The Great Gatsby: Chapter 8

In Chapter 8, the reader gets a glimpse into Gatsby and Daisy’s past relationship. After Daisy marries Tom, Gatsby returns to Daisy’s hometown, hoping somehow to feel Daisy’s presence, to breath in the air that surrounded her, to touch the inanimate objects where her hand might have lain:

The track curved and now it was going away from the sun which, as it sunk lower, seemed to spread itself in benediction over the vanishing city where she had drawn her breath. He stretched out his hand desperately as if to snatch only a wisp of air, to save a fragment of the spot that she had made lovely for him. But it was all going by too fast now for his blurred eyes and he knew that he had lost that part of it, the freshest and the best, forever.

It is almost at the end of the novel that the reader finally understands the significance of the end of Chapter 1:

 [F]ifty feet away a figure had emerged from the shadow of my neighbor’s mansion and was standing with his hands in his pockets regarding the silver pepper of the stars. Something in his leisurely movements and the secure position of his feet upon the lawn suggested that it was Mr. Gatsby himself, come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens.

I decided to call to him. . . . But I didn’t call to him for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone–he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward–and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness.

Green LightGatsby stretched out his arms, pulling in the green light, breathing in any essence of Daisy he possibly could in order to keep his dream alive.

Fitzgerald shows us Gatsby’s longing well before we know what he longs for. He shows us the meaning of the green light after it has become meaningless. He even shows us the depth of Gatsby’s love for Daisy, after we see that Daisy is not worthy of that love.

It is through that intricate looping of the story that Fitzgerald creates that very same longing in us. Even as we long for Gatsby to turn his boat around, we know that the siren’s song has already delivered its final blow.

The Great Gatsby: Chapter 7

DaisyOf all the characters, I’m anxious to see Carey Mulligan’s portrayal of Daisy Buchanan. Her part will be the most difficult to play. She is the woman Gatsby has been dreaming about for five years. Even Nick, her cousin, seems to be infatuated with her as well. He pays particular attention to describing her voice in Chapter 1:

            I’ve heard it said that Daisy’s murmur was only to make people lean toward her; an irrelevant criticism that made it no less charming.

. . .

            I looked back at my cousin who began to ask me questions in her low, thrilling voice. It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again. Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth–but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered “Listen,” a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.

Throughout the novel, comments about her enticing voice spark curiosity, but also confusion. What could be so charming about it?

It’s not until Chapter 7 that Gatsby identifies the nature of her alluring voice:

            “She’s got an indiscreet voice,” I remarked. “It’s full of–“

            I hesitated.

            “Her voice is full of money,” [Gatsby] said suddenly.

            That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money–that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it. . . . High in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl. . .

The magical quality of her voice is money, according to Gatsby, but it’s so much more. Daisy’s voice is the sound that calls to him at night, promising him love and security, but delivering death and destruction with her siren’s song.

Carey Mulligan has big shoes to fill, but I will try not to anticipate perfection; Gatsby proves there is nothing to be gained from that.

The Great Gatsby: Chapter 6

Gatsby embraceChapter 6 gives the reader a glimpse of Gatsby the Dreamer, of how the poor James Gatz became the rich Jay Gatsby. What I love about this chapter is how Fitzgerald states something seemingly trivial and mysterious about Gatsby in the beginning of the chapter and then uses that information to solidify Gatsby’s fate.

Also, within the flashback, Fitzgerald uses beautiful word combinations and images to create a cadence that mimics, and sometimes symbolizes, the  beat of time. I love this sentence for that reason: “He stayed there two weeks, dismayed at its ferocious indifference to the drums of his destiny, to destiny itself, and despising the janitor’s work with which he was to pay his way through.”

Early in the chapter, Nick decides to reveal some truths about Gatsby, but those truths play out more like a dream:

[Gatsby] was a son of God . . . and he must be about His Father’s Business, the service of a vast, vulgar and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end.

The idea that Gatsby is God-like is followed by the seemingly contradictory idea that God’s business is to create a deceptive beauty, but this paradox rings true in the end. Regardless, the 17-year-old Gatsby creates visions of who he wants to become as a man, and, by staying faithful to that vision, he does fulfill his dreams.

The only vision he can’t completely grasp is who he will share his life with:

But his heart was in a constant, turbulent riot. The most grotesque and fantastic conceits haunted him in his bed at night. A universe of ineffable gaudiness spun itself out in his brain while the clock ticked on the wash-stand and the moon soaked with wet light his tangled clothes upon the floor. Each night he added to the pattern of his fancies until drowsiness closed down upon some vivid scene with an oblivious embrace. For a while these reveries provided an outlet for his imagination; they were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy’s wing.

Gatsby didn’t have problems getting women; however, the women he got, he didn’t want. He, therefore, began to imagine what it would feel like to be with the right kind of woman and created images that filled him with hope. He knew that as the god of his own imagination, he could create any life he wanted. He envisioned a life that had no words to describe the beauty and abundance that he could surround himself with.

