Thursday, June 1, 2017

Great Gatsby Read-Along: Chapter I

(The original cover image)
Yes!  Here we are at last, ready to embark on our voyage of learning about dreams, disillusionment, love, and loss.

Sounds cheerful, doesn't it?

So while I'm reading this, I'm also reading So We Read On:  How The Great Gatsby Came to be and Why it Endures by Maureen Corrigan, and I'm going to dip into Careless People:  Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell too.  I had hoped to have at least one of those finished before I started this read-along, but other reading commitments got in the way, so whatever, let's just start this!

No wait, first I need to let any newcomers know how this works.  I'll post about each individual chapter, about one every three days.  You can read my thoughts before or after you read the chapter, it doesn't matter.  I don't mark most smaller spoilers, though sometimes I'll mark major ones.  Comments are a free-for-all, and spoilers don't need to be marked there.  I will include discussion questions for you, and you are free to comment on them if you want to, or not.  You can comment about anything I wrote about in the post, your own thoughts on the chapter, lines you loved, stuff you've learned about this book, etc.  I encourage you to read and respond to each others' comments too!  We get some really cool discussions going that way.

Okay, NOW I'm going to dig into the book.

I had entirely forgotten that Nick Carraway, our narrator, is also from a wealthy family.  I remembered that he's a Midwesterner, though.  Perhaps that's what sets him apart from the other born-to-riches characters, rather than his monetary background?  Somehow, despite his time overseas during WWI and his restlessness after the war ended, he's also got this innate decency and honor and moral uprightness that most of the other characters lack.  I'm really very fond of Nick.  Can you tell?  (Yes, I'm also a Midwesterner born and bred, though like Nick, I don't live there all the time.)

Then there's Daisy, who comes from Southern money, like Fitzgerald's wife Zelda.  Daisy and Jordan spent their "white girlhood" in Louisville, KY (p. 19).  She's Nick's second cousin, and they barely know each other, but Nick gets invited into her life just the same.  I think because Daisy is bored, don't you?  Daisy and Tom and Jordan are all bored.  That's why Tom runs around on Daisy, why Jordan enters all these golfing competitions.  Why Daisy later jumps at the chance to get involved with Gatsby.  They're filthy rich, especially the Buchanans, and they have nothing at all they have to do, so they're bored.  Nick's not bored, because he's learning about stocks and bonds.  He comes from money, but not old money like Tom -- his grandfather's brother started the hardware business that Nick's father still manages today.  They're rich, but because they've worked for it, not because they were born into the lap of luxury, so to speak.

People call The Great Gatsby "The Great American Novel."  It's certainly great, particularly the way Fitzgerald puts sentences together.  I don't know about you, but I have underlined something in almost every single paragraph.  I've got notes in the margins and stars and hearts and circles.  I can't read this book quickly.  I have to savor the language as well as read for the plot and characters.

But it's also very American, isn't it?  This book delves deeply into the whole idea of "the American dream."  That someone can rise from poverty to wealth by dint of their own hard work.  That one person is equal to another person.  That it's each person's actions that determine their destiny.  We'll see all those ideas pulled apart, twisted, examined, and ultimately either rejected or accepted by the end of these nine short chapters.

Oh my goodness, I have So Many Things To Say about this chapter, and I can't even seem to get around to saying them!   Okay, I will try to get some of them down.  First posts for read-alongs are always kind of long, for me.

Isn't it interesting that Gatsby only barely makes it into the first chapter?  He gets mentioned at the beginning, name-checked in the middle, and then he appears wordlessly and almost unknown at the very end.  I love the way Nick describes him at the beginning, though:  "Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn" is also the possesser of "some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life," "an extraordinary gift for hope" (p. 2).  Gatsby should come off as a poser, as a wannabe, and instead, he's the most hopeful, romantic, responsive person Nick has ever met.  Such a paradox.  We're fascinated by him before we even see him in the full light of day.

