because in Fitzgerald's
world setting reveals character. Fitzgerald divides the world of the novel into
four major settings: 1. East Egg; 2. West Egg; 3. the valley of ashes; and 4.
New York City. Within these major settings are two or more subsettings. East Egg
is limited to Daisy's house, but West Egg incorporates both Gatsby's house and
Nick's. The valley of ashes includes the Wilson's garage, Michaelis' restaurant,
and the famous sign with the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg. New York City includes
the offices where people work, the apartment Tom Buchanan has rented for Myrtle
Wilson, and the Plaza Hotel, where the final showdown between Gatsby and Tom
Buchanan takes place. Each of these settings both reflects and determines the
values of the people who live or work there. East Egg, where Tom and Daisy live,
is the home of the Ivy League set who have had wealth for a long time and are
comfortable with it. Since they are secure with their money, they have no need
to show it off. Nick lives in new-rich West Egg because he is too poor to afford
a home in East Egg; Gatsby lives there because his money is "new" and
he lacks the social credentials to be accepted in East Egg. His house, like the
rest of his possessions (his pink suit, for example), is tasteless and vulgar
and would be completely out of place in the more refined and understated world
of East Egg. No wonder that Gatsby is ruined in the end by the East, and that
Nick decides to leave. The valley of ashes in contrast to both eggs is where the
poor people live--those who are the victims of the rich. It is characterized
literally by dust, for it is here that the city's ashes are dumped (in what is
now Flushing, Queens), and the inhabitants are, as it were, symbolically dumped
on by the rest of the world. The valley of ashes, with its brooding eyes of Dr.
T. J. Eckleburg, also stands as a symbol of the spiritual dryness, the emptiness
of the world of the novel. New York City is a symbol of what America has become
in the 1920s: a place where anything goes, where money is made and bootleggers
flourish, and where the World Series can be fixed by a man like Meyer Wolfsheim.
New York is a place of parties and affairs, and bizarre and colorful characters
who appear from time to time in West Egg at Gatsby's parties. The idea of
setting as moral geography is reinforced by the overriding symbolism of the
American East and the American Midwest. This larger contrast between East and
Midwest frames the novel as a whole. Nick comes East to enter the bond business,
and finds himself instead in the dizzying world of The Jazz Age in the summer of
1922. He is fascinated and disgusted with this world, and he eventually returns
home to the Midwest, to the values and traditions of his youth.

A good novel has a number of themes. The following are important themes of
The Great Gatsby. 1. THE CORRUPTION OF THE AMERICAN DREAM The American Dream--as
it arose in the Colonial period and developed in the nineteenth century--was
based on the assumption that each person, no matter what his origins, could
succeed in life on the sole basis of his or her own skill and effort. The dream
was embodied in the ideal of the self-made man, just as it was embodied in
Fitzgerald's own family by his grandfather, P. F. McQuillan. The Great Gatsby is
a novel about what happened to the American dream in the 1920s, a period when
the old values that gave substance to the dream had been corrupted by the vulgar
pursuit of wealth. The characters are Midwesterners who have come East in
pursuit of this new dream of money, fame, success, glamour, and excitement. Tom
and Daisy must have a huge house, a stable of polo ponies, and friends in
Europe. Gatsby must have his enormous mansion before he can feel confident
enough to try to win Daisy. What Fitzgerald seems to be criticizing in The Great
Gatsby is not the American Dream itself but the corruption of the American
Dream. What was once--for Ben Franklin, for example, or Thomas Jefferson--a
belief in self-reliance and hard work has become what Nick Carraway calls
"...the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty." The
energy that might have gone into the pursuit of noble goals has been channeled
into the pursuit of power and pleasure, and a very showy, but fundamentally
empty form of success. How is this developed? I have tried to indicate in the
chapter-by-chapter analysis, especially in the Notes, that Fitzgerald's critique
of the dream of success is developed primarily through the five central
characters and through certain dominant images and symbols. The characters might
be divided into three groups: 1. Nick, the observer and commentator, who sees
what has gone wrong; 2. Gatsby, who lives the dream purely; and 3. Tom, Daisy,
and Jordan, the "foul dust" who are the prime examples of the
corruption of the dream. The primary images and symbols that Fitzgerald employs
in developing the theme are: 1. the green light; 2. the eyes of Dr. T. J.
Eckleburg; 3. the image of the East and Midwest; 4. Owl Eyes; 5. Dan Cody's
yacht; and 6. religious terms such as grail and incarnation. 2. SIGHT AND
INSIGHT Both the character groupings and the images and symbols suggest a second
major theme that we can call "sight and insight." As you read the
novel, you will come across many images of blindness; is this because hardly
anyone seems to see what is really going on? The characters have little
self-knowledge and even less knowledge of each other. Even Gatsby--we might say,
especially Gatsby--lacks the insight to understand what is happening. He never
truly sees either Daisy or himself, so blinded is he by his dream. The only
characters who see, in the sense of "understand," are Nick and Owl
Eyes. The ever present eyes of Dr. Eckleburg seem to reinforce the theme that
there is no all-seeing presence in the modern world. 3. THE MEANING OF THE PAST
The past is of central importance in the novel, whether it is Gatsby's personal
past (his affair with Daisy in 1917) or the larger historical past to which Nick
refers in the closing sentence of the novel: "So we beat on, boats against
the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." The past holds
something that both Gatsby and Nick seem to long for: a simpler, better, nobler
time, perhaps, a time when people believed in the importance of the family and
the church. Tom, Daisy and Jordan are creatures of the present--Fitzgerald tells
us little or nothing about their pasts--and it is this allegiance to the moment
that makes them so attractive, and also so rootless and spiritually empty. 4.
THE EDUCATION OF A YOUNG MAN In Chapter VII, Nick remembers that it is his
thirtieth birthday. He, like Gatsby, Tom, and Daisy, came East to get away from
his past; now that his youth is officially over, he realizes that he may have
made a mistake to come East, and begins a period of reevaluation that leads to
his eventual decision to return to the Middle West. The Great Gatsby is the
story of Nick's initiation into life. His trip East gives him the education he
needs to grow up. The novel can, therefore, be called a bildungsroman--the
German word for a story about a young man. (Other examples of a bildungsroman
are The Red Badge of Courage, David Copperfield, and The Catcher in the Rye.)
Nick, in a sense, writes The Great Gatsby to show us what he has learned.

Style refers to the way a writer puts words together: the length and rhythm
of his sentences; his use of figurative language and symbolism; his use of
dialogue and description. Fitzgerald called The Great Gatsby a "novel of
selected incident," modelled after Flaubert's Madame Bovary. "What I
cut out of it both physically and emotionally would make another novel," he
said. Fitzgerald's stylistic method is to let a part stand for the whole. In
Chapters I to III, for example, he lets three parties stand for the whole summer
and for the contrasting values of three different worlds. He also lets small
snatches of dialogue represent what is happening at each party. The technique is
cinematic. The camera zooms in, gives us a snatch of conversation, and then cuts
to another group of people. Nick serves almost as a recording device, jotting
down what he hears. Fitzgerald's ear for dialogue, especially for the colloquial
phrases of the period, is excellent. Fitzgerald's style might also be called
imagistic. His language is full of images--concrete verbal pictures appealing to
the senses. There is water imagery in descriptions of the rain, Long Island
Sound, and the swimming pool. There is religious imagery in the Godlike eyes of
Dr. Eckleburg and in words such as incarnation, and grail. There is color
imagery: pink for Gatsby, yellow and white for Daisy. Some images might more
properly be called symbols for the way they point beyond themselves to historic
or mythic truths: the green light at the end of Daisy's dock, for instance, or
Dr. Eckleburg's eyes, or Dan Cody's yacht. Through the symbolic use of images,
Fitzgerald transforms what is on the surface a realistic social novel of the
1920s into a myth about America. Finally, we might call Fitzgerald's style
reflective. There are several important passages at which Nick stops and
reflects on the meaning of the action, almost interpreting the events. The style
in such passages is dense, intellectual, almost deliberately difficult as Nick
tries to wrestle with the meanings behind the events he has witnessed.

Style and point of view are very hard to separate in a novel that is told in
the first person by a narrator who is also one of the characters. The voice is
always Nick's. Fitzgerald's choice of Nick as the character through whom to tell
his story has a stroke of genius. He had been reading Joseph Conrad and had been
particularly struck by the way in which Conrad uses the character of Marlow to
tell both the story of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness and the story of Jim in Lord
Jim. In those novels, Fitzgerald learned, we never see the characters of Kurtz
or Jim directly, but only through the eyes of other people. And when we come to
think of it, isn't that how we get to know people in real life? We never get to
know them all at once, as we get to know characters described by an omniscient
novelist; we learn about them in bits and pieces over a period of time. And so,
Fitzgerald reasoned, someone like Gatsby would be much more understandable and
sympathetic if presented through the eyes of a character like ourselves. Rather
than imposing himself between us and the action, Nick brings us closer to the
action by forcing us to experience events as though we were Nick. The I of the
novel becomes ourselves, and we find ourselves, like Nick, wondering who Gatsby
is, why he gives these huge parties, and what his past and background may be. By
writing from Nick's point of view, Fitzgerald is able to make Gatsby more
realistic than he could have by presenting Gatsby through the eyes of an
omniscient narrator. He is also able to make Gatsby a more sympathetic character
because of Nick's decision to become Gatsby's friend. We want to find out more
about Gatsby because Nick does. We care about Gatsby because Nick does. We are
angry that no one comes to Gatsby's funeral because Nick is. The use of the
limited first person point of view gives not only the character of Gatsby but
the whole novel a greater air of realism. We believe these parties really
happened because a real person named Nick Carraway is reporting what he saw.
When Nick writes down the names of the people who came to Gatsby's parties on a
Long Island Railroad timetable, we believe that these people actually came to
Gatsby's parties. Nick is careful throughout the novel never to tell us things
that he could not have known. If he was not present at a particular occasion, he
gets the information from someone who was--from Jordan Baker, for example, who
tells him about Gatsby's courtship of Daisy in Louisville; or from the Greek,
Michaelis, who tells him about the death of Myrtle Wilson. Sometimes Nick
summarizes what others tell him, and sometimes he uses their words. But he never
tells us something he could never know. This is one of the reasons the novel is
so convincing.

