Nick’s View That Gatsby
Nick’s View That Gatsby
How far do you agree with Nick’s view that Gatsby is “worth the whole damn bunch put together”?
The title character of The Great Gatsby is a young man, around thirty years old, who rose from an impoverished childhood in rural North Dakota to become fabulously wealthy. Indeed, Gatsby has become famous around New York for the elaborate parties held every weekend at his mansion, ostentatious spectacles to which people long to be invited. And yet, Nick Carraway’s description of the protagonist asserts that Gatsby seems curiously out of place among the ‘whole damn bunch’ which inhabit this lavish, showy world. Indeed, despite the aura of criminality surrounding his occupation, his love and loyalty to Daisy Buchanan and ultimately his capacity to dream, set him apart from the inhabitants of East Egg and West Egg.
A key criticism made in Nick’s first person, self-aware and retrospective narration is that the ‘whole damn bunch’ entertained by Gatsby lives in extravagance. In Chapter Three, comparative adjectives and adverbs allude to the idea that the parties they attend grow ever increasingly lavish; the narrator expresses how ‘laughter is easier’, an ‘opera of voices pitches a key higher’ and ‘groups change more quickly’. In fact, the sheer scale of the operation required to keep them excited is emphasised by details that Nick gives, including ‘a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler’s thumb.’
But the ‘vacuous bursts of laughter’ and the dancing ‘in eternal graceless circles’ lend a degree of artificiality to the proceedings. Indeed, the tone of the narration reveals another major shortcoming, suggesting that this outward show of opulence by the inhabitants of West Egg and East Egg is used to cover up their inner corruption and moral decay. This decadence is first exemplified by the length of festivities. Nick states that after ‘the first supper’, ‘there would be another one after midnight.’ Society’s moral compass seems to invert completely, Nick ironically asserting that there were ‘two deplorably sober men’.
Being drunk appears to be proper behaviour at such a party. Moreover, Fitzgerald’s comical use of voice suggests that being sober is more than just frowned upon, ‘their highly indignant wives’ exclaiming that they ‘have never heard anything so selfish in my life.’ But other guests contribute to this air of corruption; for example, the predatory nature of ‘Young Englishmen’ selling bonds is stressed by anaphora: ‘all well-dressed, all looking a little bit hungry, and all talking in low, earnest voices to solid and prosperous Americans.’ Such obsession with money is further emphasised by musical language and assonance; they were ‘agonizingly aware of the easy money and convinced that it was theirs for a few words in the right key.’
And as time passes, such vices become ever more apparent. Increasingly ‘women were now having fights with men said to be their husbands’, ‘said to be’ suggesting that some may have brought mistresses rather than partners. Nick observes one man philandering with ‘a young actress’, with his wife present. Her anger is humorously emphasised by simile, the narrator comparing her to ‘an angry diamond’. She ‘broke down entirely and resorted to flank attacks’, reduced to hissing into his ear, ‘You promised!’ By the end, the function had turned into ‘violent confusion’.
Fitzgerald’s use of characterisation also emphasises the flaws of those immediately around Gatsby, Tom Buchanan in particular. Tom is Daisy’s husband, an extremely wealthy man, a brute, and an athlete. And his vices become apparent from the beginning of the book. His ignorance is brought out when he praises the ridiculous notions of ‘The Rise of the Coloured Empires’ that ‘the white race’, which is ‘the dominant race’ has to ‘watch out or other races will have control of things.’ The way he refers to it as ‘science and art, and all that’ and ‘scientific stuff’ only undermines his racist viewpoints even further.
But more importantly, Tom is deeply immoral, Jordan Baker informing the narrator that ‘Tom’s got some woman in New York’. Nick is so incensed by Tom’s affair that his ‘own instinct was to telephone immediately for the police’. In fact, only a few months after their wedding, he appears to have had a fling with ‘one of the chambermaids in the Santa Barbara Hotel’. This series of affairs must have caused his wife some emotional damage. He does not even turn up to the birth of their daughter, Daisy casually informing Nick that ‘Tom was God knows where.’ In this way, Tom is neither attentive nor sensitive towards Daisy, especially in contrast with Gatsby.
But Tom is not just unscrupulous but abusive. When Nick meets him in Chapter One, he asserts that he had ‘a cruel body’ which was ‘always leaning aggressively forward.’ And though Carraway never sees him being violent with his wife, there are hints of his unbridled physicality when Daisy reveals a bruise on her finger that, although accidental, was caused by that ‘brute of a man’. She says ‘accusingly’ that ‘you did it, Tom’. But the brutal streak really comes across when Tom is with his mistress. ‘With a short, deft movement’ he ‘broke her nose with his open hand.’
