Tag Archives: Gatsby

The Great Gatsby: complete notes and timeline.

No matter how often I teach Gatsby I find it hard. Each time, the ambiguity of the central character and the lack of sympathy I have for anyone in the text get in my way. As I prepare to work on it again for my OCR A level class, I thought I’d summarise my thoughts to date using a setting and character approach.  Hence the recent raft of posts. Here I post the whole notes document in PDF and a timeline of events in the novel alongside the contextual timeline for Fitzgerald and the USA.

2gatsby notes

2timeline of Gatsby

Leave a comment

Filed under OCR A level, OCR English Literature, OCR NEW English Literature, Uncategorized

Notes on Chapter 9 of The Great Gatsby

Chapter 9

In the final chapter, the last rites are read over the fantastic life of Jay Gatsby – artificial, noble and a perpetual outsider.

Nick tells the story from the perspective of 1924, the time of writing and two years after the events. Certainly nobody wishes to be associated with the dead man – Daisy sends no flowers, Wolfshiem proves impossible to pin down, though he professes sadness and nobody appears at the funeral aprt from Owl-eyes, the one-time guest, and Henry C. Gatz, his father.

The opportunity for truths to emerge at the inquest is not taken and Myrtle’s sister Catherine is so convincing at creating a false history for Mytle that she seems to convince herself. The urgent phone call suggests that not only Gatsby but his business is coming to an abrupt end.

Into this scene is introduced Gatsby’s father and the last pieces of the reality behind the facade are put in place. Gatsby was ambitious for improvement when young and sought to get on by hard work, energy and study – the embodiment of a purer American Dream. A boy who read cowboy novels and dreamed of a better future. To Mr Gatz, his apparent success was inevitable and the house is proof of this fact.

After a funeral which no one attends, Nick is left truly alone. He bumps into Tom in the city and cannot bring himself to break the chivalric code by telling him that he knows Daisy was driving the car before neatly tying up his romance with Jordan, though not before he has been accused of dishonesty. Recalling her comment about careless drivers only being in danger when they meet other careless drivers, Jordan states that she has thought Nick to be ‘honest, straightforward’. His reply that he is five years too old to lie to himself and call it honour’ is typically enigmatic but suggests an awareness of the ambiguity of the path he has trodden throughout the book.

For Nick has never lost his Mid-Western heart and cannot suppress it enough to allow himself to exist in the East. All the others can do so – Daisy, Tom and Jordan seem to have reinvented themselves to suit the new world of the East – money and profit, together with breeding, counting for all. He sees himself as unadaptable and though he recognises the deficiencies of the East, he longs to return, as he did when a child. His vision after El Greco portrays the East harshly – a land of excess and selfishness with no one seeking to know anyone beyond the superficial and a world in which women, even a ‘white’ women is never more than an object to be disposed of as a man sees fit.

Before he leaves he returns to Gatsby’s and in a last act of loyalty erases the crude slogan on the steps, returning them to their white state – a state of purity, already removed from the events of the summer. His thoughts return to the original settlers, as at the beginning of the novel, and he muses on the reaction of those original settlers when faced by the pristine vastness of the new continent. The original settlers were seeking landfall to better enact God’s commandments – what a disappointment 20th century America must be to them is the message here. The hopes for the future are doomed to become the regrets of the past. As the hopes become increasingly ambitious, so the fall is the greater.

Leave a comment

Filed under OCR A level, OCR English Literature, OCR NEW English Literature, Uncategorized

Notes on Chapter 8 of the Great Gatsby.

Chapter 8:

Tom, Daisy and Jordan have no further role in the narrative beyond that required to tie up loose ends. The novel now focuses on Gatsby as seen through the eyes of Nick. The glamour and overt drama is complete and what now happens, happens in the manner of a Greek Tragedy – told and described but not seen on stage.

Setting:

Nick’s patchy sleep is disturbed by a fog horn all night, recalling the complex and confusing emotions at play in his head and in the head of Gatsby who has returned home during the night and now has the chance to recount the early life history referred to in Chapter 6. There is nothing left to hide – the illusion that is Jay Gatsby no longer has a purpose and has been destroyed by the sheer force of Tom’s wealth and pedigree.

The house ‘never seemed more enormous’ in its emptiness and all is dusty and musty due to a lack of care. Rather like its owner, it has no purpose to serve any more. When the pair open widows, the light is ‘grey-turning, gold-turning’ and when they step onto the porch Nick notices a shift – Autumn is in the air and the joy and possibility of summer is no longer.

Nick travels to the city –the business city- and all is drudge until Jordan calls with her selfish appraisal of Nick’s behaviour after the accident. The call ends inconclusively and then Nick tries to ring Gatsby –four times to no avail. The line is being ‘kept open’, suggestive of some crisis looming. The telephone is a relatively new invention at this time and like the car, its capacity for trouble seems to outweigh the opportunities it provides in this book.

The journey back through the Ashes provides an opportunity to recount the events of the fateful night which must have been told at the inquest. Wilson seems to mistake the all-seeing eyes of Eckleburg for those of God and perhaps he is right so to do. This America seems to be driven by the worship of money and of profit and seems to be high on hypocrisy. Maybe there is a new God, the god of commercial excess, an unforgiving and selfish deity.

We receive a hint of what is to come in the brief description of Wilson’s wanderings with its suggestion of Tom-as-informer which prepares the way for the final setting of Gatsby’s life.

We are prepared for the swimming pool in Chapter 6 and the new season seems apt as Gatsby moves through ‘yellowing’ trees towards the pool. He carries a mattress as a reminder of better times – it had ‘amused his guests’ earlier in the year. In the final two sections of the chapter there is no direct speech – Fitzgerald places a distance between Nick and the reader as he imagines the feelings and sensations in Gatsby’s mind – the possibility of acceptance of failure, the recognition of the corrosive nature of the single dream and the recognition of reality as being devoid of artifice and romance and not pleasant to behold. The murder is told delicately with no reference to the body, just to the red leaves forming a thin red circle in the water.

 

Gatsby has been undone by his inability to compromise on his ideal. He describes Daisy as his ‘grail’ and thus his quest becomes a holy action which precludes all others. His early life has been discussed in Chapter 6 at its first telling and we now see clearly that Daisy really was his first brush with the truly beautiful world of the wealthy. His officer’s uniform removes the stigma of his low birth and he has used it unscrupulously to chase women. His pursuit of Daisy begins in this same way yet once he has conquered her (‘took her because he had no real right to touch her hand’) she becomes more to him and he cannot resist her lure any more than a sailor could resist the sirens’ songs.  It is in the description of their last afternoon that a depth of love unimagined in this novel is portrayed. Soft, gentle and mutual. This is what Daisy would reject when wooed by real money. Gatsby is living the ‘real life’ at war whilst Daisy’s world is ‘artificial’ and it will always be so. The past cannot be recaptured. As he describes leaving the city after the war, Nick tells him that ‘you’re worth the whole damn bunch put together’. Gatsby’s smile on hearing this is ‘radiant and ecstatic’. It is as though this first and only compliment has made the pursuit worthwhile. Certainly the Gatsby of that afternoon seems different – he leaves the phone to chance and decides to sample a little of his luxury, such that he always avoided at his own parties. His end must have come as a relief.

Wilson, described as being ‘not enough of him for his wife’ is given a short scene. Heavy on pathos, he explains to Michaelis Myrtle’s infidelity and hints that he has ways of finding out whose car was being driven. His vanishing and subsequent trek across the Eggs in search of Gatsby is not necessary to recount and this sad, lonely man with no friends and a dead wife has no further use for life.

Nick is openly addressing the reader as he directs us through the timeshifts of this chapter. We are taken into his confidence and the lack of direct speech suggests that we are reading his thoughts and interpretations of events which elsewhere in the book may well have been told more directly. It seems curiously detached of him to go to work that morning, yet he has no reason to stay. The Gatsby story is over and his life, in his new decade, needs to move on. Many of his comments are difficult to unpack and seem ambiguous as befits the narrative which relies on obfuscation and half-truths throughout to engage the reader. It is completely right that Nick should be constantly trying to assess his feelings – we are.

Leave a comment

Filed under OCR A level, OCR English Literature, OCR NEW English Literature, Uncategorized

Notes on Chapter 7 of The Great Gatsby

Chapter 7:

The crunch! The longest chapter covering the disintegration of the dream and the betrayal of love and acceptance of material, rather than emotional wealth.

 

Setting:

There are several settings in this chapter – the empty Gatsby mansion, the train, the Buchanan’s mansion, the plaza suite, the cars, the garage interior and a micro setting in the Buchanan’s kitchen. The weather is now stifling hot- a typical New York late summer which is used to increase the feeling of discomfort and pressure on the characters. Daisy may be joking when she hopes for 5 iced baths in the Plaza, but the point is made. The pressure has built to the point when it must explode.

 

  • Gatsby’s mansion: empty

Chapter 6 opened with the brief passage about a newsman questioning Gatsby and 7 builds on this idea – ‘curiosity about Gatsby was at its highest’. Nick does not specify who is curious but the implication is that as Gatsby wishes to cut himself off from the world to focus on Daisy, the world has finally become deeply interested in this boy from the Mid-West. The new staff – Wolfshiem’s men are building a defensive carapace about their master. There is no  more need for the flamboyance and display, but there is also a sense that there may be a need for protection of the business. The most recent phone call, at the end of chapter 6 suggests that the business may not be running smoothly. We could hypothesise that with Gatsby’s attention elsewhere Wolfshiem has seen then need to ensure some security is in place.

  • The Train

The train is used to link the previous setting to that of the Buchanan mansion. It is ‘broiling’ suggestive of actual physical pain as opposed to simple discomfort. We read that the seats – ‘straw’ coloured, like Tom’s hair and other yellow ideas are on ‘the point of combustion’. The single word ‘hot’ is repeated again and again and Nick suggests that the heat is so intense it would outweigh simple issues of emotion: ‘that anyone should care in this heat whose flushed lips he kissed’ and gives the scene a sense of desperation.