Form and structure are closely related to point of view. Before writing a
novel, an author has to ask himself: who is to tell the story? And in what order
will events be told? The primary problem in answering the second question is how
to handle time. Do I tell the story straight through from beginning to end? Do I
start in the middle and use flashbacks? As many critics have pointed out, the
method Fitzgerald adopts in The Great Gatsby is a brilliant one. He starts the
novel in the present, giving us, in the first three chapters, a glimpse of the
four main locales of the novel: Daisy's house in East Egg (Chapter I); the
valley of ashes and New York (Chapter II); and Gatsby's house in West Egg
(Chapter III). Having established the characters and setting in the first three
chapters, he then narrates the main events of the story in Chapters IV to IX,
using Chapters IV, VI, and VII to gradually reveal the story of Gatsby's past.
The past and present come together at the end of the novel in Chapter IX. The
critic James E. Miller, Jr., diagrams the sequence of events in The Great Gatsby
like this: "Allowing X to stand for the straight chronological account of
the summer of 1922, and A, B, C, D, and F to represent the significant events of
Gatsby's past, the nine chapters of The Great Gatsby may be charted: X, X, X,
XCX, X, XBXCX, X, XCXDXD, XEXAX." Miller's diagram shows clearly how
Fitzgerald designed the novel. He gives us the information as Nick gets it, just
as we might find out information about a friend or acquaintance in real life, in
bits and pieces over a period of time. Since we don't want or can't absorb much
information about a character until we truly become interested in him,
Fitzgerald waits to take us into the past until close to the middle of the
novel. As the story moves toward its climax, we find out more and more about the
central figure from Nick until we, too, are in a privileged position and can
understand why Gatsby behaves as he does. Thus the key to the structure of the
novel is the combination of the first person narrative and the gradual
revelation of the past as the narrator finds out more and more. The two devices
work extremely effectively together, but neither would work very well alone.
Note that the material included in the novel is highly selective. Fitzgerald
creates a series of scenes--most of them parties--but does not tell us much
about what happens between these scenes. Think of how much happened in the
summer of 1922 that Fitzgerald doesn't tell us! He doesn't tell us about Gatsby
and Daisy's relationship after they meet at Nick's house in Chapter V, because
Nick would have no access to this information. What the technique of extreme
selectivity demands from the reader is close attention. We have to piece
together everything we know about Gatsby from the few details that Nick gives
us. Part of the pleasure this form gives us is that of drawing conclusions not
only from what is included but from what is left out. ^^^^^^^^^^THE GREAT
GATSBY: CHAPTER I The opening paragraphs teach us a lot about Nick and his
attitude toward Gatsby and others. Nick introduces himself to us as a young man
from the Midwest who has come East to learn the bond business. He tells us that
he's tolerant, inclined to reserve judgment about people, and a good listener.
People tell him their secrets because they trust him; he knows the Story of
Gatsby. If you read closely, you'll see that Nick has ambivalent feelings toward
Gatsby. He both loves Gatsby and is critical of him. Nick is tolerant, but that
toleration has limits. He hates Gatsby's crass and vulgar materialism, but he
also admires the man for his dream, his "romantic readiness," his
"extraordinary gift for hope." Nick makes the distinction between
Gatsby, whom he loves because of his dream, and the other characters, who
constitute the "foul dust" that "floated in the wake of his
dreams." Nick has such scorn for these "Eastern" types that he
has left the East, returned to the Midwest, and, for the time being at least,
withdraws from his involvement with other people. Having told us about his
relationships, Nick now introduces us to the world in which he lived during the
summer of 1999: the world of East Egg and West Egg, Long Island. Fitzgerald
designed The Great Gatsby very carefully, establishing each of the locations in
the novel as a symbol for a particular style of life. West Egg, where Nick and
Gatsby live, is essentially a place for the nouveau riche. There are two types
of people living here: those on the way up the social ladder who have not the
family background or the money to live in fashionable East Egg; and those like
Gatsby, whose vulgar display of wealth and connections with Broadway or the New
York underworld make them unwelcome in the more dignified world of East Egg.
Nick describes his own house as an eyesore, but it is a smaller eyesore than
Gatsby's mansion, which has a tower on one side, "spanking new under a thin
beard of raw ivy." Words like new, thin, and raw describe some of the
reasons Gatsby's house is a monstrosity. By contrast, East Egg is like a
fairyland. Its primary color is white, and Nick calls its houses "white
palaces" that glitter in the sunlight. The story actually opens in East Egg
on the night Nick drives over to have dinner with Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Since
Daisy is his cousin and Tom, a friend from Yale, Nick has the credentials to
visit East Egg. Their house is "a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial
Mansion" overlooking the bay. And the owner is obviously proud of his
possessions. Our first view of Tom Buchanan reveals a very powerful man standing
in riding clothes with his legs apart on his front porch. He likes his power,
and like the potentates of Eastern kingdoms, he expects the obedience of his
subjects. We are ushered into the living room with its "frosted wedding
cake" ceiling, its wine-colored rug, and its enormous couch on which are
seated two princesses in white: Jordan Baker and Tom's wife, Daisy Buchanan.
Fitzgerald controls the whole scene through his use of colors--white and gold
mainly--that suggest a combination of beauty and wealth. Yet underneath this
magical surface there is something wrong. Jordan Baker is bored and
discontented. She yawns more than once in this very first scene. There is
something cool and slightly unpleasant about the atmosphere--something basically
disturbing. Tom talks about a book he has read, The Rise of the Colored Empires
by Goddard. It is a piece of pure Social Darwinism, advocating that the white
race preserve its own purity and beat down the colored races before they rise up
and overcome the whites. Daisy, who seems not to understand what Tom is talking
about, teases him about his size and about the big words in the book. The
telephone rings, and Tom is called from the room to answer it. When Daisy
follows him out, Jordan Baker confides to Nick that the call is from Tom's woman
in New York. The rest of the evening is awkward and painful as Tom and Daisy try
unsuccessfully to forget the intrusion. Daisy's cynicism about life becomes
painfully clear when she says about her daughter's birth: "'I'm glad it's a
girl. And I hope she'll be a fool--that's the best thing a girl can be in this
world, a beautiful little fool.'" NOTE: Under the veneer of the white
world, there is hollowness. Nick has said at the very beginning that
"Gatsby turned out all right at 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 elations of men." Even in
this opening chapter, we are getting hints that Tom and Daisy are part of this
foul dust. In Nick's eyes, Tom and Daisy belong to "a rather distinguished
secret society," whose members have powers the outside world can neither
understand nor control. Nick finds both of them smug and insincere. The evening
ends early, around ten o'clock. Jordan Baker, a competitive golfer, wants to go
to bed since she's playing in a tournament the next day. Before Nick leaves for
West Egg, Tom and Daisy hint that they would welcome his attention to Miss Baker
during the summer. Nick arrives home, and (in the final paragraph of the
chapter) gets his first glimpse of Gatsby. Gatsby is standing on the lawn,
stretching out "his arms toward the dark water in a curious way."
Nick, from his own house, believes that he can see Gatsby trembling. As Nick
looks out at the water, he can see "...nothing except a single green light,
minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock." NOTE: THE
GREEN LIGHT AS SYMBOL This is the first use of one of the novel's central
symbols, the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. What Fitzgerald seems to be
doing is merely introducing a symbol that will gain in meaning as the story
progresses. At this point, we don't even know that the light is on Daisy's dock,
and we have no reason to associate Gatsby with Daisy. What we do know--and this
is very important--is that Nick admires Gatsby because of his dream and this
dream is somehow associated with the green light. The color green is a
traditional symbol of spring and hope and youth. As long as Gatsby gazes at the
green light, his dream lives. ^^^^^^^^^^THE GREAT GATSBY: CHAPTER II The opening
description of the valley of ashes, watched over by the brooding eyes of Dr. T.
J. Eckleburg, has been analyzed again and again. Fitzgerald's friend and editor,
Maxwell Perkins, wrote to Scott on November 20, 1924: "In the eyes of Dr.
Eckleburg various readers will see different significances; but their presence
gives a superb touch to the whole thing: great unblinking eyes, expressionless,
looking down upon the human scene. It's magnificent." Later in the same
letter Perkins concludes, "...with the help of T. J. Eckleburg... you have
imported a sort of sense of eternity." How should you approach this famous
symbol? Remember, a wide variety of interpretations have been made and defended
over the years. It's best to begin by placing Eckleburg in his geographical
context: the valley of ashes, located about halfway between West Egg and New
York City. The valley of ashes is the home of George and Myrtle Wilson, whom
we'll meet later on in this chapter. The valley is also a very important part of
what we might call the moral geography of the novel. Values are associated with
places. In Chapter I we were introduced to East and West Egg, the homes of the
very rich, the nouveau riche, and the middle class. The valley of ashes is the
home of the poor, the victims of those who live in either New York or the Eggs.
Men, described by Fitzgerald as "ash-gray," move through the landscape
"dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air." Apparently the
city's ashes are dumped in the valley, and the men who work here have the job of
shoveling up these ashes with "leaden spades." NOTE: On a more
symbolic level, these men are inhabitants of what might be called Fitzgerald's
wasteland. T. S. Eliot's famous poem "The Waste Land" had been
published in 1922, and Fitzgerald had read it with great interest. There is no
doubt that he had Eliot's poem in mind when he described the valley of ashes.
Eliot's wasteland--arid, desertlike--contains figures who go through the motions
of life with no spiritual center. Eliot's imagery seemed to express the anxiety,
frustration, and emptiness of a post-war generation cut off from spiritual
values by the shock of the First World War. Read the following passage
carefully: The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic--their
retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair
of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a non-existent nose. Evidently
some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough
of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness, or forgot them and
moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and
rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground. Some readers interpret this
passage as a description of the god of the modern world--the god of the
wasteland. Keep this description in mind in Chapter VIII when the crazed and
jealous Wilson looks at the giant eyes and says, "God sees
everything." For now, early in Chapter II, it is still too early to make
any kind of direct correlation between the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg and the eyes of
God. At this point we have only hints: the size of the eyes, the missing face,
the departure of the original creator of the sign, all of which transform the
eyes into something mythic, something suggesting a superior being who no longer
cares, who is no longer involved with the petty lives of the pathetic creatures
below. The eyes "brood on over the solemn dumping ground," offering no
help or solace to its inhabitants. The oculist has forgotten the eyes which he
left behind, just as God has forgotten the inhabitants of the valley of ashes.
