Monday, June 26, 2017

Great Gatsby Read-Along: Chapter VIII

As I write this post, I am treating myself to a moonshine truffle bar from the Chocolate Moonshine Co. in honor of Jay Gatsby.  Supposedly, this truffle bar has real moonshine in it.  Supposedly, Gatsby made money selling moonshine.  It's all good.  Especially the chocolate, which I have to say is WAY better than actual moonshine.  Which I have also had, and not the stuff they sell in gift shops along the interstate in Appalachia, but real white lightning that was confiscated from an illegal still.  It was like what I imagine swallowing acid would be like.  Tasteless, odorless, clear as water -- and how it burned! 

Actually, this chocolate kind of tastes the way Fitzgerald's words feel in my mouth -- rich and smooth, with a little edge to it.

Anyway!  

I really don't know how to write about this chapter.  It kinda breaks my heart, in a fictional way.  I've realized over the past couple of days that I feel very protective of Jay Gatsby -- I want to jump into this book and rescue him from himself and everything else.  I get this way sometimes, especially in relation to seemingly powerful male characters, which sounds wacky, but it's true.  I want to go save Jay Gatsby.  But I can't.  As Nick says, "'Jay Gatsby' had broken up like glass against Tom's hard malice" (p. 157).  

So we learn some hard things in this chapter, as Gatsby's dream slips through his fingers for good.  We learn Daisy was the first "nice" girl he'd ever known, and that "many men had already loved Daisy" (p. 158), whether from a distance or physically, I'm not sure.  We learn Jay "took" Daisy five years ago, "took her because he had no real right to touch her hand" (p. 158).  I want to shake my head at them, but I'm too sad over this chapter to bother.

Interesting that, having made love to Daisy, Jay feels as if he's "committed himself to the following of a grail" (p. 158), even feels as if he's married to her.  All the expected reactions to Daisy and Jay getting intimate are backwards -- we expect the girl to feel as if they're married, or should get married, and to feel shy, maybe even betrayed.  But when they meet again, "it was Gatsby who was breathless, who was, somehow, betrayed" (p. 159).  Because even back then, Daisy was rather heartless, I guess.  Heartless and remote, untouchable even though she's been touched.  She's the one who used him, not the other way around.  

There's a line there that I hadn't remembered.  Nick says that "Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of  many clothes" (p. 159 -- emphasis mine).  That explains the shirts, doesn't it?  He grew up poor, only having maybe one or two sets of clothes, living in the same ones day after day after day.  He told Nick exactly how many new shirts and pairs of trousers old Dan Cody gave him when he signed on to help sail the yacht.  Now that he's rich, he revels in never wearing the same shirt twice.  It's ALL about the money and class, all of it.  That's why he had to show them off to Daisy, I think -- to prove to her he's reached her level.  He has the freshness of many clothes now.

Then Nick leaves.  And he gives Gatsby a compliment, and he says he's glad he did because he'd never given him another one.  Why?  Because Nick "disapproved of him from beginning to end" (p. 164).  I'm so intrigued by this!  And I don't know what to make of it.  Nick pretty clearly idolizes Gatsby -- I mean, he's writing down this whole story to memorialize him, in a way.  He idolized Gatsby, but he disapproved of Gatsby.  He disapproved of Tom and Daisy and Myrtle too, but we get that really clearly.  Do we get a sense throughout the book that he disapproves of Gatsby?  Or is Nick here trying to convince himself -- and us -- that he disapproved of him?  I don't even know!!!  I want to hear your thoughts.

But I suppose we ought to talk about Wilson a bit.  I'm always so moved by his speech about telling Myrtle that she can fool Wilson, but not God, and he's gesturing toward the billboard with the giant eyes.  They say there's truth in advertising... maybe sometimes advertisements can even inadvertently inspire people to realize true things?