But the title character too has his flaws. Like ‘the whole damn bunch’, Gatsby lives extravagantly, replacing a guest’s damaged dress with one costing ‘two hundred and sixty-five dollars’. And like ‘the whole damn bunch’, he has made unethical choices, in his case in acquiring his fortune. Speculation among his guests first alludes to such decisions, Fitzgerald using the method of choric voices. Although various theories that ‘he killed a man once’ or that ‘he was a German spy during the war’ may appear unrealistic, later speculation, from Tom Buchanan in particular, does start to blemish Nick’s idealised conception of Gatsby.
When they first meet, Tom presumes that Gatsby is ‘some big bootlegger’. This assumption may not be wrong, the antagonist discovering that Gatsby ‘and Wolfshiem bought up a lot of side-street drug-stores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter’. In this way, though Nick never quite finds out what Gatsby did for a living, his greatest vice appears to be the source of his income.
But while Tom’s report would never be objective, Fitzgerald’s characterisation of Wolfsheim also hints at the aura of criminality surrounding Gatsby. The author’s use of voice emphasises the gambler’s sleaze, pronouncing ‘connection’ as ‘gonnegtion’ and ‘Oxford’ as ‘Oggsford’. But he also appears sinister, wearing ‘cuff’ buttons made of ‘human molars’. Wolfsheim’s criminality is confirmed when Gatsby informs Nick that ‘he’s the man who fixed the World’s Series back in 1919.’ But the gambler may be involved in more dangerous activities than simply fixing baseball matches. Wolfsheim’s own dialogue suggests that he has experience in activities where men end up dead, explaining to Nick that ‘when a man gets killed I never like to get mixed up in it in any way. I keep out.’
The mysterious phone calls which Gatsby receives in no way vindicate him either. His reunion with Daisy is interrupted by one such call, the use of ellipses adding a sense of secrecy to his subsequent conversation: ‘Yes … Well, I can’t talk now … I can’t talk now, old sport … I said a small town …’ The confidential nature of the suggested business dealing may imply that Gatsby’s work is not legitimate. In fact, only after Gatsby’s death does he find out what would be said on the other end of the line. When Nick is mistaken for the title character, ‘Slagle’ rapidly explains that ‘Young Parke’s in trouble’ and that ‘they picked him up when he handed the bonds over the counter.’
Words such as ‘trouble’ and ‘picked him up’ suggest that one of Gatsby’s subordinates may have landed himself on the wrong side of the law. Furthermore, the ‘frightened’ nature of Gatsby’s so-called ‘friend’ Klipspringer again alludes to the criminality of Gatsby’s business acquaintances. Over the telephone, Klipspringer even ‘demanded to know who I was before he would give his name.’ For such reasons, when Wolfsheim recalls how close he and Gatsby were, ‘thick like that in everything’, the narrator ‘wondered if this partnership had included the World’s Series transaction in 1919.’
Such implications about the way Gatsby has accrued his fortune also expose his deceit. In fact, early in the plot the title character lies to Carraway by saying that his wealth was inherited, that he is ‘the son of some wealthy people in the Middle West – all dead now.’ He also states that he was ‘brought up in America but educated at Oxford, because all my ancestors have been educated there for many years.’ In reality Gatsby rose from an impoverished childhood in rural North Dakota.
His dishonesty is closely linked to his lack of authenticity. Indeed, Nick notices the manufactured aspects of his personality, put on to promote the image of the ‘Oxford’ man which he claims to be. The writer’s use of voice underlines his slightly forced characteristics. These include his affected accent – ‘an elaborate formality of speech’ which ‘just missed being absurd’ and his habit of calling people ‘old sport’. Moreover, Fitzgerald’s use of scene and place, his library specifically, alludes to the idea that he is not genuine.
Owl-Eyes, one of his invited guests, is surprised that the millionaire’s books are ‘absolutely real – have pages and everything’, rather than being made out of ‘nice durable cardboard.’ This reaction implies a belief that so much about him is fake. Even when he realises its authenticity, Owl-Eyes compares him to ‘a regular Belasco’, a Broadway producer known for the realism of his sets. Thus, though he is putting on act, this theatrical persona which he has mastered is still a very convincing act. Indeed, The novel’s title itself – ‘The Great Gatsby’ – is suggestive of the sort of vaudeville billing for a performer or magician like ‘The Great Houdini’, again subtly emphasising the showy and perhaps illusory quality of Gatsby’s life.
