The Great Gatsby Chapter 1. Summary.
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The Great Gatsby Chapter 1
Summary • The main purpose of this first chapter is to introduce the characters and setting of the book. Nick Carraway begins his narration, introducing himself and the novel’s other major characters: Tom and Daisy Buchanan, Jordan Baker, and Nick’s mysterious neighbour, Jay Gatsby. • Nick Carraway is the narrator • He is a young man in his late twenties who grew up in the Midwest in a prominent, respected middle class family. • He says he is a decent human being who was taught at an early age to reserve judgment, a trait which has made him a confidante to many people in his life. • He graduated from New Haven (Yale) in 1915, and then served in the military in World War I.
Nick has been invited to dinner at the Buchanans and tells us of his visit to the house of Tom Buchanan, an acquaintance from Yale University, and his wife Daisy, Nick’s second cousin. Buchanan is physically powerful and very wealthy. Nick meets Daisy’s friend Jordan Baker, who is a golfer. When he arrives at their home, he is amazed at its size and the expansive grounds that run from the house for a quarter of a mile down to the beach.
Tom receives a phone call and leaves the table. • Daisy leaves. • Jordan Baker tells Nick that Tom has a mistress in the city. • After dinner… • Daisy reveals "turbulent emotions"to Nick. • She tells him that when she had her daughter two years ago, Tom was nowhere around. • She is glad that the child is a daughter, for she feels she can raise her to be "a fool--that's the best thing a girl can be in the world, a beautiful little fool." • She then admits her misery to Nick and says, "I've had a very bad time, and I'm pretty cynical about everything.“ • Nick and Daisy go inside to join Tom and Jordan. • Tom warns Nick about Daisy's complaints and says, "Don't believe everything you hear." • Daisy teases Nick and Jordan about fixing them up together. • The mention the rumor of Nick’s engagement, but he denies it, saying that she was just a friend.
Jordan has a tournament in the morning and needs to rest. • Nick decides to leave as well. • As he drives home, he is confused and disgusted and doesn’t know what to think. • Nick stands outside to take in the view of the bay. • He notices that his neighbouris also outside, staring at the stars with hands in his pocket. This is Nick’s first glimpse of Gatsby, gazing as if transfixed by a green light at the end of the Buchanan’s dock. • Just as Nick prepares to greet him, the neighbourstretches out his arms to the dark water and appears to tremble. • Nick looks out to the bay to see what attracts the neighbour'sattention, but he sees only a single green light, probably at the end of a dock in East Egg. • When Nick looks back toward his neighbour, the man has vanished.
Historical Background • 1918- The end of the First World War • 1919- Baseball World Series fixed • 1920- Prohibition of alcohol introduced; women given the right to vote in the USA; census in USA shows more people live in cities than country • 1925- Publication of The Great Gatsby
The Jazz Age • Jazz was experimental and new • It was associated with a carefree attitude: dancing and self expression • The Golden Twenties or Roaring Twenties • There were also many new fashions • Trendy young women were called ‘flappers’ wearing short skirts and lots of make-up.
The Lost Generation • America helped the allies to victory in World War One • But the experience of war bred cynicism • Many young people felt a sense of purposelessness and dissatisfaction. • This may have been hidden at times by the pleasure seeking. • The Great Gatsby describes such characters
Conspicuous consumption • The population of the USA had doubled in the fifty years previous • Mass production factories like Ford started up • Advertising became an industry trying to shape people’s desires • Fitzgerald worked in advertising • Conspicuous consumption was the wasteful and extravagant means of showing off wealth-cars, planes, ponies
Prohibition • The sale of alcohol was banned to raise moral standards • Bootlegging and selling alcohol illegally funded criminals like Al Capone, and Jay Gatsby • Wolfshiem is the gangster figure in The Great Gatsby
The new beginning has long been associated in the American mind with movement westward. After moving East in order to seek material success, Nick has now returned to the Midwest, to the heart of America, where he is able to pause and reflect upon the past few years. Nick declares, with irony, that in going East he “was a guide, a pathfinder, an original settler”.
