«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 ...»
Why doesn‟t Gatsby flee? (Because he will not leave Daisy. He still thinks that Daisy needs or may need him. Of Gatsby, Nick says: “He couldn‟t possibly leave Daisy until he knew what she was going to do. He was clutching at some last hope and I couldn‟t bear to shake him free” (155). ) Nick knows that Daisy is not going to leave Tom for Gatsby, but he hasn‟t the heart to tell Gatsby. Why? (The news would devastate him. The dream of Daisy is all Gatsby has now, and it is beginning to crumble.) At the beginning of the novel Nick states that he despises all the people he met on Long Island that summer. He says that after spending time out east he wanted the “world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever” (6). As Nick walks away from
Gatsby he compliments him, and is pleased with himself for doing so:
“They‟re a rotten crowd,” I shouted, across the lawn. “You‟re worth the whole damn bunch put together.” I‟ve always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end (162).
Who is the “rotten crowd,” and what does Nick “scorn” and despise about them? (The Buchanans, Jordan Baker, and the people who attend Gatsby‟s parties. Nick scorns their inability to care for others, their snobbishness, and their vacuous, immoral lives.) Why is Gatsby, who “represented everything for which I have unaffected scorn,” exempt from Nick‟s reaction (6)? (Nick admires Gatsby‟s ability to remain true to his dream until the end. Gatsby is undeterred in his quest for Daisy, even though she is unattainable. Nick also admires Gatsby‟s determination to stick around and accept the consequences of the accident.) E.S. Bakalian; email@example.com 25 Nick says he no longer wants to know any secret desires and yearnings in men‟s hearts;
knowing too much about what men hope and dream saddens him. He has no ill-feelings towards Gatsby (except, perhaps, for his illegal business practices), saying “No – Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it was what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interested in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men” (6-7).) What is the “foul dust” that follows Gatsby? (It is the motley crowd of party people who flock to his sparkling and lavish parties, uninvited but welcomed, and who partake liberally of his generous nature. It is people like the Buchanans and Jordan Baker who only care for themselves. The dust could also represent Gatsby‟s illegal business dealings. Nick no longer wants to associate with such people.) During their early morning talk Nick realizes that “‟Jay Gatsby‟ had broken up like glass against Tom‟s hard malice and the long secret extravaganza was played out” (155). What does this mean? How does Tom break Gatsby? (Tom destroys Gatsby‟s dream of attaining Daisy by crushing the man “Jay Gatsby.” Tom laughs at him, scornfully telling him that Daisy has no intention of leaving him for Gatsby. He points out Gatsby‟s flaws or weaknesses – the drug store business, the shady dealings with Wolfsheim, and the fact that Gatsby is not accepted by the social class in which he and Daisy live. Gatsby cannot recover from these fatal wounds. Tom figuratively slaps Gatsby in the face by telling Daisy to go home in his car. He knows that Gatsby is too weak after their battle to try and steal Daisy away from him, and he flaunts her in his face.) Nick believes that Gatsby would have told him anything about his secret life. Why doesn‟t Nick ask him any of the questions he has been curious about for so long? (It no longer matters. Nick allows Gatsby to do what he needs to do – talk about Daisy.) Gatsby tells Nick that he fell in love with Daisy because she represents mystery and “gay and radiant activities” which he could only imagine (155). He values Daisy, as did her other suitors, even more so because there were other suitors. Daisy represents a prize to be won, and Gatsby spends his whole life working to win her. By loving Daisy, he “committed himself to the following of a grail” (156).
E.S. Bakalian; firstname.lastname@example.org 26 What does the expression “following the Holy Grail” connote? (The word “grail” invokes the images of knights who spent their days on a quest, a mission, for the elusive object. In this case Daisy is the “grail,” she is the one object in this dream of wealth that must be possessed; she is the most expensive object as well, as Tom knows when he gives her the $350,000 pearl necklace the night before their wedding.
Gatsby has indeed devoted his life to Daisy, in the hopes of obtaining her, like a knight in shining armor.) Does Gatsby fall in love with Daisy, the young woman, or Daisy, the rich prize?
(Gatsby treats the courting of Daisy as if she were a prize, something to be won, and he falls in love with that vision. Daisy is more than a symbol of all the things Gatsby desires, she is the ultimate object, the finest prize, within the world of which he wants to be a part. He cannot separate the woman from the wealth, and his dream of having wealth can only be fulfilled with her by his side. Even though he achieves the wealth, it means nothing to him without her, which is why he cancels the parties when she shows her disapproval.) Later Nick correctly suspects that Wilson walks to Tom‟s house the day he murders Gatsby. What does Tom tell Wilson? (That the car belonged to Gatsby, and that he knows where Wilson can find him. He also may have told Wilson that Gatsby was Myrtle‟s lover.) What is different about this chapter and the next from the rest of the novel?
(Fitzgerald abandons the dramatic method. Nick tells us what happened after Myrtle‟s fatal car accident, but he isn‟t there as an eyewitness.) E.S. Bakalian; email@example.com 27
Chapter IX – pages 171-189
Nick phones in “news of the catastrophe to West Egg Village,” and becomes the person who plans Gatsby‟s funeral and to whom all questions are referred (172). He has just turned thirty years old and, overnight, he seemingly gains a moral conscious. Nick desperately tries to get people to come to the funeral but it is an impossible task. Nick calls Daisy soon after he learns of Gatsby‟s death, but Daisy and Tom have packed their bags and skipped town; no one knows of their whereabouts. He sends a letter to Meyer Wolfsheim, asking him if he knows of Gatsby‟s family.