One of the most famous lines in this book is what Daisy says she said about her daughter when she was first born:  "I hope she'll be a fool -- that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool" (p. 17).  Nick lets us know that she's somehow teasing or testing him with her whole "I'm so tired of the world" schtick, and yet, I think there's a lot of truth behind this declaration of hers.  I think Daisy wishes she were still "foolish," still young and innocent and trusting, with hopes and dreams that reality hadn't punctured yet.  She's married to an abusive philanderer.  She's got a daughter she barely sees.  She's bored.  How she must look back at the past, at herself in her beautiful girlhood, and wish she was still that happy and carefree and trusting.  Foolish, but happy.

And at the end of the chapter, we get that indelible image of Jay Gatsby standing alone at the back of his mansion.  There he is, "stretch[ing] out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way" (p. 20), reaching for that "single green light" across the water.  Or is he reaching for the water itself?  In So We Read On, Maureen Corrigan writes, "Almost every page of the novel references water.... Fitzgerald didn't just stick his toes in the water here; in this, his most perfect meditation on the American dream and its deadly undertow, he dives in and goes for broke" (p. 36).  Be on the look-out for all the places that water is mentioned and is important!  (Mild SPOILER here)  Gatsby's supposed to be reaching ineffectually for that green light, but the book specifically says he's stretching his arms "toward the dark water."  If you know how this book ends, this really seems like a bit of foreshadowing, doesn't it? 

Favorite Lines:

Instead of the warm center of the world, the Middle West now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe (p. 3).

I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer (p. 4).

A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as a wind does on the sea (p. 8).

It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again (p. 9).

Tom Buchanan compelled me from the room as though he were moving a checker to another square (p. 11).

Possible Discussion Questions:  

Nick Carraway says, on page 2 of my edition, that "Gatsby turned out all right at the end."  Why do you think he begins his story by telling us how the protagonist is going to end up?

Come to think of it, do you think Gatsby or Nick is the protagonist of this book?


  1. I am reading those three books simultaneously, and like you, there are so many things in my head, I don't know where to begin with, haha! I am in the middle of my first post right now, you can read it yourself when it's published.

    Yes, Nick is the most interesting character here. He is different from the old riches (the Buchanans and Jordan), but also different from Gatsby. Maybe more similar with Gatsby, but unlike Gatsby, Nick didn't have the possessive idea of being rich. Nick is a bit insider (enjoying the luxuries), but more outsider (being uneasy about Tom's mistress).

    And the more I read Careless People (mid chapter 2 now), the more I believe that both Nick and Gatsby are representation of Fitzgerald himself.

    The protagonist is definitely Gatsby. If you have read The House of Mirth, I think Gatsby's struggle is quite similar to Lily Bart's. Both novels speak about social class distinction.

    1. Fanda, I look forward to your post. If you get a chance, stop back here with a link so others can read it!

      I think Nick and Gatsby are very similar -- they both come from the Midwest, they're both a bit cowed by these rich Easterners, but at the same time, they both feel a bit superior to them too. And I agree that both of them represent parts of Fitzgerald. I can see a lot of him in both of them.

      Haven't read House of Mirth yet, but it's on my TBR list!

    2. Hamlette, this is my post for 1st update:

    3. Thanks for sharing the link to your first GG post, Fanda!

  2. Yay! I'm so excited that this has started. :)

  3. I think Gatsby is the protagonist and Nick is the narrator. I've never read any F. Scott Fitzgerald and I'm loving his writing style.

    1. Sue, I agree. How exciting that this is your first Fitzgerald! The man could write some achingly beautiful prose.

  4. I am perplexed about that line, "Gatsby turned out all right in the end."

    Since this is my second read, it is my impression that Gatsby lives in the past, but he learns something completely opposite about the past (and dare I say, that the past is dead). So what the heck is Nick talking about??

    1. I think The Great Gatsby isn't just about American dreams. It's also Fitzgerald's critics on the careless attitude of the "old money". Gatsby is different, he's rich but still has decency (with regard to Myrtle's accident). So, for Nick, Gatsby is "all right".

    2. Ruth, I agree with Fanda to some extent -- that Nick is partly talking about Gatsby being able to hold onto his decency, his humanity. From what I'm remembering (and I may be all wet with this -- we shall see!) I think he might also mean that Gatsby learned the difference between reality and dreams at long last.