  • Buchanan’s mansion

With the surreal telephone conversation imagined on arrival, it is clear that the afternoon is to be vastly different from the visit in chapter 2. The drawing room is now ‘dark and cool’ and the women described as ‘silver idols… weighing down their clothes’ against the artificial attempts to ameliorate the oppressive heat. Jordan has clear application of powder to maintain her ‘white’ image and Tom is already speaking to Myrtle on the telephone – his final comments, as though to Wilson, are seen as a sham. As soon as he is absent, Daisy is professing her love for Gatsby openly. The room is the scene for Gatsby to be brought face to face with the reality of Daisy and Tom’s relationship in the form of the child, brought in to say hello. He stares, shocked as the child is shown off and removed just as Tom returns. She is Daisy’s child, her ‘dream’.  The sea is now stagnant, a small boat moving slowly towards ‘the abounding blessed isles’. Tom wishes he could join it. The dining room is also dark and the heat such that there is a need to escape and Daisy suggests a trip to town – hardly likely to be cooler. She does this after having stressed that Gatsby ‘always looks so cool’ and comparing him with Tom – who looks like an unspecified advertising character, presumably lacking depth and background. Nick states that she has told him that she love shim, in Tom’s presence and that Tom has noted.

  • The cars.

Highly suggestive of their owners, the cars must be considered closely. Much symbolism has been used in the novel linking cars to ideas of escape, speed and violence. In this chapter the great yellow car will be used as a murder weapon.

Tom takes over Gatsby’s ‘circus wagon’ knowing there is not much fuel precisely so that he can show off to Wilson by stopping to fill up. He tries to keep Daisy with him, but she refuses to join him. The journey is used as the chance to relate what he thinks he knows of Gatsby’s background much in the manner of Gatsby’s first opening-up to Nick in Chapter 4. It is a form of neutral territory. Possibly because of the heat and the sun, Wilson identifies the car as ‘yellow’ rather than ‘deep cream’ suggesting a harshness and clarity which has no need for subtle recognition of shade. As they leave the garage, Tom presses the accelerator – his mental turmoil being contrasted with that of the pair in the ‘easy going’ blue coupe. Tom is all power and aggression but is unsettled. The driving and the car reflect this.

Later, his victory complete, Tom allows Gatsby to return in his car, with Daisy. The confusion is complete and we learn that Myrtle has thrown herself towards what she thinks is Tom and is hit by Daisy, despite Gatsby’s attempts to grab the wheel. The description of the accident comes in various stages.

The first stage is the reportage of the ‘death car’ coming out of the darkness and it is typical of the ambiguity of its owner that there is confusion over its colour until Nick recounts an unknown negro as being firmly specific about the yellow. Tom is swift to confirm the colour to the police. The car had been driving at high speed in the hands of an inexperienced driver. We recall that Gatsby had sped when driving into New York in chapter 4. Presumably the car is safe in his hands.

Cars represent privacy and are used to recount past histories and to discuss current events. They also represent freedom, especially for women of the day. If the freedom is misused, the result is serious as Daisy discovers.

  • The Plaza Suite

Utterly stifling and utterly trapping, the group opt for a suite in one of the Top Hotels – a long way from Tom and Myrtle’s apartment, we notice. The group is ‘herded’ into the suite and Fitzgerald captures the acute discomfort by having Nick tell us about his underwear, clinging to his legs like a ‘snake’. Adding to the discomfort of the heat is the domination of the sound of a Wedding march and ceremony from below. The events of the afternoon define the novel as a whole and it is with relief that the group break free, to ‘drive on toward death through the cooling twighlight’.

  • The garage (interior)

The garage is the scene of Myrtle’s imprisonment and her morgue. Michaelis tells how Wilson had locked Myrtle in an upstairs room (whence she was seen looking down on Tom earlier in the chapter) before she had escaped somewhat melodramatically and rushed for the road.

Once the body has been brought inside it lies on a work table, wrapped in blankets ‘as though she suffered from a chill in the hot night’. There is a sense of stillness in the room and Nick can spot each participant in turn – the effortful policeman, Wilson in a state of deep shock and emotion, the ‘pale, well-dressed negro… This last character stands out as unusual in this novel – the only man of colour who is not a musician, it is odd that Nick should be so precise about his appearance and skin tone, yet he provides the first accurate description of the car and the background to the event. It is a location for suspicion and authority: both the policeman and Tom are given this epithet to describe their movements. In this garage Tom is equated with the figure of the law and no amount of cards to the commissioner will save Gatsby.

  • The kitchen

Once the Buchanan mansion has ‘floated into view’ like some form of dream, Nick finds that he cannot enter and meets Gatsby lurking in the garden wishing to protect Daisy. His chivalrous intentions are wasted as Nick sees by looking in through the kitchen window.

Removed from the display and luxury of the public face of the house, the kitchen allows us to see the reality of the relationship between Tom and Daisy. It is a relationship rooted in practicality and the need for both to maintain their respective materialistic standards. At base level – suggested by the untouched meal of fried chicken and ale – they need each other. Daisy is silent and is nodding in agreement as Tom tells her how things will be – ‘anybody would have said they were conspiring together’ – as Nick says. For Daisy the choice is stark – life with Tom, loveless but wealthy or a loving life with a criminal of dubious background and uncertain, if immense, wealth. In the kitchen, with the facades removed, the pair can agree a modus vivendi.

 

Characters:

Tom Buchanan has been a peripheral player in the recent chapters and this chapter brings him back to the forefront of the narrative in his battle for possession of Daisy. At the start of the action he is a figure of fun – ‘And Mr Thomas Buchanan the athlete’ enquires Nick of Daisy on his arrival, clearly positioning himself as an ally of the Daisy/Gatsby pair, before Tom is heard on the phone, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his secrets are no longer secret. Once again he is shown as lacking in intellect and trying to impress as when he declares that ‘pretty soon the earth’s going to fall into the sun…’ Ironically, however, for Gatsby, the prediction of the end of the world is highly appropriate.

He does have enough sense to recognise the threat to his marriage. His response to Daisy’s declaration of love for Gatsby is swift – he is initially shocked, his ‘temper cracked a little’ and he propels the group out of the door for the city, pausing only to grab some whisky, and commandeers Gatsby’s car for his own ends. Tom is rough with Wilson and taunts him with the apparent purchase of the new car. It is here that a new load is thrown onto his weakening self-control when Wilson tells him that he and Myrtle are returning to the West. Nick is cruel in his appraisal of Tom as his world collapses – ‘there is no confusion like the confusion of a simple mind’  –  and suggests that the ‘hot whips of panic’ are driving him. As the group ascend to their broiling private hell Tom mounts his fightback by attacking Gatsby’s identity and the façade of his manners. The face-off is delayed by mint juleps and Jordan’s digression into wedding guests (establishing her as an ally of Daisy, not of Gatsby and Daisy) before Tom picks at the whole picture from oxford to the drug stores. He has been doing his research and at the moment when Gatsby pushes Daisy to leave Tom, she is caught between two powerful men and is a passive bystander as the two knock lumps from each other. Tom cannot move away from his inner bigotry, moving from ‘Mr Nobody from Nowhere’ to the threat of miscegenation in a manner which Nick finds amusing – the shift ‘from libertine to prig’ is not yet destructive. Tom needs allies and refuses to let Jordan and Nick leave before renewing hjis attack and revealing his inner knowledge of Gatsby’s business before Daisy capitulates, unable ot sustain the tension of the battle and begs him to cease.

He knows he has won the girl and has no appetite for further recrimination, even allowing the pair to leave together – the victor can be magnanimous, after all Gatsby has been ‘presumptuous’ in his ‘flirtation’ and Tom’s Kind never lose.

At Wilson’s garage we see another side of his power – he manhandles Wilson and swiftly instructs the man to forget about his earlier appearance in the Yellow Car. His ‘authoritative’ arm may part the crowd as they leave, but in the privacy of the car, he ‘whimpered’ his grief and anger at the actions of the ‘Goddam Coward’. By the time they reach home, his breeding has returned to the fore – he invites Jordan and Tom to ‘have them get you some supper’ and proceeds to address the issue of Daisy and their immediate future. In the kitchen he is dominant and assertive and is able to persuade her of the best way forward.  We never know whether he is aware that Daisy had been driving and the gentleman’s code ensures that he never will unless she tells him, yet he now has the easiest way in which to rid himself of Gatsby as we will see in the closing chapters.

 

Daisy makes her final appearances in this chapter. From this point she will be mentioned but will vanish from the narrative as a character in her own right. As it is, she is passive once the fighting starts and cannot make herself deny either party – the most she can do is admit to having loved both men.  She expresses few opinions and seems to lack any strength of character when faced by her crisis before being led back to her new future by Tom.

In her drawing room she is open in her affection for Gatsby – Tom speaks to Myrtle and she kisses her lover – but she oversteps the mark and Tom realises. From this point she seems to fade. At the hotel she spends much time looking in the mirror doing her hair. Either she is watching the events unfold from a distance or she is trying to remove herself from them in a selfish display of vanity. When pushed she speaks ‘desperately’ or ‘with ‘perceptible reluctance’. At first she is scornful of Tom before realising that she will be forced to make a decision. She looks at Jordan and Nick ‘with a sort of appeal, as though she realised at last what  she was doing – and as though she had never, all along, intended doing anything at all’. Reality bites her and the affairs of the summer must come tumbling down. She seeks allies in Jordan and Nick – Jordan is made of the same cloth, perhaps, but Nick’s true loyalty is to Gatsby by this stage. Her ‘frightened eyes’ tell their own story – the fright is of the loss of her charmed life.

Gatsby loses all in this chapter – he plays for the highest stakes and although he is reluctant to accept it, his gamble fails. Maybe he wants too much. We know that he will settle for nothing less than Daisy’s utter rejection of Tom and his shock when he realises that she ‘loved me too’, rather than exclusively is the moment that he loses control. When he had a chance of leaving with Daisy as his possession, Tom’s attacks on his honesty left little mark. From this point he has little left with which to fight. By the end Nick is startled to see the ‘unfamiliar but recognisable’ look come into Gatsby’s face – he genuinely looked as though ‘he had killed a man’. Gatsby has been wonderful at clothing his harsh reality under a veneer of lovely clothes –caramel or pink suits are not the uniform of men like Tom, but they cover the gritty reality of the small time gangster. He waits in the garden after the accident intent on protecting Daisy, but he will never be needed in this guise. She will withdraw into her wealth and he will once again be left alone as an outsider to the world of sophistication and power which is East Egg. He is ‘watching over nothing’ as the chapter closes in a sad echo of his lonely vigil over the green light seen in Chapter 1.

