Chapter 1

The Great Gatsby: Chapter 1

This material is from an excellent site, which dealt with with the novel chapter by chapter.  Although it is not available at present, I have put in the link just in case it may be in the future.

pp 5-26

Summary

The narrator, Nick Carraway, introduces the reader to the cast and setting. Nick, originally from the Midwest, lives in a house in the slightly lower class West Egg. The West Egg is across the bay from the illustrious East Egg, home of the rich and famous. Nick’s second cousin, Daisy, and her husband, Tom Buchanan, a college buddy of Nick’s, live in the upper class East Egg.
When Nick is invited to lunch at the Buchanan estate to celebrate his recent arrival to the East Coast, he is reunited with his old friends. He reminisces with Tom over college football days and catches up with Daisy on all the news from back home. Nick takes note of the change in Tom since college. He sees Tom’s overpowering and aggressive masculinity through his strong jaw and huge, muscular body. He carries himself with great pride and arrogance; he knows what he is worth and does not mind flaunting it. Juxtaposing his cousin, Daisy, with Tom and his overbearing stature, Nick notices her sad and lovely face. She covers her melancholy by garrulously questioning Nick, charming him with her smile and bouncy demeanour. She has the ability to draw people in to her and because of this she has always had the admiration of many men. During her conversation with Nick, Tom abruptly interrupts her and begins to talk with Nick about his new job; Daisy is silenced. He haughtily discusses Nick’s interest with bonds, annoying Nick greatly because he has never heard of the company.
At the meeting with Tom and Daisy, Nick is also introduced to a lady named Jordan Baker. It immediately occurs to him that her face is familiar. Later on he learns that she is the Jordan Baker, a professional golfer. In the past, she has been accused of cheating, but she has never admitted it. Nick and Jordan have an obvious attraction to each other, seen in her nervous movements and curt speech and his shy manner. When they do finally converse, not only do they get along very well, but she is also the first person to mention Mr. Gatsby, Nick’s neighbor. He does not hear too much about Gatsby before Tom interrupts them and Daisy reentering the room after a dispute concerning an anonymous phone call from a “business partner.” Later, Nick learns that Tom has a mistress and who was the secret person on the phone. Nick ends his evening with the Buchanans after walking with Daisy in the garden. She expresses her unhappiness with her marriage and life. He leaves Tom and Daisy in their frustrated state and returns home. While reflecting on his evening and enjoying the night air, he vaguely sees a person in the shadows. “Gatsby,” he thinks, but just as he turns to face the figure again, it is gone. Nick stares into the green light of the Buchanans’ dock across the bay, sighs, and heads for home.

 

Characters

Nick Carraway

A new addition to the West Egg neighbourhood, he sees himself in a brighter light than he is actually in. He believes that he is the most moral person that he knows despite his pre-marital sexual affairs, drinking, and lack of personal judgement. He is very obedient to people and passive in terms of anyone’s behavior, including his own. Nick lives for the moment; he is the only pragmatist in the whole story.

Tom Buchanan

Born into a wealthy family in Chicago and living in East Egg, Tom is a snob. He abuses his wealth and uses its power over other people. He is very arrogant and self-centred, always demanding things his way.

Daisy Buchanan

Daisy is originally from Louisville, Kentucky. She is from a very wealthy Southern family. As a young girl she was courted by many men, including various soldiers such as Jay Gatsby and Tom Buchanan. In the end, she married Tom, due to pressure to marry within her class. She sees happiness in money but she cannot seem to find it. Later it is learned that even on her wedding night she was brought to tears and drunkenness with her grief.

Jordan Baker

Jordan is representative of the 1920s woman. She plays a sport professionally (golf), drinks openly, and enjoys the raucous lifestyle. She becomes involved with Nick Carraway in a close relationship (presumably sexual), something quite symbolic of the flapper and her new found “freedom.” She is independent and free willed, but she also shows a leniency towards men of the higher class. Eventually she announces her engagement to a prosperous businessman as a method to elicit emotion from Nick. She too expects her life to be better off with a wealthier person.

Symbols

– Tom constantly interrupts Nick’s conversations with women (figuratively and literally) and the acceptance of it represents the dominance of males in this society.

– The phone call for Tom, which upsets Daisy, is a sign of future conflict.

– Red and Gold Binding on Nick’s Books: The contrast of red and gold symbolises both wealth and the fight for wealth. Nick, like other citizens in his time, buys the large volume of books to make money. He is in the fight to earn money and achieve maximum success.

These colors can also be representative of Communism and the principles of Karl Marx. The books, which reveal the secrets to make money, are meant to help the little guy get ahead in the big business. They symbolise the plight of the middle class hoping to share, if not gain, the wealth of the upper class.