Technology • Technology played one of the most vital parts in bringing the great economic and cultural prosperity that America experienced during the 1920s. New advancements, new discoveries, and new inventions improved American lives in many if not every conceivable way, but not without a few negative side-effects. • The 1920s was an age with extreme advance in technology. Most radio historians say that radio broadcasting began in 1920. At the time radio was a craze and people were amazed by it. • One of the first major inventions to become a national craze was the automobile. • The popularity of the automobile also brought immense economic prosperity. One of the major contributions to the prosperity of the 1920s was the construction of roads and highways, which poured fresh public funds into the economy . Automobiles appeared everywhere and were being driven everywhere.
Nick Carraway Nick Carraway has returned to the Midwest, and is writing a book about events which occurred during a period he spent on the East Coast of America. He begins his narration with some self-analysis. He remembers his father’s advice to show tolerance towards others, and to reserve judgement, adding that ‘Reserving judgement is a matter of infinite hope.’’ However, Nick then goes on to pass judgement on almost everyone he encounters. Moving to Long Island, New York, in 1922, Nick settles in West Egg, a suburban ‘village’. Nick’s neighbour, Jay Gatsby, lives in a mansion. Nick finds himself living with “the consoling proximity of millionaires”, and in nearby East Egg there are “white palaces”.
Nick refers to Gatsby as “the man who gives his name to this book” and he displays a certain respect and admiration in his dedication to the man’s memory. He dislikes certain aspects of Gatsby’s character and behaviour, but for his “heightened sensitivity to the promise of life” and his “extraordinary gift for hope” – he has admiration. Nick tells us a little about his family, claiming descent from the dukes of Buccleuch, although his father runs a hardware business set up by his grandfather’s brother at the time of the American Civil War (1861-5), in which he avoided service. Nick, on the other hand, was caught up in the First World War (1914-18), and that has caused much disruption in his life. When he returned from Europe, he found that the Midwest, which was once “the warm centre of the world”, now seemed “the ragged edge of the universe”.
Although the First World War ended in 1918, Nick’s move to the east did not happen until 1922. This tells us that he is not an impulsive person, but it also suggest that it was not just the war that unsettled him. Possibly his failed love affair back home played a large part in his decision, something he does not confirm. Nick does not portray himself as an emotional or passionate man, but then his imaginative writing style seems to contradict this. Nick appears to be much more emotional than he admits to and it may be that he has sensitivities and vulnerabilities that he chooses not to tell us about, or cannot face.
Interestingly, Carraway, spelt ‘caraway’, is the name of a tall, yellowish plant with thin leaves. Its seeds are widely used in cooking. Nick claims that his family is related to dukes of Buccleuch although the name ‘Carraway’ seems distant from. Buchanan, however, is actually the name of a Scottish clan with territory near Loch Lomond, in Stirling. It seems as though Carraway is very well liked in terms of his peers and family members. However, one can also see view of snobbery within him.
Narrative Voice Nick Carraway’s narration takes the reader into his confidence; he is sharing with us the recollection of certain important experiences. It is clear that by telling the story Nick is trying to come to terms with and understand those experiences. The self-analysis that opens the novel tells us that Nick is a participant in the novel with his own characteristics. His narration, as a result, is not neutral, and the information he gives us, is influenced by his character. In reading ‘The Great Gatsby’ we need to be aware of what is being revealed about Nick, as well as of what he is disclosing about others.
Tom Buchanan • Thirty years old. • Nick immediately notices that Tom has changed since his college days. • He is blond, handsome, and muscular. • He appears to be sturdy and arrogant. • Nick comments that Tom has a "cruel body, capable of enormous leverage." • Tom makes racist comments. Jordan tells Nick that Tom is having an affair with“some woman in New York”. This mistress telephones during dinner. • Tom Buchanan crudely exploits his status: he is horrible and proves there is little to like about him. His wife describes him as a "big, hulking physical specimen," and he seems to use his size to dominate others.