Many interpretations are possible; you'll want to think about them as the novel
develops. The action of the second chapter begins as Tom Buchanan brings Nick to
George B. Wilson's garage. Both the garage and the all-night restaurant of the
Greek Michaelis border the valley of ashes. Wilson's wife, Myrtle, is Tom's
mistress. Pay close attention to these first descriptions of Wilson and his
wife, and you'll learn a lot about who they are and what they stand for. Wilson
is described as "a blond, spiritless man, anaemic, and faintly
handsome." He is the embodiment of the valley of ashes: dead inside, a
living ghost. The key words are spiritless and anaemic. He has no energy and no
faith. He believes somehow that doing business with Tom will help him; but he
understands neither the power nor the cruelty of the man he is dealing with.
Myrtle Wilson is a sensuous woman in her middle thirties who has the energy her
husband lacks. "There was an immediate perceptible vitality about
her," says Nick. The fire inside her has drawn her to Tom Buchanan as a
lover who can take her away from the gray and empty prison of the valley of
ashes. Note that Tom takes Myrtle to New York, the fourth major location in the
moral geography of the novel. If the valley of ashes is the home of
death-in-life--the place where the spiritless and downtrodden live--New York is
the center of the corruption, or, more appropriately, the place where wealth,
corruption, and self-gratification openly meet. Myrtle must ride into New York
on the train in a separate car in deference to the "East Eggers." Why?
Because it is important to keep up a facade of respectability. In New York,
however, where anything is permitted, Tom can flaunt his relationship with
Myrtle. The group goes to the apartment in Morningside Heights that Tom Buchanan
has rented for his liaisons with Myrtle. What goes on there and how Nick reacts
to what goes on tell us something very important about how Fitzgerald wants us
to view New York. The party consists of Nick, Tom, Myrtle, Myrtle's sister
Catherine, and a couple named McKee who live downstairs. Nick is really more of
an observer than a participant. He tells us that he has been drunk just twice in
his life, and the second time was that afternoon. Whether he drinks in order to
lose his self-control and join the others or simply to escape this disordered
world is something you'll have to decide for yourself. Perhaps both
interpretations are correct. In any case, all the guests at the party seem to
have something unnatural or wrong with them. Catherine, the sister, has "a
solid, sticky bob of red hair, and a complexion powdered milky white. Her
eyebrows had been plucked and then drawn on again at a more rakish angle."
Mr. McKee is a pale, feminine man who has just shaved and left a spot of lather
on his cheek. His wife is "shrill, languid, handsome and horrible."
Myrtle Wilson becomes more and more "violently affected moment by
moment." The conversation is absurd and pretentious; everyone tries to
impress each other, and lies flow as freely as the liquor. Nick tries to leave,
part of him wants to be somewhere else, but part of him--that part that makes
him the narrator of this novel--is fascinated by "the inexhaustible variety
of life." He is both repelled and attracted toward these people. The
appearance of Myrtle Wilson's new puppy, "groaning faintly," is like
the entire scene, both funny and sad. Then a crisis erupts. Myrtle crudely
insists that she can say, "Daisy!" any time she wants, and Tom
Buchanan, making a short deft movement, breaks her nose with his open hand. So
this is what happens to those who become entangled with the Buchanans! Tom, we
see, is strong and brutal and absolutely selfish. He is perfectly happy to enjoy
Myrtle in bed, but at other times she must know when to keep her place. For
challenging the purity of his Daisy, she is punished. Later, in Chapter VII
during the second New York party, we'll see what happens when Gatsby tries to
cross Tom Buchanan. In two chapters, Fitzgerald has shown us two different
symbolic landscapes: one, a dinner party in East Egg with Daisy, Jordan, Tom and
Nick; the other, a drunken brawl in New York with Tom, Nick, Myrtle, Catherine
and the McKees. The contrast between the two parties tells us much about these
two worlds and about the people who inhabit them. Now to complete his
introduction to the world of the novel, Fitzgerald gives us in Chapter III a
third party--at the West Egg Home of Jay Gatsby. ^^^^^^^^^^THE GREAT GATSBY:
CHAPTER III Though the novel is called The Great Gatsby, we have neither seen
Gatsby (except for a glimpse of him at the end of Chapter I) nor been given any
idea of why he should be called "Great." Fitzgerald's method is to
introduce Gatsby to us gradually, as a kind of mystery to be solved. We see
Gatsby first through the eyes of others. Catherine Wilson told Nick (in Chapter
II) that she had heard that Gatsby was a nephew or a cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm's.
Lucille, a friend of Jordan Baker, thinks that Gatsby was a German spy during
the war. A man sitting nearby agrees with her. The world is full of rumors about
Gatsby because no one really knows who he is, where his money comes from, and
why he gives these magnificent parties every weekend. Our job as readers is to
separate fact from rumor and to discover, with Nick, who Gatsby really is and
why he behaves the way he does. Our job will be to probe behind the vulgar,
violent surface of his world to reveal the man beneath. We are able to do
that--as in real life--only gradually, for it is never possible to know someone
all at once. The process begins in Chapter III with a portrait of the public
Gatsby, seen through the eyes of his guests. It's not until Chapter IV that
we'll begin to discover the man beneath. Brightness, confusion, magnificence,
daring, vulgarity, excess, excitement--these are the words that describe
Gatsby's parties. They also describe one side of life in America during the
1920s, in the years before the Great Depression. Gatsby has a Rolls, a station
wagon, two motor boats, aquaplanes, a swimming pool, and a real beach. People
come to his parties and use these things. Everything is real. Crates of oranges
and lemons are delivered to his door. Beneath canvas tents in the garden are
buffet tables glittering with spiced hams and turkeys "bewitched to a dark
gold." Gatsby's bar is stocked with gin, liquors, and "cordials so
long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from
another." The world of Gatsby's parties has an aura of magic about it--not
the magic of East Egg, with its fairytale imagery of princesses in ivory towers,
but the magic of the amusement park, with the promise of fast rides and
expensive prizes. Gatsby's world is a world of infinite hope and possibility.
Young girls with laughter like gold wait for the right man. Middle-aged women,
tired of their husbands, search for lovers. And ambitious men search for the
right contact that will bring them instant fame and fortune. Nobody knows the
host. Nick is "one of the few guests who had actually been invited."
Fitzgerald builds suspense by making us wonder when we'll meet Gatsby and what
he'll be like when we do. Nick runs into Jordan Baker and the twins, who talk
about Gatsby, but have only false information about him. Nick and Jordan go off
in search of Gatsby, but discover Owl Eyes instead. NOTE: OWL EYES Owl Eyes is
"a stout middle-aged man, with enormous owl-eyed spectacles." He is
overwhelmed by the fact that Gatsby's Gothic library is stocked not with the
fake, cardboard backs of hooks, but with the works themselves. He knows that
Gatsby has never read the books, however, because the pages have never been cut.
"'This fella's a regular Belasco,'" Owl Eves tells Nick and Jordan.
"'It's a triumph.... Knew when to stop, too--didn't cut the pages.'"
The reference to David Belasco, the great playwright-producer-director of
realistic plays, is not accidental. Owl Eyes, as Nick refers to him, is the
first to realize the essentially theatrical quality of Gatsby's world. Just as
Belasco was a technician who wanted to get everything right, so Gatsby spares no
expense to build the material world necessary to fulfill his dream. He has
created an extraordinary stage set complete with real books. Owl Eyes, as his
name suggests, is one of the few to really see and, in some way, understand
Gatsby. Nick and Jordan go back outside to watch the entertainment at midnight.
Even the moon cooperates, floating over Long Island sound like the cardboard
moon on a stage set. In a scene that Nick calls "significant, elemental,
profound," Gatsby appears: "I'm Gatsby," he said suddenly.
"What!" I exclaimed. "Oh, I be your pardon." "I thought
you knew, old sport. I'm afraid I'm not a very good host." He smiled
understandingly--much more than understandingly. It was 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, and assured you that it had
precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.
Precisely at that point it vanished--and I was looking at an elegant young
roughneck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just
missed being absurd. Gatsby is a series of paradoxes. He is both a
"roughneck" and one who practices "elaborate formality in
speech." He calls people "old sport," apparently a habit picked
up at Oxford, though at this point we're still uncertain whether Oxford is just
part of the myth. Has he really gone to Oxford? We, like Jordan Baker, may not
believe it. But then why is he picking his words with care? And how did he earn
the money to give these parties? As Nick points out: people don't just
"drift cooly out of nowhere and buy a palace on Long Island Sound." A
millionaire who gives parties conjures up an image of a "florid and
corpulent person in his middle years." But Gatsby is none of these. Gatsby
is--quite simply--not like anyone else in the world of the novel. Young,
handsome, excessively polite, he seems not to belong to the world he has
created. His smile radiates an inner warmth that his guests don't have. Nick
alone senses it. "Anyway, he gives large parties," says Jordan Baker,
because the party, not Gatsby, is what interests her. But now Nick watches
Gatsby as much as he watches the party. He notices Gatsby standing "alone
on the steps and looking from one group to another with approving eyes."
Here Gatsby is like a director admiring his play or a religious leader blessing
his disciples. He alone is not drinking. As the party grows more frenzied, he
becomes increasingly separate from it. He is untouched by the corruption of the
world. The party goes on. People become more drunk and irritable. Husbands and
wives fight over whether to stay or leave. Some wives are lifted, kicking into
their cars. Gatsby goes to answer a telephone call from Philadelphia at 2 A.M.
