Thursday, June 22, 2017

Great Gatsby Read-Along: Chapter VII

Oh, I hate this chapter.

It's not even Myrtle's death that makes me hate it, it's that horrible scene in the hotel room.  It's so claustrophobic, so sickening somehow -- I had to force myself to read it today, and it made me feel nauseated.  Ugh.

The power in Fitzgerald's writing is staggering sometimes!

I really hate heat, and unremitting, dauntless heat like he describes here is just abominable, to me.  I would not have fared well before air conditioning was invented.  Or I would have moved to Alaska at long last.  So that's part of it.  And Fitzgerald really makes the heat vivid and real, doesn't he?  

This is such a long chapter that I can only touch on some things that interested me.  Like Daisy and Tom's daughter, and the way her presence strips another of Gatsby's illusions away from him.  Nick says, "I don't think he had ever really believed in its existence before" (p. 123).  But there she stands, undeniable, tangible evidence of Daisy and Tom's marriage.  He can't erase a child like he thinks he can erase past events.

Jordan says that "Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall" (p. 125), which echoes Nick's stating at the very beginning of the chapter that he held to "that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer" (p. 4).  I'm pretty sure there are some interesting conclusions we could draw about their different personalities and roles in the story, based on these two statements, but I've yet to figure out what I think about them.  You?

One thing I'd like to delve a little more into here is Daisy's voice.  Gatsby says, "Her voice is full of money" (p. 127).   Nick thinks that's exactly right.  But all through the book he's been describing it in musical terms.  There he says it  has "jingle" and "the cymbals' song."  Earlier, he said that "each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again" (p. 10).  Nick talked about Daisy's voice "glowing and singing" (p. 15), her words "running together in a soothing tune" (p. 19).  And at the end of chapter five, he said of the way Gatsby was watching Daisy, "I think that voice held him most, with its fluctuating, feverish warmth, because it couldn't be over-dreamed -- that voice was a deathless song" (p. 102).  Wow.  That must be some voice!

Moving right along, we go back to that whole issue of appearances.  Tom insists Gatsby's not an Oxford man because he wears a pink suit.  What you look like on the outside is a kind of code for who you are and where you've been, what you've done.

I'm not the only one feeling ill.  Wilson is literally sickened by the discovery that Myrtle has been unfaithful.  I like Nick's observations when he realizes that both Wilson and Tom have undergone the same experience, finding their wives love another man, but they respond to it so differently.  Wilson is almost destroyed by it, but Tom is emboldened, in a way.  He's convinced it's perfectly all right for him to be running around with another man's wife, but when it's his wife who's been touched by another man, it's Very Wrong.  (And I think we can assume that all those afternoon visits Daisy's been paying Gatsby have involved sex.  He wouldn't have fired all his servants to stop gossip if there was nothing more going on than a game of chess and a glass of tea.)

So we go to the city and have a horrible time, everyone uncomfortable physically and emotionally, and finally Tom and Gatsby have things out a bit.  Tom calls him "Mr. Nobody from Nowhere" (p. 137), and I feel like he's really taken Gatsby's measure by this point.  I'd like to say Tom is all wrong about everything because I don't like Tom, but really, he knows what's going on AND he knows what the worst possible thing to say to Gatsby would be.  Gatsby has spent his adult life proving to himself and everyone else that he is Somebody... but it's just pretending.  The same as he's pretending to himself that Daisy has loved him all this time -- and only him, never Tom.  He makes a last-ditch effort to wipe away the past and rewrite their lives, but reality won't let him.

During the horrible fight at the hotel, Jordan and Nick try to leave, but Tom and Gatsby insist they stay, and Nick says they behave as if "it would be a privilege to partake vicariously of their emotions" (p. 138).  Isn't that kind of what we're doing, as readers?  Watching these people, and vicariously experiencing their emotions?  Such an interesting thought.

And it's Nick's birthday.  He's thirty now.  

Then we have the tragic accident.  The mini-climax that sets the events of the last couple chapters in motion.  Myrtle is struck and killed by Daisy driving Gatsby's car.  You know how I've said (in comments, anyway) that Gatsby is fascinatingly unknowable?  So indistinct -- we think we know something about him, and then we see more and find what we thought we knew wasn't quite right.  I've even looked up the MBTI typing for him, and I've found him typed as an ISFJ, INFJ, INFP, INTJ, ISFP, and ENFJ -- there's almost no consensus, aside from most people agreeing he's an introvert.  He's like a mirage, isn't he?  Even his car is hard for people in the story to see distinctly -- the only eyewitness to the accident thinks it was light green.  This fascinates me as a writer.  I keep trying to figure out how Fitzgerald accomplished this, but nope, haven't yet.

