There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his two motor-boats slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. On weekends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains. And on Mondays eight servants, including an extra gardener, toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden-shears, repairing the ravages of the night before.
Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York—every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was 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.
At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough colored lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby’s enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors d’œuvres, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold. In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another.
By seven o’clock the orchestra has arrived, no thin five-piece affair, but a whole pitful of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos, and low and high drums. The last swimmers have come in from the beach now and are dressing upstairs; the cars from New York are parked five deep in the drive, and already the halls and salons and verandas are gaudy with primary colors, and hair shorn in strange new ways, and shawls beyond the dreams of Castile. The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside, until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names.
The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher. Laughter is easier minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word. The groups change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath; already there are wanderers, confident girls who weave here and there among the stouter and more stable, become for a sharp, joyous moment the center of a group, and then, excited with triumph, glide on through the sea-change of faces and voices and color under the constantly changing light.
Suddenly one of these gypsies, in trembling opal, seizes a cocktail out of the air, dumps it down for courage and, moving her hands like Frisco, dances out alone on the canvas platform. A momentary hush; the orchestra leader varies his rhythm obligingly for her, and there is a burst of chatter as the erroneous news goes around that she is Gilda Gray’s understudy from the Follies. The party has begun.
I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby’s house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited—they went there. They got into automobiles which bore them out to Long Island, and somehow they ended up at Gatsby’s door. Once there they were introduced by somebody who knew Gatsby, and after that they conducted themselves according to the rules of behavior associated with amusement parks. Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all, came for the party with a simplicity of heart that was its own ticket of admission.
I had been actually invited. A chauffeur in a uniform of robin’s-egg blue crossed my lawn early that Saturday morning with a surprisingly formal note from his employer: the honor would be entirely Gatsby’s, it said, if I would attend his “little party” that night. He had seen me several times, and had intended to call on me long before, but a peculiar combination of circumstances had prevented it—signed Jay Gatsby, in a majestic hand.
Dressed up in white flannels I went over to his lawn a little after seven, and wandered around rather ill at ease among swirls and eddies of people I didn’t know—though here and there was a face I had noticed on the commuting train. I was immediately struck by the number of young Englishmen dotted about; all well dressed, all looking a little hungry, and all talking in low, earnest voices to solid and prosperous Americans. I was sure that they were selling something: bonds or insurance or automobiles. They were at least agonizingly aware of the easy money in the vicinity and convinced that it was theirs for a few words in the right key.
As soon as I arrived I made an attempt to find my host, but the two or three people of whom I asked his whereabouts stared at me in such an amazed way, and denied so vehemently any knowledge of his movements, that I slunk off in the direction of the cocktail table—the only place in the garden where a single man could linger without looking purposeless and alone.
I was on my way to get roaring drunk from sheer embarrassment when Jordan Baker came out of the house and stood at the head of the marble steps, leaning a little backward and looking with contemptuous interest down into the garden.
Welcome or not, I found it necessary to attach myself to someone before I should begin to address cordial remarks to the passers-by.
“Hello!” I roared, advancing toward her. My voice seemed unnaturally loud across the garden.
“I thought you might be here,” she responded absently as I came up. “I remembered you lived next door to——”
She held my hand impersonally, as a promise that she’d take care of me in a minute, and gave ear to two girls in twin yellow dresses, who stopped at the foot of the steps.
“Hello!” they cried together. “Sorry you didn’t win.”
That was for the golf tournament. She had lost in the finals the week before.
“You don’t know who we are,” said one of the girls in yellow, “but we met you here about a month ago.”
“You’ve dyed your hair since then,” remarked Jordan, and I started, but the girls had moved casually on and her remark was addressed to the premature moon, produced like the supper, no doubt, out of a caterer’s basket. With Jordan’s slender golden arm resting in mine, we descended the steps and sauntered about the garden. A tray of cocktails floated at us through the twilight, and we sat down at a table with the two girls in yellow and three men, each one introduced to us as Mr. Mumble.
“Do you come to these parties often?” inquired Jordan of the girl beside her.
“The last one was the one I met you at,” answered the girl, in an alert confident voice. She turned to her companion: “Wasn’t it for you, Lucille?”
It was for Lucille, too.
“I like to come,” Lucille said. “I never care what I do, so I always have a good time. When I was here last I tore my gown on a chair, and he asked me my name and address—inside of a week I got a package from Croirier’s with a new evening gown in it.”
