Thursday, June 29, 2017

Great Gatsby Read-Along: Chapter IX

After Gatsby dies, people go right on making up crazy stuff about him.  Nick says most of the reports about his murder were "a nightmare -- grotesque, circumstantial, eager, and untrue" (p. 173).  That sounds just like all the stories people told about him at his parties, doesn't it?  But somehow, it's kind of fitting, isn't it?  James Gatz made up Jay Gatsby, so why shouldn't other people make up their own stories about him?  Kind of that "what goes around comes around" vibe.

I'm rather proud of Nick in this chapter.  He's probably proud of himself as well -- the only one who stuck by Gatsby with "that intense personal interest to which everyone has some vague right at the end" (p. 174).  Well, I'm glad Gatsby had Nick, at least.  

I'm very interested by Nick imagining that Gatsby tells him he "can't go through this alone" (p. 175).  Gatsby went through almost his whole life alone, or feeling alone, anyway.  Didn't fit in with his parents, didn't fit in with Daisy's world, didn't fit in with his own partygoers -- he was always alone, even in those crowds.  

Nick seems to generally think well of people, doesn't he?  He's quite sure Wolfshiem will come to the funeral, that Daisy will at least send flowers -- and again and again, people disappoint him.  No wonder he's a little cynical two years later as he writes this down.  Gatsby's not the only one who had illusions stripped away from him.

Nick goes through some interesting stages in this chapter.  First, he feels "responsible" (p. 174) for taking care of Gatsby's funeral arrangements.  Then he begins to have "a feeling of defiance, of scornful solidarity between Gatsby and me against them all" (p. 176).  And when people keep giving excuses for why they can't come to the funeral, he feels "a certain shame for Gatsby" (p. 180) because no one cares about him anymore.

And then there's Gatsby's dad, Henry Gatz.  Oh, I feel sorry for him.  And I'm rather proud of Gatsby -- his father says that Gatsby went home to see him and bought him a house a couple of years ago.  I'd forgotten that.  I thought that he left home and never looked back, but obviously he cared enough about his family to go provide them with a house once he was wealthy.  Good boy, Gatsby.  Was he also doing that to show off how rich he was?  Sure, but it was still kind of him.  It sounds like he'd been supporting them too, that "ever since he made a success he was very generous" (p. 183) toward him.

As for Gatsby's final father-figure, the man who "raised him up out of nothing, right out of the gutter" (p. 182), Wolfsheim remains wolfish to the end, doesn't he?  Refusing to be involved in Gatsby's funeral in any way.  Nice guy, that Wolfsheim.

Oh, that issue of how many clothes you have pops up one more time!  Wolfsheim says that when he first met Gatsby, he "was so hard up he had to keep on wearing his uniform because he couldn't buy some regular clothes" (p. 181).  Yeah, the millions of shirts makes more and more sense, doesn't it?

I like Nick's musings at the end on how where you're born makes a difference in where you belong.  He says that "Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life" (p. 187).  While I thought of Daisy and Jordan as Southerners, they certainly weren't from the east coast (and where was Tom from, anyway?  Chicago?).  This interested me very much, because I am from the Middle West (as Nick calls it) myself, and I lived in Connecticut for three years as an adult -- we moved there when Sam was 2 months old -- and I never, ever felt like I belonged there.  I was not a bit sad to move away, and that's unusual for me.  I guess I was subtly unadaptable to Eastern life too.

I think Nick grew up a lot over the course of that summer, don't you?  He didn't have the guts or determination to break off his relationship with the girl he left behind when he came east.  But he goes and makes his break permanent from Jordan.  I'm intrigued by her final remarks.  She says, "I thought you were rather an honest, straightforward person.  I thought that was your secret pride" (p. 189).  Hang it all, I still think he's honest and straightforward -- and I think his making sure Jordan knows they're finished only increases that.  On the other hand, he never went forward and told the cops that it was Daisy who killed Myrtle, so maybe that's what Jordan's talking about?  Did she perhaps want Daisy to have to take responsibility for her actions at long last?

I definitely agree with Jordan about Nick's secret pride, though -- he's rather enjoyed looking down his nose at the shenanigans of everyone around him, hasn't he.  And he continues doing so, telling Tom off about siccing Wilson on Gatsby.