Last thing.  I've always wondered if Gatsby was considering committing suicide by drowning himself.  Has that occurred to anyone else?  He's never used that pool all summer, but he decides to use it now.  I feel like maybe he decided to hang out in the pool until he lost all hope of Daisy ever calling him, and then, if he wanted, he could just slide off his inflatable raft thing and never resurface.

Favorite Lines:

He was clutching at some last hope and I couldn't bear to shake him free (p. 157).

At the grey tea hour there were always rooms that throbbed incessantly with this low, sweet fever, while fresh faces drifted here and there like rose petals blown by the sad horns around the floor (p. 160).

Possible Discussion Questions:

What do you think Gatsby meant when he said, "In any case, it was just personal" (p. 162)?

Nick says that Gatsby "paid a high price for living too long with a single dream" (p. 172).  Do you think that was Gatsby's real problem, that he couldn't let go of a dream and find a new one?  Or that he only had one instead of several?

8 comments:

  1. Hi Hamlette!

    Forgive me for barging in, but I noticed that you support the #RebelliousWriting movement! I wanted to give you some good news, in case you haven't heard. The #RebelliousWriting movement is going to release it's website on August 9, 2017, and we have a Pinterest page (https://www.pinterest.com/rebelliouswriting/), a Twitter page (https://twitter.com/WriteRebellious) and an Instagram page (https://www.instagram.com/rebelliouswriting/?hl=en) already live!

    Catherine
    catherinesrebellingmuse.blogspot.com

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    1. Catherine, thanks so much for all the links! I have been trying to work up a blog post about the #RebelliousWriting movement for a while, but just haven't had time to. I will try to get something written about it when the official website launches, then! So cool. I'm only kinda-sorta on Twitter, but I have followed the Pinterest account now! Good stuff.

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  2. I don't think Nick idolizes Gatsby at all. I think he is bored, he is a bit nosy, and I think he likes being "the nice guy."

    Yeah, moonshine was/is dangerous because it could be 100% alcohol and people wouldn't know and people could/can easily die of alcohol poisoning. Plus the still could be positively filthy.

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    1. Livia, it never ceases to amaze me how you can find so many things to disagree about.

      Really? You don't think Nick idolizes Gatsby at all? Ooooookay, then.

      Moonshine was/is dangerous for many, many reasons. You didn't know what it was made from, if it was corn liquor or wood alcohol or what. A lot of stills were made with parts of carburetors, which have all kinds of bad chemicals in them, or with copper tubing, and so on, and so forth. The person who let me have a single spoonful of white lightning was formerly a deputy and knew just what still this came from, so he knew it did not have the kinds of contaminants that could cause blindness, paralysis, death, etc.

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  3. I love how everything in the Great Gatsby sounds like poetry, even if it is far from it. It's a nice coating that makes the true tragedy of the story easier to swallow, it makes it beautifully melancholy.

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    1. Laura, I love how you put that! I feel the same way about Shakespeare's way with language, that the beauty of his words makes the ugliness of some of his stories more palatable.

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  4. I agree that Nick perhaps now does not approve of Gatsby. That's part of this change of heart thing that Nick seems to be having. But I'm not convinced that Nick has disapproved of Gatsby all along. I don't know what he means by "from beginning to end" - maybe he's thinking of something other than the beginning and end of this story that he's writing down. I'm not sure but it's interesting.

    And I would say that Gatsby couldn't let go of this dream. If he had been able to, I think things would have worked out much better.

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    1. Dale, maybe... maybe Nick means that, in retrospect, he disapproves of everything Gatsby has done from beginning to end? Just a thought.

      Have you seen the 1949 film version? In it, Gatsby has this final conversation with Nick at the poolside, where he reveals that he's able to clearly see now how impossible his dream was, and that he's going to move forward in life with a much more realistic outlook now. And then Wilson comes and kills him. It's such an interesting change -- it makes the end even more tragic, I think. Because in the book, I don't think Gatsby felt like life was worth living without his dream, so he just couldn't let go of it, and pretty much was ready for death by the time Wilson came along.

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What do you think?

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