Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Great Gatsby Read-Along: Chapter V

(Yup, this is the cover on the giant book
Alan Ladd is reading in my blog header.)
Anybody else tempted to just quit reading after this chapter?  I'm not going to, but I have to say... this chapter is like that breathless moment at the top of the roller coaster's first hill, where the train pauses for just an instant or two and hangs in between anticipation and the wild ride.  Sometimes I want to just stay right there, where the ride is ahead and the waiting is behind me.

But, like when I ride a roller coaster, I feel compelled to continue.  This IS my favorite chapter, though.

There's rather a lot of humor in this chapter.  Nick makes a lot of funny little observations, like that he suspected Gatsby meant it was Nick's lawn that needed mowing, not his own.  Or that "at two o'clock a greenhouse arrived from Gatsby's" (p.89) instead of that he sent over way too many flowers.  Or when he makes all the noise he can in the kitchen, "short of pushing over the stove" (p. 94).  I have "hee" written in the margins over and over.

At the same time, Nick... what are you doing?  You're reintroducing your married cousin to your basically unknown neighbor.  To the guy who assures you he's not nobody, but who has connections with people you find distasteful and is rumored to be involved in criminal activity.  You're grossed out by Tom's philandering, but you're going to facilitate Daisy getting her own boyfriend?  Sure, Gatsby hasn't actually propositioned her, not in so many words, but you know he's in love with her.  You know his big house and big parties, even his friendship with you -- they're all just so he can get close to Daisy.  He doesn't just want to play croquet or share shrimp cocktail recipes, he wants Daisy.  You know this, and you make it all possible.

I cannot and will not condone Nick's behavior.  But I think I can understand it.  Which makes me feel a lot like Nick, because he understands Gatsby's yearning for Daisy so intuitively, so empathetically.  I like to think I'd behave differently than Nick if I were in his place, but the truth is, when you're friends with someone and you see them going down the wrong path, it's very hard to stand up and say, "Stop."  And when they're someone you aren't actually quite friends with, but they're also not a stranger -- that can make it harder, somehow.  For me, anyway.  Like, "Who are you to tell me I shouldn't do this?"  And sometimes, you don't realize until later how serious things were getting, that you even needed to try stopping someone or something.

I'm rambling.  I'm sorry.  I have a lot of stuff tumbling around in my head about this chapter, and I'm having trouble getting it sorted out.  Doesn't help that I read it yesterday and then kept putting off writing about it because writing about it means I need to move on to the next chapter soon.

Okay, I'll try to focus.

Nick is a very empathetic person, isn't he?  Like when he has been waiting and waiting with Gatsby for Daisy to show up, and then he gets all jumpy and says he was feeling "a little harrowed myself" (p. 90), like he'd caught Gatsby's nerves.  He's not just understanding Gatsby's emotions, he's sharing them.  I think this is probably why people keep telling him their woes, as he complained of back in chapter one.  They can tell he will share their feelings, keep them company in their misery or their joy or their confusion, even if he doesn't fully understand or agree with them.

Mostly, I spend this chapter feeling alternately sorry and happy for Gatsby.  And then marveling at how Fitzgerald has gotten me to be so sympathetic with this guy who is making a play for another man's wife.  I mean, the poor guy, "pale as death, with his hands plunged like weights into his coat pockets, was standing in a puddle of water glaring tragically into my eyes" (p. 91).  If that doesn't bring a lump into your throat, what will?

It's so interesting that, once Nick's housekeeper/cook brings in the tea things, Nick says "a certain physical decency established itself" (p. 94).  That word "decency" is put there so deliberately.  "Look," it says, "we're all innocently drinking tea.  Nothing going on that shouldn't be."  Methinks the narrator doth protest too much.

Gatsby admits as much.  He calls it all "a terrible, terrible mistake" (p. 93).  How different the rest of the book would have been if Nick had just nodded and agreed.