As Nick leaves to walk home, he encounters Owl Eves, who is unable to get his
car out of the ditch. Neither Owl Eyes nor the car's driver--"a pale,
dangling individual"--seems to be able to manage. Nick returns to his own
home, leaving the guests to struggle with their problem. Nick shifts the focus
of the chapter from Gatsby back to himself. He wants us to know that he's done
more with his summer than go to parties. To correct that false impression, he
tells us how he usually occupies his time. As he tells us about his work, his
walks through New York City, and his fascination for women, he gives us a sense
that, in some way he is as hollow as the characters he describes. He seems to
need adventure as an escape from loneliness, and perhaps that is what draws him
to Jordan Baker. He is also sexually attracted to her. He became involved with
Jordan around midsummer, he tells us, after a short affair with a girl from
Jersey City. He knows that Jordan is dishonest--she cheated in her first golf
tournament by moving her ball to improve her lie. Whatever Nick's reason for
being with her, we're made to feel that somehow Jordan is not the kind of woman
Nick ought to like. At the end of the chapter Nick says, "Every one
suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine; I am
one of the few honest people that I have ever known." This is one of the
most talked about lines in the novel, and it is a hard one to interpret, coming
as it does right after Nick's statement that "dishonesty in a woman is a
thing you never blame deeply." Is Nick using a double standard, arguing
that it's all right for women to be dishonest because they can't help it? How do
we reconcile our view of Nick as a reliable and sympathetic narrator when he
allows himself to get involved with such a morally unattractive woman? These are
questions raised by the troubling last pages of this chapter--questions that are
answered in a variety of ways by different readers. If you want to question
Nick's judgment, you can certainly find evidence to support that point of view.
Yet most readers have not been too hard on Nick for his relationship with
Jordan. The question is very much an open one. ^^^^^^^^^^THE GREAT GATSBY:
CHAPTER IV One of the extraordinary things about The Great Gatsby is that the
action of the novel (call it the plot, if you want) doesn't start until Chapter
IV. We have had three parties, and we have been introduced to all the major
characters. Finally, we are allowed to find out why they have been brought
together and what the nature of the story is in which they all share. But before
Fitzgerald begins that story, he has one more set of details to give us: a list
of the people who came to Gatsby's parties during the summer of 1922. NOTE: THE
GUESTS AT GATSBY'S PARTIES Why does Fitzgerald give us a list of guests nearly
three pages long? Perhaps he wants to lend an air of reality to the parties by
listing the guests as they would appear in a newspaper report. The names seem to
come from social registers, movie magazines, businessmen's directories, and club
rosters. Names, as you know, can reveal many things about a person, such as his
religion, his ethnic background, and his social class. Judging by Fitzgerald's
list, just about every type of person is represented at Gatsby's parties. Names
like Flink, Hammerhead, Beluga, Muldoon, Gulick, Fishguard, and Snell suggest
humorously that many of these people have no backgrounds at all but belong to a
vast vulgar crowd of self-made men, all hungering for success. Fitzgerald's long
list of names also makes fun of a technique used in epics such as The Iliad and
The Odyssey. In these heroic poems, we are given lists of warriors. In The Great
Gatsby we are given lists of guests at parties. Our world of knights and ladies
has become much smaller and much less noble. The story continues with Gatsby
driving Nick to New York for lunch. Gatsby has decided to use this trip to tell
Nick something about himself. Our first reaction, like Nick's, is one of
disbelief. Gatsby's words are so full of lies that it's difficult to know
whether anything he says is true. He tells Nick that he's the son of wealthy
people in the Midwest, "all dead now." He claims to have been educated
at Oxford. When Nick asks him where in the Midwest he's from, Gatsby answers,
"San Francisco." The lie is so blatant that we don't know what to make
of it. Neither does Nick. Gatsby continues to describe his life as that of a
"young rajah in all the capitals of Europe," collecting jewels,
hunting for big game. Then he speaks of his war experience, his heroism, and the
medals he was awarded by various European governments, "even
Montenegro." At this point, when Nick is most incredulous, Gatsby produces
from his pocket his medal from Montenegro and a picture of himself with cricket
bat standing in the quad at one of the colleges at Oxford. There is thus a
bizarre mixture of truth and fantasy in Gatsby's self-description, and we are
forced both to hold him in awe and to reserve final judgment on him until we can
find out more. The car carrying Nick and Gatsby to New York seems to
fly--gliding through the valley of ashes, roaring through Astoria. A policeman
stops them for speeding, but apologizes to Gatsby as soon as Gatsby shows him a
white card. As the car enters New York, Nick is struck anew by the
appropriateness of that city as a place for Gatsby, to do business. The suspense
over Gatsby's true identity and purpose is sustained throughout the chapter,
first at lunch, and then in the tea scene with Jordan Baker. NOTE: MEYER
WOLFSHEIM At lunch we are introduced to the business side of Gatsby in the
person of Meyer Wolfsheim. Wolfsheim is modeled on the real-life figure of
Arnold Rothstein, the man who helped fix the 1919 World Series. Through
Wolfsheim, "a small flat-nosed Jew," we learn about Gatsby's
connections with a shady underworld, and we begin to understand for the first
time where Gatsby's money comes from. The discovery of Gatsby's unsavory
business dealings may taint his dreams for you and make you question his
"greatness." But you may also find that it lends him an air of mystery
and romance. Wolfsheim is sentimental about friends but not about
business--something we will learn again at the end of the novel. He mistakes
Nick for one of Gatsby's business friends and asks him if he's looking for a
"gonnegtion." But when he finds out that Nick is merely a personal
friend, he changes the subject. Wolfsheim has neither education nor class. When
Gatsby leaves the room for a phone call (Gatsby is always leaving rooms for
important and mysterious phone calls), Wolfsheim tells Nick that Gatsby has gone
to "Oggsford College in England." Oxford, as a point of fact, is a
university; there is no Oxford College. Wolfsheim is so uncultured that he's
impressed with Gatsby's breeding and considers Gatsby "the kind of man
you'd like to take home and introduce to your mother and sister." He's so
bad at judging other people that he describes Gatsby as someone who would never
so much as look at another man's wife. Nothing says more about Wolfsheim's
boorishness and his ruthless battle for money and power than the fact that he
wears cuff links made of human molars. The scene is full of wonderful ironic
touches such as this, which Nick simply relates without commenting on. From
Jordan Baker, Nick learns about Gatsby and Daisy. She begins as though she were
telling a fairytale. And indeed it is. The princess in this case is Daisy Fay,
an eighteen-year-old beauty, the most popular girl in Louisville, Kentucky. All
the officers from nearby Camp Taylor are competing for the honor of her company.
On this particular day, she is sitting in her white dress in her white roadster
(princesses must wear white) with a young lieutenant who is speaking to her with
the kind of romantic intensity that princesses adore. His name is Jay Gatsby.
Daisy apparently loves him as much as he adores her, for she's ready to go to
New York to say good-bye to him when he's sent overseas. And even though she
decides to marry Tom Buchanan, she drinks herself into a state of near stupor on
the night before her wedding after having received a letter from Gatsby. Jordan
goes on to describe the three years of marriage: Daisy's devotion to Tom and
Tom's affairs with a chambermaid in a Santa Barbara hotel. Since we already know
that Tom is having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, it doesn't surprise us that Tom
has been unfaithful before. What may surprise us is that Daisy seems to have
been faithful. Is it because of Gatsby? Does she still love him? Has she thought
about him during the five years between their time together in Louisville and
the day that she hears his name on Jordan Baker's lips? As Jordan Baker
describes it, Daisy has not given Gatsby a thought until the mention of his name
jarred her memory. It's hard to say. In the case of Gatsby, it's not hard to say
at all. As Jordan explains, "'Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would
be just across the bay.'" And Nick responds in a moment of powerful
illumination: "Then it had not been merely the stars to which he had
aspired on that June night. He came alive to me, delivered suddenly from the
womb of his purposeless splendor." What Nick realizes suddenly is that
Gatsby's house and his lavish life-style are not an ostentatious display of
wealth, but a necessary means to the fulfillment of his dream. Until now Gatsby
was a mystery, misunderstood by many, used by others, reviled as a criminal by
still others. Now the truth is unveiled, and we can understand his desperate
yearning for Daisy, and for everything--youth, love, and so on--that is
symbolized by the green light at the end of dock. Jordan tells Nick that Gatsby
had taken her aside at one of his parties and had asked her to ask Nick to ask
Daisy to Nick's house for a meeting. This indirection was deliberate, for Gatsby
was terrified of seeing Daisy again. Though Gatsby loves Daisy with an almost
unbearable intensity, he doesn't want to offend her or Tom. He's afraid to ask
Nick directly, so he uses Jordan as a go-between. Afraid, also, that Daisy will
refuse to come to see him, Gatsby arranges for Nick to invite Daisy for tea and
makes sure Daisy doesn't know he'll be there, too. Gatsby's elaborate plans show
us just how long he has thought about this moment. His plans also reveal the
heart of an innocent romantic, a novice at love, who is obviously unused to
dealing with women or with situations such as this. We are ready for the central
chapter, where the actual meeting takes place. ^^^^^^^^^^THE GREAT GATSBY:
CHAPTER V Nick arrives in West Egg to find all the lights in Gatsby's house
blazing and Gatsby himself walking toward him across the lawn. Gatsby invites
Nick to go to Coney Island. When Nick turns him down, Gatsby suggests a swim in
the pool, which he hasn't used all summer. He never does use the pool until the
very last day of his life--but that's getting ahead of ourselves. Nick agrees to
invite Daisy over. Gatsby suggests waiting a few days so that he can get Nick's
grass cut. Then he offers Nick some money, not a free handout, but a
"little business on the side." Here Nick's Midwestern sense of
morality helps him make a decision, and he turns Gatsby down. The day arrives,
and it is raining. (Rain in novels is not usually accidental. Notice, as you
read this chapter, how the rain stops conveniently at just the right moment.)
Gatsby is so nervous that he can hardly function. He has not slept. He is as
pale as a high school boy on his first date. Life with Daisy in Louisville had
been so wonderful five years before; now he is terrified that even should Daisy
agree to renew their relationship, it won't be the same. Daisy arrives looking
absolutely beautiful in a three-cornered lavender hat, "with a bright,
ecstatic smile." She is dying to know why Nick has invited her over. Nick
takes Daisy inside, thinking that Gatsby is waiting for her, but the living room
is empty. Gatsby, either unable to face the encounter or anxious to pretend that
he has just dropped over, has gone out into the rain and walked around the
house. Now he knocks on the front door. Nick opens it and sees Gatsby,
"pale as death," standing in a puddle of water. Both his paleness and
the rain reinforce our sense of his fear, his terrible insecurity, and his
gloom. Gatsby goes into the living room, leaving Nick in the hall with us to
imagine what the first moment must have been like. Apparently it was dreadful,
because when Nick does come in the room he finds Gatsby in a state of nerves.
