Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Great Gatsby Read-Along: Chapter III

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?

23 comments:

  1. I found that Nick (or Fitzgerald) wanted us to like Gatsby immediately. In first meeting him, everything Nick points out about Gatsby is of good quality: his smile, he focused on "you" (not himself), he knew "you" well, formal <-- as you mentioned and careful speech. He comes off very likable.

    Gatsby seemed surprised that Nick did not know him when they first met, so I think he assumed Nick should have known who he was, but not in a conceited way.

    P.S. I also think Nick is afraid of commitment.

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    1. Yes, he definitely goes to great lengths to get us to like Gatsby. Or to show us how much he likes and admires him.

      I can't decide if Gatsby was kind of testing him, or was surprised. I've seen it played both ways in movies, so I think it's open to interpretation.

      And yeah, you're probably right. He breaks off things with the girl back home, he dates and then lets go of a coworker, and he never makes it work with Jordan either.

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    2. Agree with Ruth about Nick. That era seems to be full of uncertainty and changes, that men were restless and... lost? (hence The Lost Generation?). Interestingly, of all the major characters, Gatsby is the only one who had a purpose. I just realized, after reading Careless People & So We Read On, if only James Gatz had been born in the same class with Nick (although perhaps not rich), he would have easily become a successful man, that even Tom would envy him.

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    3. My first read of GG, I did not trust Gatsby. I thought he was fabricating his life story (even Nick was apprehensive). But now I am getting a different feeling about him. All of those bad rumors about him are just rumors b/c people do not know him. But we get to know a different man. He seems like a decent man, which is more than we can say about everyone else in the story. (Except maybe Nick.)

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    4. Ruth, I agree that the rumors about Jay were mostly fabrications -- I mean, come on, he can't be related to the Kaiser and all these other crazy things. What really interests me is that he mostly doesn't care about what others think of him... except when he needs them to think something specific. He needs Nick to think he's not a nobody, partly so Nick will be okay with reintroducing his cousin to Gatsby, but I think also because he's flattered by Nick's adulation and wants to give Nick some grounds for it, possibly?

      But yes, I think he's mostly a decent guy, just with this problem with delusions. Nick also seems like mostly a decent guy, just with some um... flaws. Some flaws, but not a creep or a jerk.

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  2. Hamlette, this is my post for chapter 2 & 3 http://klasikfanda.blogspot.co.id/2017/06/the-great-gatsby-readalong-update-2.html

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    1. Fanda, thanks for the link! I will read that when I finish replying to comments here.

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  3. About Nick and Gatsby, I think Nick likes Gatsby firstly because he is different, not partying hard, and not drinking. He's just a regular chap, but with artificial gesture or "whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd" ;)

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    1. Fanda, you could be right! Gatsby (and, we learn in chapter 4, Daisy) doesn't do the party thing, which sets him apart. And Nick admires that strength, I think. Especially since Nicks seems to get swept up by the crowd pretty easily. And also, yes, Gatsby's very down-to-earth in some ways, just with this artificiality glossing over his average-Joe-ness.

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  4. I feel that he points out others problems regularly and either contracts them with his own virtues (as he thinks) or brushes off similarities; he's rather lax in romantic standards but tells us he is repulsed by Tom and Myrtle's open vulgarity, and he says Jordan is a compulsive liar and then reveals that he hadn't broken off a previous relationship although he's had two at least since. I think he is weak, and I think he thinks that because his wrongs aren't as flagrant that he isn't wrong at all. He has his little pretense of gentility. So do Daisy and Gatsby. At least right now I feel sorry for Gatsby. I really feel sorry for Myrtle's husband. I feel that Nick should and Daisy should and do know better. But they are bored and passive.

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    1. Livia, Nick definitely does like to point out the flaws in others, though he also admits many of his own. I think, once again, Nick's a people-pleaser, and he has a hard time disappointing people and saying no to them. So he's having a hard time breaking off contact with the girl he's not engaged to back home, even though he considers that relationship ended, possibly because he doesn't want to let her down? He has a much easier time just letting his little office romance die away because the girl obviously doesn't pursue it. But when Jordan changes their relationship from acquaintances to let's-be-something-more, he says, "I knew that first I had to get myself definitely out of that tangle back home" (p. 62). So he's not trying to two-time anyone, he's trying to legit get finished with one relationship before he begins another real one.

      I feel very sorry for Gatsby and Mr. Wilson, Myrtle's husband. Nick, Daisy, Tom, Myrtle, and Gatsby all should and do know better, though, as you say. But some of them know what they want and try too hard to get it, and the others are bored or don't know what they want, so they go along with the others.

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  5. That's interesting... Maybe it's because I personally tend to hate big parties or because I've read too many people's opinions on the meanings behind The Great Gatsby, but so far there's nothing here that seems to glorify this kind of partying. But, as it's also a central theme, I can see where that misconception might be popular...

    I'm a little intrigued by Gatsby. There's so much mystery surrounding him...but more from the way Nick views him than from the actually narrative/dialogue involving him, you know?

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    1. Meredith, I think maybe the misconception comes from people reading it for high school lit, not paying much attention to it, and only remembering "there were lots of cool parties." Because you're right -- if you're paying attention, you can see Fitzgerald's not saying that at all.

