Time to admit that my plan for reading this is not going the way I'd hoped. I'd planned to read a chapter of So We Read On one day, a chapter of Careless People the next, and a chapter of The Great Gatsby the third, at which point I would post about the chapter and whatever I'd learned from the other two books. Alas, real life has intervened, in the form of first all my kids getting a cold, then me catching it from them. Also, the other two books are WAY more dense and meaty than I was expecting, and I'm taking a lot longer to read them than I'd anticipated. So I will continue to share things from them when I get the chance, but I'm going to be concentrating more on the book at hand than on them. Okay? I WILL finish reading them and review them eventually.
On to chapter three. So, there's this misconception (at least, I feel like it's out there) that this book glorifies partying. That it's all about how cool it is to be getting drunk and dancing on tables and living it up during the Jazz Age. Maybe it's because F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda were so famous for their hardy partying. These are the folks who danced around in NYC fountains, rode on top of taxis instead of inside them, drank enough alcohol to water a herd of elephants (um, not that you feed liquor to elephants, but you know what I mean), and were rumored to be jumping in bed with people other than each other.
Also, the party in this chapter starts out sounding pretty glam and fun, right? "In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars" (p. 41). People are eating, drinking, and being merry. There's music and laughter. The people "conducted themselves according to the rules of behaviour associated with an amusement park" (p. 43). Party on, dudes! Right?
But keep reading. What happens to the party? Does it stay fun? Nope, it degenerates, just like the party at Tom & Myrtle's apartment in the city. That small party ended in violence, with Tom breaking Myrtle's nose. This one ends similarly. "Most of the remaining women were now having fights with men said to be their husbands" (p. 55). Then someone outside drives drunkenly into a wall. Nick goes outside to investigate and finds everything in "violent confusion" (p. 57).
Rather than glorifying the partying lifestyle, The Great Gatsby shows it as damaging, miserable, and empty. Fitzgerald reportedly coined the phrase "the Jazz Age" to describe the early 1920s -- we also call them "the roaring twenties." But Gertrude Stein coined a phrase for the people who had come of age during the Great War, aka WWI, which directly preceded this era. She called them "the Lost Generation," and I find that phrase very accurate for this book, even literally so. All the people at Gatsby's parties don't go there on purpose -- they wind up there accidentally, as if they were lost.
All except Nick. Nick has an invitation. Nick is different. He participates in the revelry a little, but mostly he just watches, observes, wonders.
Somebody else is doing the same, namely Jay Gatsby himself. He's not drinking. He's not partying. He's watching everyone else party. It's like he and Nick are the audience, his home is a big set on stage, and all the party-goers are actors.
Okay, a few other notes. The color yellow crops up several times again, and blue does too. And again we see Nick's aversion to being alone -- because he doesn't know anyone there at first, he goes over to the cocktail table because it's "the only place in the garden where a single man could linger without looking purposeless and alone" (p. 44). He not only doesn't like being alone, he doesn't want to be seen being alone. When he spots Jordan Baker, he runs over to her because he "found it necessary to attach [him]self to someone" (p. 45).
That's one of the things that endears Nick to me, though -- he's got just enough insecurity to feel and act vulnerable and naive. I have not attended very many parties. Certainly, I've never attended a bacchanal like this. But I've gone to big gatherings where I only knew maybe one person, and things like that make me miserable. (Ask Cowboy how unhappy I was over the prospect of going to a get-together of fellow graduates of our alma mater earlier this year -- a shindig where not only would he be there with me, but also my brother and his wife, and a couple we are friends with at church. And I wailed and moaned and dreaded it.) So I don't blame him for being desperate to find someone he knew, and attaching himself to Jordan once he found her. Not at all cool, but very relatable.
Annnnnnnnnd we finally, finally, finally meet Jay Gatsby! With his magical smile, his "elaborate formality of speech" (p. 51), and his repetitive catchphrase, "old sport." It's been clear since the beginning of the book that Nick idolizes Gatsby. Now he spends several sentences just describing Gatsby's smile, and also several on how he speaks. I wonder how much his admiration of Gatsby colors what he tells us about the man. Although Nick insists at the end of the chapter that he is "one of the few honest people [he] has ever known" p. 63), I suspect he might omit some things and gloss over others, perhaps even unknowingly, so as not to tarnish the image of Gatsby he's constructing for us.
Either that, or Gatsby really was, well, great.
There's that gorgeous moment at the end when the party breaks up -- "A sudden emptiness seemed to flow now from the windows and the great doors, endowing with complete isolation the figure of the host, who stood on the porch, his hand up in a formal gesture of farewell" (p. 59). I wonder if Nick idolizes Gatsby a bit because Gatsby is willing to be so very alone, something Nick doesn't seem to like?
Nick's tendency to watch rather than participate crops up again at the end of the chapter. He says he likes New York because "I liked to walk up fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that in a few minutes I was going to enter into their lives, and no one would ever know or disapprove. Sometimes, in my mind, I followed them to their apartments on the corners of hidden streets, and they turned and smiled back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness" (p. 60). Whoa, Nick -- getting a little creepy and voyeuristic there, dude! I'm glad he specifies he only follows them in his mind, because otherwise, yikes, not okay.
And then there's his opinion of Jordan. Nick says she's "incurably dishonest" (p. 62). Yikes, that's quite the condemnation. He says he doesn't care... but he mentions it, spends time discussing it, so yeah, he totally cares that she's a liar.
Favorite Lines (that I haven't already quoted):
The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher. Laughter is easier minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word (p. 42-43).
It was testimony to the romantic speculation he inspired that there were whispers about him from those who had found little that it was necessary to whisper about in this world (p. 47).
Possible Discussion Questions:
Do you think Gatsby knew the Nick didn't realize who he was? Why would he hang out with Nick a while before introducing himself? And what might this tell us about Gatsby?