Great Gatsby 15 Short Essays Essay

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Great Gatsby 15 Short Essays Essay, Research Paper

Have you ever felt that there were two of you battling for control of the person

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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


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


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


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

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