Gatsby knocks over Nick's clock (some readers see this as a symbol of his
attempt to stop time) and then catches it. The scene has an air of desperate
comedy about it; it's funny and not funny at the same time. The characters try
to get through tea, and they try to make conversation. When Nick excuses
himself, Gatsby rushes into the hall after him, whispering, "This is a
terrible mistake." Nick sends Gatsby back and goes off by himself for half
an hour. When Nick returns, the rain has stopped, the sun is out, and Daisy and
Gatsby are radiantly happy. Fitzgerald's choice of words to describe
Gatsby--"glowed," "new well-being," "radiated,"
"exultation"--suggest that Gatsby has come alive again. He has
rediscovered his dream. He walks Daisy and Nick over to his house and shows them
his possessions. NOTE: DAISY AND GATSBY'S SHIRTS Suddenly in this scene the
meaning of the novel's epigraph becomes clear: the four-line poem of Thomas Park
d'Invilliers that Fitzgerald quotes on the title page describes exactly what
Gatsby has done. He has symbolically worn the gold hat; he has bounced high,
accumulating possessions for this moment, so that when Daisy sees them she will
cry out, like the lover in the poem, "I must have you." And Daisy
does. She admires the house, the gardens, the gigantic rooms, the colors of pink
and lavender, the sunken baths. The princess is astounded. Gatsby overwhelms her
with these tangible signs of his affection and when he takes his shirts, ordered
from England, out of his cabinet and throws them on the bed, she bends her head
into the shirts and begins to cry. "They're such beautiful shirts,"
she sobs. "It makes me sad because I've never seen such beautiful shirts
before." It seems silly of course to cry over shirts. But it is not the
shirts themselves that overwhelm her but what they symbolize: Gatsby's
extraordinary dedication to his dream. Wouldn't you be moved to tears to find
yourself the object of so much adoration? In the next scene Gatsby tells Daisy
about how he has watched the green light that burns at the end of her dock. For
so long that light has been a symbol of his dream--of something he has wanted
more than life itself. Gazing at it that night when Nick first saw him, and
throughout the summer, Gatsby must have believed that if only he could have
Daisy he would be happy for ever. Now suddenly he has her, the light is just a
light again, and Nick wonders if this person could ever be as wonderful or as
magical as Gatsby's idea of her. No matter what we think of Gatsby or of his
dream, we are drawn to him by the sad knowledge that dreams themselves are
often--perhaps always--more beautiful than dreams fulfilled. Nick realizes this,
too, when he says: "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." Nick leaves the couple as dusk comes and the lights come on in
West Egg. Klipspringer, "the boarder," is summoned from his room to
play the piano. As he plays "Ain't We Got Fun?"--one of the most
popular songs of the day--we sense a strange irony. What the song is describing
is terribly different from what Gatsby and Daisy have at that moment. What they
have is so much more than fun: it's beautiful, more intense, and finally more
painful. There is both a joy and sadness in a love as great as theirs.
Klipspringer plays on, unaware of their feelings. Because Nick is aware, he is
wise to leave them alone. ^^^^^^^^^^THE GREAT GATSBY: CHAPTER VI This chapter is
as important for what it doesn't do as for what it does. In a letter to his
friend Edmund Wilson, Fitzgerald confessed about The Great Gatsby: "The
worst fault in it, I think, is a BIG FAULT: I gave no account (and had no
feeling about or knowledge of) the emotional relations between Gatsby and Daisy
from the time of their reunion to the catastrophe." Now since the reunion
takes place in Chapter V and the catastrophe, in Chapter VII, the logical place
for this account is Chapter VI. Why doesn't it occur? One reason is that the
novel is told in the first person by Nick, and he can describe only what he sees
or what he is told by others. What happens between Gatsby and Daisy is private;
Nick would have no knowledge of it. Another reason might be that Fitzgerald
wants to emphasize not the actual relationship between Gatsby and Daisy, but
Gatsby's dream, and therefore he decided to focus on the past rather than the
present. That may explain why in Chapter VI Fitzgerald tells the story of
Gatsby's life before he met Daisy--not all of it, but enough for us to begin to
understand him. He was born James Gatz, the son of a North Dakota farmer. He had
been sent to St. Olaf College, a small Lutheran school in Minnesota, but had
left after two weeks, humiliated by the janitor's job he had been given to pay
for his room and board. Having worked in the summer as a clam digger and salmon
fisher on Lake Superior, he returned to find a job. It was a decision that
changed his life. On Little Girl Bay one day he saw the yacht of copper
millionaire Dan Cody in danger of being broken up by a storm, and rowed out to
warn him. Cody was impressed by this boy, who called himself Jay Gatsby, and
took him on as steward, mate, and later as skipper and personal secretary. In
this way, Jay Gatsby was born. Why did he change his name? In one of the most
difficult and important passages in the novel Nick tells us: The truth was that
Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of
himself. He was a son of God--a phrase which, if it means anything, means just
that--and he must be about His Father's business, the service of a vast, vulgar,
and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a
seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was
faithful to the end. NOTE: HIS PLATONIC CONCEPTION OF HIMSELF As a boy Gatsby
(still Gatz) had been a dreamer, and as he grew older, his dreams became more
vivid. He dreamed, as many children do, of a bright, gaudy world where all his
fantasies would be fulfilled. On the day that he saved Dan Cody's yacht, he must
have seen an embodiment of everything he wanted. In a strange sort of way Gatsby
never believed that he was just James Gatz. He had an idea of what he wanted to
be. And just as Plato believed that our material bodies are not our real selves,
but only physical images of our ideal or perfect selves. Gatsby had an image of
himself, to which he gave the name Gatsby. From the day that he met Dan Cody he
decided to dedicate his life to the development of the idea of himself that
existed in his head. And just as Jesus left his family to be about his heavenly
Father's business, so Gatsby left his earthly parents to enter the service of
his God--a "vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty"--in this case
symbolized by millionaire Dan Cody. Gatsby wanted of course not only to serve
Cody but to be Dan Cody--one of those remarkable self-made men to come along in
America between the 1890s and the years before World War I. Gatsby, sails with
Cody to the West Indies and the Barbary Coast. He learns to avoid alcohol when
he sees what it does to the older man, and he learns how wonderful the
"good life" can be. He decides to devote himself to the pursuit of
this life, but Cody dies and his mistress Ella Kaye uses some legal device to
steal Gatsby's share of the inheritance. Young Gatsby is once again left
penniless. But he has had his "education," and he knows what he wants
to be. At this point Nick's narrative of Gatsby's youth breaks off (notice how
we get the story of Gatsby's past in bits and pieces), and we return to the
present. It is later in the summer and Nick hasn't seen Gatsby for several
weeks. He drops by Gatsby's house and finds Tom Buchanan there. It's the first
time these two have been together, and the tension between them, though not as
great as it will become, is already strong. Tom has been out riding with a Mr.
and Mrs. Sloane. Gatsby invites them to stay for dinner. Mrs. Sloane, who is
giving a dinner party herself, invites Nick and Gatsby to join them. Nick
politely refuses, but Gatsby accepts--obviously a breach of etiquette, because
the invitation was meant as a polite gesture, not as a real offer. Gatsby lacks
the social grace to know this; he also wants to be with Daisy. Tom is offended
by Gatsby's poor taste. He also doesn't like the idea that Daisy has been coming
to Gatsby's house without him. "Women run around too much these days to
suit me," he says. "They meet all kinds of crazy fish." Once
again we see Tom's double standard (he can do anything he wants) and the
snobbery of the East Eggers, who turn their noses up at someone as unrefined as
Gatsby. Even though he disapproves of Gatsby, Tom agrees to visit Gatsby's house
the following Saturday night rather than let Daisy go there alone. The rest of
Chapter VI describes a second evening at Gatsby's, but this time seen through
Daisy's eyes; and the mood is clearly very different from that of the party
described in Chapter III. The people Nick enjoyed only two weeks before now seem
"septic" to him. The word septic is very strong; it means
"putrid" or "rotten." Except for the time she spends alone
with Gatsby sitting on Nick's steps, Daisy doesn't have a good time either. The
guests seem ill humored, out of control, false. The characters--Doctor Civet,
Miss Baedeker, an unnamed movie star and her director, a small producer with a
blue nose--all seem part of a phony stage play. Nick compares them to the stars
who are here one season, gone the next. Tom and Daisy argue. Tom is becoming
more and more suspicious about who Gatsby is and where he gets his money.
Gatsby's nothing more than a big bootlegger, he tells Daisy--which is true.
Daisy defends Gatsby with a lie, yet she captures the essence of Gatsby more
honestly than Tom's merciless truth. The chapter ends with a very important
scene between Gatsby and Nick after Tom and Daisy have left. Gatsby feels sad
because Daisy didn't have a good time, but his sadness goes deeper than that.
What really upsets him is that he can't turn back time. "I wouldn't ask too
much of her," Nick says. "You can't repeat the past." "Can't
repeat the past?" Gatsby cries out in desperation. "Why of course you
can!" What Gatsby wants is to obliterate the five years since he last saw
Daisy. He wants life to be as wonderful and as beautiful as he believed it could
be. Like all of us, he wants to ignore the fact that life is a process of
change, and that time never stands still. If only Daisy would tell Tom, "I
never loved you!" If only he could take Daisy back to Louisville, marry
her, and begin their lives together as though there had been no Tom, no
daughter. He must win her to satisfy his own Platonic image of himself, the
ideal self which he associates with his love for Daisy in Louisville in the
autumn of 1917. NOTE: INCARNATION Fitzgerald uses the word incarnation to make
us understand the meaning of that moment in Louisville. Incarnation means made
into flesh, as in the Christian notion that God became flesh in Jesus Christ. In
Louisville on the autumn night, Gatsby's dream became incarnated in Daisy.