But despite both the nature of his work and this theatrical quality, Nick still suggests that Gatsby does not share the same level of moral decadence as the ‘whole damn bunch’ in his circle. Chapter Three serves to separate his personality from that of his guests. Anaphora underlines how he remains an outsider at his own function, Nick asserting that ‘no one swooned backward on Gatsby, and no French bob touched Gatsby’s shoulder, and no singing quartets were formed with Gatsby’s head for one link.’ Antithesis also contrasts Gatsby from the company he entertains; while ‘no one swooned backward on Gatsby’, girls were ‘swooning backward playfully into men’s arms’ Indeed, unlike the decadents he entertains, ‘he grew more correct as fraternal hilarity increased’.
Gatsby’s acquaintances also reveal his merits. Meyer Wolfsheim stresses the basic nobility which defines his character, telling Carraway that he is ‘a man of fine breeding’, ‘the kind of man you’d like to take home and introduce to your mother and sister.’ Moreover, before the funeral, Gatsby’s father also underlines his son’s good nature by stating that ‘ever since he made a success he was very generous with me’. But he also reveals Gatsby’s great ambition and desire for self-improvement. Mr Gatz tells Nick that ‘Jimmy was bound to get ahead. He always had some resolves like this or something’ and that he placed great emphasis on ‘improving his mind’. Indeed, the ‘schedule’ – including activities such as ‘dumbell exercise and wall-scaling’, ‘study electricity’, ‘practise elocution, poise and how to attain it‘ and ‘study needed inventions’ – which he made ‘when he was a boy’ reveals that even before he knew what he wanted to be, Gatsby always desired to make something of himself.
Furthermore, Chapter Five serves to explain that his method of acquiring millions of dollars, his lavish weekly parties and lifestyle and his manufactured persona are all merely means to a more worthy end. This end is winning back Daisy Buchanan. Indeed, in contrast with Tom’s cruel and unthoughtful treatment of his wife, Nick characterises Gatsby most of all with the admirable qualities of love for and loyalty to her. The title character’s speech alludes to his attempts to ensure that the reunion is perfect, the man asking Nick whether he has ‘got everything you need’.
He specifically checks the day’s forecast in the hope that sunshine will emerge during the reunion, informing Nick that ‘they thought the rain would stop about four.’ The writer also uses scenes and places to enhance Gatsby’s need for perfection. For example, the reunion takes place at Nick’s house, perhaps reflecting how Gatsby wanted to meet the love of his life in a more secluded and romantic environment than his gaudy mansion. But Gatsby may also have organised the reunion at Nick’s house to impress Daisy, to give her a view of his ‘huge place’. He himself proclaims that his ‘house looks well’.
However, the use of a first-person, self-conscious and retrospective narrator emphasises his efforts most of all. Gatsby almost redecorates Nick’s place, not only sending a man ‘over to cut my grass’ – to make sure the lawn outside was smart – but also adorning the interior with flowers, ‘with innumerable receptacles’. Hyperbole emphasises the extent of this renovation, as if a whole ‘greenhouse arrived.’ Further in the chapter, the author underlines the intensity of his love by presenting Nick’s speculation about Gatsby’s intentions as Gatsby’s actual thoughts. When Daisy goes from Nick’s place to her lover’s, Nick states: ‘I think he revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes’, as if everything he has ever bought or owned has been simply to please her.
Moreover, Gatsby’s decision to take the blame for Daisy over the death of Myrtle Wilson – telling Nick that ‘I’ll say I was’ driving – demonstrates the deep love he still feels for her and illustrates the basic nobility that defines his character. The image of a pitiable Gatsby keeping watch outside her house while she and Tom sit comfortably within is an indelible image that allows the reader to look past Gatsby’s criminality. Indeed, the fact that he wants ‘to wait here till Daisy goes to bed’, to protect her even after it appears that Daisy is not going to leave Tom, is a final testament to his undying love for her. Nick leaves Gatsby to watch over Daisy, as if his ‘presence marred the sacredness of the vigil’, the last statement suggesting that his devotion has moved to the extremes of religious worship.
And yet, Nick’s final criticism of Gatsby questions the realism of such deep and uncompromising devotion. The parallels between his love for Daisy and religious worship – the title character ‘consumed with wonder at her presence’ – suggest that Gatsby, a man who stakes everything on his ‘dreams’, now appears to have dreamed too big. Even at the beginning of their reunion, Nick recognises the unrealistic nature of his ‘dream’. The way Fitzgerald presents Nick’s speculation about Gatsby’s intentions as Gatsby’s actual thoughts helps demonstrate that ‘there must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams’.