Nick is shocked that he does not hear from Daisy. He begins “to have a feeling of defiance, of scornful solidarity between Gatsby and…[himself] against them all” (173). Why doesn‟t Daisy call? (Daisy cannot be bothered; she has already left town, left the mess she created. In his letter to Nick, Wolfsheim states that is afraid to get “mixed up.” He wants to protect himself, and to ensure that his name is not in any way connected to Gatsby‟s murder.) Wolfsheim claims to have “started” Gatsby on his road to riches, but he won‟t come to the funeral, saying he “never like[s] to get mixed up” when someone is killed (179). What does Wolfsheim imagine happened to Gatsby? (Wolfsheim thinks Gatsby was murdered by a hit man, and that Gatsby‟s death has something to do with his business dealings in the underworld. He has no idea that a jealous and deranged husband murdered Gatsby.) Three days after Gatsby‟s death Nick receives a telegram from Gatsby‟s father, Henry C.
Gatz, saying that he is attending the funeral. Mr. Gatz shows Nick a list that Gatsby made as a child. One is a schedule of activities, which includes specific times for exercises and sports, and the other is a list of “general resolves,” such as “no wasting time,” and “read one improving book or magazine a week” (181-82).
What does young Gatsby‟s list tell us about his character? (Even as a young boy he wanted to transform himself, to improve himself, to get ahead, to push himself to the limits.) E.S. Bakalian; firstname.lastname@example.org 28 Nick runs into Tom on the street in New York in late October. Tom feels “entirely justified” for telling Wilson who owned the yellow car, and had no guilt over Gatsby‟s death, saying “That fellow had it coming to him. He threw dust in your eyes just like he did in Daisy‟s, but he was a tough one. He ran over Myrtle like you‟d run over a dog and never even stopped his car.” (187).
Why doesn‟t Nick tell Tom that Daisy was driving the car? (Because it no longer matters. The fact would not change a thing for Tom and Daisy Buchanan. They would continue to live their lives as they do – in a moral vacuum. The truth, Nick realizes, an “unutterable fact” (187).
Nick calls Tom and Daisy “careless people,…they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made….” (187-88). Explain Nick‟s summary of the Buchanans.
Nick says he is a man of “provincial squeamishness,” unlike someone such as Tom Buchanan (188). What is Nick‟s “provincial squeamishness?” (His squeamishness is his old-fashioned moral code. He believes that people need to be held responsible for their actions, and he does not want to be associated with anyone who does not live by this moral code.) What has happened to Nick? (He has a change of heart; he is no longer in awe of people like the Buchanans who have great wealth and live in a world apart from most people.) The ending of novel invokes the Dutch explorers who first sailed up the Hudson River in what is now New York, and Fitzgerald plays upon the sense of wonder that these sailors must have experienced as they looked at the majestic cliffs lining the river. Explain how the image of exploring the New World can be associated with Gatsby. (Gatsby‟s greatness lies in his ability to have a capacity for wonder and for dreams as great as those sailors‟ had when they imagined the world that lies beyond the cliffs. His tragedy is that his dream, which is symbolized by a green light and seemingly endless possibilities, is embodied by a callous and cowardly woman who is not worth the effort.) E.S. Bakalian; email@example.com 29
THEMES – Discuss the following themes with your class.
1. Dreams -- The Great Gatsby is a novel of dreams and hopes, of dreams lost and illusions shattered. Gatsby‟s dream of acquiring Daisy and all that she represents is the main focus of the novel, but the dreams of Myrtle and Nick are also important. Myrtle dreams of escaping from her husband, from the garage business, and from the ash dump which covers their very essence. Both Myrtle and Gatsby pursue the dream of wealth, but Myrtle‟s dream collapses because it is wholly materialistic, while Gatsby requires wealth to win the golden princess Daisy, and therefore his dream is incorruptible. His dream becomes a romantic quest for something elusive. Tragically, Daisy is not the woman Gatsby dreams she is. Myrtle dies a wretched death, without fulfilling her dream.
Although Gatsby, too, is killed, the myth of the “Great Gatsby” lives on. Nick‟s dreams are more concrete: he wants to strike it rich on the East Coast as a bonds salesman. But when Nick detects the shallowness of those who live in the society to which he thought he‟d like to belong, he moves back to the middle-west. Gatsby, however, never learns that the class he emulates, the people of West Egg, is not worth his efforts. He dies not knowing that he was betrayed by that very society, in the persons of Tom and Daisy Buchanan. His dream, therefore, lives on, uncorrupted.
2. Time -- Fitzgerald incorporates the image of Time throughout the novel, as he does in many of his works. Nick‟s story is told as if the events were unfolding in time; however, a close reading points to the fact that chronological order is not the rule. Gatsby wants to recall time, to relive the past, and is incredulous when Nick tells him that simply cannot
“Can‟t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!” He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.” (116-117).
Recovering the past is so important to Gatsby that he is especially stunned by the presence of Daisy‟s daughter, for she represents the present, a time in which Gatsby does not want to live. Gatsby‟s dream depends upon regaining Daisy‟s love and admiration, and when she does not leave Tom for Gatsby, he is at a loss. Nick imagines that he E.S. Bakalian; firstname.lastname@example.org 30 looked out at the world and saw that it was “unfamiliar… material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drift fortuitously about…” (169). Nick guesses that in his last moments alive, Gatsby might have realized that Daisy was not going to call, and perhaps he felt that he had “paid a high price for living too long with a single dream” (169).