Analysis: Fitzgerald establishes Nick Carraway as an impartial but not passive narrator. He does reserve judgment on others, yet as he states, he is not entirely forgiving. From the opening paragraphs, there is already a tension.
For the narrator, Gatsby represents all that is contemptible, but Gatsby is the one person exempt from this scorn. The first paragraphs of the book foreshadow the main actions of The Great Gatsby: Carraway says that living without privilege can excuse some behavior, yet not all. The main theme of the novel is what behavior the less privileged can and cannot use to gain the advantages of the elite. A major concern in the book is class and privilege. Nick Carraway and the Buchanans are all from privileged, elite backgrounds, yet use this status in different ways.
Tom Buchanan uses his status in a reprehensible and vulgar manner. In physical stature he is powerful and dominant. As his wife says, he is a ‘big, hulking physical specimen.’ He has a trace of ‘paternal contempt’ that inspires hatred. His choice of reading, “The Rise of the Colored Empires,” suggests that he is concerned with maintaining his own dominance.
There is some anxiety surrounding Tom Buchanan, as if he foretells his eventual decline. Daisy Buchanan is a stark contrast to her husband. She is frail and diminutive, flighty and insubstantial. She laughs at practically every opportunity. Additionally, Daisy is gossipy and transparent, affecting an air of worldliness and cynicism. She strikes a similar posture as her husband, claiming that everything is in decline, but does not appear to have the hard temperament or the concrete knowledge to back up that opinion.
Daisy seems to represent some sense of purity and an innocence that borders on navet. She and Jordan are dressed in white when Nick arrives, and she mentions their ‘white girl-hood’ together. But this ostensible purity of Daisy and Jordan is an ironic contrast to their actual decadence and corruption, as later events will show. The first appearance of Gatsby is a dramatic and symbolic gesture. It has a religious solemnity, and Gatsby himself seems godlike. Fitzgerald writes that his position suggests that Gatsby had “come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens.
” He is alone and isolated, mysteriously appearing and disappearing. He reaches out to the sea in an attempt to grasp some intangible object, a green light at the end of a dock. Gatsby literally reaches for something he cannot hold in this scene. In this scene, Fitzgerald does not attempt for realism, but instead for a dramatic statement. The green light symbolizes the thing for which Gatsby has been striving a symbol that will become tangible in the following chapters. Analysis: The road from West Egg to New York City exemplifies decay.
It is a ‘valley of ashes,’ desolate and gray. The eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg that overlook the road are a bit of grotesque imagery, looking out on the barren road but not attached to any face or body. They are profoundly unnatural and decaying. The valley in some way represents a hellish underworld.
Even in the description of the drawbridge and passing barges it makes a literary illusion to the mythological River Styx. The area also seems to reference Fitzgerald’s contemporary, T.S. Eliot, in the creation of a Waste Land.
Like Gatsby’s reaching toward the green light, the area is representative at the expense of realism, two detached eyes looking over dust and ashes. Ashes are the predominant image of this chapter. The road is a ‘valley of ashes,’ while Fitzgerald describes George Wilson as having an ‘ashen dust’ in his clothes and hair. In comparison to Daisy Buchanan, Myrtle Wilson is sensuous and vital. While Daisy wears pale white, Myrtle wears earth tones.
While Daisy is light and affected, Myrtle Wilson is thicker and straightforward. Fitzgerald consistently notes her stout figure and excess weight, not as a sign of unattractiveness, but as a reminder of her robust fertility and femininity. There is a constant concern among the characters for fashion and culture. Myrtle Wilson reads tabloid-style magazines and speaks of her sister in terms of gossip.
Fitzgerald consistently notes a sense of superficiality among the characters. Mr. McKee does not say that he is an artist, rather he claims to be in the ‘artistic game.
‘ Gossip is particularly prevalent. The characters discuss the mysterious Gatsby, telling rumors that he is related to the Kaiser, while Catherine dishes information about Tom and Myrtle to Nick. Clothing plays an important role for each character, reflecting moods and personalities.
