Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Great Gatsby discussion: Chapters 4 – 6

In the middle third of the book, we hear Gatsby’s story of himself, meet Meyer Wolfshiem, find out some back-story on Jay and Daisy from Jordan, witness Jay and Daisy’s reunion, tour Gatsby’s house, find out more facts about Gatsby, and attend a disappointing party at his house.

As Fitzgerald said in a different story, "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.”

There is much here to comment on, so add your thoughts!

1 comment:

Dwight said...

A few random thoughts…I found Chapter 4 interesting where we get three differing pictures of Jay Gatsby: his self-story that seems very unlikely (although he does offer what appears to be proof for part of it), his association with Meyer Wolfshiem and the taint of how he may have obtained his wealth, and Jordan’s story of Jay’s courting of Daisy (appearing as a lovesick soldier). Which is the true Gatsby? Or is he a combination of all three?

Combine that with the facts from Nick (which he finds out after the story he relates), and you get a very complex picture of James Gatz. Even though the reunion with Daisy appears to have gone well, the differences in the social class are highlighted in this section. Gatsby will never be accepted by ‘old money’ despite his wealth. He still views Daisy as the girl he dated in Louisville, putting her on a pedestal that she could never live up to. And as we find out more about Daisy, you question if she is worth the pedestal (even more so in the next section of the book).

The centerpiece of the book is Gatsby’s reunion with Daisy. While at first it seems very disappointing and underwhelming, there is a lot going on underneath the surface. Which is confirmed when we find out how much time Daisy spends subsequently with Jay.

The female characters of the book intrigue me because of the strange paradox they present. They exercise a lot of freedom, an emancipation that portends much more to come. Yet many of the women still rely heavily on men. Myrtle has a strong personality, but is ultimately after a man’s money. Daisy goes through the motions of being free but ultimately craves certainty, dependent on Tom to provide it. Jordan is the most independent and “man like” of the women, but she is completely amoral.

Which fits in nicely with the “anything goes” attitude presented by both the storied and newly rich. Fitzgerald obviously means to condemn this, which was highlighted by a later piece called “Echoes of the Jazz Age.” In that article, phrases like “the wildest of the generations,” “the generation that corrupted its elders and eventually overreached itself less through lack of morals than through lack of taste,” “a whole race going hedonistic, deciding on pleasure,” and “the whole upper tenth of a nation living with the insouciance of grand dukes and the casualness of chorus girls” don’t paint a pretty picture of the age from his viewpoint.