Although Daisy possesses a number of virtues, although it is ‘not her own fault’, even she cannot match Gatsby’s ‘dream’. The narrator suggests that his ‘dream’ was so alive, that ‘his illusion’ had such a ‘colossal vitality’, that ‘it had gone beyond her, beyond everything.’ The repetition of ‘beyond’ emphasises that she cannot live up to Gatsby’s idealised expectations. The author’s use of poetic prose further emphasises how much the man has romanticized her.
Indeed, metaphor likens Gatsby to an artist who decks his image ‘with every bright feather that drifted his way’, with every possible virtue. The alliteration of ‘f’ in the narration emphasises how permanent this idealised image has become, Nick asserting that ‘no amount of fire or freshness can challenge it’. Indeed, he expects too much, wanting ‘nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: ‘I never loved you.’ Tragically such expectations lead Daisy to change her mind, breaking down under his own pressure in Chapter Seven, exclaiming to Gatsby that ‘you want too much!’
But in Chapter Eight, Nick goes a step further, suggesting that Daisy, the object of his ‘dream’ is unworthy of his power of dreaming. Fitzgerald’s use of time and sequence, the narrative switching to Gatsby’s ‘story of his youth’, emphasises the influence of Daisy’s wealth and privilege on Gatsby. The narrator states that ‘her porch was bright with the bought luxury of star-shine’, and that she ‘vanished into her rich house, into her rich, full life’, the repetition of ‘rich’ reflecting the aura of affluence which Gatsby is drawn to.
Indeed, it becomes clear that Gatsby idolises both wealth and Daisy, the title character almost quantifying her, the fact that many men already loved Daisy increasing ‘her value in his eyes’. Indeed, his attraction to Daisy may be caused in part because of what she represents, the exclusive upper class which he aspires to be a part of. Daisy thus appears almost shallow and fickle, and because she is the focus of Gatsby’s life, his dream is simply reduced to a motivation for material gain.
After Gatsby’s death, Nick writes that Gatsby must have realized “what a grotesque thing a rose is.” The rose has been a conventional symbol of beauty. Nick suggests that roses aren’t inherently beautiful, and that people only view them that way because they choose to do so. Daisy is “grotesque” in the same way: Gatsby has invested her with beauty and meaning by making her the object of his dream. Had Gatsby not imbued her with such value, Daisy would be simply an idle, bored, rich young woman with no particular moral strength or loyalty.
But this capacity to ‘dream’, this ceaseless effort to recreate the past, reflects the vitality and optimism which Nick most respects about Gatsby. The active narrator first notices this quality when they meet in Chapter Three. Fitzgerald’s use of first person, self-aware and narration reveals Gatsby’s rare ability to make anyone he smiles at feel as though he has chosen that person out of ‘the whole external world’; it reflects that person’s most optimistic conception of him or herself. His smile ‘believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself’ and ‘assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.’ And because of such ability to hope, when Gatsby waves goodbye to his guests, Nick emphasises the contrast between the immorality of his work and the virtue of his motivation. While ‘they guessed at his corruption’, ‘he had stood on those steps, concealing his incorruptible dream’.
Nick alludes to such undying hope in the last lines of the novel, the narrator strolling along Gatbsy’s lawn one final time, just as the title character had done when Nick first sees him in Chapter One. And as he sprawls out on the beach behind Gatsby’s house, he muses that Gatsby had failed to realize that even before his reunion with Daisy, his dream had already ended, ‘that it was already behind him’, and that his goals had become hollow and empty. But though this dream had ‘eluded us then’, Nick envisions that people everywhere are motivated by similar dreams and that ‘tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further’. In this way, though there is an ambiguity over whether men such as Gatsby will ever reach their ‘dream’ – Fitzgerald leaving the phrase, ‘and one fine morning -’, open-ended – Nick Carraway recognises that the importance lies not in reaching the ‘dream’ but in refusing to lose heart.
In the same way, Gatsby’s own audacity and nobility of spirit to dream of creating a radically different future for himself, to dream of a life with Daisy, never let up. This is why one can agree with Nick’s viewpoint to a great extent. Even though his dream ends in failure – because his methods are criminal, because he can never gain acceptance into the American aristocracy, and because his new identity is largely a theatrical act – his deep-rooted ambition, his loyalty to Daisy and, uniting the two together, the strength of his capacity to dream, are what set him above the members of West Egg and East Egg. Gatsby is a visionary. This is why he is “worth the whole damn bunch put together”.
Subject: The Great Gatsby,
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 25 November 2016
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