«Chapter I – As Nick Carraway tells it, “the history of the summer really begins” on the evening that he dined with his distant cousin Daisy and ...»
The Great Gatsby, a teaching guide for A&E Television.
Ellen S. Bakalian, Ph.D.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. The authorized text with notes and a preface by
Matthew J. Bruccoli. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, Simon and Schuster, Inc.,
E.S. Bakalian; firstname.lastname@example.org 1
Chapter I – As Nick Carraway tells it, “the history of the summer really begins” on the evening that he dined with his distant cousin Daisy and her husband Tom Buchanan (10). Nick knows Tom from Yale, where Tom was a football star. The Buchanans are enormously wealthy people who enjoy the lifestyle of a privileged few in East Egg, Long Island. Their mansion is located on the Long Island Sound, across the water from where Nick is renting a modest home.
One of the most beautiful scenes in the novel is when Nick first sees his cousin Daisy and her friend Jordan Baker sitting on a couch. No matter how many times one reads it, the
scene is captivating:
We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding cake of a ceiling – and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.
The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon.
They were both in white and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few minutes listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor. (12) The women, whom have seemingly been flying about the house, are at last anchored to the ground when Tom slams shut the door. Daisy laughs charmingly and says that she is “p-paralyzed with happiness” to see her cousin Nick (13). Daisy has a way of talking to people with a look that promises “that there is no one in the world she so wanted to see” (13). Daisy murmurs, which begs the listener to bend close to her in order to hear, a trait that Nick describes as being part of her charm.
E.S. Bakalian; email@example.com 2 Nick is enchanted by the women and by the Buchanans‟ home, but by the end of dinner he feels quite differently. What happens at the dinner party to change Nick‟s feelings towards the Buchanans? How does he feel? What does he discover? (Nick is enchanted by Daisy‟s charm and the Buchanans‟ wealth, but he also senses an inner corruption, an arrogance, which makes him uncomfortable. Nick is attracted to the Buchanan world, yet is able to step back and even laugh at it – notice the way he describes Jordan Baker‟s condensing manner as a tendency to hold her head in such as manner that it appeared she is “balancing something on…[her chin] which was quite likely to fall” (13). ) When Nick steps into the foyer of the Buchanans‟ home there is a sense that he has entered a new or different world. What kind of people inhabits this world? (West Egg is a society of very rich people who have closed ranks and do not allow members of the newly rich class – such as Gatsby -- entry.) A telephone call interrupts the Buchanans‟ dinner party. The butler summons Tom to the phone, and soon after Daisy follows him. Daisy and Tom quarrel offstage while Jordan shamelessly tries to listen. She informs Nick that Tom has a mistress, something she thought “everyone knew” (19). The remaining part of the evening is “broken into fragments” and the party ends (20).
Daisy knows that her husband has a mistress. What else seems amiss in the Buchanan home? (The conversation is disjointed during dinner; Tom rants idiotically about the end of civilization; Daisy toys with Nick when they talk alone. When Nick inquires about their baby, Daisy is only vaguely interested in talking about her child.) Daisy tells Nick that she‟s “been everywhere and seen everything and done everything,” but things are in a terrible state (22). Nick feels her statement smacks of “basic insincerity,…as though the whole evening had been a trick of some sort to exact a contributory emotion from me” (22). Moments later there is “an absolute smirk on her lovely face,” and Nick is left feeling “uneasy” (22). What is Daisy doing to Nick? Is Daisy a sincere person? (Daisy is letting Nick know that he does not belong to the society in which she and Tom live. She is a snob, and she feels entitled, by her wealth, to toy with people and play by a different set of rules.) E.S. Bakalian; firstname.lastname@example.org 3 Nick returns home and sees Jay Gatsby, his next-door neighbor, standing outside. Nick is about to call out to him, but he does not because he sees Gatsby reach out towards “the dark water in a curious way….” (25-26). Nick follows Gatsby‟s arms‟ reach and sees only “a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock” (26). Gatsby vanishes, leaving “Nick alone again in the unquiet darkness” (26). Nick does not meet Gatsby until Chapter III.
Why does Fitzgerald introduce the title character in such a mysterious manner?
(Fitzgerald is adding mystery to the novel. As readers we want to know who this man is, what he is doing, and why. He creates intrigue with this first glimpse of Gatsby, and he continues to do it throughout the novel.) E.S. Bakalian; email@example.com 4
NICK CARRAWAYNick Carraway is the narrator of The Great Gatsby, and it is his voice that guides us through the novel. Fitzgerald‟s genius stroke is to provide the novel with a narrator who participates in the action. Nick tells us that he is a good listener, a non-judgmental person, and because of this he feels that he has learned a great deal about human nature.
The Great Gatsby is the story of one summer and autumn season in which Nick lived in West Egg, Long Island, the “less fashionable” of the two bays known as West and East Egg. He works in New York City as a bondman, but by the end of the fall he is so disillusioned by the people he has met and the things he has witnessed that he goes back to the Midwest, presumably to work in his family‟s wholesale hardware business.
The device of using Nick as a commentator and active participant in the story is a clever one. Can Nick be trusted? What do we learn from Nick that we could not learn without him? (His opinion of people and how events took place colors our opinion;
he tells us what to think.) Nick claims to be a tolerant person – “I‟m inclined to reserve all judgments” – but by the end of the novel he is no longer interested in knowing “the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men” (5, 6). What happens to Nick? (By the end of the novel, Nick becomes disillusioned. He is no longer under the spell of the Buchanans and Jordan Baker. He sees them as morally depraved and arrogant people who live vacuous lives.) What kind of people are the Buchanans? (Rich, careless, selfish, social snobs.) What kind of person is Jordan Baker? (Throughout the novel it is clear that Jordan is a snobby person. She cheats on the golf course, and she is condescending to everyone but the people in her set.) By the novel‟s end Nick rejects Jordan Baker. Why does it take him so long? (He is mesmerized by Jordan‟s and the Buchanan‟s world; he is enchanted by her fame and famous name. She is careless with people like Daisy.) E.S. Bakalian; firstname.lastname@example.org 5 Chapter II – In Chapter II we leave the golden white rooms of the Buchanans‟ mansion and enter the valley of ashes, a no-man‟s land halfway between East Egg and New York City.
