Myrtle’s party in chapter two and Gatsby’s party at the start of chapter three of The Great Gatsby are one example of Fitzgerald’s use of juxtaposition to contrast the two atmospheres. Some of these contrasting ideas include the difference in the two hosts’ lifestyles and wealth. However, the two parties also share some similarities such as the shallow tendencies of the people involved and the endless drinking which ends in fights in both settings.
One main difference of Myrtle’s party is its size. Not just the number of people, but the size of her surroundings. Her place is described as “…a small living-room, a small dining-room, a small bedroom, and a bath.”(p. 33) The entire place gives the feel of being closed in and too small for its contents: “The living-room was crowded to the doors with a set of tapestried furniture entirely too large for it… (p. 33) Even the photograph on the wall is labeled as being “over-enlarged.”(p. 33) Gatsby’s party, however, spares no expense; much like his house. Fruit is sent in every Friday, caterers bring enough lights to “…make a Christmas tree of Gastby’s enormous garden”(p. 44), and elegant dinner is served: “On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys…”(p. 44) A full scale orchestra provides music all night for the hundreds of guests, laughing and dancing.
A second variation between Myrtle and Gatsby, is their class of wealth. Myrtle is from the “valley of ashes,” but she is continually trying to live the life of the rich. She is obsessed with money and admits to losing interest in her husband after learning “He borrowed somebody’s best suit to get married in…”(p. 39) because he didn’t have one of his own. Myrtle also complains about the “shiftlessness of the lower orders”(p. 36) which proves she thinks of herself as upper class.
Gatsby, on the other hand, has acquired the wealth that Myrtle lusts after. Unlike her though, the material possessions and the superficial admiration is not important to him. He prefers to witness his parties from the outside, refraining from drinking and partying with the others: “…my eyes fell on Gatsby, standing alone on the marble steps and looking from one group to another with approving eyes.” (p. 54)
One of the comparisons of the two events is the coming and going of the partygoers. Nick describes the people at Gatsby’s party by saying: “…men and girls came and went like moths among the whispering and the champagne and the stars.”(p. 43) At Myrtle’s party as well, “People disappeared, reappeared, made plans to go somewhere, and then lost each other, searched for each other, found each other a few feet away.”(p. 41)
Both parties are also full of gossiping and lies. Myrtle talks about her husband behind his back saying he’s not “…fit to lick my shoe.”(p. 39) Catherine whispers to Nick throughout the night about how neither Tom nor Myrtle are happy with their spouse. She also mentions to Nick that the only reason the two haven’t divorced and married each other are because Daisy is “…a Catholic, and they don’t believe in divorce.”(p. 38) Many rumors about the host circulate at Gatsby’s party. One woman informs her table that: “Somebody told me they thought he killed a man once.”(p. 48) and another chimes in: “it’s more that he was a German spy during the war.”(p. 48)
Lastly, the two events both end in fights. Myrtle’s closes with an argument between herself and Tom as to whether or not she should be able to say Daisy. In aggression, Tom breaks her nose. “Then there were bloody towels upon the bathroom floor, and woman’s voices scolding, and high over the confusion a long broken wail of pain.”(p. 41) Women at Gatsby’s party break into arguments with their husbands about speaking with other women or wanting to leave too soon: “Whenever he sees I’m having a good time he wants to go home.”(p. 56)
The parties in chapter two and three are important in illustrating the similarities and differences between Gatsby, one of the wealthy, and the lower class’ attitudes and aspirations. Though money is important to both, they possess different reasons for their desire. While Myrtle hungered for the “ritzy” life filled with its possessions and admirable social standing, Gatsby sought the wealth only to make Daisy happy, hopelessly believing he could win her with it.