Kissing her for the first time so overpowered him that he knew he must give up
everything for her. Gatsby at that moment "wed his unutterable visions to
her perishable breath." Because he was only human, he had narrowed his
dream and embodied it in something human, something tangible. The tragedy of Jay
Gatsby is his choice of Daisy as the person in whom to embody his dream. This
tragedy, as we saw in "The Author and His Times," was not unlike
Fitzgerald's own when he embodied his dream in Zelda. Because of the
impossibility of their dreams and the nature of the women in whom they vested
them, both Gatsby and Scott Fitzgerald were doomed to tragic failure. But that
may be why we love them--whether we should or not. ^^^^^^^^^^THE GREAT GATSBY:
CHAPTER VII Chapter VII joins all the major characters and geographical
locations of the novel together in a final catastrophe. In terms of the action,
it is the most important chapter in the novel. Now that Gatsby has won Daisy, he
has called off his parties, fired his servants, and replaced them with friends
of Meyer Wolfsheim. His dealings with Wolfsheim reinforce our fears about what
he is doing to make his money. His retreat from a glittering nightlife shows us
how far his obsession with Daisy has gone. He has dismissed his servants because
Daisy has been coming to his house in the afternoons, and he doesn't want anyone
around who will gossip. The only reason he gave parties was in the wild hope
that Daisy, would come--and now she is his. NOTE: THE WEATHER Fitzgerald
carefully orchestrates the weather throughout the novel. The showdown between
Tom and Gatsby, for instance, takes place on the hottest day of the summer. The
late August heat is oppressive. There is nothing comforting about nature in this
modern wasteland; the sun is more a burden than a nourisher of life. On the
appointed day, Nick arrives for lunch at Tom and Daisy's house. Gatsby is there;
so is Jordan Baker. All the major figures are together if this were the final
scene in a Shakespearean tragedy. The nurse brings in the Buchanans' daughter.
Gatsby is stunned; he had never quite believed the child existed until this
moment. Drinks are served, and everyone tries to be well mannered, avoiding the
issue at hand. But Daisy and Gatsby cannot conceal their love for one another,
and Tom sees it. Daisy has suggested that they go to New York for the afternoon,
and Tom now takes her up on it. Notice that they choose New York for the
confrontation to come--the same setting that Fitzgerald used for the drunken
party in Chapter II. There are close parallels between the two parties, not only
in the way the characters behave at them, but in the fact that they have to pass
through the valley of ashes to get there. Jordan, Tom, and Nick ride together in
Gatsby's car and stop at Wilson's garage to buy gas. Daisy and Gatsby drive by
in Tom's blue coupe, unnoticed by Myrtle Wilson. What Myrtle does notice from
her upstairs window is her lover Tom Buchanan, sitting in the yellow Rolls Royce
with Jordan. Jordan she takes for Daisy. The whole scene at Wilson's garage has
an eerie, mythic quality, as though it were set in a world of its own. Wilson,
described literally as "green," has discovered that his wife has been
having an affair, but he doesn't know with whom. Myrtle thinks her husband knows
it's, Tom and watches, "terrified," from the window. Nick realizes
that Wilson and Tom are in identical positions--both having just learned that
their wives are unfaithful. Wilson wants to take Myrtle away--out West--and Tom
begins to feel his whole world collapsing. Over all this, the eyes of Dr. T. J.
Eckleburg "kept their vigil." The eyes seem to mock these characters'
feeble attempts to hide from the truth. The eyes alone seem to see the
corruption and the decadence beneath the gorgeous facade. The yellow Rolls
catches up with the blue coupe, and they decide to engage a suite at the Plaza
Hotel. It's four o'clock in the afternoon and the heat is overwhelming. Tom, his
ego battered by the day's events, mocks Gatsby for calling people "old
sport," insinuating that Gatsby never went to Oxford. Gatsby, in a response
that delights Nick, simply tells the truth. He attended Oxford for five months
after the war through an opportunity offered to some of the officers. Unwilling
to let Gatsby get the upper hand, Tom asks him point blank what his intentions
are towards Daisy and starts attacking Gatsby about his parties and his
life-style. Gatsby, pushed into a corner, responds, "'Your wife doesn't
love you. She's never loved you. She loves me.'" The two men go after each
other, begging Daisy to support them. Gatsby wants Daisy to say she never loved
Tom, never in all the years of their marriage. It is this effort to deny the
past--to shape the world according to his dream--that brings about Gatsby's
downfall. Tom admits he has been less than an ideal husband, but points out
"'Why--there're things between Daisy and me that you'll never know, things
that neither of us can ever forget.'" Daisy has tried up to this point to
support Gatsby, but now she finds herself turning to Tom. Now that Gatsby's
dream has been pierced, Tom finds it easy to tear it to pieces. He has done some
investigating of Gatsby's activities and has evidence about his
"drug-store" fronts for bootlegging operations. With each thrust,
Gatsby's parries become weaker and weaker, and we can feel Daisy slipping slowly
but quietly back into the protective camp of her husband. A romantic dream is
worth less to her than the security of a husband, unfaithful though he may be.
For Gatsby there is nothing left but "the dead dream," which sustains
him like a ghostly spirit that fights on after the body is dead. The party is
over. Tom has won. He is confident enough to send Gatsby and Daisy home together
in Gatsby's yellow car; Gatsby can do no more harm to him. When they leave, Nick
realizes that today is his thirtieth birthday. NOTE: NICK'S THIRTIETH BIRTHDAY
Nick's birthday, like the green light and the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg, is one of
those symbols that gives the novel's action a deeper meaning. While we identify
emotionally with Gatsby, this is Nick's novel too, and his birthday reminds us
that it is a novel about Nick's growing up. He came to New York, naive and
inexperienced, having learned about life through books. The summer's events have
taught him about life in a way that no book ever could--just as the years on Dan
Cody's yacht educated Gatsby. The final phase of his education is learning about
death, and death is just around the corner. Fitzgerald lets us think about death
before we know the victim. The suspense works nicely; for a short time we know
neither who is dead nor how the person died. Michaelis, the young Greek who runs
the all-night restaurant next door to Wilson's garage, tells the story as he
experienced it: Myrtle Wilson, who had been locked indoors for most of the day
by her husband, had rushed out into the street shortly after seven, frantically
waving her arms, only to be struck by a car coming from New York. The car had
paused for a moment and then driven on into the night. We are not told whose car
it was, but we can guess. Nick, piecing events together from Michaelis' and
newspaper accounts, pictures Myrtle Wilson kneeling in the road, her mouth wide
open, her "Left breast swinging loose like a flap." He wants to
emphasize her extraordinary vitality at the moment of her death and the
desperate agony with which she tries to hold on to life. When Tom arrives with
Nick and Jordan, his first thought is that Wilson will remember the yellow car
from that afternoon. His second thought is that Gatsby was the driver. Tom has
his dreams, small as they may be, and he could never let himself believe that
Daisy might have been at the wheel. As for Nick, he has had enough of all of
these Easterners. When he arrives with the others at Tom's house, he remains
outside. Suddenly, Gatsby calls to him from the bushes. He had been waiting for
them to get back, afraid that Tom might do something harmful to Daisy. Gatsby
tells Nick that Daisy was driving and that he has decided to take the blame for
her. What other decision was possible by a man so deeply in love? He is still
afraid to leave and sends Nick to check on Daisy. Nick looks in a window and
sees Daisy and Tom sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table, eating cold
fried chicken and talking. It is an ordinary domestic scene in sharp contrast to
the drama that surrounds them. They aren't happy, but they are not unhappy
either. Nick realizes that they have accepted each other again and that Gatsby
has lost Daisy irrevocably. She has returned to the protection of Tom's money
and influence. He will take care of her and get her through the crisis. Nick
goes home and leaves Gatsby "standing there in the moonlight--watching over
nothing." The dream is over. ^^^^^^^^^^THE GREAT GATSBY: CHAPTER VIII
Chapter VIII begins a few hours later. Nick has been unable to sleep, and
hearing Gatsby come in, he goes over to his friend's house to talk. For the
better part of the chapter Nick is alone with Gatsby in his deserted mansion,
listening to the story of Gatsby's youth, his courtship of Daisy, and his
experiences during the war. The information helps Nick put together the final
pieces of the puzzle that is Gatsby. Now that the dream is over, the past is
more real to Gatsby than ever. Gatsby hopes that by talking about the Daisy he
knew in Louisville in 1917 he can keep the ghost of his dream alive. All of us
have wanted something we couldn't have, something that was beyond our reach. And
so, as Gatsby tells Nick about his courtship of Daisy, we can't help but
sympathize with him. We can understand how he felt when he entered Daisy's home
for the first time and fell in love with everything about her. It was not only
Daisy he hungered for, it was her house and her possessions, too. The fact that
everybody wanted her merely increased her worth in Gatsby's eyes. He himself was
nothing but "a penniless young man without a past." She stood for
everything he was not--for everything he wanted to have and to become. And so he
"committed himself to the following of a grail," and made marrying
Daisy his ultimate goal in life. NOTE: The grail--or the chalice used by Christ
at the Last Supper--is what the knights of the round table were searching for.
If they found it, they would be saved. Fitzgerald uses the word grail to suggest
that for Gatsby, marrying Daisy was a kind of religious quest. Daisy promised to
wait for Gatsby until the war ended. What Gatsby has not bargained for was
Daisy's youth and her need for love and the attention of society. She was too
frivolous and insecure to stay alone for long, and soon began going out to
parties and dances. At one of them, she met Tom Buchanan, who seemed safe and
strong. She loved Jay, but knew nothing about him--nothing about his past or his
practical plans for the future. And he wasn't there. So she married Tom. The
previous chapter took place on the hottest day of the summer. Now it is early
morning. Autumn--symbol of change and of the approach of death--is in the air.
The gardener informs Gatsby that he will drain the pool, because the falling
leaves will clog the pipes. Gatsby asks him to wait a day because he has never
used the pool and wants to take a swim. Nick says good-bye to Gatsby, turns to
walk away, then pauses, turns back, and shouts "'They're a rotten crowd.
You're worth the whole damn bunch put together.'" It's a very special
moment that reveals to us why the novel is called The Great Gatsby. Nick
disapproves of Gatsby "from beginning to end"--disapproves of his
vulgar materialism; his tasteless pink suits; his "gonnegtion" with
Meyer Wolfsheim; his love of a woman as shallow as Daisy; his pathetic efforts
to win her back by showing off what he has rather than who he is. And yet he is
not part of the "foul dust." His "incorruptible dream" has
something pure and noble about it, which sets him apart from the others. Tom,
Daisy, Jordan--they belong to the "rotten crowd" because they are
selfish, materialistic, and cruel. They are without spiritual values or
compassion. Gatsby, on the surface, seems just as far away from beauty and
grace. In reality he is nothing more than a thug. And yet in Nick's eyes--and
perhaps in ours--he is "worth the whole damn bunch put together"
because of his total dedication to his dream. When the dream is gone, he has
nothing left to live for. Nick takes the train to New York, but he can't work.