Everything in the vicinity of the valley of ashes is covered with soot, presumably from the train‟s coal ashes. Nick says that the “locality was always vaguely disquieting, even in the broad glare of afternoon…” (131).
Fitzgerald has clearly delineated two vastly different places – East Egg and the Valley of Ashes. Describe the differences between the two locales. (East Egg, land of the rich gentry, and Valley of Ashes, where the common man labors in obscurity, literally covered with dust.) The New York train always stops for a moment or two at this junction, and one day Nick, who is traveling to New York with Tom Buchanan, finds himself being forced off the train by Tom. In a determined voiced “border[ing] on violence,” Tom tells Nick that he wants him to meet his mistress (28). Myrtle and George Wilson live above the garage business they own. A “white ashen dust” literally covers George Wilson from his dark clothing to his hair; the dust veils “everything in the vicinity – except his wife” (30).
Myrtle is described as having “an immediately perceptible vitality about her as if the nerves of her body were continually smouldering,” and this vitality stands out in the dark, ashen-covered garage (30).
The Wilson‟s garage and home is a far cry from the Buchanans‟ mansion. Tom, however, seems to move easily between the two vastly different places. Compare and contrast Myrtle‟s and Daisy‟s worlds. (The apartment above a garage business vs. the wealthy West Egg estate; a dusty corner of the world vs. a lush mansion on the Long Island Sound; a world of no money vs. a moneyed world; stagnant lives vs. welltraveled lives; no children vs. a child; a life of toil vs. a life of privilege; a life of want vs. a life of no want.) Myrtle joins Nick and Tom on the next train to New York, traveling “discreetly in another car” (31). Once on the platform in New York, Myrtle immediately begins to buy items, and this need to purchase material goods continues for the rest of the day and into E.S. Bakalian; email@example.com 6 the evening -- she talks about making “a list of all the things I‟ve got to get” during her party (41). Myrtle‟s need to have, to buy, to own, is part of her dream; the wealthy Tom, of course, is her ticket.
Nick is coerced into joining the lovers at their apartment, where Myrtle organizes an impromptu party. Everyone becomes quite drunk, including Nick who has “been drunk just twice in my life and the second time was that afternoon” (33). Tom seems to be removed from the party, and does not converse with the others unless he is being sarcastic. He cruelly teases Myrtle about allowing one of the guests to take photographs of her husband. Yet when Myrtle and Tom argue about whether she has “any right to mention Daisy‟s name,” and she shouts “Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!”, Tom makes a “short deft movement” and breaks her nose (41).
Tom‟s violent behavior is clearly established. How is his violent temper displayed in Chapter I? (Tom‟s aggressive body language and brutality is apparent in each scene.
In this chapter, Tom slams the door; he bruised Daisy‟s finger. Tom is used to getting his own way; in college football games his violence was condoned as prowess. As an adult Tom controls his own environment through his wealth. He has what he wants (his wife, his mansion, his mistress) whenever and however he wants it. If someone or something were to threaten his enjoyment, he resorts to violence. He will not be defeated – Gatsby is proof of this statement.) To Fitzgerald‟s 1925 reading audience Myrtle‟s wild party is an example of a Prohibition-style party. Although liquor was outlawed during Prohibition, people were able to obtain it. Discuss Prohibition with your class. Some people, such as Gatsby, got rich due to Prohibition. How? (During 1920-1933 it was illegal to manufacture, sell, transport or possess alcoholic beverages in the United States.
Liquor was available, however; some people made “bootleg whiskey” in their basements, others bought it from bootleggers. Bootleggers such as Gatsby imported and sold liquor in store front businesses. Later in the novel Tom Buchanan talks about Gatsby‟s “drug stores,” from which liquor is sold.) How serious is Tom and Myrtle‟s relationship? Are they in love? (Myrtle‟s relationship with Tom is everything she has to live for – he represents her way out of E.S. Bakalian; firstname.lastname@example.org 7
Chapter III – pages 43-64 Gatsby‟s estate is the site of lavish parties, from which music and champagne flowed freely throughout the summer. People come and go “like moths” (43). Guests swim in his pool and in the Sound, they ride on aquaplanes behind motorboats, they eat lavishly, they drink from a fully-stocked bar, they dance amongst the lighted trees to a live orchestra – “no thin five piece affair but a whole pit full of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos and low and high drums” (44). Gatsby‟s parties are notorious, and they draw a crowd unlike any Nick has seen before;
furthermore, most of the guests are not invited and they do not know the host.
Nick is invited to his first Gatsby party by a servant who delivers a formal invitation from Gatsby. At the party Nick runs into Jordan Baker and they gather with several others at a table. Everyone at the party whispers about Gatsby, and rumors circulate as to how he got his money. Gatsby inspires “romantic speculation” (48). Nick wants to meet his host, and he and Jordan go in search of Gatsby to no avail. Soon, however, Nick is in conversation with Gatsby without realizing to whom he is speaking. They share two common bonds – they are both from the middle-west and both men served in the Third Division during the war. The conversation breaks off when Gatsby receives a phone call from Chicago.
Is there anything about Gatsby that strikes Nick as different? (Nick thinks Gatsby is an unusual character, noting that he has “had one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life” (52).