“Did you keep it?” asked Jordan.
“Sure I did. I was going to wear it tonight, but it was too big in the bust and had to be altered. It was gas blue with lavender beads. Two hundred and sixty-five dollars.”
“There’s something funny about a fellow that’ll do a thing like that,” said the other girl eagerly. “He doesn’t want any trouble with anybody.”
“Who doesn’t?” I inquired.
“Gatsby. Somebody told me——”
The two girls and Jordan leaned together confidentially.
“Somebody told me they thought he killed a man once.”
A thrill passed over all of us. The three Mr. Mumbles bent forward and listened eagerly.
“I don’t think it’s so much that,” argued Lucille skeptically; “it’s more that he was a German spy during the war.”
One of the men nodded in confirmation.
“I heard that from a man who knew all about him, grew up with him in Germany,” he assured us positively.
“Oh, no,” said the first girl, “it couldn’t be that, because he was in the American army during the war.” As our credulity switched back to her she leaned forward with enthusiasm. “You look at him sometimes when he thinks nobody’s looking at him. I’ll bet he killed a man.”
She narrowed her eyes and shivered. Lucille shivered. We all turned and looked around for Gatsby. It was testimony to the romantic speculation he inspired that there were whispers about him from those who had found little that it was necessary to whisper about in this world.
The first supper—there would be another one after midnight—was now being served, and Jordan invited me to join her own party, who were spread around a table on the other side of the garden. There were three married couples and Jordan’s escort, a persistent undergraduate given to violent innuendo, and obviously under the impression that sooner or later Jordan was going to yield him up her person to a greater or lesser degree. Instead of rambling this party had preserved a dignified homogeneity, and assumed to itself the function of representing the staid nobility of the country-side—East Egg condescending to West Egg, and carefully on guard against its spectroscopic gayety.
“Let’s get out,” whispered Jordan, after a somehow wasteful and inappropriate half-hour; “this is much too polite for me.”
We got up, and she explained that we were going to find the host: I had never met him, she said, and it was making me uneasy. The undergraduate nodded in a cynical, melancholy way.
The bar, where we glanced first, was crowded, but Gatsby was not there. She couldn’t find him from the top of the steps, and he wasn’t on the veranda. On a chance we tried an important-looking door, and walked into a high Gothic library, panelled with carved English oak, and probably transported complete from some ruin overseas.
A stout, middle-aged man, with enormous owl-eyed spectacles, was sitting somewhat drunk on the edge of a great table, staring with unsteady concentration at the shelves of books. As we entered he wheeled excitedly around and examined Jordan from head to foot.
“What do you think?” he demanded impetuously.
He waved his hand toward the bookshelves.
“About that. As a matter of fact you needn’t bother to ascertain. I ascertained. They’re real.”
“Absolutely real—have pages and everything. I thought they’d be a nice durable cardboard. Matter of fact, they’re absolutely real. Pages and— Here! Lemme show you.”
Taking our skepticism for granted, he rushed to the bookcases and returned with Volume One of the “Stoddard Lectures.”
“See!” he cried triumphantly. “It’s a bona-fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me. This fella’s a regular Belasco. It’s a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop, too—didn’t cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?”
He snatched the book from me and replaced it hastily on its shelf, muttering that if one brick was removed the whole library was liable to collapse.
“Who brought you?” he demanded. “Or did you just come? I was brought. Most people were brought.”
Jordan looked at him alertly, cheerfully, without answering.
“I was brought by a woman named Roosevelt,” he continued. “Mrs. Claud Roosevelt. Do you know her? I met her somewhere last night. I’ve been drunk for about a week now, and I thought it might sober me up to sit in a library.”
“A little bit, I think. I can’t tell yet. I’ve only been here an hour. Did I tell you about the books? They’re real. They’re——”
“You told us.”
We shook hands with him gravely and went back outdoors.
There was dancing now on the canvas in the garden; old men pushing young girls backward in eternal graceless circles, superior couples holding each other tortuously, fashionably, and keeping in the corners—and a great number of single girls dancing individualistically or relieving the orchestra for a moment of the burden of the banjo or the traps. By midnight the hilarity had increased. A celebrated tenor had sung in Italian, and a notorious contralto had sung in jazz, and between the numbers people were doing “stunts” all over the garden, while happy, vacuous bursts of laughter rose toward the summer sky. A pair of stage twins, who turned out to be the girls in yellow, did a baby act in costume, and champagne was served in glasses bigger than finger-bowls. The moon had risen higher, and floating in the Sound was a triangle of silver scales, trembling a little to the stiff, tinny drip of the banjoes on the lawn.