Daisy Buchanan • Tom's wife and Nick's cousin, appears to be light as a feather. • She sits inside the living room on a sofa and is dressed in a lightweight, white garment that is rippling in the breeze, giving the young woman the image of floating. • Her voice, light and thrilling to Nick, intensifies the cool, airy picture of her appearance. • She is shallow and careless. • Daisy stands in contrast to her husband. She is frail and tiny. She laughs at every opportunity. Daisy is transparent and cynical. Though she remarks that everything is in decline, she does so only in order to seem to agree with her husband. She and Jordan are dressed in white when Nick arrives, and she mentions that they spent a "white girl-hood" together; the apparent purity of Daisy and Jordan stands in ironic contrast to their actual decadence and corruption.
In contrast to the artificial world of manufactured goods, Daisy’s name connotes a delicate white flower. The irony here is that her life takes place in a manufactured environment, detached from the natural world. A little later, Nick says that Daisy opens up “in a flower- like way”, but her falseness makes this simile as unconvincing as when Daisy compares Nick to a rose. Myrtle, whom we meet in the next chapter, also has a plant’s name, although the myrtle is a dark, hardy shrub. The plant seems to suit her character, and her environment, and the fact that Myrtle was considered in the ancient world to be sacred to Venus, the goddess o love, is ironically appropriate to her role as Tom’s mistress.
Jordan Baker • Daisy’s friend. • She is a professional golfer • She is shallow and vain, much like Daisy
Jay Gatsby It is clear 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 “.
The first appearance of Gatsby has a religious seriousness, and Gatsby himself seems almost godlike: Nick speculates that Gatsby has "come out to determine what share of our local heavens [was his]." He is totally alone, a solitary figure in mysterious worship. When we first see Gatsby, he is reaching toward the green light something that he cannot grasp. Gatsby's purpose in the story as well as what he is doing at the lake are left unanswered at the end of the chapter.
Setting The novel is set in New York in the 1920's, at Nick Carraway's bungalow and Gatsby's mansion on West Egg, at the Buchanan's mansion on East Egg, in various places in New York City, including Myrtle's apartment, the Plaza Hotel, and a restaurant across from The Metropole, and in the Valley of Ashes. Nick and Gatsby both reside in the New York suburb of West Egg. It is less fashionable than the nearby East Egg, and has connotations of the westward movement that characterised America’s Frontier past. The implies that both Nick and Gatsby care for American ideals which have been lost in the sophisticated cities of the East. This is ironic, as both Eggs are located of the East Coast. Further irony arises from the name ‘Eggs’; they seem to promise new life, while in fact they are sterile rocks.
Throughout the novel, places and settings represent the different aspects of the 1920s American society that Fitzgerald depicts. East Egg represents the old aristocracy, West Egg the newly rich. Additionally, the East is connected to the moral decay and social cynicism of New York, while the West is connected to more traditional social values and ideals.
Though each ‘Egg’ is home to fabulous wealth, and though they are separated only by a small expanse of water, the two regions are nearly opposite in the values they endorse.
Themes The first paragraphs of the book foreshadow the novel's main themes. The novel's characters are obsessed by class and privilege. Though Nick, like the Buchanans, comes from a privileged background, the couple's relationship to their social position is entirely separate to the narrator's.
Theme – Relationship between Past and Present Nick’s reference to his father’s advice introduces the novel’s theme of relationship of the present to the past, and with what is transmitted from one generation to another. This clearly has relevance to Gatsby’s personal history, his rejection of his parents and his association with Dan Cody, his ‘mentor’, but it is also relevant to the history of America, which broke away from the rule of European monarchy and declared itself a new country, free from the constraints of the past. This American commitment to the future, where anything might happen, is also suggested in Nick’s reflection on reserving judgement as a matter of “infinite hope”. The national faith that it is never too late to start a fresh persists. Note that it is Gatsby’s “extraordinary gift for hope” that ultimately draws Nick to him.