When Myrtle changes into a cream-colored dress, she loses some of her vitality. She becomes, like Daisy, more artificial. Her laughter, gestures and assertions become more violently affected.
The chapter also continues to explore the theme of a society in decadent decay. The rationale that Myrtle gives for having an affair with Tom is that ‘you can’t live forever.’ Nick Carraway’s relationship with this society deserves some mention. He mentions that he was “within and without,” both drawn to and repelled by the ways that the Buchanans and their acquaintances lived. Also, there is some indication of Tom Buchanan’s violent temper when he suddenly breaks Myrtle’s nose. Analysis: Even upon his introduction, Jay Gatsby remains a mystery. At his own parties few of the guests know the host or are even invited at all.
This chapter builds on the idea that there is something not only mysterious but sinister about Gatsby. All of the gossip relating to Gatsby is borderline monstrous, whether murder or spying for the Germans during the war. When Nick finally meets Gatsby, the man is unassuming and ordinary, easily mistaken for another guest. Among the others he is isolated. He alone does not dance.
The sense of mystery that surrounds Gatsby is compounded by the long discussion that he has with Jordan Baker. There is some amazing news about Gatsby that Jordan will soon reveal to Nick. Fitzgerald gives great attention to the details of his contemporary society.
The party is a long description of Jazz Age decadence. The parties exemplify conspicuous consumption, as Carraway details in the beginning of the chapter, and mix the lewd with the respectable. Among the butlers and professionally trained singers who perform at the party, the guests are drunk and boisterous. The orchestra plays a work by a Mr. Vladimir Tostoff that had a great reception at Carnegie Hall, yet this piece, the Jazz History of the World, is the antithesis of classical respectability. Another contemporary touch that Fitzgerald adds to this chapter is the use of cars. At the time of this book’s publication, they were still novelty items, and Fitzgerald presents them with a sense of luxurious danger.
A car accident disturbs the end of the party, when one of the guests drives drunk, and Carraway realizes that Jordan is a terribly unsafe driver. Her near car accident serves as a metaphor for the behavior of her contemporaries: Jordan is a careless driver because she expects others to be careful and stay out of her way in the event of an accident. The chapter also bolsters Fitzgerald’s insistence that Carraway is an objective narrator, ending with the narrator’s claim that he is one of the few honest people he has ever known.
Jordan Baker is a stark contrast to this. She is compulsively dishonest; the story that she may have moved her ball during a golf tournament seems unsurprising. She additionally suspects others of equal dishonesty. She automatically assumes that Gatsby’s books aren’t real, but are instead, like most of her major characteristics, for decoration and appearance. Analysis: The chapter begins with an additional reminder that Gatsby is a mysterious, shady presence and possibly dangerous. The presence of Meyer Wolfsheim supports the idea that Gatsby is involved with shady dealings. In comparison with the other characters, Wolfsheim is vulgar and unrefined.
He immediately speaks about murders and crimes, yet does so in a sentimental manner. His speech is slurred and low-class, and his proud display of his cufflinks made from human molars is borderline grotesque. The character is an exaggeration meant to emphasize Gatsby’s disreputable dealings, more a symbol such as the green light or the eyes of T.J.
Eckleburg than a fully realized character such as Carraway or Gatsby. Wolfsheim also serves to place the novel in a historical context; the mention of the 1919 World Series was a recent and quite notable scandal to Fitzgerald’s contemporaries. In this chapter, Gatsby finally gives his first account of his personal history, refuting the previous wild rumors about his past. Yet his account is entirely unconvincing. Gatsby claims to have had a wholesome upbringing in the middle west (his idea of the middle west is San Francisco), and the claim that all of his family is dead seems inconvenient. Furthermore, this does not explain how such wild accusations concerning his reputation have arisen.
