In “The Great Gatsby”, Nick is presented as having quite a complex attitude to the society of the East Coast of America, with this attitude often being quite ambiguous or hard to pin down at any one point. In many scenarios, particularly those around Daisy or at Gatsby’s parties, it can be read that Nick’s main tone could seem to be one of fascination, a word I am using in this essay to mean a positive admiration as opposed to a distanced interest.
However, I believe that although this is partially the case there is another feeling beneath it which shows mockery and almost distaste for the East Coast society, and in this essay I plan to look at the parts of the novel where this society is presented and discuss how Nick’s attitudes are presented in these ways. Fitzgerald uses the characters of Tom and Daisy very prominently in his portrayal of East Coast society and therefore the way in which Nick reacts to them can tell us more about his opinions, especially with Daisy.
On first reading, I think that it is very easy to think that Nick is completely fascinated and entranced by her in a very positive way. One way in which this is done is by using many words associated with light, such as ‘white’, ‘glowing’ and ‘bright’ which give us the sense that Nick is almost dazzled by Daisy as you would be dazzled by a bright light.
Words such as ‘white’ also are the archetypal language used to portray a type of purity or innocence about Daisy which further supports his fascination as they make it appear as though he is not only entranced by her on a superficial level but even on a more spiritual level, at least in his eyes.
It could, however, be seen that perhaps ‘white’ is a less positive word to use in this situation as it is quite a cold colour, and in fact Nick mentions this in the description of the women’s light chatter which was “as cool as their white dresses and their impersonal eyes in all absence of desire. This obviously is a reflection of Nick’s observations of the East Coast society and how the lack of needing anything has made conversation impersonal and lacking in substance.
This type of more negative approach to Daisy is very rare with Nick; however I think fascination is not his only attitude towards her. In many places I think that it would be more appropriate to say that Nick is more amused with Daisy, perhaps even to the point of slightly mocking her, for example when she goes to Gatsby’s house for the first time and overreacts hugely to Gatsby’s shirts. “They’re such beautiful shirts,” she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds, “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such – such beautiful shirts before. ” The image which Nice conjures up here is hugely over the top and quite humorous, especially in the detail such as her voice being muffled by the folds, and is just so absurd and relating once again to the materialism we have come to expect from the East Coast that we can only assume that Nick is being slightly mocking and detached from the usual appeal he feels for Daisy.
I think that overall although it is very certain that Nick is definitely ‘fascinated’ by Daisy and the way in which society has conditioned to act, the hints of mockery within the way in which he talks about her leads me to believe that he is also quite detached from her as well, possibly due to the fact that he is from the Mid-West and would therefore find it more difficult to integrate with her way of life.
One of the main places where we get a good overview of East Coast society, and hence Nick’s attitude towards it, is during Gatsby’s many large parties. It is within these that we see the great amount of extravagance which society had come to accept and Nick’s reaction to this is once again ambiguous in tone because it can either be read as fascination, or once again as quite mocking or even slightly distasteful.
The description of the first party Nick goes to at the beginning of chapter 3 starts in the past tense and describes the preparations but once we reach the start of the party, Fitzgerald chooses for Nick to go into the present tense with “The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun”, which I think is very representative of the way Nick has been drawn in by the party and the bright lights of the East Coast. The word lurch is especially powerful here as it suggests a real pull out of one world and into another.
This is very demonstrative of the emotive language which Nick uses elsewhere in discussing Gatsby’s parties and I think this does show a real emotional involvement in the world he has become a part of and in this way I think he is fascinated. Another prominent part of the party descriptions is the motif of water, as many words used have connotations of fluid movement and general liquidity, for example “[the groups] swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath”.
The image of water is quite a beautiful on and the rippling can also be seen as quite exciting, but I think also that Nick sees this as something also very unstable and aloof with no real care who you are with or what you are talking about but just a very fluid and lazy drifting which is representative of the impersonality of the society of the East Coast.
Again I feel that in places, Nick is mocking of the extravagance and absurdity of some of the situation as well. For example when he is talking about the preparations for the party he describes the orchestra as “no thin five piece affair, but a whole pitful of oboes and trombones and saxophones and violas and cornets and piccolos, and low and high drums”.
This long list really sounds over the top and ridiculously excessive and this is further heightened by the polysyndeton which gives a bit of a repetitive and almost boring feel to what is probably actually a very high quality orchestra. I think that this mocking once again slightly detaches Nick from the action despite his being swept in, and once again we see him as both fascinated but also detached and mocking.
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