He keeps thinking about Gatsby. Not even Jordan Baker can get his mind off his
friend. She tries to meet him in the city for a date, but Nick turns her down--a
fact that will contribute to their eventual break up in the final chapter. Nick
is tired of "the whole rotten bunch," and that includes Jordan. Unable
to reach Gatsby by phone, Nick takes an early train back to West Egg. As he
passes the valley of ashes, he thinks about Myrtle Wilson's death and tells us
what George Wilson was doing from the time of the accident to the present
moment. Nick has gotten his information from the Greek Michaelis and from
newspaper reports. Michaelis had sat up all night with George Wilson. At the
very moment that Nick and Gatsby were watching the dawn in West Egg, Michaelis
and Wilson were looking at the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, "which had just
emerged, pale and enormous from the dissolving night." To Wilson, the eyes
of Dr. Eckleburg are the all-seeing, all-judging eyes of God. Wilson now
believes that the car that hit Myrtle was being driven by her lover. He has made
up his mind to play God himself and to revenge the murder of his wife. It is
simply a matter of finding out who owns the yellow car. His first step is to
find Tom Buchanan; Tom drove the car to New York the day before and will know
who was driving it back from New York when it hit his wife. By the time Nick
gets to West Egg, Gatsby is lying dead in his pool. The tragedy is complete.
Wilson, having found out from Tom where Gatsby lived, had gone to Gatsby's
mansion and found him floating on an air mattress in the pool. Wilson had shot
Gatsby, then himself. Nick wonders what Gatsby might have been thinking as he
lay on the mattress in the pool just before Wilson's arrival: He must have
looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he
found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the
scarcely created. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts,
breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about... One key to
understanding this difficult passage is the phrase, "material without being
real." What Nick means is that for Gatsby, the world is
"material"--it is something he can touch and see and feel--yet it is
completely without meaning for him. Without Daisy--without his dream--to sustain
him he is like a child who wakes up one day and finds himself in an utterly
frightening and unfamiliar world. Gatsby has lived "too long with a single
dream"; without it life has become absurd. A rose is beautiful because we
feel its beauty, not because it possesses beauty in itself. In the same way, the
green light at the end of Daisy's dock was special only because it meant
something special to Gatsby. In this new world, which Gatsby encounters a rose
is just a rose and a green light is not more than a green light. Gatsby has been
forced to grow up, or at least to give up his childlike sense of wonder. Unlike
the rest of the rotten crowd, he cannot live without this private vision, and so
he is, in a sense, already dead when Wilson shoots him. ^^^^^^^^^^THE GREAT
GATSBY: CHAPTER IX Chapter IX covers the period from Gatsby's death to Nick's
departure for the Midwest later that autumn. It is a chapter which allows
Fitzgerald to tie together loose ends and to sum up the larger significance of
the novel in a final poetic passage that has become one of the most famous in
American literature. Nick is still living in the East, but his heart is no
longer there. "I found myself on Gatsby's side, and alone," he says.
He tries to bring Gatsby's friends together for the funeral, but everyone has
conveniently disappeared. Tom and Daisy have gone away, leaving no address.
Meyer Wolfsheim does not want to be involved with Gatsby now that the breath of
scandal surrounds him. No one visits Gatsby's house now except policemen,
photographers, and newspapermen. Finally, on the third day, a telegram arrives
from Mr. Henry C. Gatz of Minnesota, Gatsby's father. He has read of his son's
death and is on his way. (Is there any religious significance in the fact that
the father tries to reach Gatsby three days after his son's death? Gatsby, like
Christ, has been scorned by the world and only his father seems to care.) Nick
tries to convince Klipspringer, "the boarder," to come to the funeral,
but Klipspringer has a social engagement in Westport. When he asks Nick to send
his tennis shoes, which he had left at Gatsby's, Nick hangs up on him. No
friends come to the funeral except Owl Eyes, the man who had admired Gatsby's
library back in the third chapter. Why he should care enough to come makes for
interesting speculation: your ideas are as good as any. As they stand there in
the rain--Nick, Mr. Gatz, Owl Eyes, and a few servants--we cannot help but be
appalled by the way his so-called friends have deserted him when he is no longer
of any use to them. You can look at their desertion, as Nick surely does, as
proof of their moral and spiritual bankruptcy. Or you can argue that Gatsby, in
pursuit of a false dream, has brought this fate down on himself. Gatsby's
father, of course, has loved his son all these years and followed his career
with special interest. He is proud of his boy and totally unaware of the darker
side of his life. He has saved a picture of his son's house, which he apparently
takes great pride in showing to others as proof of his son's success. He has
also brought along a book, Hopalong Cassidy, which Jimmy owned as a boy. On the
flyleaf is a daily schedule of exercise, study, sports, "elocution,"
and work. The schedule, which reads like an excerpt from Ben Franklin's Almanac,
reminds us how deeply Gatsby believed--even as a boy--in the American dream of
success. Like millions of other young Americans, he must have believed that life
rewards those who work hard, and that if he only stuck to his plan he could
achieve whatever he set out to accomplish. Whether Fitzgerald's novel praises or
condemns this dream is something you'll have to determine for yourself. With the
account of Gatsby's funeral, Nick's story comes to an end. In the novel's
closing pages, Nick turns in on himself, and talks about his own values and his
preparations for a return to the Midwest. Before he leaves, Nick ends his
relationship with Jordan Baker. The scene with Jordan parallels the one at the
end of Chapter III where they discuss careless people and bad drivers. In both
scenes driving becomes a metaphor for life. Careless drivers stand for those who
hurt other people. Jordan is a careless driver, Nick is not. Is this what drew
them together and what ultimately pulled them apart? Nick's feelings about
Jordan are ambivalent throughout the scene, as they are throughout the book. He
is still in love with her, still attracted to her, yet something in him wants to
write an end to this chapter in his life. She says she's engaged to another man;
he doesn't believe it. We sense that he could probably get her back if he
apologized for his behavior on the phone the day of Gatsby's death. But he won't
do that. Nor will he, at first, shake hands with Tom Buchanan when he sees him
on Fifth Avenue. Although he blames Tom for Gatsby's death--it was Tom who told
Wilson that Gatsby owned the car--he can't really argue with Tom or get mad at
him. Why? Because Tom believes that Gatsby was the driver and that his action
was "entirely justified." Nick probably realizes that his own moral
standards will mean nothing to Tom, and that the only way to deal with his type
is to turn around and walk away. Nick at this moment sees Tom and Daisy as
careless people who "smashed up things and creatures and then retreated
back into their money... and let other people clean up the mess they had
made." He calls Jordan careless too--a "careless" driver. Nick's
decision to leave the East is tied up with his reaction of careless people. He
doesn't want to become that way himself. It's uncertain when he finally shakes
hands with Tom, whether he has finally learned to accept others who are
different from himself, thus getting rid of what Tom calls his "provincial
squeamishness"--or whether he is doing only what is proper for a gentleman
to do. In any case, he is now rid of Tom and the world he represents, and can
return to a world of principles and traditions in the Midwest. There's no way
you can understand Nick's final thoughts without having them in front of you.
So, open your books and read Nick's words again. The meaning of the novel is
summed up here, and the novel is transformed from a story of a small group of
people at a moment of time to a portrait of an entire nation. It is Nick's last
night in West Egg. He has walked over to Gatsby's mansion and erased an obscene
word someone has scrawled on the deserted house. He walks down to the beach. As
the moon rises and the houses melt away in his imagination, he thinks of what
this island must have looked like to the Dutch sailors seeing it for the first
time in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was a new world then--pure,
unspoiled. Nick calls it "a fresh green breast of the new world." Nick
realizes that men have always been dreamers, but that dreamers cannot simply
dream. They must have some object or person to fix their dreams upon. Such was
this continent, he thinks, in the early days of the Republic. The idea of
America as a land of infinite possibilities was so magnificent that man was
"face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to
his capacity for wonder." The land--its physical beauty and its apparently
limitless horizons--were worthy of the dream. We have come to call this idea
"the American dream." Jefferson, Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman were
only a few of the spokesmen for this dream who saw in America a hope for
equality and self-fulfillment. This was Gatsby's dream, too, Nick thinks. For
Gatsby the green light at the end of Daisy's dock symbolized the same American
dream that drove the Dutch sailors to the New World, the Minutemen to Concord,
and Thoreau to Walden Pond. Gatsby believed in the dream, and Nick will always
love him for it. But what Gatsby never understood is that the dream 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." Unable to find
an object or a person commensurate with his capacity for wonder, Gatsby finds
Daisy, an unworthy and shallow substitute for the real dream. NOTE: Nick seems
to suggest that America in the 1920s has lost its way--deliberately or
inevitably. American has become a shallow, materialistic nation, and the dream
for which people fought and about which poets wrote has turned into a cheap and
vulgar substitute for the real thing. Fitzgerald seems to be saying that what
keeps Americans going as individuals is the belief in that dream, and so they
struggle like Gatsby to attain it. But they are like "boats against the
current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." Americans row and row
against the current of time, trying to get back to that dream, bearing
themselves backward like Gatsby, who believed the past could be repeated, but
doomed by the hand of time to failure. Whether Fitzgerald believes Americans can
recapture that dream, or whether it's part of their lost childhood--both as
individuals and as a nation--is something you'll have to decide for yourself.