Jordan Baker even contradicts parts of Gatsby’s stories when she tells Nick how she met Gatsby. According to her, she met Gatsby in America when he was a soldier; Gatsby tells Nick that he enlisted in the war while traveling through Europe. Furthermore, she indicates that there is something in Gatsby’s past that made Daisy’s parents oppose her romance with him. Jordan’s tale about Daisy and Gatsby seems disjointed and incoherent. Only the first anecdote (about Daisy leaving Red Cross work to meet him) relates directly to Gatsby. However, Jordan does seem to relate Daisy’s breakdown at her wedding to Gatsby, and Gatsby’s move to New York to Daisy. There seems to be a great romantic longing between the two, yet (as shown by Gatsby’s sudden disappearance when Daisy arrives at the restaurant) some reason for the inability of the two to meet directly.
An infatuation for Daisy explains a great deal of Gatsby’s behavior. When he was watching the light in the first chapter, he was in fact gazing over at the Buchanan’s mansion across the bay. Gatsby throws his constant parties for the sole purpose of finding a connection to Daisy Buchanan, which he found in both Jordan Baker and Nick Carraway. Fitzgerald sets up the romance between Gatsby and Daisy largely from Gatsby’s point of view: it is the driving force in Gatsby’s life and his great obsession.
The admission that Nick Carraway is to arrange a meeting between Gatsby and Daisy places his friendship with Gatsby in a questionable light. It appears that Gatsby is using Nick merely to get to Daisy, yet Nick holds no ill will toward Gatsby for his behavior. Jordan Baker occupies an ambiguous role for Nick Carraway; he has an interest in her, but this interest stems from her negative qualities her scorn and sarcasm and he is painfully aware that he does not have great concern for her. Nick and Jordan contrast with the presumed passionate and consuming romance between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan.
The only emotion that Nick can evoke for Jordan is curiosity. Analysis: The exchange between Nick and Gatsby when Gatsby offers a job is indicative of their relationship. Gatsby wishes to arrange for Nick’s comforts and provide for him; he uses his material wealth as leverage in personal relationships. Nick, however, wishes to remain at a distance; he is still suspicious of Gatsby and obviously aware of Nick’s distaste for Wolfsheim. The amount of preparation that Gatsby puts into his afternoon with Daisy borders on grand obsession Gatsby even arranges aspects of Nick’s home for him but there are still unexpected inconveniences such as rain to spoil Gatsby’s intended perfection. The afternoon is an ostentatious display of wealth. The dozens of shirts and other piles of clothing are signs of conspicuous consumption, and Gatsby himself is dressed in gold and silver.
Every detail is meant to impress, including the newspaper clippings and the picture of Gatsby in yachting costume. Gatsby himself is incredibly nervous during the entire meeting. In previous chapters he has been consistently calm and composed, yet he breaks his composure when he meets Daisy, behaving in a sullen and withdrawn manner.
This change in character is highlighted by the exchange between Nick and Gatsby when Nick scolds him for acting immature. This is the first instance in which Nick assumes a role equal to Gatsby. Gatsby further displays a tremendous sense of self-doubt and uncharacteristic anger, indicating that there is information concerning his affair with Daisy that he has not let Nick know. Daisy herself plays a minor role in the entire ordeal. Her reactions to the display and pageantry that Gatsby has prepared for her are less important than the display itself.
Rather, she is overwhelmed by the display, at a loss for words when shown the piles of multicolored shirts. The chapter continues to provide evidence that Gatsby has not been truthful about his origins. Although he had earlier claimed to inherit his money, he admits that it took him years to earn enough money to buy his mansion. When Nick catches him on this, he again offers a half-hearted explanation, and is vague when explaining his business (he claims to have been in the drug business and the oil business, but is no longer in either). Clocks are a recurring object in this chapter. Carraway says of Gatsby that “he was running down like an over-wound clock,” while Gatsby nearly breaks Nick’s clock out of anxiety when they first meet Daisy at Nick’s home.
They highlight the importance of time in the novel. It is quite significant for Gatsby that years (five years in November, as he precisely notes) had passed since he last saw Daisy. The song that Klipspringer plays for Gatsby and Daisy is significant. The lyrics “In the morning, In the evening, Ain’t we got fun” indicate a joy and spontaneous gaiety that are a stark contrast with the tightly planned and controlled event that Gatsby has produced.