Jordan is seen as an ally of Daisy. By the end of the chapter she and nick will have parted as he cannot reconcile entry to the Buchanan mansion with the tragedy that has taken place and the way in which Gatsby has been destroyed by Tom. In the suite she is by turns amusing ( ‘a swell suite’) and aloof before returning to her habit of trying to balance ‘an invisible but absorbing object on the tip of her chin’ – a signal that she will take no part in this discussion. She may be a New Woman in dress and profession, but in her heart she remains Old Money and will not risk losing this. She is given no opinion in Nick’s tale and we have to suppose that she has none.

Mr and Mrs Wilson as Wilson realises the fact of his wife’s infidelity, so he becomes genuinely ill. The sense of illness pervades the garage whether his ‘hollow eyed’ gaze, her ‘jealous terror’ or the terminally ill marriage which they share. Even after death Myrtle is wrapped as though against a ‘chill’.  For the only time Wilson has taken control of his wife and locked her in an upper room. In a narrative shift, Michaelis explains all at the inquest: Wilson is genuinely sick and Myrtle, who by now has seen Tom driving into New York is in a raging passion. Her escape is preceded by melodramatic rage – ‘beat me, throw me down and beat me, you dirty little coward’. One wonders if this language has been generated by exposure to the movies and the scandal rags she reads on her trips to New York.

Her death is grotesque. She is essentially raped by the car – the immense power of the phallic vehicle driving ‘right into’ her, ripping her open and severing her breast which is now ‘swinging loose… like a flap’. The focus on the sexual nature of the accident is possibly a moralising response to the nature of the women in the novel, yet the depiction of Myrtle presents a suppliant who ‘knelt in the road’ as though praying at the altar of the manifestation of male power which killed her. The ‘think dark blood’ mingles with the dust of the Valley of the Ashes and in both we recall the funeral words – dust to dust, ashes to ashes.

Wilson’s response is beyond expectation. His ‘incessantly… high horrible call: Oh my Gaod…’ is the despairing soundtrack to the scene in the garage before he collapses and can be picked up by Tom, who takes control, ‘like a doll’.

Nick takes sides in this chapter and opts for Gatsby, not necessarily for affection but certainly because he is appalled by the callousness and shallowness of the sophisticated East. He is given the chance to reject Gatsby and West Egg, but chooses instead to remain faithful to this world which, for all its evident faults, seems kinder and fairer. This will end his relationship with Jordan who moves away from him ‘abruptly’ and runs up into the house as she realises his response to the moral dilemma. He is present throughout as a passive onlooker – has no relationship with the events described from Louisville or the early years of marriage. He has served his purpose to Gatsby and Daisy and is now impotent to help either.

Leave a comment

Filed under OCR A level, OCR English Literature, OCR NEW English Literature, Uncategorized

Notes on Chapter 6 of The Great Gatsby

Chapter 6

In this chapter flesh is put on Gatsby and the dream begins to fade. It is as if the two ideas are linked – Jimmy Gatz has invented himself in the model of Dan Cody and attained his highest position when amorously linked to Daisy Fay. At this point the War intervenes and the new Jay Gatsby loses all to Tom Buchanan. His world has been damaged. His dream is clear and stated by Nick: the total acceptance by Daisy and a return to the conditions of 1917. This will require her to renounce Tom. It may be too much to ask.

The chapter is set largely at Gatsby’s second party – a party no different in practice to the first but which is now seen through the eyes of Daisy, by both Gatsby and Nick. What amused in Chapter 3 now repulses.

The opening section, however is a discourse on the true character of Gatsby, told, we learn, by Gatsby himself ‘very much later – in fact, as we learn in Chapter 8, after the collision as the dream is irredeemably shattered. This careful ordering of the narrative is an important feature of the novel – such analepsis can forefront and withdraw key information at key moments – it is important at this stage that Nick, who by now is firmly in Gatsby’s camp shows us the true fragility of his artifice, so that we can appreciate how easily the edifice will fall when pushed. There is also a sense that this renewed relationship deserves a new layer of honesty in the telling.

Gatsby – the ‘Son of God’ – his own God- is a creation awaiting an opportunity. He is poor, slovenly and unworldly until he is taken up by Dan Cody – a semi-senile multi-millionaire who spends his life aimlessly sailing around the continent pursued by gold-digging women, one of whom, Ella Kaye, appears instrumental in his death and also manages to outsmart the young man to whom Cody has left a substantial fortune. We assume that Gatsby will never be outsmarted in this way again.

He drops the name of the immigrant –Gatz – and adopts an Americanised version, both suggestive of the gangster’s ‘gat’ or gun, hinting at the profession which is still hidden from the reader.

 

Characters:

  • East meet West

When Tom and two strangers arrive for a drink, the clash is painful. Gatsby performs the work of a host and Nick comments on this – ‘as if they cared’ suggesting the relationship between the group is far from equal. Nick has been giving Gatsby space to be with Daisy, whilst following up his relationship with Jordan – ‘trotting around’ with her and trying (failing) to ingratiate himself with her aunt.

The visitors are cold and aloof: Mr Sloane ‘lounges haughtily’ and will take no drink though his wife becomes affable after some drink. She will make a polite invitation which is misinterpreted and will cause friction. Tom is challenged by Gatsby who informs him first of their previous meeting which Tom has forgotten and then that he knows Daisy. This is a challenge and Tom responds – he cannot work out how Daisy would have met such a man – a bootlegger, he suggests later – and once again returns to his pet theory about women being given too much freedom. ‘I may be old-fashioned in my ideas’ he apologises, but he is old-fashioned, representing an older generation in which women had little freedom or chance to develop emotionally and men had a free-rein on behaviour as long as no scandal ensued. Once the group leave the house – Mr Sloane almost dragging his wife away whilst Gatsby is changing, the stage is set for the second party. It is clear that true East Egg values will never accept Gatsby. Daisy might have been enchanted by his wealth, but the society will not tolerate such hedonistic flamboyance.

  • At the Party:

This recognition of the chasm between East Egg and the invention that is Gatsby and West Egg is clear at the party. Seen through Daisy’s eyes, by implication, guests are now vulgar and distasteful. The only guest of whom Daisy really approves is the great ‘white orchid’ of an antique film star. Like herself, she can recognise the link between the cold and disdainful ‘whiteness’ of this hothouse flower, like herself needing close attention and constant care. Otherwise we read of drunkenness, potential violence, especially towards women, who are often being shown as in need of being ‘stuck in a pool’ due to their drunken state. One woman, offering a round of golf to Daisy, is massive and lethargic’ as she defends Miss Baedeker against the idea of drunkenness with the defence that she is ‘always like this’ after a considerable drinking spree. Gatsby is in attendance but often called to the phone and Daisy is ‘appalled’ by the shallowness of the gathering except when she and Gatsby escape to sit on Nick’s porch for half an hour.

Tom is caught up in the party to an extent. At first his eyes are ‘arrogant’ and he seems slightly embarrassed by the epithet of the ‘polo player’ but his excuse of the man ‘getting off some funny stuff’ is seen through by Daisy who pronounces the girl he is chasing as ‘common but pretty.’

As the party ends Daisy, Tom and Nick are on the steps. Gatsby’s mansion sends its light ‘volleying’ out into the darkness, like so many thunderous guns. Impressive but also destructive. Tom accuses Gatsby of being a bootlegger and Daisy defends the party by pointing out that most of the guests had not been invited. Too many people, she suggests, take advantage of Gatsby’s good nature. She seems proud of his history – ‘he built them up himself’ she says of the drug-stores. Presumably Gatsby has given her a version of his recent history, heavily sanitised. Drug-stores were the common cover for illicit alcohol businesses. Tom’s guess is correct; whether Daisy knows this is open to conjecture, but Tom intends to find out, not because he guesses about the affair, but because his ‘old fashioned’ values cannot tolerate an upstart like Gatsby.

  • Gatsby

As the party ends, Nick and Gatsby are alone and Nick recounts a final piece of history told to him by Gatsby. This is in indirect speech, as though Nick is not taking the responsibility for precise and accurate recording of such an overtly romantic narrative. Gatsby has spoken of the sidewalk rising to the tree tops to a ‘secret place’ which he could attain if he ‘climbed alone’. In this place all things seem possible and all dreams can be forged. He is prepared to sacrifice this when Daisy kisses him, never again will he ‘romp again like the mind of God’. As he kisses her, other dreams perish and Daisy ‘blossomed for him like a flower’.  Nick claims to be appalled by this sentimentality and is unable put his thoughts into words.

Leave a comment

Filed under OCR A level, OCR English Literature, OCR NEW English Literature, Uncategorized

Notes on Chapter 5 of The Great Gatsby

Notes on Chapter 5

This is the central chapter and the one which brings Gatsby and Daisy together. It takes place largely in Nick’s house before moving across the newly mown lawn into the Gatsby mansion giving him the chance to show Daisy the evidence of his material success – the route not so much to her heart, but to keeping it. The prelude to the tea party is a short description of a meeting between Gatsby and Nick on Nick’s return from New York. Chapters 4 & 5 are consecutive and little or no time passes between them.

 

Setting:

 House and Garden:

We know that Nick’s house is squeezed between the great mansions of West Egg and it can be useful to see it as a sort of off-shoot of the great wealth that is Gatsby’s – he certainly has few scruples about directing the lawn to be cut and the pair move freely into each other’s spaces. At the start of the chapter Gatsby’s house is lit up, ‘like the World’s Fair’ heightening the sense of advertising and display which Jordan has told Nick about and also causing Nick to fear for the safety of his house. There seems to be a warning here – to continue with Gatsby will bring about destruction in some way. Again the Lucifer idea becomes plausible – a light-bringer who may burn all with whom he has contact. Gatsby offers a ride to Coney Island and a dip in the pool (foreshadowing the end of the book) and Nick accepts neither, brushes off a job-offer and goes happily to bed in his house.

The day of the party is raining, hardly a good omen and images of ‘soggy whitewashed alleys’ and a gardener in a raincoat trying to tame Nick’s lawn – or ‘yard’ as Gatsby refers to it – hardly suggest a positive outcome. By tea time there is a ‘damp mist’ echoing the general fog in Gatsby’s mind and his uncertainty, yet the sun emerges as the pair talk before the wind rises and thunder is heard. The chapter ends in rain. A moment of happiness and calm has been found, but the outlook for the pair, as predicted by nature, is not encouraging.