    3. OK, Ladies, I'll be looking for answers. These do make a lot of sense to me.

      Also, I agree, Fanda, that this is about more than the American dream. Much more.

  5. Hm. I'm curious to see where this story goes. :)

  6. I finally sat down and read the first chapter. :)

    Since I've never read TGG before and I'm slightly sick today, I don't have any deep thoughts or observations to share. But I thought I would put down a few snippets from the book that I found particularly good (the writing is amazing!).

    "-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 anti-climax." (This stood out to me because Noah said something very similar about a guy in the film I'm Not Ashamed and I found it funny at the time. Only, Fitzgerald put it so much more eloquently.)

    "I had no sight into Daisy's heart, but I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game." (I'm not sure why I highlighted this, other than the fact that it's a little sad.)

    "Almost any exhibition of complete self-sufficiency draws a stunned tribute from me." (I found, upon reading the first chapter, that Nick could be FUNNY.)

    "...the silver pepper of the stars." (The writer in me just thrills to this turn of phrase. <3333)

    By the way, I have a family member who, so far as I've read, tends to treat his wife the way Tom treats Daisy (especially the talking over her part) and it makes me angry, so I"m pretty sure Tom's not going to be a favorite character.


    1. Oh, good, you're reading it, Eva! I must apologize that there's a little more language than I'd remembered. I hope you keep reading, though, because I think you're going to find it a fascinating look at fallen man.

      Yes, Fitzgerald's writing spectacular. Breathtaking. I have to stop and just suck the sweet nectar from sentence after sentence. I underlined all those things you posted!!! Just wonderful prose. I am continually in awe, both as a writer and as a reader. I will never write this well, but that doesn't make me enjoy it less -- it might make me enjoy it more, actually.

      Ugh, yes, you're not going to like Tom. I feel sorry for your family member's wife -- I hope her husband is only like Tom in that one respect!

      Actually, it's pretty hard to like most of the characters in this. I can mostly like a couple of them, but they're not people I want to hang out with. Very weird that I like this book, come to think of it. And, actually, that's how much of Fitzgerald is for me -- I adore the way he writes, but not what he writes.

      I hope you feel better soon!

    2. Yes, I was a little surprised to see some language in the first chapter. :P

      So, what are the characters that you like? Because, having got as far as the second chapter, I'm not getting behind any of them (though I do sympathize with Daisy). And I think that's going to be a pretty serious hurdle to my actually liking TGG.

      Thanks. :) I'm feeling a little better.

    3. Well, I like Nick for the most part, and I like Gatsby for the most part, though they both have things about them I don't like. I like Mr. Wilson a great deal too -- I feel very sad for him, though he also does things I don't like. Daisy, Tom, and Jordan, though, are selfish brats with no morals. In my somewhat-humble opinion.

      Glad you're feeling better!

  7. Yay! I'm so glad this read along started!

    I never noticed that Gatsby stretched out his hand to the water instead of the green light. That does seem like a foreshadowing of what is to come. When I read this in school, the teacher just automatically said that he was stretching toward the green light, so I never thought about it again, but I think Gatsby stretching his hand to the dark water is more important than the green light. Could have stretching his hand out to the green light (Daisy) also correspond with stretching his hand out to death, especially since Gatsby died kind of because of his affair with Daisy?

    Maybe Nick tells the reader Gatsby ended up alright in the end, so that the reader can see Gatsby positively throughout the novel. For example, even if we wanted to think bad of Gatsby we really couldn't because Nick put the thought into our head that Gatsby is really good.

    I think Nick is the protagonist of this book. We read about him a lot more than we do about Gatsby, and he is the one telling the story.

    1. Ekaterina, glad you joined us!

      Yeah, the green light gets a LOT of play in literature courses. And it's definitely significant. But here, I really do feel like Fitzgerald is emphasizing that by reaching out his hand to grasp Daisy, Gatsby is reaching for his own doom. It's beautiful foreshadowing, I think.

      Nick definitely wants us to see Gatsby positively. He basically insists that we do, you're so right.