The lyrics “the rich get richer and the poor get” also are significant, bringing in issues of money and class that are omnipresent throughout the novel. There is also the sense of inevitable disappointment inherent in the meeting between Gatsby and Daisy which Nick realizes upon the end of the day. Gatsby has been planning for this moment for years; no matter how well the meeting had gone, it could not fulfill the grand dreams that he has created for himself. This highlights an important aspect of Gatsby’s character: he has an inability to conceive of anything in less than grandiose terms, whether parties, business arrangements or meetings with an old flame. Analysis: The incident with the reporter is another indication that Gatsby is involved with some dealings with far-reaching consequences. Whenever there is even the slightest hint that something shady has occurred, Gatsby is automatically presumed involved.
The story of Jay Gatsby is the quintessential tale of the self-made man. Gatsby even ‘invented’ himself, creating the persona of ‘Jay Gatsby’ from the actual person ‘James Gatz.’ The full realization of the Gatsby persona and all that it entails is the character’s grandiose dream and motivating force. The experience with Dan Cody did not give Gatsby any tangible assets, but did provide him with a concrete idea of what Gatsby wanted to be. This actual history of Gatsby explains some of the suspicion directed towards him. Unlike Tom or Nick, he does not come from an established family. He is, as Tom Buchanan says, one of the ‘new rich.
‘ Tom Buchanan serves two major purposes in the novel. He is a source of danger, with his violent bearing and blunt manner. Tom has no sense of restraint, and is quite suspicious, particularly when Daisy is involved. But Tom is also the prime exemplar of ‘old money’ as compared to Gatsby’s status as one of the ‘new rich.’ Tom’s status endows him with a sense of crude condescension towards all others. He automatically assumes that Gatsby must be a bootlegger, for it seems the only explanation for his newfound wealth.
He considers Gatsby an obvious social inferior, automatically unacceptable to members of his social circle. Fitzgerald makes it clear in this chapter that Gatsby expects far too much from Daisy. He expects that Daisy will give order to his life and set right any confusion. It is not enough that she might leave her husband for him; Gatsby expects her to totally renounce any feelings she may have for Tom and to return to how her life was five years before.
This indicates a great arrogance within Gatsby. He sincerely believes that he can fix everything to be how it was before. Included in this arrogance is some hostility directed toward Daisy. Part of Gatsby’s goal is to prove Daisy wrong for marrying TomAnalysis: A number of changes accompany the new romance between Gatsby and Daisy. Gatsby has reunited with Daisy; he no longer needs to throw his lavish parties simply to find some connection to her.
For the first time, Gatsby shows some awareness of public perceptions of him. Previously, Gatsby has shown no interest in the numerous rumors concerning his reputation; however, with Daisy’s frequent visits he must now exercise some discretion. However, Daisy lacks the sense of discretion that Gatsby now begins to show. Inviting Gatsby to lunch with her husband is a bold, foolish move, particularly considering Tom’s brutish snobbery toward Gatsby and his cynical suspicions. Tom is inherently insecure, obsessed with an inevitable downfall (as shown by his choice of reading material, this time predicting no less than the end of the world). However, despite his fumbled attempts at intellectualism, Tom is shrewd enough to know about his wife’s infidelity. Tom’s awareness of Daisy’s affair is mirrored in Wilson’s realization that Myrtle and Tom’s affair.
A major development in this chapter is that Fitzgerald reveals how each of the characters knows or at least suspects what is going on with the others. This is not a society in which moral codes are strictly enforced or infidelities are shocking news. Although angry at his wife, Tom is certainly not shocked by Daisy’s behavior. Quite tellingly, Tom seems less opposed to the fact that his wife is having an affair than that she is having an affair with a man he considers to be low class. The introduction of Daisy’s daughter is an abrupt and jarring development in the novel. It is an additional reminder to Gatsby that he cannot turn back the five years that have passed, and makes it quite clear that Daisy is a mother.