I was still with Jordan Baker. We were sitting at a table with a man of about my age and a rowdy little girl, who gave way upon the slightest provocation to uncontrollable laughter. I was enjoying myself now. I had taken two finger-bowls of champagne, and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental, and profound.
At a lull in the entertainment the man looked at me and smiled.
“Your face is familiar,” he said, politely. “Weren’t you in the Third Division during the war?”
“Why, yes. I was in the Ninth Machine-Gun Battalion.”
“I was in the Seventh Infantry until June nineteen-eighteen. I knew I’d seen you somewhere before.”
We talked for a moment about some wet, gray little villages in France. Evidently he lived in this vicinity, for he told me that he had just bought a hydroplane, and was going to try it out in the morning.
“Want to go with me, old sport? Just near the shore along the Sound.”
“Any time that suits you best.”
It was on the tip of my tongue to ask his name when Jordan looked around and smiled.
“Having a gay time now?” she inquired.
“Much better.” I turned again to my new acquaintance. “This is an unusual party for me. I haven’t even seen the host. I live over there—” I waved my hand at the invisible hedge in the distance, “and this man Gatsby sent over his chauffeur with an invitation.”
For a moment he looked at me as if he failed to understand.
“I’m Gatsby,” he said suddenly.
“What!” I exclaimed. “Oh, I beg your pardon.”
“I thought you knew, old sport. I’m afraid I’m not a very good host.”
He smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced—or seemed to face—the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, 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. Precisely at that point it vanished—and I was looking at an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. Some time before he introduced himself I’d got a strong impression that he was picking his words with care.
Almost at the moment when Mr. Gatsby identified himself, a butler hurried toward him with the information that Chicago was calling him on the wire. He excused himself with a small bow that included each of us in turn.
“If you want anything just ask for it, old sport,” he urged me. “Excuse me. I will rejoin you later.”
When he was gone I turned immediately to Jordan—constrained to assure her of my surprise. I had expected that Mr. Gatsby would be a florid and corpulent person in his middle years.
“Who is he?” I demanded. “Do you know?”
“He’s just a man named Gatsby.”
“Where is he from, I mean? And what does he do?”
“Now you’re started on the subject,” she answered with a wan smile. “Well, he told me once he was an Oxford man.”
A dim background started to take shape behind him, but at her next remark it faded away.
“However, I don’t believe it.”
“I don’t know,” she insisted, “I just don’t think he went there.”
Something in her tone reminded me of the other girl’s “I think he killed a man,” and had the effect of stimulating my curiosity. I would have accepted without question the information that Gatsby sprang from the swamps of Louisiana or from the Lower East Side of New York. That was comprehensible. But young men didn’t—at least in my provincial inexperience I believed they didn’t—drift coolly out of nowhere and buy a palace on Long Island Sound.
“Anyhow, he gives large parties,” said Jordan, changing the subject with an urban distaste for the concrete. “And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”
There was the boom of a bass drum, and the voice of the orchestra leader rang out suddenly above the echolalia of the garden.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he cried. “At the request of Mr. Gatsby we are going to play for you Mr. Vladimir Tostoff’s latest work, which attracted so much attention at Carnegie Hall last May. If you read the papers you know there was a big sensation.” He smiled with jovial condescension, and added: “Some sensation!” Whereupon everybody laughed.
“The piece is known,” he concluded lustily, “as ‘Vladimir Tostoff’s Jazz History of the World.’”
The nature of Mr. Tostoff’s composition eluded me, because just as it began my eyes fell on Gatsby, standing alone on the marble steps and looking from one group to another with approving eyes. His tanned skin was drawn attractively tight on his face and his short hair looked as though it were trimmed every day. I could see nothing sinister about him. I wondered if the fact that he was not drinking helped to set him off from his guests, for it seemed to me that he grew more correct as the fraternal hilarity increased. When the “Jazz History of the World” was over, girls were putting their heads on men’s shoulders in a puppyish, convivial way, girls were swooning backward playfully into men’s arms, even into groups, knowing that someone would arrest their falls—but 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.
“I beg your pardon.”
Gatsby’s butler was suddenly standing beside us.
“Miss Baker?” he inquired. “I beg your pardon, but Mr. Gatsby would like to speak to you alone.”
