For our first two chapters, I wanted to look at what we ran across and get your own two cents and feedback.
Set on Long Island--West Egg and East Egg, to be precise. Separated by a "bay" of water, West Egg was the poorer, less socially affluent side of the bay, while East Egg supported the richer, more connected side of society. Our narrator, Nick Carraway, lives on West Egg in a small rental cottage between two larger mansions. One of these mansions is owned by none other than Mr. Jay Gatsby. The other main characters, Daisy and Tom Buchanan, live in East Egg in a giant mansion of their own.
What is the significance of this setting? Is the proximity to New York City significant to the tale? How do the size of the homes and location all play into the social hierarchy being used by Fitzgerald?
"...--fifty feet away a figure had emerged from the shadow of my neighbor's mansion and was standing with his hands in his pockets regarding the silver pepper of the stars...I didn't call to him, for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone--he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily, I glanced seaward--and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock..." (20-21)I loved this conclusion to the first chapter, since I kept reminding myself that Nick was the narrator, so everything is filtered through his own sense of curiosity. His lack of omniscience here adds a nice foreshadowing and a longing that echoes through this conclusion.
Also, I think that you can never quite discount the social divides that are set up in a novel. Knowing who has money and where those with money live or don't live is important to keep in mind. As always, money talks. It doesn't always say very sensible things, but the desperation of folks either not having it or having too much of it can make for a tricky and interesting side narrative.
Point of View--We know that Nick Carraway is telling the story. What do we really learn about him? He comes from a "Middle Western city," where his family was of some prominence. After WWI, Nick moved to the East to study the bond business. In some ways, Nick sets us up to believe he is a humble, young character; he is living in a humble little cottage of sorts and is not set up like his neighbors. And yet, isn't he also able to easily mingle in rich society pretty easily and quickly? His relation to Daisy Buchanan might be part of it, but even that might suggest he comes from at least enough money to set him on the path that others might only dream about.
Should we question our reading of the characters in the novel since Nick is the narrator? Aren't we getting everything filtered through Nick's point of view?
Tom Buchanan is Daisy's ex-football hero husband, said to have had his glory days playing his football, only to find he could never reach those heights again. He is described as being almost a brute of sorts: "supercilious manner," "shining arrogant eyes," "a cruel body," and "his speaking voice, a gruff husky tenor" (7). Then, he seems to say to the reader and to Nick:
"Now don't think my opinion on these matters is final, " he seemed to say, "just because I'm stronger and more of a man than you are." (7)Um, can we say he's kind of an arrogant pig? He not only can't live down his glory days, but he also has to continue to prove he's a bigger and badder man than anyone else around him. Nick notices how he interrupts Daisy continually throughout their first night when Nick comes over, and we end Chapter 2 with Nick's introduction and night in the city with Tom and his mistress. Maybe a thing of the times, and maybe Daisy needed a break, but we have to see Tom as a pretty puffed up character who it will be easy to want to see fall from his high horse!
Does this mean that's how she really was, or just how Nick perceived her? Is Daisy this flirting, trilling little character that is laced with a certain amount of sadness? Well, it would certainly seem so by our introduction to her and Tom in these opening chapters. Tom spends his time cutting her off, and it is suggested that she knows about Tom's mistress, Myrtle.
There's so much we could talk about in these chapters! I could go on and on! I don't even want to dabble in the bit with the mistress just yet, mainly because I keep mulling over our main characters and their lives. I think that one of the most famous, and poignantly sad moments comes when Daisy tells Nick what she felt at the time of her daughter's birth, saying:
"She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. 'All right,' I said. 'I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope she will be a fool--that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.'" (17)These lines really strike me, because they say a lot about Daisy and the head space she is in here. This doesn't seem like a flippant comment to me, but one from a place of despair and personal experience maybe? I think Daisy understands her world a bit too well.
Okay. Enough from me on these opening chapters! I can't say enough how much I'm loving this reread. It's been way too long since I last read The Great Gatsby, so I've forgotten so many key details! Now it's your turn. Share with us!
- What role(s) do you see for the setting in the novel? Do you like this setting, and does it affect the way you read the story?
- Since Nick is the narrator in this story, do you think it's possible he might be setting us up to like or dislike certain characters? Do you trust his retelling?
- What do you think of Tom, Daisy, and Myrtle?
- What else stood out to you in these opening chapters?
Just as a reminder, this coming week we'll be reading Chapters 3-4. Happy reading! I hope to see what you're thinking!