The following images at the end of Chapter 6 remind me of Peter Pan, a boy who can stay immortal in Neverland if he remains a boy forever. It wasn’t until he met Daisy that his immortality was threatened:

His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.

These “unutterable visions” connect to the “fantastic conceits” and the “ineffable gaudiness” earlier in the chapter that he envisioned for himself. Gatsby knew that Daisy’s “perishable breath” would put an end to the world he created–his own Neverland. When he finally gave in to her mortality and felt her respond to his kiss, he was transformed from a god to a mere man, directing his path, but also sealing his tragic fate.

The Great Gatsby: Chapter 4

Gatsby partyChapter 4 opens with Nick juxtaposing the church going people with the people who enjoy Gatsby’s hospitality. Contrasting these images emphasizes the contradictory nature of the people Nick encounters throughout the novel; whether they are new money or old money, these people are morally challenged and judgmental, and definitely unworthy of the hospitality Gatsby showers on them. (Nick refers to these people often as “moths”—a telling and appropriate description for the purposeless, powdery creatures who crash Gatsby’s parties.)

Chapter 4

     On Sunday morning while church bells rang in the villages along shore the world and its mistress returned to Gatsby’s house and twinkled hilariously on his lawn.

      “He’s a bootlegger,” said the young ladies, moving somewhere between his cocktails and his flowers. “One time he killed a man who had found out that he was nephew to von Hindenburg and second cousin to the devil. Reach me a rose, honey, and pour me a last drop into that there crystal glass.”

Nick is disgusted with these people; however, Gatsby is not immune from Nick’s judgment. Throughout this chapter, Nick shows how Gatsby himself is a contradiction. Gatsby constructs a fantastic tale about his past in order to make Nick believe he is worthy of Daisy, which only infuriates Nick. By the end of the chapter, Jordan Baker shares the truth about Gatsby and Daisy, which helps Nick understand him a little bit better: “He came alive to me, delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor.” In Nick’s eyes, Gatsby has now separated himself from the moths.

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

The Great Gatsby: Chapter 3

Leonardo DiCaprio as GatsbyThe reader finally meets Gatsby in Chapter 3. What’s intriguing about this chapter is that Nick plays with the myth that surrounds Gatsby by presenting him as a magician or an actor of sorts, putting on a big show for all his guests. The elaborateness of the ruse culminates when Nick describes Gatsby’s confidence-filled smile, only to pull back the curtain to reveal a slightly bumbling Oz-like character:

Chapter 3:

He smiled understandingly–much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced–or seemed to face–the whole external world for an instant, and concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey. Precisely at that point it vanished–and I was looking at an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. Some time before he introduced himself I’d got a strong impression that he was picking his words with care.

The vital picture of his dichotomy will be reduced to a smile on the big screen. I’m confident that, of all actors, Leonardo DiCaprio will add depth to that smile, but if viewers aren’t looking for it, they may miss it.

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

The Great Gatsby: Chapter 1

The Great Gatsby movie posterOn May 10th, 2013 the new attempt at turning the beloved novel into a movie will be released; as hopeful as I am that it will be a beautiful rendition, I am just as doubtful that anything can do it justice. The other versions fell flat. They did a good job at presenting the basic plot of the story, but the heart of the story hasn’t played out well on screen.

Why? I believe it’s because the beauty of the novel lies not so much in the plot, but in the words on the page.

The story paints a bleak picture of 1920’s America–a story based on truths that has led to our present reality. Despite the glitz and glamour, not one of the characters is likeable. Even the narrator, try as he might to deny it, is despicable. The only character who is immune to that judgment is Gatsby–the one thing that Nick, the narrator, tells readers–yet we are supposed to despise Gatsby and everything he represents. After all, Gatsby’s shady steps to fulfilling his dream came at others’ expense. However, try as we might, we can’t hate Gatsby; he is a tragic figure who worked his whole life to grasp a dream that began disintegrating in his hands as soon as he touched it.

Trust me, the tragic American hero comes alive more on the page than he has on screen–at least so far. Unfortunately, we have a generation of passive readers in our midst, which will make reading The Great Gatsby extremely difficult for them. Fitzgerald refuses to tell the reader–anything; instead, he shows the reader everything–every movement, every expression, every bit of scenery and decoration–hoping to inspire the reader to think what it all means and judge for him or herself. A mental exercise most people shy away from these days.

In an attempt to encourage people to read The Great Gatsby, and not just passively be entertained by the movie, I am sharing my favorite quotes from each of the nine chapters. Pay attention to the poetry in his prose, to the images Fitzgerald shows us, and what those things make us feel and think.

Chapter 1:

If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about [Gatsby], some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life . . . –it was 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 ever find again.

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