“With me?” she exclaimed in surprise.
She got up slowly, raising her eyebrows at me in astonishment, and followed the butler toward the house. I noticed that she wore her evening dress, all her dresses, like sports clothes—there was a jauntiness about her movements as if she had first learned to walk upon golf courses on clean, crisp mornings.
I was alone and it was almost two. For some time confused and intriguing sounds had issued from a long, many-windowed room which overhung the terrace. Eluding Jordan’s undergraduate, who was now engaged in an obstetrical conversation with two chorus girls, and who implored me to join him, I went inside.
The large room was full of people. One of the girls in yellow was playing the piano, and beside her stood a tall, red-haired young lady from a famous chorus, engaged in song. She had drunk a quantity of champagne, and during the course of her song she had decided, ineptly, that everything was very, very sad—she was not only singing, she was weeping too. Whenever there was a pause in the song she filled it with gasping, broken sobs, and then took up the lyric again in a quavering soprano. The tears coursed down her cheeks—not freely, however, for when they came into contact with her heavily beaded eyelashes they assumed an inky color, and pursued the rest of their way in slow black rivulets. A humorous suggestion was made that she sing the notes on her face, whereupon she threw up her hands, sank into a chair, and went off into a deep vinous sleep.
“She had a fight with a man who says he’s her husband,” explained a girl at my elbow.
I looked around. Most of the remaining women were now having fights with men said to be their husbands. Even Jordan’s party, the quartet from East Egg, were rent asunder by dissension. One of the men was talking with curious intensity to a young actress, and his wife, after attempting to laugh at the situation in a dignified and indifferent way, broke down entirely and resorted to flank attacks—at intervals she appeared suddenly at his side like an angry diamond, and hissed: “You promised!” into his ear.
The reluctance to go home was not confined to wayward men. The hall was at present occupied by two deplorably sober men and their highly indignant wives. The wives were sympathizing with each other in slightly raised voices.
“Whenever he sees I’m having a good time he wants to go home.”
“Never heard anything so selfish in my life.”
“We’re always the first ones to leave.”
“So are we.”
“Well, we’re almost the last tonight,” said one of the men sheepishly. “The orchestra left half an hour ago.”
In spite of the wives’ agreement that such malevolence was beyond credibility, the dispute ended in a short struggle, and both wives were lifted, kicking, into the night.
As I waited for my hat in the hall the door of the library opened and Jordan Baker and Gatsby came out together. He was saying some last word to her, but the eagerness in his manner tightened abruptly into formality as several people approached him to say good-by.
Jordan’s party were calling impatiently to her from the porch, but she lingered for a moment to shake hands.
“I’ve just heard the most amazing thing,” she whispered. “How long were we in there?”
“Why, about an hour.”
“It was . . . simply amazing,” she repeated abstractedly. “But I swore I wouldn’t tell it and here I am tantalizing you.” She yawned gracefully in my face. “Please come and see me. . . . Phone book. . . . Under the name of Mrs. Sigourney Howard. . . . My aunt. . . .” She was hurrying off as she talked—her brown hand waved a jaunty salute as she melted into her party at the door.
Rather ashamed that on my first appearance I had stayed so late, I joined the last of Gatsby’s guests, who were clustered around him. I wanted to explain that I’d hunted for him early in the evening and to apologize for not having known him in the garden.
“Don’t mention it,” he enjoined me eagerly. “Don’t give it another thought, old sport.” The familiar expression held no more familiarity than the hand which reassuringly brushed my shoulder. “And don’t forget we’re going up in the hydroplane tomorrow morning, at nine o’clock.”
Then the butler, behind his shoulder:
“Philadelphia wants you on the phone, sir.”
“All right, in a minute. Tell them I’ll be right there. . . . Good night.”
“Good night.” He smiled—and suddenly there seemed to be a pleasant significance in having been among the last to go, as if he had desired it all the time. “Good night, old sport. . . . Good night.”
But as I walked down the steps I saw that the evening was not quite over. Fifty feet from the door a dozen headlights illuminated a bizarre and tumultuous scene. In the ditch beside the road, right side up, but violently shorn of one wheel, rested a new coupé which had left Gatsby’s drive not two minutes before. The sharp jut of a wall accounted for the detachment of the wheel, which was now getting considerable attention from half a dozen curious chauffeurs. However, as they had left their cars blocking the road, a harsh, discordant din from those in the rear had been audible for some time, and added to the already violent confusion of the scene.