Theme – New World contrasting European prestige and Social Status The romantic descent of the Carraway’s from the British aristocracy contrasts the far from glamorous material reality of a family hardware business selling highly practical goods. F. Scott Fitzgerald is developing the novel’s theme of the relationship between the New World and the Old European prestige and American money. In ‘The Great Gatsby’, importations from Europe are an index in social status; for example, Gatsby’s Oxford education, his Rolls-Royce car, his mansion based on a French model, and his shirts sent from London. These items help to create an image, but in the American context the image is a mere pretence. Reference to Nick’s great-uncle avoiding participation in the American Civil War and finding success in business contrasts with the participation of both Nick and Gatsby in the First World War in Europe. It is stressed that Gatsby’s military career was one of the keys to his social advancement. The continuing involvement of America in armed conflict signals the failure of an early American ideal, the aspiration to be a peaceful nation.
Desire • Gatsby gazing at the green light represent his desire and the idea that he is staring at his hopes and deams
Symbolism The ringing of a telephone is just one indicator that this is a twentieth-century technological environment, the world of cinema, cars, motor boats, hydroplanes and gramophones. We recognise through such details that the 1920s was a decade of mass media, mass production and mass consumption in America. The novel raises the issues of individual worth within such a context.
The Green Light • The green light is probably one of the most important symbols in The Great Gatsby. Green is the colour of hope and it first appears when Gatsby stares across the bay towards a green light at the end of a dock . Later, we find out that this light stands on Daisy Buchanan’s dock. • In the context of the novel this green light represents Gatsby’s hope to meet Daisy again and a chance to win her back. “Gatsby believed in the green light” In this scene, Fitzgerald sacrifices realism in favour of drama and symbol: the green light stands for the as-yet-nameless object for which Gatsby is hopelessly striving.
Colours • White is the colour that has the deeper meaning of false purity or goodness. Daisy and Jordan are always seen in white • Green represents so many things in this novel. One thing is that it means is something to hope for, to reach out for, and a hope of new. Like the green light that is at the end of Daisy and Tom’s dock. In the first chapter Gatsby is reaching out for the light. He is reaching out for his hope of Daisy and a life with her It also represents wealth and prosperity. And both of these meanings correlate with each other because in the book, wealth is something to hope for and to reach out for.
Characters • Daisy embodies a fragile flower, because she is a fragile person who can’t make up her own mind. • Tom represents power, but mostly the abuse of the power that he has been given.
Another symbol that is shown throughout the book is eggs. The East and West eggs are where they live, and there is always drama going on. An egg symbolises a false show of purity on the outside, but rotten and corrupt on the inside. • Also, the East Egg represents old money that has been passed down from generation to generation. • The West Egg represents new money that the people who live inside there have earned. • There is always constant tension between the eggs because those in West Egg are rowdy and don’t know how fit in with the continually wealthy people.
Historical Background Tom Buchanan’s racist comments reveal an American reality of social division by race as well as by class and by gender. American history shows that in reality intense rivalry and conflict have often existed between groups with different cultural backgrounds, striving to succeed in an intensely competitive environment. Tom Buchanan considers his own northern European ancestry to be a sure indicator of his social superiority to members of groups with other backgrounds, especially African-Americans, many of whose antecedents were taken forcibly to the New World as slaves.
Quotes • "I hope she'll be a fool-that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.“ • "I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of oral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart.“ • In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since."Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.“ • Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.
Civilization's going to pieces. I've gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things... The idea is if we don't look out the white race will be -- will be utterly submerged... It's up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things. • I KNOW. I've been everywhere and seen everything and done everything…Sophisticated - God, I'm sophisticated. • [Tom] would drift on forever seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game. • In two weeks it'll be the longest day in the year....Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day in the year and then miss it.