– The Buchanan household is a contrast of red, white and gold: The house style and location is an obvious representation of wealth. It has white walls with red dispersed in the inside as well as gold shimmers in the windows. These colours represent an internal conflict. The white shell, or outside, represents the apparent innocence and the grandiose elegance of money. The Buchanan’s house is a picture perfect example of wealth. Many people assume that their wealth brings them happiness. However, like the popular adage, “never judge a book by its cover,” the house holds a different story on the inside. The red colour in the centre symbolises conflict not only with wealth , but also between Daisy and Tom. The house is red in the centre yet it is bound by white on the outside. Meanwhile, the gold glistens in the windows, almost mocking everything with its periodic appearances and internal unimportance.  The gold found only in the windows offers an obvious connection of the elegant appearance of wealth and the inside look of its harsh realities.

– The green dock light of the Buchanan’s house represents the envy of everyone who looks at it. Nick is envious of them because of their wealth. Everyone from the West Egg who looks into their estate wishes that they were in their shoes. Jay Gatsby is envious of them because he is in love with Daisy.

– Gatsby’s simultaneous and ambiguous appearance with the green dock light indicates his obscurity and envy that will appear in the future.

Motifs

Red –   The color red is used to represent any conflict and competition. It is consistently pictured with money and displayed with the situation between Daisy and Tom.

White –   Everything white represents purity and innocence. The women are often linked to everything white including their clothes and past. White also represents the virginal spirit of the woman (especially Daisy Fay).

Gold –   Gold represents one thing: money. Money is the central focus of most individuals during the 1920s.

Green –   The novel is based in a time when everyone is trying to climb over each other to achieve greatness. Envy is very often a subject worth noticing. Gatsby envies Tom for having Daisy. It is later discovered that Nick envies Tom for his money and Gatsby for his spirit.

Grey –   Jordan’s eyes are described as grey. This means that she is a futile character in the book. Her inactivity and unimportance are also examples of the unimportance of women in the society of the 1920’s.

Setting

The story takes place on Long Island, near New York City. It is the 1920’s; times are “swinging” and life is prosperous. The community is separated by class rank into two different sections of town: West Egg and East Egg. The wealthy live in East Egg and the poor and middle class live in West Egg. between the two is the Valley of Ashes where the giant billboard of Dr. Eckleburg hangs, watching over the fight for money in the city. Daisy and Tom Buchanan live in East Egg and Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby live in West Egg.

Significant Quotations

“I’m inclined to reserve all judgements. . . (but) reserving judgements is a matter of infinite hope. . . fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth.” Throughout the novel, Nick perceives himself as a very moral and righteous person. A mixture of his inherited haughtiness as well as his alter ego make him feel privileged enough to label and judge everyone. Nick consistently casts people in certain roles and then he holds them there permanently. Although he feels he has strong morality and decency, he is the most judgemental and critical character.

“I bought a dozen volumes on banking and credit and investment securities and they stood on my shelf in red and gold like new money from the mint, promising to unfold the shining secrets that only Midas and Morgan and Maecenas knew.” – The fast pace of business and massive production in the economy increased consumer spending on credit and securities. Nick, who is not particularly wealthy, borrowed money for the purpose of making money. Nick is symbolic of the money-hungry people of the 1920’s. He, like so many other people aims to become as rich as legends such as Midas and J. P. Morgan. Money is the primary focus of each individual and material objects were much more satisfying than humbleness and happiness.

“I had no sight into Daisy’s heart but I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking a little wistfully for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game.”   This is another assumption in which Nick takes the role of a soothsayer, predicting further conflict from Tom. He is used to being at the top in sports and society and nothing could hold him down from claiming all the attention. Tom abuses his wealth greatly. Having money his entire life, he learns how to use its power over other people. He stretches the limits and tests everything to see how much he can get away with. An example of this is his physical abuse of his mistress, Myrtle Wilson.
Daisy has already obtained her highest status; she is satisfied. She cannot push the limits of her marriage with Tom for she runs the risk of embarrassing her class.

Thematic Elements

– It is a recurring theme in the novel to see the rich hold authority over the poorer classes. They are allowed many privileges and allowed to act abusively to the lower class. This action of social class representation is parallel to the social era of the 1920’s. Money means power and happiness; it is the ideal object of an extremely materialistic society. Without it, people are subject to the overbearing and haughty dominance of wealthier people.

– Men control women. Although women have many new rights and social freedoms, men still control most of their lives. Evidence of the males oppressing the women is repetitive. From Tom’s emotional control over Daisy to the other various controls over his mistress, Myrtle Wilson, Tom commands the lives of women.

– Gatsby is a mystery man. His past is covered up, his occupation is clandestine, and his actions are always spurious. The vague outline of him that Nick sees foreshadows his actions in the novel.

– In chapter 1, the reader notices the upper and lower middle class fight to gain the seat of the upper class. Extreme over-speculation and rowdy social events marked the 1920’s. Everyone tried to become the top of society’s mountain of fame.

Curator: Zoe Chipman

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