A clear contrast between Nick’s small house, crammed with Gatsby’s outsize preparations for tea and the vast and ostentatious display of financial power in Gatsby’s mansion is clear. It is in this chapter that Nick recounts the history of Gatsby’s house and the fate of the brewer who had it built. Again, Fitzgerald places the show of material success against the reality of material failure and allows the reader to draw their own conclusions.

Characters:

  • Gatsby seems ill at ease in this chapter. His green light/grail/green ball/dream is within his grasp and he fears for the outcome. He is uncertain how to thank Nick and makes a clumsy offer of a job, making it clear that there will be no dealing with Wolfshiem, as though this might be the root of Nick’s scruples. Mention is made of selling bonds and there is a clear foreshadowing of the phone call received in Chapter 9. Presumably Nick was to enter the world of the ill-fated ‘Young Parks’, but he is not ready to cross to Gatsby’s nether world and the offer is rebuffed. Gatsby is anxious about appearances, sends over vast quantities of tea and flowers before losing his nerve and almost leaving before Daisy arrives. Ever the actor, though, once she does arrive – playing up to Nick’s mysterious invitation and exhortations to leave Tom behind, Gatsby (re)enters, as though just arriving. The tension is palpable. As Nick says ‘it wasn’t a bit funny’. Gatsby is gauche and clumsy – he knocks a (broken) clock from the mantle and reinforces the theme of time and man’s attempts to control it. At this point, as the broken clock suggests, the pair are returning to 1917, the point of Gatsby’s departure and he seems to have arranged to stop time momentarily, even if he will never be able to turn it backwards. Nick is relieved to be able to leave but has time to speak to Gatsby. For the only time in the novel, Gatsby is at a loss, behaving like a ‘little boy’ stuck in a world he cannot control. This will not last.

Once Nick returns, the pair are relaxed, the sun has come out and Gatsby’s need for the small house is over – he leads the party next door to introduce Daisy to his world. He bought the house to lure her in, and his success is as absolute as it will ever be. Like his house and like the sun which has emerged, he ‘literally glowed’. He draws Nick’s attention to the light radiating from his house and is so caught up in love that he not only tells the truth about earning the money to buy it (3 years) but cuts Nick off abruptly ‘That’s my affair’ when Nick queries his story. He has no need to act for others –Daisy is his only audience at this stage. She is given the grandest of grand tours, no short cuts, and all designed to impress. The group walk through numerous rooms, all pluralised to emphasise size, before arriving at Gatsby’s relatively modest suite of rooms. Nick is clear that Gatsby is almost trancelike, referring all to Daisy’s gaze and barely aware of his surroundings. His shirts ar ethe final proof of his success in material terms and all designed to impress.

The group return to the drawing room before Klipspringer’s playing of love songs and he shows Daisy the spot where her light glows in the mist. Nick perceives his possible disquiet at this point and muses on the attainment of the dream: ‘perhaps it occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever… Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.’ Only as he says goodbye does Nick really discern trouble in Gatsby: ‘Almost five years! There must have been moments that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams…’ The pair are left in peace, he is bewitched by Daisy’s siren like Death-less song and Nick leaves them together.

 

  • Daisy:

After her excited and conspiratorial conversation on the phone, Daisy’s arrival is interesting. I tis raining, yet her car is open. Unusually she is not white in this scene – her hat is lavender and her wet hair lies like a ‘dash of blue paint’ tasking her out of her usual colour palette – possibly she is about to be eclipsed by the grandeur of Gatsby’s world. After the ‘conscientious’ beginning to the party, Nick leaves and only once he returns do we see a change. Daisy has been weeping and Gatsby is becoming radiant. When she arrived Nick was bewitched by her voice, now it is clear that the emotion is real and unfeigned – ‘her throat, full of aching, grieving beauty, told only of her unexpected joy’.  Nick is clear: she is not bewitching anyone now. She is bewitched. There are signs of her recognition of Gatsby’s immense wealth and consequent attractiveness – for example Nick notices her ‘brass’ buttons gleaming. In the face of Gatsby’s ‘enormous place’, even Daisy’s wealth and golden charm is downgraded. When she weeps into the shirts, she may be weeping for the missed opportunity – this is wealth, not polo ponies, not pearl necklaces can compete with this display of hedonistic materialism. She realises what she might have missed out on. If she is enchanted by material belongings, she is able to recover by the end of the chapter. She whispers in Gatsby’s ear. He is attentive. As Nick comments, ‘that voice held him most, with its fluctuating, feverish warmth, because it couldn’t be over dreamed.’ Daisy in actuality might disappoint – the voice will never lose its ability to enchant.

  • Nick:

Functioning as a pandar for this relationship, Nick sees much, comments less and feels little. He observes Gatsby’s emergence from the cocoon of nervousness and recognises the painful significance of the attainment of the dream and the loss of the power of the longed-for object. He guides the reader towards an understanding of the central idea of the attainment of the dream being its own destruction and slips away, leaving the lovers to their new-found world of pink clouds, silk shirts and ‘in between times’.

Ideas:

The central idea of the Dream being destroyed by its attainment is explored in this chapter for the first time. Gatsby’s quest for his grail could be said to be over – he has Daisy and the pair are left alone with their love, but as Nick says at the end of the chapter, ‘as I watched him he adjusted himself a little, visibly’. All has now changed. He has, in a way, wound back time and reclaimed Daisy, yet in doing so he has lost one of his ‘enchanted’ objects and one might feel that he has one less reason to exist.

The idea of the pursuit of material evidence for a successful and happy life is clear from the shirts and Daisy’s evident thrill at the sheer size of his mansion suggests that in New America, the world of post-war profit seeking, the arriviste of West Egg can indeed top the old money and old ways of the East.

There seems little doubt that Gatsby and Daisy were, and are, in love, yet his quickly built façade and her deeply ingrained love of wealth – and possibly of ‘pure’ or ‘cold’ white wealth – will need to be reconciled. At present both are happy and it seems a good place to leave them –despite the thunder in the air. Even as she is entranced by the ‘dull gold’ of the hairbrushes, the adjective suggests that in her presence all else has lost its lustre for Gatsby.

Leave a comment

Filed under OCR A level, OCR English Literature, OCR NEW English Literature

Notes on Chapter 4 of The Great Gatsby.

Notes: The Great Gatsby Chapter 4

 

Fitzgerald places a second description of a typical Gatsby party at the opening of Chapter 4. It establishes Hedonism as a religion replacing conventional church-going , reinforces the sense of loosened sexual morals and introduces two more Gatsby myths – the bootlegger and the nephew to Von Hindenburg, one of which will be seen to be true, The interest lies in the satirical bit eof the second half of the Hindenburg idea –‘second cousin to the devil’ – and the empty opulence of the event – ‘ reach me a rose, honey, and pour me a last drop into that there crystal glass’. Roses are generally symbolic of fading beauty rather than consistency and this one is almost out of reach. Possibly the dream-time is coming to an end, just as the champagne seems to have reached the ‘last drop’.

Nick’s careful charting of the event is shown in his recording of guests on a time-table. As ever we are reminded of time as a concept which moves on regardless of the world around it and leaves humans helpless in its thrall. The list reads as an Homeric list on one level, simply recording those who attended, ye the names tell a clearer story. Nick divides the list between East and West Egg, and the names tell their own story. The East Eggers seem to have harsh and generally ‘older’ names – there is not a little ill-omen in fights and deaths. Dr. Civet, will reappear at the second party and helps to establish the time-lapses in the narrative since he died ‘last summer. If Nick is recalling this timetable, written in 1922 from the vantage point of 1924, then Dr. Civet neatly dies in the gap between the two major narrative times of the book. The West Eggers seem more European and possibly more recent in arriving. Schoen, Gulick, Cohen, Schwartz suggest Middle European and Jewish heritage. Some come from the movie world and others to gamble. James B. (Rotgut) Ferret seems to sum up this group – his nickname suggesting some link to the illicit liquor market and his wealth significant but essentially transient. He relies on the daily success of his company. This is not old money and suggests a parasitic relationship with those who buy from Associated Traction.  Death is never far from this list and there is a clear sense of relaxed marital morals all of which foreshadow the direction of the narrative as we move into the chapter. As the section closes, Nick loses the clarity of recall. These are transient events and have no lasting impact on the world around them.

Setting:

  • Gatsby’s car is the first setting of note. It is vehicle of excess – when not released on the highway it lurches, suggesting size and shatters the relative peace with the ‘three-noted horn. Gatsby uses it to pose and to show-off his wealth and is self-deprecating when describing it as ‘pretty’. Nick’s description suggests something far from pretty – it is ‘swollen… monstrous… triumphant’ much in the manner of pre-crash New York wealth and business. It reflects ‘ten suns’ suggesting enormous power and wealth and the traveller is caught up inside a ‘green leather conservatory’. It’s colour –rich cream – extends the use of shades of yellow as considered in Chapter 3 yet will also confuse. At the time of the accident no one seems quite to be able to settle on a description of this colour. It seems to resemble Gatsby in this way. This setting is the safe space in which Gatsby will divulge his first version of his life story, and also from which Nick will see first-hand the power and corruption available to the very rich as the card from the commissioner buys off the lowly traffic cop. Despite the memento mori image of the hearse, this is a journey from myth – the car scatters light with ‘fenders spread like wings’ suggesting power beyond the normal and suggesting two images to the reader – neither being good: Icarus flying close to the sun and the vehicle of Lucifer, the light bearer. I do not wish to force the latter image, though it interests me. Lucifer is always plausible when seducing the innocent and Nick is seduced by Gatsby. If the Old Money of the East can be seen as the heavenly form of wealth and power to the long-standing families, then Gatsby can certainly be seen as some form of rebel angel, one who will, ultimately, be removed from paradise. Enough.
  • The lunch venue in ‘well-fanned… cellar’ on 42nd street places the reader in the heart of New York. Not the business district, but the centre of life. Yet a cellar is a curiously dark and secretive locale, especially in contrast to the two mansions where most of the action has taken place thus far. It seems right that Nick should be introduced to the criminal Wolfshiem in this urban hell –no fire as such, but hot and dark, even if not as ‘hot’ as the old Metropole. It is somewhere to avoid being seen, which makes it perhaps surprising that Tom Buchanan should be seen, yet his life with mistresses and deception should allow him entry to such a place. It is a place of ‘succulent hash’- suggestive of raw meat – and of discussion around gang murder and the enormous gambling deception of the fixing of the World Series, a feat so huge that Nick cannot conceive of a single person undertaking such an action.
  • The Plaza and Central Park. In the formal surroundings of the grand Plaza Hotel, Nick is told about Daisy’s background by a very formal Jordan – ‘sitting up very straight on a straight chair). Nick notes the wealth redolent in the buildings around the Park as they ride and the children singing a 1920s popular love song, full of mystery and Eastern allure act almost as Shakespeare’s fairies in this pastoral dream-scape. Despite it being dark, Jordan’s shoulder is described as ‘Golden’ due to her wealth, beauty and power and also denying her any link to the moon, conventionally used to portray femininity and chastity. Jordan seems to provide her own sun. The pair pass out of the trees and the ‘façade of 59th street into the park proper and a romance of a sort begins. Nick seems to take the opportunity offered to him, and Jordan, despite ‘her wan, scornful mouth’ allows him to draw her up closer to his face. Despite the setting there is little romance here. The do not ‘kiss’ and she is chosen since he has ‘no girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices…’.