Yet the presence of her daughter makes Daisy seem all the more immature. Fitzgerald describes the child as nearly identical to her mother, even dressed in white as Daisy traditionally is, and Daisy’s manner seems even more insubstantial than usual around the young girl. The chapter also elucidates the particular qualities in Daisy that Gatsby admires. His remark “Her voice is full of money” is particularly significant. For Gatsby, Daisy represents the money (and, more importantly, the status it entails) for which he has yearned. The distinction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ money is crucial; while Gatsby had to strive to earn his fortune, Daisy’s inherited wealth has formed her sense of ease and leisure.
The description of Myrtle at the window foreshadows dire events relating to the character. While the others remain calm despite the more shocking revelations, Myrtle verges on hysterics. Tom responds to events with bitter disgust, and Wilson descends into glum resignation. Myrtle, however, is seized with “jealous terror.” The confrontation between Gatsby and Tom depends upon the major motivations for each character.
For Tom, the affair between Gatsby and Daisy is further proof of the decline of society and, more importantly, of social stratification. Tom’s attacks on Gatsby are meant to expose Gatsby as a lower class fraud. He opposes his wife’s affair because it sneers at family life and institutions the very institutions that place Tom at the apex of society. He even claims that the affair is a step toward the eventual collapse of society and “intermarriage between white and black.” This is a remarkable shift for Tom, who moves “from libertine to prig” when it suits his needs. Tom obviously does not predict similar dire consequences stemming from his affair with Myrtle.
Gatsby, however, desires no less than for Daisy to entirely renounce Tom and to claim her unwavering devotion to Gatsby. When she refuses to concede that she never loved Tom, it is a defeat for Gatsby, who can accept nothing less. It is this fact that gives Tom the victory. Daisy may not love Tom, but she doesn’t love Gatsby enough to satisfy him. His expectations are far too high to ever allow complete satisfaction. Daisy remains a pawn throughout the entire chapter, caught between the arguments of the two men. Her fragility is particularly important in this chapter.
Tom and Gatsby fight over who can possess Daisy and provide for her. Gatsby does not tell Tom that Daisy is leaving him, but that “You’re not going to take care of her anymore.” Neither of the men conceive of Daisy having the ability for independent action. Yet the careless Daisy does not challenge their possessiveness. Gatsby lets her drive to calm her down after the argument, but she is not up to the task. Afterwards, Gatsby must leave the scene of the accident and hide the car to protect her delicate nerves.
Her weakness is such that for Gatsby, Daisy’s emotions are all that matter, despite the fact that she killed another woman through her careless driving. Throughout the chapter, Nick serves as simply a passive observer. He is caught up in the events surrounding him, even forgetting important details of his own life. He goes without noticing that the day was his thirtieth birthday.
When he does realize this, it reflects a turning point for Nick. He has witnessed the bitter confrontation between Tom and Gatsby, which matures him, and this newfound maturity is reflected in a literal aging of the character. Analysis: Nick’s concern for Gatsby demonstrates the loyalty that he still has toward the man. Despite all of the careless behavior that Gatsby has been involved in, he still remains absolved of a great deal of the blame. Nick gives the final appraisal of Gatsby when he tells him that he’s “worth the whole damn bunch of them.
” While Nick does feel some tension toward Gatsby as he says, he disapproved of him from beginning to end he recognizes that Gatsby has a grand passion and vision that the others, with their detached cynicism and carelessness, lack. His faults stem from his delusion toward Daisy. He refuses to leave town, for reasons simultaneously selfless and arrogant. He wishes to protect Daisy from Tom, but also holds onto the slim chance that Daisy may renounce her husband and come to him.
It is his devotion to the unattainable Daisy that is Gatsby’s downfall. Gatsby is not murdered for his bootlegging or connections to organized crime, but rather for his unswerving devotion to Daisy that blinds him to the fates of others and even to his own safety. Fitzgerald writes, he had “paid a high price for living too long with a single dream.” The exchange between Michaelis and Wilson before he seeks out Gatsby is significant.