A man in a long duster had dismounted from the wreck and now stood in the middle of the road, looking from the car to the tire and from the tire to the observers in a pleasant, puzzled way.
“See!” he explained. “It went in the ditch.”
The fact was infinitely astonishing to him, and I recognized first the unusual quality of wonder, and then the man—it was the late patron of Gatsby’s library.
“How’d it happen?”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“I know nothing whatever about mechanics,” he said decisively.
“But how did it happen? Did you run into the wall?”
“Don’t ask me,” said Owl Eyes, washing his hands of the whole matter. “I know very little about driving—next to nothing. It happened, and that’s all I know.”
“Well, if you’re a poor driver you oughtn’t to try driving at night.”
“But I wasn’t even trying,” he explained indignantly, “I wasn’t even trying.”
An awed hush fell upon the bystanders.
“Do you want to commit suicide?”
“You’re lucky it was just a wheel! A bad driver and not even trying!”
“You don’t understand,” explained the criminal. “I wasn’t driving. There’s another man in the car.”
The shock that followed this declaration found voice in a sustained “Ah-h-h!” as the door of the coupé swung slowly open. The crowd—it was now a crowd—stepped back involuntarily, and when the door had opened wide there was a ghostly pause. Then, very gradually, part by part, a pale, dangling individual stepped out of the wreck, pawing tentatively at the ground with a large uncertain dancing shoe.
Blinded by the glare of the headlights and confused by the incessant groaning of the horns, the apparition stood swaying for a moment before he perceived the man in the duster.
“Wha’s matter?” he inquired calmly. “Did we run outa gas?”
Half a dozen fingers pointed at the amputated wheel —he stared at it for a moment, and then looked upward as though he suspected that it had dropped from the sky.
“It came off,” someone explained.
“At first I din’ notice we’d stopped.”
A pause. Then, taking a long breath and straightening his shoulders, he remarked in a determined voice: “Wonder’ff tell me where there’s a gas’line station?”
At least a dozen men, some of them little better off than he was, explained to him that wheel and car were no longer joined by any physical bond.
“Back out,” he suggested after a moment. “Put her in reverse.”
“But the wheel’s off!”
“No harm in trying,” he said.
The caterwauling horns had reached a crescendo and I turned away and cut across the lawn toward home. I glanced back once. A wafer of a moon was shining over Gatsby’s house, making the night fine as before, and surviving the laughter and the sound of his still glowing garden. A sudden emptiness seemed to flow now from the windows and the great doors, endowing with complete isolation the figure of the host, who stood on the porch, his hand up in a formal gesture of farewell.
* * *
Reading over what I have written so far, I see I have given the impression that the events of three nights several weeks apart were all that absorbed me. On the contrary, they were merely casual events in a crowded summer, and, until much later, they absorbed me infinitely less than my personal affairs.
Most of the time I worked. In the early morning the sun threw my shadow westward as I hurried down the white chasms of lower New York to the Probity Trust. I knew the other clerks and young bond-salesmen by their first names, and lunched with them in dark, crowded restaurants on little pig sausages and mashed potatoes and coffee. I even had a short affair with a girl who lived in Jersey City and worked in the accounting department, but her brother began throwing mean looks in my direction, so when she went on her vacation in July I let it blow quietly away.
I took dinner usually at the Yale Club—for some reason it was the gloomiest event of my day—and then I went upstairs to the library and studied investments and securities for a conscientious hour. There were generally a few rioters around, but they never came into the library, so it was a good place to work. After that, if the night was mellow, I strolled down Madison Avenue past the old Murray Hill Hotel, and over Thirty-third Street to the Pennsylvania Station.
I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night, and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye. I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that in a few minutes I was going to enter into their lives, and no one would ever know or disapprove. Sometimes, in my mind, I followed them to their apartments on the corners of hidden streets, and they turned and smiled back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness. At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others—poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner—young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.
Again at eight o’clock, when the dark lanes of the Forties were lined five deep with throbbing taxicabs, bound for the theatre district, I felt a sinking in my heart. Forms leaned together in the taxis as they waited, and voices sang, and there was laughter from unheard jokes, and lighted cigarettes outlined unintelligible gestures inside. Imagining that I, too, was hurrying toward gayety and sharing their intimate excitement, I wished them well.
