Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Gatsby Chapter 9

"...it grew upon me that I was responsible, because no one else was interested--interested, I mean, with that intense personal interest to which everyone has some vague right at the end." (164) 
In this sentence, we see how sharply Gatsby's poverty in relationships contrasts with the material wealth that defines him throughout the book. Gatsby is representative of the era. Liquor, wild parties, flashy clothes, and ostentatious displays of wealth are readily available, while bedrock social institutions such as family that provide deeper connections and meaning in life are disappearing. There is the appearance of enormous prosperity, but in reality the people in this time period are lacking what they need most. What does an opulent house matter if so few people care when you die?
At Gatsby's funeral: "It was the man with owl-eyed glasses whom I had found marveling over Gatsby's books in the library one night three months before." (174)
Fitzgerald makes the choice to reintroduce the owl-eyed man from the library at Gatsby's funeral. Along with the eyes of Dr. TJ Eckleburg, the owl-eyed man helps form the backbone of the eyes/watching motif. The owl-eyed man was one of the first characters to see how Gatsby puts up an incredible facade, but does not have the foundation of a good life. He noticed that Gatsby's grand library was filled with books that had not been read, and commented that if one was removed, the whole place might come falling down. Now, the owl-eyed man is back as the facade falls. Despite Gatsby's wildly popular parties, there are few people at his funeral. People admired and wondered at Gatsby's facade, but in death, it is revealed that Gatsby is really pitiable for his lack of real relationships (as seen in Owl Eyes' description of him as a "poor son-of-a-bitch"). 
"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter--to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther....And one fine morning----
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." (180)
By switching from Gatsby to the collective "us"/"we"/"our," Fitzgerald shows that we are all a little like Gatsby. Gatsby had "an extraordinary gift for hope," but all humans have hope (2). We all have a happier, better future planned. In phrase such as "recedes before us," "against the current," and "borne back ceaselessly," Fitzgerald suggests that we will never achieve our hopes. However, he also leaves some ambiguity, and thus hope, in his use of ellipses and the phrase "And one fine morning---." There is always some chance we will achieve our dreams. That final sentence will stick with me. Although our efforts may be futile against the powerful current of life, it is beautiful that we still "beat on" and live our lives with hope. Hope may cause humanity to undergo unnecessary struggles, but it is also what makes humanity "great."

Also, it is interesting that Gatsby's unattainable dream was to return to a past time, but here Fitzgerald says the past is what the currents we fight against pull us towards. I don't yet entirely understand what Fitzgerald is saying about our relationship with the past.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Gatsby Chapter 8

On page 150, as Nick describes Gatsby's early relationship with Daisy, he says, "... and Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes, and of Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor." It is revealing that one of things Gatsby finds most attractive about Daisy is her wealth. This must be part of the reason why in his pursuit of Daisy his main strategy is wealth (the other part being that Daisy is very materialistic and won't be with anyone who cannot support her lifestyle). This line also shows how materialistic/class-conscious Gatsby is from the outset. Nearly everyone in this book is hyper-aware of class lines: Nick says he doesn't approve of Gatsby (presumably in part because Gatsby is one of the ostentatious nouveau riche), Tom and Daisy look down on the West Egg, Gatsby believes he must become wealthy to obtain Daisy because "rich girls don't marry poor boys," and Myrtle makes a laughable attempt to appear as though she is high class while in New York with Tom. Fitzgerald seems to be suggesting that class is very important in American during this time period, and also that it is impossible to truly move from one class to another. Even when Gatsby has incredible wealth, he is still not old money and can therefore never obtain Daisy. Also, it is interesting that Fitzgerald says "wealth imprisons and preserves" "youth and mystery." In what ways are the wealthy in this book imprisoned? Is Daisy imprisoned by her wealth in that she felt she had to marry and stay married to someone who is of the same social stratum regardless of how he treats her and her love for another man? The final phrase -- "safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor" -- reinforces the idea that the wealthy are untouchable in Fitzgerald's universe. Jordan lies constantly, and gets away with with it, becoming a champion golfer while cheating. Daisy kills Myrtle without any consequences --  it is Gatsby (born poor) who is the victim of revenge. Tom, Myrtle, Daisy, and Gatsby have all engaged in adultery, but only Myrtle and Gatsby die. Tom sleeps with Wilson's wife, then Wilson unwittingly kills Tom's romantic rival before committing suicide. In The Great Gatsby, the old money rich have the ability to do serious damage and come away unscathed while those in the lower classes suffer. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Gatsby Chapter 6