Character:

  • Gatsby: His virility and power is reflected in his car. It is an outward display. Once safe inside the vehicle he seems less secure, asking Nick what he thinks of him and beginning to create his mythology as a prelude to explaining the plan for Daisy and the tea-party which will be approached by Jordan later in the chapter, as though Gatsby cannot act on his own behalf in such a romantic notion – deals with Chicago, yes, but an attempt to grasp the grail of his dreams is too much for him . He calls his tissue of lies the ‘God’s truth’, yet as we have seen his party seems to be a new religion. If this is the case then he may not be far wrong, as long as he is the deity at the centre of the religion. What is clear is the level of fabrication (San Francisco in the Mid-West) and the lengths that he has gone to in order to prove his story as true – the photo might be carried, but the medal is surely there simply to provide bolstering evidence for that section of his story. Nick will believe the Oxford and the War and chooses to overlook the clear lies elsewhere in the story. His faith in Gatsby grows. Gatsby is seen both using his power to deflect authority and then engaging in his ‘real’ world – the shady underworld of the unspecified criminal dealings with Wolfshiem. There are secretive phone calls and unspecified references to deals before he vanishes on the introduction to Tom. Once again Gatsby can simply appear and disappear at will, it seems. Not only this, but as Jordan tells Nick, someone whose entire life at this time seems to have been constructed with the sole aim of capturing Daisy – a construct developed to catch his grail. His quest is nearing its end.
  • Wolfshiem is the real face of Gatsby’s lifestyle. A creature of the dark, who eats with ‘ferocious delicacy’ suggesting some form of animal, an image enhanced by Nick eventually finding two ‘tiny eyes’ in a face dominated by nasal hair and described as that of a ‘small flat-nosed Jew’. He seems to be some form of rodent lurking in the cellar. He wears human molars on his cuffs and is a ruthless gambler who ‘fixed the world series of 1919’, an almost mythical action. Yet he is described by Gatsby as ‘sentimental’ and he bemoans the loss of his friends and the Old Metropole and is obviously fond of his protégé, Gatsby. As a ‘denizen of Broadway’ he establishes a clear link between that area of the city (the dancers, musicians, singers and players who attend Gatsby’s parties) and the criminal underworld. To Gatsby he remains a ‘smart’ man who ‘saw the opportunity’ – he did nothing wrong.
  • Jordan and Daisy: Jordan is used as a narrative tool to present Daisy’s back story. Her impersonal manner ensures that the tale is detailed and also that it carries some hints of material not fully discussed. Daisy is presented as ‘white’ (pure but cold?) but who welcomes the constant calls from officers and who might have considered elopement at one stage. She seems to embody the new morals of the wealthy as the century got under way, as discussed by Fitzgerald and mentioned in my notes on Chapter 1: ‘petting’ is allowed if one is rich. Jordan is younger that Daisy and in awe of her, it appears, and had seen her alone in her car with a young Gatsby in 1917 before the latter’s time in Europe at war. He dotes on her, looking at her in a ‘way that every young girl wants to be looked at sometimes’ suggesting that he is utterly devoted, yet for the girl, the appeal to her vanity is equally strong. Ultimately it is suggested that the power and wealth of Tom Buchanan with the $350,000 pearl necklace is enough to displace Gatsby from her mind. That said, her drunken crisis on her wedding day suggests enough to explain the relative ease of the liaison which develops in the coming chapters. Daisy is beautiful wealthy and unhappy in marriage – Tom’s affairs begin even on the honeymoon and receive unwelcome publicity. The pair travelled in Europe and settled in Chicago where, Jordan hints, Daisy’s teetotal life might have spared her from notice and a bad reputation and allowed her to keep any indiscretions discreet! As Jordan comments, ‘Daisy ought to have something in her life’. Jordan is used as a go-between and we learn little of her at any time in the novel. We know she is a liar and has possibly risen to sporting prominence by cheating, yet we know little else. Nick describes her negatively, as always. She is ‘clean, hard, limited’ and leans back ‘jauntily’ in his arm at a time when one might expect her to be relaxed and snuggling affectionately. This lack of overt femininity appeals to Nick who is driven by the genderless formula that ’there are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired. A mantra for a new society based on outcome, and one which Nick will accept in Chapter 9 when he declares himself too old (tired) for the games being played in the world. Jordan aspired to Daisy as a teenager much as she aspires to a man’s world in adulthood. She is a ‘new’ woman, freed from the shackles of gender-based behaviour norms. Yet even she will revert to type when the crisis comes.

Ideas:

In this chapter we get backstory and detail. Some is clearly true and some clearly unreliable. Nick is caught on both sides of the fence and states his faith in Gatsby in exaggerated prose after the tale of war and Oxford has been told. He knows Gatsby is lying for much of the tale but is prepared to overlook it due to the romantic ideals of the man. He and Jordan begin some form of relationship, though clearly not one based on mutual attraction, let alone love. The reader is ready for the tea party of Chapter 5 and the meeting which has been anticipated since Gatsby was first seen in Chapter 1. The ‘pursuer’, his arms outstretched to the green light.

Leave a comment

Filed under OCR A level, OCR English Literature, OCR NEW English Literature, Uncategorized

Notes on Chapter 3 of The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby: Chapter 3

Chapter 3 opens with a bravura description of a party at Gatsby’s mansion. Nick is given a rich palette of poetic language to evoke the early summer hedonism of the revellers: the gardens are ‘blue’, revellers move ‘like moths among the whisperings the champagne and the stars’. Despite the obvious allure of the performance, Nick is also clearly aware of the artifice – the crates of oranges to be pulped by a machine ‘pressed two hundred times by a butler’s thumb’. The reader sees that he is attracted to the spectacle yet his ability to see both sides of any situation calls him back to the reality of the master/servant relationship.

As he explores the regular parties, Fitzgerald shifts Nick into writing in the present tense and in ever longer sentences as he presents the picture of glamour to the reader. As the excitement mounts in this description of a typical Gatsby party, as yet unsullied by the appearance of Nick and Tom, so the writing once again evokes colour.

Setting:

The Party: Colour is significant throughout this book: Daisy and Jordan are generally ‘white’, Gatsby moves in pastels ending in his ‘pink rag of a suit’, the light of desire is ‘green’ and in this chapter blue and yellow are inn opposition. Yellow, the base-colour of gold has already been associated with the Buchanan wealth and the allure of the wealthy life, now we see it as the colour of sunshine and by extension fertility and also as the colour of fire, or of dried grass, which might combust (Tom’s hair is ‘straw’ coloured. Whilst the lights here ‘glow brighter’ we see a shift – ‘the earth lurches away from the sun and now the orchestra plays yellow cocktail music’ as though there is a new star in the sky – star of alcoholic excess which has replaced the sun. Against this, blue is cool, liquid, twilight and the night sky, as suited to the ‘blue garden’ or the ‘blue honey of the Mediterranean’. The two colours work in some form of harmony as opposites – note the cars of Tom (blue) and Gatsby (Cream) which are swapped at the time of the death-drive.

Once Nick has met up with Jordan, the pair venture to enter the mansion and we see a new setting – the interior of the Gatsby mansion. We should be comparing this with the Buchanan home; Gatsby full of grandeur and artifice, he is after all a ‘regular Belasco’ as opposed to the huge emptiness of the Buchanan home. Gatsby has created a reconstruction of the original model inside as well as out. In the library the pair meet an anonymous man in ‘owl-eyed’ spectacles, recalling Eckleburg and reminding us of the close scrutiny paid to all in this text. He is impressed by the fact that the books are real – he has tried them and expected to find a façade. Evidently there is more to Gatsby than meets the eye. The library is ‘high Gothic’ and panelled in ‘English Oak’. This setting tells us that if Gatsby has set his eye to something, it will be done thoroughly.

The final setting of the chapter is the one described by Nick, looking back on his days working in New York. He sees 5th Avenue as a location for voyeuristic fantasies as he imagines himself entering the lives of ‘romantic women’, and he feels the ‘enchanted metropolitan twilight’ as time of loneliness and a link between himself and the poor young clerks he sees waiting for their restaurant supper. He seems to be enjoying his loneliness and allowing himself time to indulge his more romantic fantasies since he has lost touch temporarily with Jordan. The chapter closes with the pair meeting and discussing driving – Jordan’s carelessness appals him and the reader is reminded of the careless motor accident as guests leave the party and Fitzgerald establishes the idea of cars being dangerous and potential killers which will pervade the later sections of the novel.

Characters:

  • Nick Carraway: ‘I hate careless people. That’s why I like you.’ Says Jordan to Nick as the chapter closes. Careless is interesting – yes it can mean accident prone but also carries the idea of cold selfishness. Nick does care for people and we see it in his behaviour in Chapter 2 and throughout the novel in his response to Gatsby. That Jordan should hate the careless is more curious – Tom and Daisy surely rank as totally careless… Nick is also seen as a voyeur in this chapter, not just at the party but also in his private life.