Anyway, there's a tragedy, then Nick and Tom go back to the Buchanan estate.  Tom and Jordan go inside, but Nick starts to walk home, only to find Gatsby lurking in the shrubbery.  Now, I personally think it's really sweet and gallant and noble of him to have rigged up this signal with Daisy about turning lights on and off if Tom gets violent toward her, so Gatsby can rush in and save her.  Sure, it would soothe Gatsby's ego to play the hero, but the truth is, Tom is fully capable of hurting Daisy.  He broke Myrtle's nose just because she was being annoying.  And remember at the verrrrrrrrry beginning of the book, when Nick when over to the Buchanan's that first time?  Daisy shows Nick and Jordan her little finger, and "the knuckle was black and blue" (p. 13).  She tells Tom he did it, then adds, "I know you didn't mean to, but you did do it" (p. 13).  Man, if that doesn't sound like an abusive relationship, what does?  The abuser is so often very penitent afterward, and insists that hurting the other person was an accident, or not the abuser's fault -- I would be very afraid for Daisy, if I were Nick and Gatsby.  Nick doesn't see it, but maybe he's just not run into that sort of behavior before, whereas Gatsby has had a much rougher life, and knows what's possible?  I don't know.  Nick does go back to see if there's anything untoward going inside, but all he sees are Tom and Daisy sitting companionably together, with the sort of "natural intimacy" (p. 154) that comes from belonging together.

So we leave Gatsby there, "watching over nothing" (p. 155), just like he's been dreaming about nothing and working toward nothing all this time.  Oh, poor Gatsby and his rapidly evaporating illusions!


Favorite Lines:

Over the ashheaps the giant eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg kept their vigil (p. 131).

They were gone, without a word, snapped out, made accidental, isolated, like ghosts, even from our pity (p. 143).

Before me stretched the portentous, menacing road of a new decade (p. 143).

So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight (p. 144).


Possible Discussion Questions:

Nick thinks Tom was afraid Daisy and Gatsby "would dart down a side street and out of his life forever" (p. 133).  Do you think there was ever a possibility of that happening?

Daisy tells Gatsby he wants too much -- that her loving him now should be enough.  Why do you think Gatsby is incapable of accepting just her love of the present?

Nick says that "Human sympathy has its limits" (p. 144).  What does he mean by that?  Do you agree with him?

12 comments:

  1. That heat was stifling. NY summers are humid; you can't breathe. That whole situation was suffocating me, even figuratively.

    "Human sympathy has its limits"--for extremely selfish people. Sadly, some people matter and others don't. That is how people like Tom, Daisy, and Jordan see the world.

    It is a difficult to see Daisy cut Gatsby off, but she was using him all along, wasn't she? I was caught off guard how quickly her attitude toward Gatsby changed in the hotel room.

    And Gatsby was blind, too. I felt sorry for him for not getting the message, even when it was so obvious.

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    1. Ruth, I think you've pretty well pegged Tom, Daisy, and Jordan! Nick and Jordan too, as they're the ones who stop listening to Tom exulting about his "win" over Gatsby here.

      I think Daisy imagined for a while that she could go away with Gatsby, but in the end she preferred her old reality. She'd rather stay married to an abusive womanizer who "fits" her lifestyle than divorce him and marry a man who has spent his adulthood trying to win her. Her loss.

      But yes, Gatsby was so blind. Blinded by his dreams. I feel extremely sorry for him.

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    2. Yeah, I'm so glad I reread this. My last impressions of Gatsby were not in his favor. I did not know what to make of him. But today, I am sure that Fitzgerald wanted us to like him, to sympathize with him, and as you said, rescue him.

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    3. Ruth, how cool that your perceptions changed! I do think Fitzgerald wanted us to at least sympathize with him.

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  2. "Daisy tells Gatsby he wants too much...". I am reminded again of the scene with Gatsby's shirts and Daisy crying. He overwhelms her and demands too much. Daisy's love in the present moment is not what Gatsby has been hoping and dreaming of for all of those years, so it will never satisfy him. I'm reminded of a Doobie Brothers song, "What A Fool Believes." "...Where he can believe there's a place in her life someday, somehow she will return...". (What strange associations we sometimes have.)

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    1. Sue, I agree that he overwhelms Daisy. She's a smaller person than he is, somehow. What she's willing and able to give is not enough.

      I associate songs and lyrics with odd things sometimes too!