 "He was a son of God -- a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that -- and he must be about His Father's business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty." (98)
 This powerful and strange sentence immediately caught my attention, but I do not understand what it means. The phrase "son of God" is used to refer to Jesus Christ and to male Christians in general. Gatsby does not seem very religious, so I don't think Fitzgerald is just saying Gatsby is a Christian.  Is he saying Gatsby is like the Messiah? This doesn't seem to fit the text, and also it says "a son of God" rather than "the Son of God." The line "a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that" emphasizes the importance of the line "He was a son of God" but does not clarify it (and is confusing in and of itself). I Googled "son of God" to see if I missed any other meanings, and found that ancient rulers often used some version of "son of God" as part of their title. This seems to be the most fitting meaning for this text, but I am still not positive this is what Fitzgerald means. It is interesting that Fitzgerald describes "His Father's" (God's) business as "the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty." "Vulgar" and "meretricious" are both words with negative connotations. Maybe this sentence means that Gatsby thinks of himself as a king whose purpose is to pursue the flashy (in Nick's mind tasteless) trappings of life. I'm still not sure.
 "The most grotesque and fantastic conceits haunted him in his bed at night. A universe of inedible gaudiness spun itself out in his brain..." (99)
This section gives the reader insight into how Gatsby's mind works. He is preoccupied with his fantasy of a life that fits his grandiose vision of himself. Gatsby has likely continued this habit as he created his extravagant life in West Egg. This section serves as support for the idea that Gatsby doesn't truly love Daisy, but is enamored by the idea of her. Attaining Daisy -- the golden girl -- is integral to creating the ultimate fantasy life and achieving the American Dream. 

Gatsby Chapter 5

On page 92, Gatsby mentions to Daisy the green light at the end of her dock. Nick notes that Gatsby seems consumed by the thought and suggests, "Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one." Fitzgerald's inclusion of the celestial simile signifies that the attainment of Daisy had been Gatsby's version of heaven. Gatsby had shaped his life around his goal of reuniting with Daisy, yet up until this encounter she was an intangible dream. In this chapter, Gatsby's dream has finally materialized before him. Gatsby seems truly taken with Daisy, but as Nick notes on page 95, "There must have been moments ... when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams -- not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion." This idea of dreams eclipsing reality is also seen in the passage on the green light. With the reentrance of Daisy into Gatsby's life, the green light (dream) is replaced by reality. In this particular section, Fitzgerald emphasizes the loss. The "colossal significance" "vanished forever" and Gatsby's "count of enchanted objects" is "diminished." This suggests the possibility that the hope of one day regaining Daisy (and the past joy she represents) holds more "enchantment" for Gatsby than the reality of Daisy ever could.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Gatsby Chapter 4

I am surprised how quickly in the book the narrator becomes disillusioned with the titular character. On page 64, Nick says, “I had talked with him perhaps six times in the past month and found, to my disappointment, he had little to say.” This reminds me of the scene in the library where Owl Eyes points out that the books in Gatsby's library have not been read. Gatsby may appear very interesting, but he is not. What makes Gatsby “great”? Perhaps the point of the title is that while Gatsby has a “great” fa├žade, he is not truly “great.” How does this fit into the context of the American Dream? The description of the view of New York from the Queensboro Bridge is unique. Fitzgerald describes the city "rising up across the river in white heaps and sugar lumps all built with a wish out of non-olfactory money" (68). Why does Fitzgerald use the color white? When I look at a Denver from a distance, it looks grey, brown, or black. Did New York look white from a distance during this time period because of the building materials used? Or does Fitzgerald use white for a different reason? On page 19, Daisy uses the color white to describe her and Jordan's girlhood. In that instance, I assumed using the color white indicated that their childhood was innocent and unsullied by life. But I don't know if that would apply to New York. Fitzgerald also uses "sugar lumps" to describe the city. Sugar is white and sweet. What sweetness is Fitzgerald implying the city has? In the next sentence he says the city's view is "a wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world." Maybe Fitzgerald uses the color white as a symbol of beauty and promise? That meaning would work for both this instance and the childhood one. What is "non-olfactory money"? "Non-olfactory" means not related to the sense of smell. So maybe Fitzgerald means money that you cannot smell or touch. That could be a loan, or human capital, or assets like real estate and stocks. What then does "built with a wish out of non-olfactory money" mean? Does it mean the city was built on loans with the hope of profits? Honestly, I still do not understand this phrase. On page 74, Jordan describes Daisy at eighteen: "she dressed in white, and had a little white roadster." This section reemphasizes the connection between Daisy's youth and the color white, but I don't know if it adds much to the meaning of the color. Daisy is described as very popular and admired during this time, so the color white maintains it's positive association in the book so far. Also, it might prove important that Daisy and Gatsby's romance began during this "white" period in her life.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Gatsby Chapter 3