      Yes, at this point, we just know what Nick and others say about Gatsby, which keeps him pretty mysterious!

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  6. I think Gatsby has some sort of charisma that Nick is attracted to - whether it's a natural charisma or one that Gatsby has spent years cultivating, I'm not sure - but I would tend to go with the latter. At the same time, I think there is something about Nick that attracts Gatsby. Nick seems to be one of those people whom others will automatically tell all of the intimate details of their lives before they even really know him. In spite of Nick's flaws, there is something trustworthy about him - more trustworthy than many of Gatsby's other acquaintances.

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    1. Dale, definitely! Nick's not the only one who is drawn by Gatsby's charismatic personality. And I think Nick tells us that he has that "confess things to me" personality right off the bat so we don't raise our eyebrows too much over Gatsby trusting him so quickly. Some people do have that kind of trust-able aura, don't they? I've met a few.

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  7. I never thought of Nick admiring Gatsby because he doesn't mind being alone. That's interesting. From reading the book a second time, Nick's admiration for Gatsby is more obvious. I never thought a person's smile could be so poetic.

    I think Gatsby wanted to see what type of person Nick was before introducing himself. Gatsby is famous, especially at his own party, so Nick might act differently around him if he knew who he was. Most people will act differently or less natural around someone famous. I think Gatsby not revealing himself at first to Nick shows that he is smart. (At least, I think he's smart. Another person might not think that action was smart.) Gatsby not revealing himself at first also shows why he is a good businessman and has a lot of money. He is cautious, curious, and judges/thinks about things first before exposing his thoughts or himself in this case.

    I think it's interesting how Nick doesn't want to admit things to himself but in denying things, he admits to them. Like with Jordan, he says he doesn't mind her lying, but he protests to much showing that he does care. Maybe like Gatbsy, he admires him so much, we are able see Nick's deficiencies. For example, Nick doesn't like being lonely, or he likes to drink a lot because he is not comfortable being in his own shoes. Gatsby on the other hand is comfortable being himself and doesn't mind being lonely or not drinking alcohol.

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    1. Ekaterina, haha! Yes, the passage about Gatsby's smile is pretty amazing.

      I really do think Gatsby sat down there to observe Nick on purpose, realizing that Nick didn't know him. But that's what I would have done, so I might be attributing my own habits to him.

      Nick definitely tells us what he's trying not to tell us in a lot of instances, like you say!

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  8. I find it quite interesting that in the beginning of the chapter when the parties are described as very glamorous they are described by a spectator who watched it from a distance - maybe that's how the whole partying lifestyle was seen by the ones who wasn't a part of it.
    But when Nick is actually at the party it is obvious that it's all very shallow and empty. I love the quote about "introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each others names" - it seems to describe the gist of a party where everybody just show up and no one knows the host.

    I can't decide whether Gatsby knew that Nick didn't know who he was or not. On one hand he reacts as if he is surprised but on the other hand the majority of his guests doesn't know him so he really shouldn't be surprised by it. Maybe it's a little game for him - talking to guests while incognito.

    And Nick certainly likes Gatsby considering the amount of words used to describe just his smile. Maybe he subconciously recognises that him and Gatsby are different - they are both observers of the party rather than participants, as you pointed out.

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    1. Rose, that's a great observation! From far away, the parties look great, but as we get closer and closer, we see them for what they are. It's like how, from far away, Gatsby's idea of Daisy is all perfect, but the closer he gets to her, the less she fits is ideas. I had not thought of that before. Nice!

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  9. I do not at all understand how anyone could think this glorifies partying. But then again, I'm so weird I don't get the people who like this story because of the romance. I'm like, "what romance?" :P

    Seriously though, Nick really does just tell the story without any kind of condemning or commending. Even when he's describing what he thought at the time, he leaves it open whether he still thinks so. And his descriptions of things are so honest that they usually have both positive and negative vibes coming from them.

    I identify with Nick's discomfort at the party very much! He's not uncomfortable because he's at a social gathering, but because he's *alone* at a social gathering. That is the worst.

    I like how Gatsby's introduction was snuck in on us. After all that build-up, it's so casual! That is very sneaky. :D

    I really like the section that focuses on Jordan here. I think it's interesting how usually he nails a person's character immediately, but with her it take to this point for him to under stand her.

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    1. Sarah, that's part of why I don't like that this gets fed to high school students a lot. I feel like they read it fast just to get through it for class, or don't read it at all and pretend they did, and all that they remember is "party time!" Or that there was a love story of some sort.

      Hee, yes, Gatsby's arrival is pretty sneaky, and fun.

      Maybe Nick *thinks* he's great at figuring people out, but Jordan shows us that he's not as good at it as he thinks he is?

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    2. Oh yes! It always makes me sad to hear about people who were forced to read it and hated it. If I'd been forced to read it I probably would have too. But I really dislike the idea of required reading in general.

      I dunno about that, since he doesn't peg Jordan wrong, he just takes longer with her. To me it seems more like the longer it takes him to figure out the puzzle of someone the more he likes them!

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    3. Sarah, good point! It just takes him longer.

      I know you're still catching up on posts, so just in case you didn't see, I'm hosting a Gatsby giveaway here, and it doesn't have a ton of entries yet, so if you're interested, you'd have a good chance of winning a prize.

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