He has arrived at the party in his flannels, slightly under dressed, and anxious to behave in the prescribed manner for a polite guest at a party- he wishes to meet his host and to thank him – anyone he asks finds this risible and he is clearly uncomfortable until he joins up with Jordan. He ‘roars’ his greeting : he is slightly drunk but also hugely relieved to find what he assumes is a kindred spirit at the party. Surrounded by the young Englishmen clearly searching for a business connection, Jordan is seen to be ‘contemptuous’ of the party and the two take part in a sporadic conversation in which 6 versions of the Gatsby legend are discussed by the other guests. After the exploration of the house, Nick carefully notes the detail of the party before meeting a guest with whom he falls into conversation. This turns out to be Gatsby and his shock is complete. As he explains to Jordan, he had imagined a ‘florid and corpulent person’ matching his house. He is impressed and as Jordan says, he is now ‘started on the subject’. Before Nick leaves he notes carefully the change in the party – Jordan has been taken away be Gatsby and Nick notices her original partner clearly engaged in highly detailed sexual discussion – what Nick primly refers to as ‘obstetrical conversation’; Women ar efighting with their husbands and crying; the singer, ‘very ineptly’, is weeping into her song; even the East Egg group which arrived with Jordan has sunk to the base level of the amusement park behaviour, flirting and weeping in turns. The party has lost its glamour. Polite as ever, Nick makes his farewells and leaves to witness the various car accidents in the drive. His last comment clearly shows that despite the clamour he has been won over by Gatsby: he sees the ‘wafer of a moon’ as ‘surviving’ the laughter in the garden and suggests that a new moon such as this is a symbol of hope and of the potential of continual renewal; he senses the ‘sudden emptiness’ emanating from the house, an emptiness which we will learn that only Daisy can cure and he sees Gatsby caught in the posture of farewell and notes his isolation. He is still shut out from society and from the girl of his memories, as Nick will discover in Chapter 4.

  • Jordan Baker: Jordan continues to be presented as unfeminine and ungracious in this chapter. In her first appearance she is ‘leaning a little backward… contemptuous…impersonal{ly}’ yet also she is clearly careful enough to recall the twins from an earlier party and also drily humorous as she excuses the pair of them with the comment that ‘this is much too polite for me’. Nick, the man of ambiguous opinions on everyone is happy in her ambiguous society. Her arm is ‘golden’ suggesting wealth and prosperity, though as discussed earlier, the sense of possible conflagration lurks around her. She does not join in the gossip and seems genuinely uninterested in Gatsby beyond attending his parties. To her he is ‘just a man named Gatsby’, at least until he asks her for a private conversation. As yet we do not know that he has declared to her is love for Daisy, but she is clearly fascinated and excited once she returns to the party. Gatsby now has a purpose and she tantalizes Nick as much from her own excitement as from a wish to have him hang on her every word. Her assignation with Nick, seen as the beginning of a romantic attachment must be seen also in the light of a business deal, after all, the girl who shuns femininity in favour of evening clothes which hang like ‘sports clothes’ has too much masculinity about her not to engage immediately in the business transaction which will bring Daisy back into Gatsby’s orbit.

 

  • Jay Gatsby/Jimmy Gatz…

 

Gatsby appears at last in this chapter and Fitzgerald neatly combines anticipation, felt by Nick’s continuing search for his host, with a suggestion of a key element of Gatsby’s character – his chameleon-like ability to avoid becoming noticed or attached. As soon as he appears, we are reminded of his ‘business’ in the two phone calls he is urged to take – whatever he does, it is a 24 hour concern. In terms of what he does and who he is, we receive 6 possible idea in the chapter – Nick’s wealthy neighbour, someone who ‘doesn’t want any trouble with anybody’, someone who ‘killed a man once’, a German spy, a former American soldier and an ‘Oxford man’. All could be rolled into the same body, but it is clear that no one has a clear idea of his background, even Jordan, who has clearly talked with him in the past and refers to him as just a man named Gatsby.

He meets Nick in the party and remains anonymous until Nick makes his little faux-pas. Is he man who is careful to conceal his identity or is just shy? We never find out because he leaves for a call, however Nick has been transfixed by ‘one of those rare smiles with a quality of reassurance in it’ before it is dropped and Nick sees something closer to reality: ‘an elegant rough neck, a year or two over thirty’.  It is clear from this phrase that this is not someone with whom Nick would usually mix, and we recall the comment from the opening chapter when he states that Gatsby embodies ‘everything for which I have an unaffected scorn’ and also ‘an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall find again’.

Gatsby clearly has a plan – whether by luck or judgement he has discovered that Nick is related to Daisy and that Jordan is convenient link between the pair. He uses Jordan to develop a plan which will emerge as we read on. He knows that it would be impossible for him to approach Daisy as an equal in the East/West Egg scenario. Thus he develops connections to act on his behalf. He remains aloof and unknown.

Fitzgerald played with the idea of calling this novel ‘Trimalchio in West Egg’. Trimalchio is the central character of the Satyricon by Petronius, a master of vulgar and sexual revels who indulges his desires to the full in all of his vast and luxurious parties. We should note how little Gatsby partakes. His parties are the lure to attract Daisy, not opportunities for him to debauch himself without licence. We should not, therefore read too much into the character of the pair, yet Trimalchio has an obsession with the passing of time, as does Gatsby, who fears the passage of time which takes him further and further away from Daisy. Also Trimalchio is first seen engaged with study of a ‘green ball’ which he struggles to keep in the air. Fitzgerald has surely used this image in the ‘green light’ – the dream which must be kept alive (in the air) and which will be spoiled by attainment – just a sthe ball will ultimately come to ground.

 

Ideas:

Reading this chapter we should notice the patterns developing in the novel. Two intimate parties contrast each other and are followed by the extravagance of the first Gatsby party to be attended by Nick. When he returns in Chapter 6 so much is different as a new perspective is given to the party by the presence of the Buchanans. In this chapter we see how swiftly the veneer of attractiveness is replaced by a harsh and possibly cruel reality as time passes and we enjoy as Nick does, his first experience of a Gatsby function. At this stage we can say little about Gatsby, but we should be aware of the spectral world around him and the careful façade he has erected – his butler is ever on hand with the telephone and his business is evidently never far away. As the party ends he is seen alone and described as isolated – his solitude seems to be his own decision.

One image remains: as Nick described Gatsby’s musical request-  Tostoff’s Jazz History of the World (a name redolent with the easy frippery of the Twenties and an intention to present a new world order, reinvented for the young and flamboyant) – Gatsby is seen alone, watching with ‘approving eyes’ and Nick says that he could see ‘nothing sinister’ in him – the very fact that it is recorded suggests that many can and places Nick and Gatsby together in some form of acceptance of the other.

Leave a comment

Filed under OCR A level, OCR English Literature, OCR NEW English Literature, Uncategorized

Notes on Chapter 2 of The Great Gatsby.

Great Gatsby, Chapter 2: Notes

The second chapter of the novel serves as a second introduction. We meet Myrtle and immediately place her and Daisy side by side and the character of Tom is further developed. We are not yet ready for Gatsby.

In chapter 1 we read of a party at the Buchanan’s mansion. In chapter 2 we see another type of gathering – one devoid of class and altogether more tawdry. The city of New York becomes a character in the novel, as does its offspring – the Valley of the Ashes.

Setting:

  • The Valley of the Ashes. ‘ A fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens’ says Nick as he describes the area between New York and the Eggs – and West Egg in particular, being geographically closer to the city. In the 1920s there was massive building and expansion into what are now the western suburbs of the city. In the novel the area is bleak and inhospitable. Pioneers like Wilson and Michaelis have set up businesses here, but there is little hope of success. All is overseen by the ‘Eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg – a poster representing all-seeing fate, the eyes of God, or the failed publicity of a now-dead oculist. The eyes have faded, yet the spectacles retain their harsh yellow paint: the characters in the novel seem to share a moral blindness despite the clear framework of a society in which to function. The message is that materialism has overtaken the wish to cure poor eyesight in the case of Eckleburg and this memorial to empty advertising promises is all that remains.

The area is sealed off from the Eggs by a ‘drawbridge’, as from a castle, and every journey into New York brings the gilded few into contact with the visible reality of life without their advantages. There have been attempts to smarten it up – Nick and Tom cross a ‘whitewashed’ fence before seeing the only buildings  – ‘a small block of yellow brick… unprosperous and bare’. Nick’s imagination allows him to consider ‘sumptuous and romantic apartments overhead’, but it is only imagination – reality allows no such fantasy.

 

  • New York: On arrival a (suitable) taxi takes the group to 158th This is a deeply unfashionable area, far removed from the bustle of downtown Manhattan and eminently suited to Tom’s love nest. There is an outward charm – ‘one slice in a long white cake of apartment houses’ says Nick. Myrtle believes herself to be queen here and behaves accordingly. The apartment itself is tiny – a fact accentuated by the wholly inappropriate furniture and furnishings and the repetition of ‘small’ before each item in the description – there is a splendid optical illusion in the excruciating photograph of either a hen or an old lady – nothing is quite what it seems in this novel. There is a bedroom into which Tom and Myrtle vanish to make love as soon as they arrive – Nick is forgotten or ignored as utterly irrelevant.  He has not wished to come along, but Tom has collected him to show off.

Characters:

  • Myrtle Wilson (and Wilson).

As befits the owner of this washed out garage, Wilson is initially presented as a ‘blond, spiritless man, anaemic and faintly handsome’ – talk about faint praise! He is a sharp contrast with all around him, including his wife: ‘faintly stout, though she carried her flesh sensuously…’. She seems at ease with her open sexuality, wearing tight dresses and ‘smouldering’. She ignores her husband and flirts with Tom, giving orders in an oxymoronic ‘soft, coarse voice’. She is the visual and auditory antithesis of Daisy. She even avoids the ‘white dust’ which covers all in the vicinity. White is Daisy’s colour and Myrtle can have none of her purity. Both are plants, both pretty and hardy, but only myrtle is a climber and a fleshy plant to boot.

Myrtle is discreet on the train, but her character is clear on arrival – the taxi must suit her sense of elegance and the puppy is bought ‘for the apartment’ with no thought of its well-being. It is the last image of suffering in the chapter – eyes closed against the smoke, a fragile symbol of the thoughtlessness of the wealthy and aspirant wealthy.