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  3. Everybody's worst comes out in this chapter. That hotel scene . . . everybody's so hypocritical. Tom is the absolute worst, a womanizer, a liar, a hypocrite, uses and abuses Wilson, etc. But through the book you could expect Daisy would leave with Gatsby and things would work out. You see more of her actual fickleness and self-interest here.

    And this is the chapter which really shows me Nick. As they are driving along he basically says he doesn't understand why Gatsby cares what girl he sleeps with in this heat. I'm pretty sure Nick is as immoral himself, just more discreet. And if that isn't objectification, I don't know what is.

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    1. Livia, yes -- that's a big part of why I hate this chapter. Everyone's politeness and niceness gets stripped away, and it all turns ugly. We knew Tom was mean and awful all along, but we hoped that Daisy would not be... and finding that she's shallow and selfish is very hard to take.

      I don't know that Nick was specifically referring to Gatsby with that line about caring whose head dampens their shirt -- I think he's more trying to show that the heat has made absolutely everything seem meaningless. For one thing, he thinks that while he's on the train going out to see the Buchanans, not on the drive back to the city, and he's just had this encounter with a woman who has given up trying to be elegant in the heat -- to me, it's more just an observation that this heat makes everyone quit caring about everything.

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  4. I'm not sure exactly what Nick means by "Human sympathy has its limits". I'm almost wondering if one could say that Nick has been at least sympathizing with these people but now it seems like his sympathy might be starting to run out. I still don't find him to be a moral compass by any means but based on his thoughts at the beginning of the novel, some sort of change is taking place.

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    1. Dale, I agree. At that point, he's quit listening to Tom talk about how he's triumphed over Gatsby -- he no longer has any sympathy for Tom. Maybe not for Daisy either. If anything, I think Nick is learning that he needs to be more choosy about who he likes and sympathizes with and associates with.

      But nope, I don't think Nick's the "moral compass" either.

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  5. Hahaha, for the reasons you hate this chapter, it's my favorite! ;) The hotel scene is so beautifully horrible.

    I always liked that little bit about the daughter too. yes, something Gatsby can never erase.

    I love Tom. I mean, he's terrible and I also despise him, but he's so interesting I can't help but love him as a character! The whole book -- and this chapter especially -- he's consistently described using words like "hulking, brute, harsh, sharp..." and then WHAM -- he's tender. And he seems so genuine about loving Daisy. I completely believe he does. And yet he cheats on her regularly. It's so strange! (And he's so broken up over Myrtle too, that bit hits hard. Like, you think he really loved her, too.) And then they sit and conspire together over fried chicken. What a couple. You always have a bad impression of Tom, but after Daisy being so wishy-washy at the hotel, and the accident, that scene solidifies for me that Daisy really does deserve Tom, and him her.

    Honestly I don't think Tom is abusive to Daisy. He very well could be I suppose but the reason I think he's not is because he breaks Myrtle's nose for saying Daisy's name -- like Daisy is the one woman he's truly loyal to. Either way I think Nick was right that she was in absolutely no danger that night, with him thinking about Myrtle, and thinking Gatsby killed her. And he'd already won Daisy back at the hotel. That seemed very much over for him when he sends her home with Gatsby. The fried chicken solidifies her safety for me, too.

    At this point in the story I'm with Nick, and had enough of these people -- even Gatsby. He should have done himself a favor at this point and woken up, cause his dream is long gone, poor guy. So I guess that's my limit for sympathy!

    Loving him now definitely isn't good enough. I understand that I think. If she loved someone else after Gatsby, how could he be sure she really loves him now? it certainly doesn't seem like it since she goes back to Tom. Honestly I don't think Daisy is capable of love. But Tom at least is comfortable and secure. For that reason I'd say it wasn't possible that Daisy and Gatsby could have just run away. I seriously doubt Daisy ever meant to leave Tom, if she were honest with herself.

    Whew! What a chapter. I do still feel sorry for one person, actually. Myrtle, just a bit. :/

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    1. Well, Sarah, you may have this chapter for your very own, with my blessing.

      Yes, I think Tom believes he loves Daisy. In his own weird way. I agree Daisy deserves him, and he her -- they're both unpleasant.

      I don't think Daisy was necessarily in danger from Tom, but I think Gatsby's concern for her was pretty legit. If that makes sense? Like, no, Tom wasn't going to smack her around, but it's the sort of thing you kind of could expect he might? Not sure if I'm communicating that very well.

      Anyway, yeah, I agree that Daisy never really meant to leave Tom. She might have idly daydreamed about it to go along with Gatsby for a while, but she never intended to actually leave Tom.

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