    2. I like how you wrote, "by reaching out his hand to grasp Daisy, Gatsby is reaching for his own doom." That is exactly what I was thinking. I just did it more clumsily. :-)

  8. I love this book! It's probably one of my top 3 favorites! And Maureen Corrigan's book about it was fascinating - hope you enjoy it, too. Since high school, I have always thought of Nick Caraway as the greatest sidekick narrator. I remember when I first read it in 10th grade English, I almost wanted to disagree with my teacher when she said Gatsby was the protagonist (which he is). I could never stop thinking about Nick.

    1. Dale, that's so cool this is one of your most favorite books! I've been enjoying Corrigan's book, for sure -- so much so that I don't want to hurry my way through it.

      Nick is definitely an amazing sidekick. The kind we all want to have, because he insists on talking his idol up and making him look awesome, not tearing him down.

      I agree Gatsby is the protag, as he's got the character arc, and everything revolves around him. But Nick is a fascinating guy, no doubt.

  9. I've read this once before and didn't fully understand and didn't like it at all. So, I'm trying again. I read the first three chapters today to catch up, but I'm short on sleep and not normally always succinct and lucid, so I don't know how intelligible my thoughts are or even how much of the story penetrated to my brain. I always did a brief (Wikipedia, so take that into consideration) skim of the the Fitzgerald's themselves. They lived excessive, decadent lives; this seems very much like what they lived, yet I cannot tell if he is satirizes the emptiness and folly of it all? I don't remember much of the details of the story and ending (just some main facts), but as of this reading, I don't like Nick any better than the rest. He IS writing from his point of view, so his bias. I feel that he is trying to justify himself, he is trying to pretend he isn't as decadent as the rest because he pretends to study. Perhaps I expect the satire of British writing, and American writing isn't so? I've not read much American Lit.

    1. Livia, ahh yes, reading while sleep deprived. I've done that, and had some very interesting reactions to books as a result. Possibly you might want to read the next few chapters after you've had a chance to catch up on your sleep? It might make a world of difference.

      The Fitzgeralds did indeed have quite the reputation for partying to excess, as I discussed in the post about chapter three. I don't believe Fitzgerald is satirizing that lifestyle so much as pointing out the downfalls of it. I read somewhere something to the effect that he not only immortalized the Jazz Age (and named it), but he also predicted its ultimate collapse in his books. He definitely shows us the falseness beneath the glamour in this book, the emptiness in all that merrymaking. But satire? No, not satire. Much more serious and poignant than that.

    2. I'm not sure it doesn't perhaps edge into satire, but I am also not sure that he is truly serious. He lived in absolute folly himself after all. I don't know what to make of it, especially because I suspect we have all be taught/led to make too much of it.

    3. Livia, I feel like Fitzgerald does use satire a little bit here and there, but that the book as a whole is not a satire. I know some people consider it to be a satire, but to me, it lacks that overall bitingly humorous flavor that a satirical novel should have, like Pride and Prejudice or Catch-22.

      I think Fitzgerald is very serious about making his points, but that he makes them in a way that does point out the foibles, wrongs, and failings of the world he lived in.

  10. I am so excited for this as it is my first time reading the book and I have absolutely no idea what this book is about! Okay, I do know that it is about someone named Jay Gatsby, and there is someone named Daisy in it. I am so sorry I haven't commented sooner, just now have I been able to sit down and read this whole chapter. Also, how exciting that you are hosting a read-along that is by the guy who technically gave the name of this blog!

    I was really surprised and confused at first as I was not expecting anyone other than "The Great Gatsby" to be narrating. But, I, too, like Nick. I'm not really sure what it is (we're only one chapter in), but I like him.

    Wow! Mr. Fitzgerald really does have some great lines! I was not expecting that! I kept saying to myself, "This is really good, you should be writing this down, MC."

    I was surprised that Nick said it would be okay, but, it put me at ease. "Whew! This isn't gong to be one of those books where you go through the whole thing and then, boom! Not a good ending." Maybe that is why he put it there?

    Since we don't really know Jay Gatsby yet, and as this is my first time around, I would guess it is actually mostly about Nick? I'm just guessing.