The Great Gatsby is not, then, just a book about the 1920s. It is a book about
America--its promise, and the betrayal of that promise. Throughout the book
Fitzgerald has contrasted Gatsby the dreamer with "the foul dust" that
preyed on his dream. The tragedy of Gatsby is that he still dreams the dream,
but that he is not wise enough or strong enough to see that Daisy is not worthy
of his devotion, of his sacrifice. He cannot step back to see where he has gone
wrong. Nick can. Nick loves Gatsby, but he knows what is wrong with Gatsby's
dream. And so, his education completed, he returns to the Midwest to begin his
own adult life. ^^^^^^^^^^THE GREAT GATSBY: GLOSSARY The Glossary is limited to
proper nouns, the meaning of which might not be clear in the context of the
novel. Symbolic terms such as grail or incarnation are explained in the
chapter-by-chapter analysis. "AIN'T WE GOT FUN" A very popular song of
the day, Klipspringer sings it to Gatsby and Daisy in Chapter VI. BELASCO David
Belasco (1853-1931) was a very successful American actor, producer, playwright,
and theater manager. Owl Eyes thinks of Gatsby as a "regular Belasco,"
because of his magnificent library and real books. JAMES J. HILL American
railroad tycoon and financier (1838-1916); one of many rich Americans referred
to in the novel. KAISER WILHELM The Emperor of Germany in 1914 at the outbreak
of World War I. Gatsby is suspected of being a nephew of Kaiser Wilhelm. KANT
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was famous German philosopher who stared at a church
steeple to help his concentration. Nick, in Chapter V, stares at Gatsby's house,
"like Kant at his church steeple." LAKE FOREST A suburb of Chicago
where very rich and socially prestigious families live. Tom Buchanan comes East
with a string of polo ponies from Lake Forest. MIDAS... MORGAN... MAECENAS The
first was the legendary king who was granted his wish that everything he touch
change to gold. "Morgan" refers to J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913), the
famous New York financier. "Maecenas" was a wealthy Etruscan patron of
the Roman poets Horace and Virgil. All three are examples of Fitzgerald's
fascination with wealth and the very wealthy. MONTENEGRO Once a small country on
the Adriatic Sea, now part of Yugoslavia. Gatsby says he has a medal from
"little Montenegro." NEW HAVEN The city in Connecticut where Yale
University is located. "New Haven" in this novel means Yale, where Tom
and Nick went to college. OXFORD Oxford University in England. Meyer Wolfsheim
refers to it mistakenly as "Oggsford College." Oxford is not a
college, but a university, made up of a collection of colleges. PLAZA HOTEL The
famous hotel in New York City at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Central Park
South. You can still take carriage rides from the Plaza today. (see Chapter IV).
ROCKEFELLER John D. Rockefeller (1839 1939) was an industrialist and
philanthropist who founded the Standard Oil Company. He was perhaps the ultimate
symbol of wealth in the United States. "SHEIK OF ARABY" Another
popular song of the day. overheard by Nick and Jordan in New York. TOSTOFF
Vladimir Tostoff's Jazz History of the World is an imaginary composition by an
imaginary composer. The jazz orchestra plays it for the guests at Gatsby's party
in Chapter III. It's self-important title is Fitzgerald's cynical comment on how
jazz tried to present itself as a serious rival to classical music during the
'20s. TRIMALCHIO Central character of the Satyricon by Petronius. Trimalchio is
a vulgar, self-made millionaire whose brief and meteoric rise to the top
parallels Gatsby's brief career. Fitzgerald thought of calling the novel, "Trimalchio
in West Egg." VON HINDENBURG German general, chief of staff in World War I,
later president of the Weimar Republic. Some say Gatsby worked for von
Hindenberg--another example of the Gatsby myth. WORLD SERIES OF 1919 The famous
"Black Sox" scandal in which the Chicago White Sox deliberately lost
the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, a much weaker team, in order to make
money for themselves. The arrangements were made through a group of gamblers,
the key figure of which was Arnold Rothstein, the model for Meyer Wolfsheim in
Gatsby. (See Chapter IV.) ^^^^^^^^^^THE GREAT GATSBY: A LETTER TO FITZGERALD
FROM HIS EDITOR, NOVEMBER 20, 1924 I think you have every kind of right to be
proud of this book. It is an extraordinary book, suggestive of all sorts of
thoughts and moods. You adopted exactly the right method of telling it, that of
employing a narrator who is more of a spectator than an actor: this puts the
reader upon a point of observation on a higher level than that on which the
characters stand and at a distance that gives perspective. In no other way could
your irony have been so immensely effective, nor the reader have been enabled so
strongly to feel at times the strangeness of human circumstance in a vast
heedless universe. In the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg various readers will see
different significances; but their presence gives a superb touch to the whole
thing: great unblinking eyes, expressionless, looking down upon the human scene.
It's magnificent! Maxwell Perkins, Editor to Author: The Letters of Maxwell E.
Perkins, 1950 ^^^^^^^^^^THE GREAT GATSBY: FITZGERALD'S DREAM: A PARALLEL TO
GATSBY When I was your age I lived with a great dream. The dream grew and I
learned how to speak of it and make people listen. Then the dream divided one
day when I decided to marry your mother after all, even though I knew she was
spoiled and meant no good to me. I was sorry immediately I had married her, but
being patient in those days, made the best of it and got to love her in another
way. You came along and for a long time we made quite a lot of happiness out of
our lives. But I was a man divided--she wanted me to work too much for her and
not enough for my dream. She realized too late that work was dignity, and the
only dignity, and tried to atone for it by working herself, but it was too late
and she broke and is broken forever. Scott Fitzgerald, "Letter to His
Daughter," July 7, 1938 from Letters to His Daughter, 1965 ^^^^^^^^^^THE
GREAT GATSBY: FITZGERALD'S DOUBLE VISION He cultivated a sort of double vision.
He was continually trying to present the glitter of life in the Princeton eating
clubs, on the Riviera, on the North Shore of Long Island, and in the Hollywood
studios; he surrounded his characters with a mist of admiration and
simultaneously he drove the mist away... He regarded himself as a pauper living
among millionaires... a sullen peasant among the nobility, and he said that his
point of vantage "was the dividing line between two generations,"
prewar and postwar. It was this habit of keeping a double point of view that
distinguished his work. There were popular and serious novelists in his time,
but there was something of a gulf between them; Fitzgerald was one of the very
few popular writers who were also serious artists. Malcolm Cowley, "Third
Act and Epilogue," The New Yorker, 1945 ^^^^^^^^^^THE GREAT GATSBY:
FITZGERALD'S ARTISTIC METHOD IN GATSBY ...the characters are not
"developed": the wealthy and brutal Tom Buchanan haunted by his
"scientific" vision of the doom of civilization, the vaguely guilty,
vaguely homosexual Jordan Baker, the dim Wolfsheim, who fixed the World Series
of 1919, are treated, we might say, as if they were ideographs, a method of
economy that is reinforced by the ideographic use of that is made of the
Washington Heights flat, the terrible "valley of ashes" seen from the
Long Island Railroad, Gatsby's incoherent parties, and the huge sordid eyes of
the oculist's advertising sign. (It is a technique which gives the novel an
affinity with The Waste Land, between whose author and Fitzgerald there existed
a reciprocal admiration.) Gatsby himself, once stated, grows only in the
understanding of the narrator. He is allowed to say very little in his own
person. Indeed, apart from the famous "Her voice is full of money," he
says only one memorable thing, but that remark is overwhelming in its
intellectual audacity: when he is forced to admit that his lost Daisy did
perhaps love her husband, he says, "In any case it was just personal."
With that sentence he achieves an insane greatness, convincing us that he really
is a Platonic conception of himself, really some sort of Son of God. Lionel
Trilling, "F. Scott Fitzgerald," The Liberal Imagination, 1950
^^^^^^^^^^THE GREAT GATSBY: THE GREAT GATSBY AND THE AMERICAN DREAM The Great
Gatsby is an exploration of the American dream as it exists in a corrupt period,
and it is an attempt to determine that concealed boundary that divides the
reality from the illusions. The illusions seem more real than the reality
itself. Embodied in the subordinate characters in the novel, they threaten to
invade the whole of the picture. On the other hand, the reality is embodied in
Gatsby; and as opposed to the hard, tangible Illusions, the reality is a thing
of the spirit, a promise rather than the possession of a vision, a faith in the
half-glimpsed, but hardly understood possibilities of life. Marius Bewley,
"Scott Fitzgerald's Criticism of America," 1954 ^^^^^^^^^^THE GREAT
GATSBY: THE SYMBOLISM OF EAST AND WEST Fitzgerald's dichotomy of East and West
has the poetic truth of James's antithesis of provincial American virtue and
refined European sensibility. Like The Portrait of a Lady and The Ambassadors,
Gatsby is a story of "displaced persons" who have journeyed eastward
in search of a larger and experience of life. To James this reverse migration
from the New to the Old World has in itself no special significance. To
Fitzgerald, however, the lure of the East represents a profound displacement of
the American dream, a turning back upon itself of the historic pilgrimage
towards the frontier which had, in fact, created and sustained that dream.
Robert Ornstein, "Scott Fitzgerald's Fable of East and West," 1957
^^^^^^^^^^THE GREAT GATSBY: COLOR SYMBOLISM IN THE GREAT GATSBY: DAISY The white
Daisy embodies the vision which Gatsby (who, like Lord Jim, usually wears white
suits) seeks to embrace--but which Nick, who discovers the corrupt admixture of
dream and reality, rejects in rejecting Jordan. For, except in Gatsby's
extravagant imagination, the white does not exist pure: it is invariably stained
by the money, the yellow. Daisy is the white flower--with the golden center. If
in her virginal beauty she "dressed in white and had a little white
roadster," she is, Nick realizes, "high in a white palace the king's
daughter, the golden girl." "Her voice is like money"; she
carries a "little gold pencil"; when she visits Gatsby there are
"two rows of brass buttons on her dress." Daniel J. Schneider,
"Color-Symbolism in The Great Gatsby," 1964 ^^^^^^^^^^THE GREAT
GATSBY: AN ATTACK ON NICK AS A CHARACTER Carraway's distinctiveness as a
character is that he fails to learn anything from his story, that he can
continue to blind himself even after his privileged overview of Gatsby's
fate.... He refuses to admit that his alliance with Gatsby, his admiration for
the man, results from their sharing the same weakness.... He has learned
nothing. His failure to come to any self-knowledge makes him like the person who
blames the stone for stubbing his toe. It seems inevitable that he will repeat
the same mistakes as soon as the feeling that "temporarily closed out my
interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men" has
departed.... Had Carraway been defeated by the impersonal forces of an evil
world in which he was an ineffectual innocent, his very existence--temporary or
not--would lighten the picture. But his defeat is caused by something that lies
within himself: his own lack of fibre, his own willingness to deny reality, his
own substitution of dreams for knowledge of self and the world, his own sharing
in the very vices of which his fellow men stand accused. Gary J. Scrimgeour,
"Against The Great Gatsby," 1966
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