And here we are at the end.  I don't have anything wonderful to say about the book's final lines.  They're amazing and give me goosebumps, those last couple of paragraphs, but that's about all I have to say about that.  

Thanks so much for joining in this read-along, everyone!  I've really enjoyed drinking up the beauty and splendid sadness of this book, and sharing thoughts with you all.  I've learned quite a bit from you too, which is my favorite part of read-alongs :-)  This afternoon, I'll be starting up a giveaway to celebrate our completing the book, so be sure to watch for that.

Favorite Lines:

"Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead" (p. 182-83).

I wanted to leave things in order and not just trust that obliging and indifferent sea to sweep my refuse away (p. 188).

There was nothing I could say, except the one unutterable fact that it wasn't true (p. 190).

He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.  He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark field of the republic rolled on under the night (p. 192).

Possible Discussion Questions:

What do you think of James Gatz's childhood resolutions and daily regimen?  Do you think he stuck to those?  His father says he "always had some resolves like this or something" (p. 184).  Do you think he had them as an adult too, to help him on his quest to reclaim Daisy?

Speaking of quests, I've never read Don Quixote, but I've seen a movie version and know the basic gist of the story.  Do you think Quixote and Gatsby have any similarities?

4 comments:

  1. Gatsby's daily regimen makes me all the more sad for him. Someone who so earnestly tries to "better" himself yet the result: nothing. It's like putting together a Five Year Plan of goals, etc. and then they all fall apart at year 3. Although,I wonder whether Gatsby ever felt like they all fell apart. Except for perhaps at the end of the novel, it seemed Gatsby thought it was all worth it or at least it was going to be at some point.

    I've never read Don Quixote and only vaguely know what its about. Just like the climax of the story could have been before the novel begins, I think the most of the quest took place before the novel began, too.

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    1. Dale, you know... I think that Gatsby kind of kept on hoping until that very last morning. He stayed at Daisy's until she turned her light out for the night, faithful to the last. But when she never called, never needed him -- then I think he realized it had all been wasted effort.

      I'm weirdly happy to know that I'm not alone in the "I love books but haven't read Don Quixote yet" club. Yes, most of his questing and prep work was done before Nick arrived -- Nick being her cousin moved things along more easily for Gatsby, but his plan of throwing big parties until Daisy showed up would probably have brought her into contact with him eventually.

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  2. I feel sorry for Gatsby; I generally despise people who try so hard to fit in instead of be themselves, but he had it pretty rotten I think. I feel sorry for his dad, and it made me happy Gatsby took care of him.

    I thoroughly despise Nick. He's just so of haughtily "doing the right thing" because he "must" not out of any caring, but because it is "good form." I like when Jordan called him out. He has this false honor code that slips from time to time.

    I don't think his geographical division made sense. I'm not sure it was meant to. It was a false divide. Many upper class people moved around all over. Jordan and Daisy were definitely Southern and not a person was Western. Gatsby said acted as if San Fran was somehow in the Midwest, so clearly neither he nor Nick knew anything of the west. I wonder if that was a point in and of itself.

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    1. Livia, I feel sorry for him too. I generally feel sorry for people who are all caught up in trying to 'fit in' or be someone they're not, as it usually means they're insecure and unhappy.

      I think we're going to have to disagree about Nick.

      Having lived in the Midwest, South, and East, I find that his geographical division makes a great deal of sense. People in different regions behave in very different ways, and it's almost impossible to ever fully fit in in a place you weren't raised. Weird, but true. We moved to NC when I was 12, and I love that region dearly, and I have many friends there, but I will never truly belong there. I definitely never belonged in Connecticut. However, I felt very much at home in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, where I lived as an adult, because they were similar to Iowa, where I was born, and where my parents were born.

      I think by "westerners" Nick really meant anyone who wasn't from the East Coast. They were Other, not of the East, and they didn't fit in, didn't belong, didn't understand that world. Even if you're upper class mingling with upper class, or middle class mingling with middle class, there's going to be a difference.

      The San Francisco thing still doesn't make sense, though, other than Gatsby just pulling the name of a big city he's never been to out of his hat.

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What do you think?

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