He looks out at the eyes advertisement and claims that “God sees everything,” an important injection of morality into the novel. The only previous statements of moral belief have come from Tom, who uses them as weapons to maintain his societal status. For Wilson the statement is of religious terror: whatever sins these people commit, they cannot hide them from god. Yet this jarring introduction of moral instruction is based on delusion.
Wilson confuses the eyes of an advertisement for the eyes of god. Fitzgerald imbues the description of Gatsby’s death with images of transition. Even before the murder occurs there seems to be an understanding that a change will soon occur. When Nick leaves Gatsby they say goodbye to each other, implying that it is a final departure.
Before Gatsby is murdered he is taking one last swim before draining the pool for the fall. Analysis: The reports of Gatsby’s death are consistent with the rumors that circulated when he was alive: they assume a number of lurid details, when in fact the circumstances of the murder are actually somewhat mundane. The general opinion of Gatsby after the death demonstrates clearly how he was such an outsider in society.
Only Nick remains devoted to Gatsby after the murder, while the rest of Gatsby’s acquaintances have no interest in him. The many guests at his parties are now absent; his murder confirms the ill suspicions and rumors that had circulated concerning Gatsby. After the murder, Tom and Daisy quickly flee New York, an action typical of their careless behavior. They do not take responsibility for any of the events surrounding Gatsby’s murder, leaving Nick to handle everything alone. Even Meyer Wolfsheim behaves responsibly in comparison to the Buchanans. Although he refuses to be mixed up in the situation, he still shows concern and compassion. Wolfsheim even gives a sane appraisal of the situation, telling Nick that one should show friendship for a man when he is alive. Wolfsheim’s reluctance to be involved seems honorable, and Fitzgerald makes it clear that Wolfsheim had genuine affection for Gatsby. The Buchanans behave entirely selfishly. Henry Gatz serves to place Gatsby’s life in proper perspective. From him Nick learns how much Gatsby achieved and how dedicated he was to self-improvement. Even when he was an adolescent he had grand plans for becoming respectable. Contrary to his reputation as a man interested only in pleasure, Gatsby took good care of his father, buying him a house and providing him with a modestly comfortable life. The funeral provides further evidence that few had any concern for Gatsby. Other than his servants, Henry Gatz and Nick, only the Owl-Eyed man from the first party attends the funeral. Where hundreds attended his parties, only a small number attend his funeral. A common trait among the principle characters of the novel Gatsby, Daisy, Nick, and the Buchanans is that each came east for its excitement, compared to the bored mid-west. Yet for Nick the excitement of the east is a grotesque distortion. The excitement of the east sustains wild parties at the Gatsby mansion, but also provides an atmosphere in which people as careless as the Buchanans can wreak incredible havoc upon others. Jordan’s ‘bad driver’ metaphor places Nick into a different light. Since he serves primarily as an objective narrator, there is little critique of his actions. Only Jordan points out that Nick is as false and careless as the others. He pursued a half-hearted romance with Jordan with little consideration for her feelings, showing interest for her only casually. Significantly, she does not find the solution to their faults to be self-improvement and correction, but rather avoidance. According to Jordan, irresponsible people are only harmful when they find each other (as Nick had found her and the Buchanans). The meeting between Tom and Nick is disturbing because Tom sincerely believes that he deserves some degree of sympathy. It was Tom who was responsible for Gatsby’s murder, but he believed that the outcome was justice. It is here that Nick fully realizes the Buchanans’ depravity, giving the most accurate appraisal of them: he calls them “careless people” who “smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness.” Fitzgerald concludes the novel with a final note on Gatsby’s beliefs. It is this particular aspect of his character his optimistic belief in achievement and the ability to attain one’s dreams that defines Gatsby, in contrast to the compromising cynicism of his peers. Yet the final symbol contradicts and deflates the grand optimism that Gatsby held. Fitzgerald ends the book with the sentence “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past,” which contradicts Gatsby’s fervent belief that one can escape his origins and rewrite his past.