So why on earth do I love this chapter?  Because of all the juicy, rich emotions, of course.  Everyone's opening up and pouring out the feelings and the hurt and the joy and the hope and the agony, and I want to scoop them all up and squeeze them and let them ooze out from between my fingers.  When emotions get tactile like this, I can't get enough.

And Gatsby goes from that tragic image of agony to the epitome of joy.  "He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation a new well-being radiated from him and filled the little room" (p. 95).  Oh, I just love it.  We get one of my favorite lines of the whole book next:  "When he realized what I was talking about, that there were twinkle-bells of sunshine in the room, he smiled like a weather man, like an ecstatic patron of recurrent light" (p. 95).  I'm not entirely sure why, but that line makes me happy.

As long as we stay at Nick's, all is light and joy.  But when they go to Gatsby's, already things begin to unravel a little.  Gatsby starts to realize that achieving the things you dream about is not always as wonderful as you expect.  Nick finds a lot of significance in the way Gatsby talks about the green light at the end of Daisy's dock -- and English Lit professors have spent a lot of years doing the same.  But I think that Nick's right, that Gatsby considered that light to be enchanted because of the promise it represented.  It meant being close to his dream... but not having it yet.  Now he has it.  Now he doesn't need the green light anymore.  It's hard to let go of things that we've bestowed a lot of meaning on.  I know, because I attach memories to physical objects, and then I have a terrible time getting rid of them because I feel like I'll be getting rid of my memories too.  Not quite the same thing Gatsby's going through here, but a little bit similar.

If I had to sum up this book in one word, it would be 'disillusionment.'  Gatsby's starting to taste that.  Soon others will too.

There's some odd stuff going on here too, though.  Like Nick's little aside when he's talking about the history of Gatsby's house.  He says that "Americans, while willing, even eager, to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry" (p. 94).  Innnnnnnnnnnteresting.  This book, like its titular character, is pretty obsessed with the disparity between rich and poor, and this might be the most blatant statement we get from Nick about that.

Klipspringer's song choices reinforce the whole rich-vs-poor thing too.  First he plays "The Love Nest."  I looked up the lyrics, and part of the song says "Better than a palace with a gilded dome/Is a love nest/You can call home."  His next selection, "Ain't We Got Fun" is even more direct, because Fitzgerald includes some specific lyrics, the ones about what the rich and the poor get.  Gatsby's got money, but he's not the same as Daisy and Nick and Tom and Jordan.  He's "new money," nouveau riche, and He Does Not Fit In.  No matter how much he wants to.  No matter how much he might deserve to.

By the way, if you're wondering what on earth "liver exercises" are, the things Klipspringer is doing when Gatsby takes Nick and Daisy on a tour of his home -- I have no idea.  If you Google it, you'll get a ton of references to this book, and a bunch of people's guesses that it has to do with either having a fatty liver or a liver damaged by alcohol, but what sort of exercises they are, no clue.  If you dig up some real info on it, please let me know!

Favorite Lines:

The exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain (p. 90).


It was the hour of a profound human change, and excitement was generating on the air (p. 101).

No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man can store up in his ghostly heart (p. 102).

Possible Discussion Questions:


Why does Daisy start crying when Gatsby shows off all his shirts?  It's clearly not because they're beautiful.  But then, why?

14 comments:

  1. This is a chapter of innocence, almost. Nothing has as yet happened between Gatsby and Daisy. Yes, they've met, again, but almost innocently, at least that's my take. When they go to Gatsby's house, he is giddy and cannot contain himself. He begins showing off for Daisy, and thinks he sees in her reciprocal feelings of joy at their reunion. But when he starts bragging about his shirts and throwing them at Nick and Daisy, she is overwhelmed by his attentions and intentions and suddenly both desperately wants and sees the utter futility in trying to recapture what they had.

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    1. Sue, you're right. Everything is still innocent, fairly above-board, and there's a lot of possibility in the air.

      I like your take on why Daisy is crying, that it's over the "futility in trying to recapture what they had." Very nicely put! I've never come up with my own interpretation of her tears, but I quite like that.