    Thank you so much for hosting this! I will be back with my reply to the next chapter soon!

    1. MC, I'm so excited for you too! Yes, it's nifty that I'm hosting a read-along of a Fitzgerald book on the blog I named after a Fitzgerald quotation :-) I'm loving that.

      And yes. Yes, yes, yes. Fitzgerald can write the most elegant, careless, breathtaking prose. I get litarary-ly drunk on it.

      I'm going to try not to spoil things by replying much more than this, because I want you to have the experience of discovering the story and characters for the first time. But... just keep in mind that a "good" ending doesn't necessarily equate a "happy" ending. This book has more of an "inevitable" ending. Like, this is simply how things have to turn out.

      I look forward to your replies on more chapters! Loving your enthusiasm, MC :-)

  11. This is my first reread of this book so I'm excited to notice all the details and foreshadowing I missed the first time, and it seems there are lots of those!

    I don't know why but when I reach page 2 in chapter 1 I am always incredibly bored - probably something to do with the language. And then just 2 pages later I never want to stop reading.

    I really like the line where Nick says he is visiting "2 old friends whom he scacrely knew at all." It's quite describing of the superficial relationships betwwen most of the characters in the story.

    I've always thought of Gatsby as the main character because his name is in the title, and it's mainly his story being told, but it's a question I will certainly look closer at while reading.

    Once again, thanks for hosting this! I've really been looking forward to it:)

    1. Rose, so glad you're joining in! Some books really do require a second reading just to fully grasp the nuances and details, don't they? Happily, this one is short and very re-readable :-)

      I believe Gatsby is the main character, because he shows the most character growth and because he's the one the whole story pivots around. But a case can be made in Nick's favor too.

  12. Well, I'm late, but I'm here! I thought for sure I'd have time to do a tiny bit of reading when y'all started, but wound up being a ton busier than I imagined. Gotta play catch up now!

    I can't read this book quickly either. Sometimes I'll read it out loud to myself. It's so satisfying!

    I like what you said about Daisy and the fool line. I always think though that it's a lose-lose situation in her mind. Like, maybe she wishes she were still a happy fool, but maybe she also partially wishes she were never a fool, because it got her where she was.

    Interesting about the water. Gonna remember that!

    I love the entire opening of the book. I'd love to have it memorized so I could quote it to myself occasionally! If I had to pick, my favorite bit from chapter 1 would be a part of his description of Tom -- "one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savours of anticlimax." Haha, I dunno, I really like that for some reason.

    I guess I'd say Gatsby is the main character, but this is one of those books where I don't think at all about how to define the characters like that. Like they feel very real to me, and real people aren't main or side or villain or protagonist, they're just people. It's definitely not a straightforward structure because while Gatsby is the focus of the story, it's from Nick's perspective. They kind of share the typical main character duties. As to the other question, I have no idea. But I do know that when I first read the book, reading that line felt like a promise of doom, because if he turns out alright in the end, that means there'd have to be a lot of bad and a chance of him not. I have no idea if that was the intent, but...

    I'm so happy to finally get started on this! This book is so deep, and I love reading your thoughts -- especially when you point out things I'd never thought of before!

  13. Sarah, you're not really all that late -- I still have a third of the book to go yet ;-) And happily, it's not that hard to catch up, even if you read only one chapter a day to savor them.

    I love that you read parts of this out loud! I should try that.

    And as I keep reading the book, I'm starting to agree with you -- I think Daisy wishes she was still a fool, but she only ever kind of pretended to be one. Because being a fool was easier than being wise, and she's... kinda lazy.

    That's such a good line about Tom. Definitely tells us a lot about him! And it's funny too :-)

    This whole book kind of breaks away from conventional ideas of things like main characters, in a way. We've been talking in a later chapter about how the crisis of the story might have even happened before the book ever started, which is definitely not normal either! I love how daring and original, yet subtle, this book is.

    So glad you've joined in! I'm looking forward to more of your comments :-)

  14. "It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again (p. 9)."

    I love that line. The sense of nostalgia and loss in a single line....

    1. John, yes! It really helps us get a sense of what this story will be about, huh?


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