She behaves with a ‘regal’ air once a the apartment and treats all with disdain – the comments to Mrs McKee about her clothes and Nick’s sardonic comment that she ‘swept into the kitchen, implying that a dozen chefs awaited her orders there.’ The sense of distance between her and Nick is increased by his continuing to call her Mrs Wilson throughout most of the narrative.

She is given the chance to tell her own story, and is an ashamed in telling Nick how much she was transfixed by Tom’s glamour and sexual allure on the train – he picks her up there and then in the manner of  a sexual predator (‘his white shirt front pressed against my arm’) and the pair go off to make love. Elsewhere, the lie about Daisy’s Catholic upbringing is presented by her sister Catherine. Nick does not muse for long but an alert reader must wonder whether this might not be Tom’s story to her in order to explain why he will never leave Daisy for her – as if he would! As all becomes fuddled in drink there is one more scene to be played out. Myrtle, tired and emotional, is taunting Tom about his marriage – since Nick is nearly comatose we never discover why, yet she pushes too far. Her shouts of ‘Daisy, Daisy, Daisy’ are cut short in an act of swift brutality – ‘making a short, deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand’.

As the party dissolves, Nick recalls the scene with the focus clearly on Myrtle – Tom is nowhere to be seen. The woman who avidly reads Town Tattle for the gossip and buys a puppy for appearances sake is last seen trying to prevent her blood from spoiling the hideously pretentious and overdone Versailles tapestries. She clings to her imagined world despite the pain.

  • Tom Buchanan

Little is done to flesh out Tom. The selfish bully is now seen in a harsher light. Nick is not allowed to separate from Tom on this journey – it is as though Tom needs to have Nick as some sort of ally in his life and is showing him the secrets of his order – the mistress, the love – nest in town. This confirms and develops Jordan’s comments from Chapter 1, but we also see Tom’s utter disregard for all he deems to be valueless: Wilson is greeted and then openly cuckolded-by-arrangement in his garage, Myrtle is an object to be used at his whim – ‘I want to see you’ – Nick is railroaded into joining the party and then ignored for the love-making on arrival, and Myrtle’s nose is broken swiftly before Tom vanishes from the narrative with no sense of apology or guilt for his actions.

Tom can see that Mr McKee is hoping for an introduction to the East Egg inhabitants to act a sa photographer to society and is quick to duck this challenge, rather cruelly joking that Myrtle will give a letter of introduction. He may well be stringing Myrtle on with the idea that Daisy’s Catholicism is the reason why he cannot leave her, just as he is stringing Wilson on with the story of the car that will never be sold so as to have an excuse to visit the garage.

 

  • The Guests

Catherine, Myrtle’s sister and the McKee’s make up the guest list. Catherine has no roots – living in a hotel with a friend and has recently returned from an ill-fated European trip during which she has lost all her money in a casino. She epitomises the ‘lost generation’ for whom there was little sense of identity in a fast-changing world, but for whom the wonders of Europe and the high life was solely figurative unless one was genuinely wealthy. She does not drink, unusually, and is the source of much scurrilous gossip. She may well be seen as being invited as Nick’s partner in this immoral tale of deceit and despair. She is a source of gossip about Tom and Daisy/Myrtle and works with Mrs McKee to staunch the blood and to clean up the flat at the end of the evening.

The McKee’s are climbers, lured by the presence of East Egg money to try to gain access to the lucrative opportunities there. Mr McKee, effeminate with his shaving foam blot stands no chance against Tom and is easily outmanouvered. He and Nick leave together and as the narrative closes Nick incoherently recalls helping him to bed as McKee tries to drunkenly impress him with his portfolio – West Egg is better than nothing we assume.

His wife is eager to keep up socially with Myrtle! She offers compliments and is sneered at in return being eventually offered the dress she admired. Her response is not recorded. When drunk she is bigoted in the extreme about a lucky escape in love: ‘I almost married a little kyke who’d ben after me for years’.

  • Nick Carraway

Little is added to Nick – he narrates and sees, not all but, most of what occurs. His language choice usually gives away his emotional response to all he sees. He is a prisoner of Tom’s through the scene but has one moment of romantic affectation when he imagines the light from this ghastly party being seen by an onlooker from outside: ‘I was within and without simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.’ As ever, Nick is ambiguous – he can be appalled and attracted by the self-same events.

That he is not of the same stuff as Tom can also be seen from his surprising comment on the ‘pastoral’ nature of 5th Avenue. Even allowing for the passage of time, this is an unusual epithet for the high-commerce centre of new York, again suggesting that Nick will see the park and it’s faux-rural aspect before he notices the burgeoning tower blocks and business centres of the city. He is an outsider here too.

Finally, Nick is a carer  – he is concerned for the puppy who no one else notices and he removes Mr McKee’s shaving foam before putting him to bed at the end of the chapter – too polite to cause a scene by leaving Nick is the ideal narrator – a watcher and a seer who misses little that goes on. He wants things to be tidy  – life is not like that.

 

Ideas:

After the opening chapter, the callous nature of the moneyed elite is brought home starkly in comparison with the settings of the Valley of the Ashes and of New York. Also it is clear that Tom, and by implication all like him, have no respect whatsoever for anyone they deem to be beneath them.  They rule the world and have the right to impose their will an all others.

We are also shown how tawdry ‘real’ life is. The wealthy are beautiful but flawed, a lack of money means that the people trapped in and around New York are potentially beautiful, but no less flawed. No one is quite what they seem – the dog-seller looks like Rockefeller, the McKees are social climbers, Myrtle puts on grand airs. It seems that the city is a source of sadness and dissatisfaction. Through the Valley of the Ashes, the city is beginning to reach the privileged few of the Eggs – despite the drawbridge.

Leave a comment

Filed under OCR A level, OCR English Literature, OCR NEW English Literature, Uncategorized

Notes on Chapter 1 of The Great Gatsby

Gatsby Chapter 1: Notes…

The first chapter of Gatsby seems to define the novel as a whole and stands slightly apart from the rest in terms of delivering the ‘plot’. What it does deliver is a wealth of information about character and setting which must be borne in mind as we read on.

Only Gatsby himself is absent, if we the lone figure seen in the last two paragraphs, but the reader is not ready, yet, to meet the figure at the centre of the book – Nick goes indoors without speaking to him.

Fitzgerald is clear about his feelings regarding the ‘Jazz Age’. He wrote this in 1931 in the book ‘Echoes of the jazz Age’: ‘It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire… As far back as 1915the unchaperoned young people of the smaller cities has discovered the mobile privacy of that automobile given to ‘young Bill’… But petting in its more audacious manifestations was confined to the wealthier classes… Only in 1920 did the veil fall – the Jazz Age was in flower… This was the generation whose girls dramatized themselves as flappers, the generation that corrupted its elders and eventually overreached itself less through a lack of morals as through a lack of teste’.  As we read the book, we would do well to recall these sentiments.

The novel opens with the voice of the narrator – Nick Carraway – and Fitzgerald dispenses straight away with any sense of an omniscient overview by having Nick claim authorship from the outset – he will occasionally address the reader on the difficulties of memory and writing this tale as the book continues. All First Person Narrators are unreliable, but Nick is more complex. There is a split in his personality which is reflected in all he writes. He seems both pompous and self-aware: he is proud of reserving criticism since ‘not all the people have had the advantages’ which he has had, in his father’s words, and is able to both be critical of Gatsby, who embodies ‘everything for which I have an unaffected scorn’ and also ‘an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall find again. This ambiguity will colour all the relationships he describes in the book – with the possible exception of his feelings about Tom Buchanan.

The unreliability is enhanced by the Time shifts in the novel. At the start, Carraway is narrating in ‘real time’ that is 1924, the date of the writing of the novel. The events of ‘that summer’ are the events of 1922 and further information in the text takes us steadily back to the Young Jimmy Gatz, growing up and writing his list of ambitions in 1906. All these events are recalled with greater or lesser clarity and either told to Nick, who tells the reader, or dredged from his own memory. Hardly the recipe for clarity and precision.

Nick’s unreliability is also enhanced by his description of his background. Being a wealthy Mid-Westerner he would be something of a parvenu into Eastern ‘society’ at the best of times, and although he feels like an ‘original settler’ once he has given directions, he is not one. Not only that but his family seems to be based on the deception and fraud of a great uncle who avoided the Civil War and begin to chase profit instead. Unlike his great uncle, Nick went to war – he calls it rather pretentiously, the ‘great Teutonic migration’ as though to lessen the clear difference between the two and served his country well to a world which seemed too cramped. This has prompted his move East – to seek profit in New York.

 

 

 

Setting:

  • The Mid-West

From his brief biography, there is a clear sense in which the Mid West provides stability and a moral core, whilst New York is a city of danger and unscrupulous behaviour. Nick’s future is discussed by an extended family and all decisions are made in line with the ‘fundamental decencies’ to which he alludes at the beginning of the book. His uncles purchase of a ‘substitute’ for the Civil War – fought on a highest moral grounds; the abolition of slavery – suggests however that Nick will not be too out of place in New York. Self-interest has a place in his family. That said, it is clear that the Mid-West is a place of security and certainty to which Nick escapes after the events described in the book. He, Tom, Jordan, Daisy and Gatsby are all Mid-Westerners and each will show their own response to the ambiguities of the sort outlined above as the book develops.

 

  • East Egg : West Egg

IN 1922 the Fitzgeralds moved to the peninsula of Great Neck, Long Island. Their home was, relatively, modest and overlooked by Old Money in the form of houses of Guggenheims and Astors on another peninsula stretching out into Manhasset Bay. This is the world of the reinvented East and West Egg – Old Money and established families on the East with the newer incomers of all sorts on the West. Gatsby lives in West Egg – fitting for a boy from the Mid-West – since he is all new money. No matter how much he has, he will always be ‘Mr Nobody from Nowhere’ as Tom says later in the novel – breeding is about location as well as about family.

