The Great Gatsby: Chapter 2

Myrtle WilsonIn Chapter 2, Nick Carraway shows us things we don’t want to see, things we don’t want to talk about. The images and metaphors describe what he sees without telling us how base the people are. He uses symbols that are at times vague, but specific enough to allow the reader to have the final say on what those symbols mean. At the same time, the symbols provide a sense of judgment and create forlorn feelings, foreshadowing events in the book as well as real life.

My favorite descriptions in Chapter 2 revolve around Myrtle Wilson–her looks, her NYC apartment, and her behavior. Nick has such contempt for this woman, but he never states those feelings. Instead, Nick describes what he sees using words that are packed with meaning:

Chapter 2

Then I heard footsteps on a stairs and in a moment the thickish figure of a woman blocked out the light from the office door. She was in the middle thirties, and faintly stout, but she carried her surplus flesh sensuously as some women can. Her face, above a spotted dress of dark blue crepe-de-chine, contained no facet or gleam of beauty but there was an immediately perceptible vitality about her as if the nerves of her body were continually smouldering. She smiled slowly and walking through her husband as if he were a ghost shook hands with Tom, looking him flush in the eye. Then she wet her lips and without turning around spoke to her husband in a soft coarse voice.

The apartment was on the top floor–a small living room, a small dining room, a small bedroom and a bath. The living room was crowded to the doors with a set of tapestried furniture entirely too large for it so that to move about was to stumble continually over scenes of ladies swinging in the gardens of Versailles. . . . Several old copies of “Town Tattle” lay on the table together with a copy of “Simon Called Peter” and some of the small scandal magazines of Broadway.

. . .

Mrs. Wilson had changed her costume some time before and was now attired in an elaborate afternoon dress of cream colored chiffon which gave out a continual rustle as she swept about the room. With the influence of the dress her personality had also undergone a change. The intense vitality that had been so remarkable in the garage was converted into impressive hauteur. Her laughter, her gestures, her assertions became more violently affected moment by moment and as she expanded the room grew smaller around her until she seemed to be revolving on a noisy, creaking pivot through the smoky air.

Words paint better pictures than the silver screen.

Please, feel free to share your thoughts or your favorite quotes from this chapter in the comment section below.

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