"In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars." (39)
In this sentence Fitzgerald gives Gatsby's parties an almost dreamy quality. I really like the use of the single adjective "blue" to capture the magical nighttime light. It is interesting that he chose to use moths in this simile. Many people's first cultural association to moths is "like moths to a flame." This simile makes Gatsby's party seem like a bright attractive flame that people are drawn to. But moths often end up killing themselves when they get too close to the flame - it is beautiful but dangerous. This sentence makes me think of a poem by Don Marquis called "the lesson of the moth." I wonder if the question "the lesson of the moth" poses (Is it better to live dully but safely or passionately but dangerously?) will be addressed in The Great Gatsby. Also the comparison to moths makes the partygoers seem flighty and a little frenzied.
"At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his two motor-boats slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam." (39)
This sentence follows the one I address above. I like the contrast between the two - the first is a little dreamy and floaty while in the second Fitzgerald uses words like "diving," "hot," and "slit" to increase the energy and intensity of his description of the afternoon parties. I looked up "aquaplane" and learned it is similar to a wakeboard. 
"Instead of rambling, this party had preserved a dignified homogeneity, and assumed to itself the function of representing the staid nobility of the countryside - East Egg condescending to West Egg, and carefully on guard against its spectroscopic gayety." (44)
This sentence clarified the relationship between West Egg and East Egg for me. Previously, I had been a little confused as to why East Egg is considered less prestigious than West Egg and why Gatsby's mansion is in less prestigious West Egg. The difference between East Egg and West Egg is about culture and society. East Egg is reserved for the serious, socially refined wealthy. The use of the word "nobility" suggests East Egg money is old money passed down through many generations. Why does Fitzgerald place Gatsby in West Egg? Is it due to the source of his money or his wild parties? Or is there something else that separates Gatsby from the  more respectable (and boring) wealth of East Egg.
 " 'See! he cried triumphantly. 'It's a bona-fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me. This fella's a regular Belasco. It's a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop, too - didn't cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?'
He snatched the book from me and replaced it hastily on its shelf, muttering that if one brick was removed the whole library was liable to collapse." (45-46
I had to Google a few terms to understand this section. "Belasco" likely refers to David Belasco, a famous playwright/theatrical producer of the early 1900s who "gained a reputation for minute attention to detail, sensational realism, [and] lavish settings" (Britannica). I also did not understand the phrase "cut the pages." Apparently, this phase comes from the the way books were made in the past: "Sometimes the fore edge of a book (the edge away from the spine) is not trimmed properly and the pages are not cut apart, It’s obvious, isn’t it, that you can’t read a book that way. It used to be a fairly common situation" (Cook). Considering the meaning of these terms, the man is a library is saying that Gatsby is like a producer of a play, creating an elaborate and realistic set for his parties (and life) to play out on. Gatsby has taken the expense of filling his extravagant library with real books, but no one has ever read them. Gatsby puts effort in creating the illusion of being a well-read man, but does not actually try to become one. The man in the library says that if one brick (books are more like bricks if they are never read) is removed, the whole library could collapse. He is pointing out the vulnerability of Gatsby's set, and more broadly, his life.
"... most affectations conceal something eventually, even if they don't in the beginning ..." (57)
Many characters in this book have some sort of affectation. Jordan is contemptuous, and this hides her dishonesty. We have just met Gatsby, but we know he at least has a library with books that have not been read. In chapter two, Myrtle is portrayed as overly enthusiastic and someone who has "artificial laughter" (36). It is rumored that Daisy speaks softly so she can make people lean towards her. What are the characters' affectations concealing? Which affectations concealed something from the beginning, and which developed before there was something to conceal?
"Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known."
Is Nick really honest? Could his affectation be that he sees himself as honest and presents himself as honest when he really has something to hide. It strikes me that in the paragraph just before this one, Nick is explaining how he has a girl back home that he writes love letters to. Nick says there is a "vague understanding" that it will be broken off before he dates anyone else. But on page 56, he says that he had a fling with a girl from  New Jersey. Is Nick a reliable narrator?