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  2. Well, I can think of nothing to add to your post. That was beautiful.

    This chapter makes me think that Gatsby should have left his dream just that...a dream.

    I suspect that Daisy was crying b/c she realized what she could have had. She thinks she could have had happiness through Gatsby and (his) material things, as well. ???

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    1. Thanks, Ruth! I took a lot of time and care with this chapter post, so I'm glad you liked it.

      I totally agree. Some dreams would be better off remaining unrealized, and Gatsby's is one of them.

      That's a cool take on Daisy's tears. Like I said above, I've never figured out what she's crying over, exactly -- this sounds very valid, especially for Daisy, who strikes me as superficial and swayed by pretty stuff.

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  3. I admit that Daisy is difficult for me to pin down. She is most definitely shallow but on occasions like this when she is crying, I get the impression she understands more than i give her credit for.

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    1. Dale, yes -- I'm kind of confounded by Daisy myself. She's vain and shallow and not worth Gatsby's worship... but I sometimes suspect she's made herself be that way. Kind of like Gatsby creating himself anew -- I suspect she could have been an intelligent, feeling woman, but she decided it was better to be a beautiful little fool.

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  4. I think Daisy has every right to leave Tom after his multiple adulterous affairs. So, I don't think this whole thing is wrong. Gatsby wasn't planning a side thing, I think he wanted Daisy completely, perhaps to marry her. Except that Daisy is a flake and a coward. She loves security and money more than anything. That is why she married Tom and that is why she stays with Tom. All of her reasons are banal and selfish.

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    1. Livia, I'm not questioning Daisy's moral right to leave Tom... until she starts meeting with men behind his back. Then she's sinking to his level. Gatsby may not have been planning a "side thing," but by chapter seven, Daisy is coming over to his house in the afternoons... he ends up luring her, intentionally or not, into the same lifestyle we deplore in Tom.

      Daisy is definitely selfish, and I have little sympathy for her.

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  5. Ha! I, too, loved the humor in this chapter. Especially when Gatsby was missing when Daisy arrived, but suddenly appeard on the door... really comical!

    The reunion is full of awkwardness and emotion. And, yes, it's one of my favorite chapter too.

    Nick's character is revealed slowly along the chapters. When Gatsby offered him a "business" to pay for his arrangement, he said that if the the offer is not too tactlessly, he would have accepted it? Hmm....

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    1. Fanda, yes, I love the bits of levity in this one. They keep it from getting to melodramatic and emotionally overdone, I think.

      I think that Nick was, at this point in the story, mostly unaware of the sort of business Gatsby was involved in -- he was starting to wonder, after meeting Wolfsheim, but it's Nick with the perspective of knowing the whole story who sees how nearly he missed getting tangled up in something unsavory. Nick at the time probably thought it was going to be investments in something legit? That's my take, anyway -- that it's another sign of his own naivete.

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  6. I think this is my favorite chapter thus far.

    Not only was it the first chapter that I found genuinely humorous but it was also the first chapter in which I really started to feel invested in the characters and their stories even in the midst of their terrible decisions.

    Yes, what *are* liver exercises?! ;)

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    1. Meredith, yeah -- chapter 5 is pretty amazing :-)

      Still no idea what liver exercises are!!!

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  7. Great thoughts on this chapter! I can't think of anything to add at all. Agreed that it's an incredibly rich chapter! And I love the humor as well.

    Haha, that's too bad no one knows what liver exercises are supposed to be! Now that you've mentioned it, I'm really curious!

    I have no clue about Daisy and the shirts. It's one of those things that makes perfect sense to me, but I can't for the life of me put it into words.

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    1. Thanks, Sarah!

      Yeah, the mystery of liver exercises now haunts me. I kind of just imagine him doing weird sit-ups, but I'd like to know.

      You're so right -- Daisy crying over the shirts feels just right emotionally, even if it doesn't make logical sense necessarily.

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