The ‘Eggs’ pose a question: what has hatched from the pristine wilderness discovered by Columbus and his men? The land has been ‘sivilised’ (as Huck Finn, the great Mid-Western boy) and what is the result? Is it all self-aggrandisement, colossal wealth and greed, use and misuse of power derived from money, or is there something else? The spirit of persistence, of romantic pursuit of the (un)attainable and the hope for the rediscovery of something lost just out of reach are the qualities which drove the pioneers to push the Frontier ever Westwards. We see this reimagined in Gatsby’s pursuit of his ‘Grail’: Daisy. To Nick, there is a ‘sinister contrast’ between the two Eggs, yet in Chapter one he notes that ‘their physical resemblance must be a source of perpetual wonder to the gulls that fly overhead’. To him, one of the ‘wingless’ the focus is purely on the differences. It’s a matter of perspective.

  • Homes on the Eggs.

The Hotel de Ville: In what Nick calls ‘one of the strangest communities in North America’ stands Gatsby’s mansion. This is a ‘factual imitation’ of an Hotel de Ville from Normandy. That is, a very public building, not a home in any sense of the word. It is a façade erected to impress and to be seen and it looks out across its lawns towards the altogether ‘purer’ houses of East Egg. We later learn that it was built by a wealthy brewer who fancied himself as lord of the manor and wished to create a false world around him, complete with thatched cottages and serfs. He failed in his endeavours. It is new and trying to conceal the fact under its ‘thin beard of ivy’ as it competes with the Old M<oney across the water. Much will be revealed in the later chapters about the interiors. At this stage, Fitzgerald keeps the reader waiting.

The Glittering White Palace: Whilst we wait to see inside Gatsby’s mansion, we see Tom’s in great clarity and it is designed to reflect its inhabitants. It too is an imitation, being built in Georgian Colonial style which immediately puts us in mind of the White House – seat of government and surprisingly modest in proportion – on a vast scale. This is house which screams money and power to all who regard it. There’s great movement in the description of a lawn which ‘ran towards the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sundials and brick walls and burning gardens’ before ‘drifting’ to a halt and allowing us to see Tom Buchanan ‘in riding clothes… standing with his legs apart on the front porch’. Add in the ‘reflected gold’ from the French windows and we have little other than some form of deity welcoming us to his home.

In contrast, the women are found in the seemingly gentler ‘bright rosy-coloured space’ of the drawing room, though any femininity of this description is soon destroyed as Tom takes control of his space with a great ‘boom’ as he shuts the windows – trapping the two women who have been likened to birds ‘blown back after a short flight around the house’ and exercising his complete control.

The whole echoes the characters of the owners (and Jordan). Nick is fascinated and entranced by the house and the way that its natural light can enhance the impression made by, especially, Daisy. All is ‘rosy-coloured’, ‘crimson… bloomed with light’, there is brilliant ‘gold’ sunshine  and serves to reflect the luxury and wealth of the very wealthy. We are shown the public rooms – the rooms which enhance only in Chapter VII will we see the kitchen – the inner spaces where deals are done which do not reflect well on the participants.

 

Characters 

  • Tom Buchanan

From his first appearance, ‘in riding clothes… standing with his legs apart on the front porch’ it is clear who is in control and wishes to be seen as such.  Nick has already prepared us for the all-American sporting hero, yet one with limits, as Nick describes: ‘one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty one that everything afterwards savours of anti-climax. (Nick, remember is trying not to be too judgemental…).  His journey to the East, after a year of pointless extravagance in Europe, has been made possible by money and his immense wealth (seen in the polo ponies and the extravagant necklace given as a wedding present) has at once bought him a place at the top table.

From the outset Nick betrays his opinions – Tom is variously ‘hard (mouth)’, ‘supercilious’ with ‘shining arrogant eyes’, has ‘dominance’ and leans ‘aggressively forward’. He has ‘enormous power’ in a ‘cruel body’ and he will use this physique to bully and cajole whether hurting Daisy’s finger, breaking Myrtle’s nose or by the way he ‘compelled’ Nick from the room ‘as though … moving a checker to another square’.

His intellect is criticised also. He shows signs of an incipient fascism when he extols the virtues of the book ‘The rise of the coloured empires’ which, he says, is ‘scientific stuff; it’s been proved’. Whilst he seeks to justify his ideas, the women tease him gently and Nick tells us that ‘there was something pathetic in his concentration’. He is saved at this stage by the telephone – the respite is brief because this is Myrtle, Tom’s mistress and it is Jordan who lets Nick in on the ‘secret’ of Tom’s ‘girl in New York’.  The second time she calls, Daisy lets Tom know that he cannot answer the phone.  All are embarrassed and the evening swiftly concludes. It is at this point that Daisy is described as wishing her daughter to be a ‘little fool’ prior to Nick’s departure.

 

  • Daisy Fay/Buchanan

Nick’s cousin Daisy begins as a beautiful sea-bird and ends as a bitterly ‘sophisticated’ commentator in the ‘secret society to which she and Tom belonged’.

Daisy will become the central idea of the book – the ‘grail’ over which Gatsby and Tom will fight and the figure whose moral weakness will eventually consign Gatsby to oblivion. When we first meet her, she and Jordan Baker are reclining in the drawing room ‘buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. The imagery relating to weightlessness and flight continues until Tom slams the windows and reminds everyone who is in control of his house. Neither moves when the men enter and Daisy makes a rather coquettish attempt to rise before stammering ‘I’m p-paralyzed with happiness’. Whether this is a comment on Nick’s arrival or her wider life is not explored.

The focus of the narrative becomes her voice. This is a ‘thrilling’ voice – ‘the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down….. there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget’. And this despite the fact that her face ‘was sad and lovely’. This is a voice described as ‘glowing and singing’, which lures one on rather as the Sirens of mythology might have done, yet which seems to drop this quality when she describes the birth of her daughter. There are no adverbs here possibly because what is said carries weight and therefore truth: ‘…Tom was Godknows where. I woke up…with an utterly abandoned feeling… All right, I said, I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool’. Later she will add: ‘I think everything’s terrible anyhow… Everybody thinks so – the most advanced people. And I know. I’ve been everywhere, seen everything and done everything…. Sophisticated – God I’m sophisticated.’

Here she gets to the heart of the matter : for a girl to be a success she must be a beauty, but must also be a fool – that way she will be able to enjoy her life. Daisy’s tragedy is that she is not a fool – like Caesar she has come, seen and conquered, but she is left with ‘scorn’ for the life she has. Her language is an echo of Tom’s when discussing race – he was shown to be lacking in intellect – there is no description of that nature here. Daisy knows her life to be a sham, but also knows no other way – she is money descended from money in the Mid-West and who has married money intending to put up with the negatives in order to keep it.

The chapter closes with her listening ‘coldly’ as Tom expounds his thoughts about Jordan Baker  – she is too free and easy and ‘they oughtn’t to let her run around the country this way’.

 

  • Jordan Baker

Named after a sports car of the era, Jordan is stand-offish and seemingly priggish from the outset. She barely acknowledges Nick when he enters, and Fitzgerald describes the image of her sitting as though balancing something on the point of her chin. She is immobile. She frightens Nick be her display of self-sufficiency so that he nearly apologises. Slowly she joins in – she seems to use the term ‘Absolutely’ rather as a figure of speech than as a word with any meaning attached to it which is apt for a scene in which there are so few absolutes.

Nick is attracted to her and her gamine figure – very appropriate for the fashions of the day. In order to succeed in a man’s world, Jordan seems ot have sacrificed her femininity (as well as her honesty as we discover later). She is described as a ‘slender, small breasted girl, with an erect carriage… like a cadet’. Her face is ‘wan, charming, discontented’ – 2 to 1 against. She shows her social bigotry when she remarks ‘contemptuously’ that Nick lives on West Egg. This moment allows the name Gatsby to be heard for the first time, in a negative context, and we notice Daisy’s response: ‘What Gatsby?’ The name is familiar.

She and Daisy can talk inconsequentially  and they are shown to be ‘white’ – blank, inoffensive, impersonal – and fully aware that the evening has no significance whatsoever apart from the moment of its happening.

It is she who seems keen to listen to the discussion by the phone and who tells the reader about Tom and Myrtle before being paired with Tom for the rest of the evening – the sit a distance apart and seem to have little in common before she leaves and Tom can show his old Mid West roots by showing concern for her lack of a good family influence.  Briefly Nick recalls something he cannot define in her past – some ‘critical, unpleasant story’.  It will return.

  • Myrtle and Gatsby

Both appear in this chapter and neither take a direct part in the action. Myrtle – Tom’s ‘girl’ is seen to persistent and shrill – not easily put off and a source of pain within the household and gossip outside it. She will emerge in Chapter 2 when Daisy is absent and Myrtle can host a part  of her own.

Gatsby is discussed prior to the party and then again at dinner. At the end of the chapter we see him. He seems to vanish into thin air and is still a concept as opposed to a character. Fabulously wealthy and removed from conversation twice, once by dinner and then by Jordan’s wish to overhear the phone conversation. At the end we glimpse him, ‘content to be alone’ yet also seeming to desire something out of reach: ‘he stretched out his arms towards the dark water in a curious way and… he was trembling.’ Nick notes the green light – the earthly star of Gatsby’s desires before the figure vanishes. The darkness is now unquiet. Something about this character has upset the tranquillity of the evening. We will see no more of him until Chapter 3 when his story becomes the central thrust of the novel.

 

Ideas

 

In a novel so critical of the modern America, it is clear that Nick and Tom are on opposite sides of a divide – one which Nick may wish to cross with his job as a bonds salesman. The wealth and power of a new Eastern Seaboard Elite is clear for all to see and guarded closely. The wealth of the new money of West Egg is to be despised somehow mirroring the American of 50 years earlier when to be wealthy and Mid-Western was a barrier to polite society for Mark Twain. Little has changed, we are told and the American Dream is now only a reality for those with money, as the Valley of the Ashes will remind us in Chapter 2. Even the abolition of slavery seems to be under indirect attack from men such as Tom, with their ideas about white supremacy.

In this world, Nick is at pains to present his credentials to the reader – he stresses his open-mindedness and shows little in his open condemnation of most of those he meets in these pages. It seems important to him to have credentials both of breeding and of upbringing. All the major characters are from the Mid-West. Of these it is Gatsby alone who has no breeding – he will invent himself according to circumstance, as many a new arrival in America would do. It is clear that his apparent success is much despised by Jordan in this chapter. For men like Tom, he does not even appear on the horizon. His world stops at the end of his garden – ‘I’ve got a nice place here’, he says.

Leave a comment

Filed under OCR A level, OCR English Literature, OCR NEW English Literature, Uncategorized