ClassicNote on The Great Gatsby
The narrator, Nick Carraway, begins the novel by commenting on himself: he says that he is very tolerant, and has a tendency to reserve judgment. Carraway comes from a prominent Midwestern family and graduated from Yale; therefore, he fears misunderstanding those who haven't enjoyed his advantages. He attempts to understand people on their own terms, rather than holding them up to his personal standards. Nick fought in World War I; after the war, he suffered a period of restlessness. He eventually decided to go east, to New York City, in order to learn the bond business. At the novel's outset, in the summer of 1922, Carraway has just arrived in New York and is living in a part of Long Island known as West Egg. West Egg is home to the nouveau riche (those who have only recently made their money and lack an established social position), while neighboring East Egg is home to the insular, narrow-minded denizens of the old aristocracy. Nick's house is next door to Gatsby's enormous, vulgar Gothic mansion. One night, he attends a dinner party in East Egg; the party is given by Tom Buchanan and his wife, Daisy. Daisy is Nick's cousin, while Tom was Nick's classmate at Yale. Tom comes from a wealthy, established family, and was a much-feared football player while at Yale. A friend of Daisy's is also in attendance. This woman, whose name is Jordan Baker, makes her living as a professional golfer. She has a frigid, boyish beauty and affects an air of extreme boredom. Tom dominates the conversation at dinner; he wishes to propound ideas he has found in a book entitled "The Rise of the Colored Empires." This book espouses racist and white supremacist ideas, to which Tom wholeheartedly subscribes. When Tom abruptly leaves to take a phone call, Daisy declares that she has become terribly cynical and sophisticated since she and Nick last met. Her claims ring false, however particularly when contrasted with the genuine cynicism of Jordan Baker, who languidly informs Nick that Tom's sudden phone call is from his lover in New York. After his awkward visit with the Buchanans, Carraway goes home to West Egg. There, he sees a handsome young man Jay Gatsby standing on his wide lawn, with his arms stretched out to the sea. He appears to be reaching for a faraway green light, which may mark the end of a dock. Analysis
Fitzgerald establishes Nick Carraway as an impartial narrator; he is not, however, a passive one. Though he is inclined to reserve judgment, he is not entirely forgiving. From the novel's opening paragraphs and onward, this will continue to be a tension in Nick's character. Though Gatsby represents all that Nick holds in contempt, Nick cannot help but admire him. The first paragraphs of the book foreshadow the novel's main themes: we realize that Gatsby presented, and still presents, a challenge to the way Nick is accustomed to thinking about the world. We know, from the story's opening moments, that Gatsby will not be what he initially appears: despite the vulgarity of his mansion, Nick describes Gatsby's personality as "gorgeous." Both the book and its characters are obsessed by class and privilege. Though Nick, like the Buchanans, comes from an elite background, their relationship to their social position is entirely different. Tom Buchanan vulgarly exploits his status: he is a grotesque, completely without any redeeming features. His wife describes him as a "big, hulking physical specimen," and he uses his size only to dominate others. He has a trace of "paternal contempt" that instantly inspires hatred. Tom is, in short, a hypocritical bully: he propounds racist dogma over dinner and takes calls from his mistress while his wife is in the room. Daisy Buchanan stands in stark contrast to her husband. She is frail and diminutive, and actually labors at being shallow she laughs at practically every opportunity. Daisy is utterly transparent, feebly affecting an air of worldliness and...
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