For a while I lost sight of Jordan Baker, and then in midsummer I found her again. At first I was flattered to go places with her, because she was a golf champion, and everyone knew her name. Then it was something more. I wasn’t actually in love, but I felt a sort of tender curiosity. The bored haughty face that she turned to the world concealed something—most affectations conceal something eventually, even though they don’t in the beginning—and one day I found what it was. When we were on a house-party together up in Warwick, she left a borrowed car out in the rain with the top down, and then lied about it—and suddenly I remembered the story about her that had eluded me that night at Daisy’s. At her first big golf tournament there was a row that nearly reached the newspapers—a suggestion that she had moved her ball from a bad lie in the semi-final round. The thing approached the proportions of a scandal—then died away. A caddy retracted his statement, and the only other witness admitted that he might have been mistaken. The incident and the name had remained together in my mind.
Jordan Baker instinctively avoided clever, shrewd men, and now I saw that this was because she felt safer on a plane where any divergence from a code would be thought impossible. She was incurably dishonest. She wasn’t able to endure being at a disadvantage and, given this unwillingness, I suppose she had begun dealing in subterfuges when she was very young in order to keep that cool, insolent smile turned to the world and yet satisfy the demands of her hard, jaunty body.
It made no difference to me. Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply—I was casually sorry, and then I forgot. It was on that same house-party that we had a curious conversation about driving a car. It started because she passed so close to some workmen that our fender flicked a button on one man’s coat.
“You’re a rotten driver,” I protested. “Either you ought to be more careful, or you oughtn’t to drive at all.”
“I am careful.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Well, other people are,” she said lightly.
“What’s that got to do with it?”
“They’ll keep out of my way,” she insisted. “It takes two to make an accident.”
“Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself.”
“I hope I never will,” she answered. “I hate careless people. That’s why I like you.”
Her gray, sun-strained eyes stared straight ahead, but she had deliberately shifted our relations, and for a moment I thought I loved her. But I am slow-thinking and full of interior rules that act as brakes on my desires, and I knew that first I had to get myself definitely out of that tangle back home. I’d been writing letters once a week and signing them: “Love, Nick,” and all I could think of was how, when that certain girl played tennis, a faint mustache of perspiration appeared on her upper lip. Nevertheless there was a vague understanding that had to be tactfully broken off before I was free.
Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.
— Owl Eyes Editors
Sight and seeing is a major motif in Gatsby. The spectacles on this man recall the huge glasses of Dr. T. J. Eckleberg in the valley of ashes, and offer a clue about his function in the story.
— Owl Eyes Editors
Nick’s disdainful label of a female partygoer as “a rowdy little girl” reflects the tone of the widespread misogyny of the 1920s. His characterization is especially consistent with the negative cultural stereotype of the “flapper girl” as self-absorbed and frivolous. Nick seems to apply this stereotype to the main female characters in The Great Gatsby as well as to the party guests: he is willing to deeply contemplate the emotions and motivations of Tom and Gatsby, and often reduces or ignores those of Daisy, Jordan, and Myrtle.
— Owl Eyes Editors
The bizarre car crash is an example of foreshadowing, or a device in which an author hints at an event that does not happen until later in the story. The crash may also be interpreted as a symbol of recklessness—the obvious drunkenness of the driver—and disregard for consequences—the driver’s inability to recognize the fact of his car being undrivable. Fitzgerald seems to associate both of these traits with 1920s American culture. It is also possible that Fitzgerald uses this particular symbol to hint that he anticipates a disastrous end to 1920s prosperity, which would occur with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression.
— Owl Eyes Editors
Unhappy marriages continue to abound in The Great Gatsby. After Myrtle’s speech at the impromptu gathering in New York City, it seems clear that marriage is to be associated not only with unfulfillment and misery but also betrayal and selfishness. Here, the tired and sometimes drunken quarrels between wives and husbands range from trivial—such as wives becoming angry that their husbands want to go home—to serious—such as a wife being upset that her husband is flirting with a young actress. Such a dismal portrayal of matrimony encourages readers to look for examples of genuine love, or at the very least to wonder if such an attachment is truly possible in the world of Gatsby.
— Owl Eyes Editors
Given the prominence of alcohol consumption at his party, Gatsby’s decision to not drink stands in stark contrast to the drunkenness that surrounds him. Nick wonders whether Gatsby’s sobriety “sets him off from his guests”: his clear-headedness seems to emphasize his detachment from those around him. On a thematic level, it is notable that Gatsby is excluded from the overindulgence and illusion symbolized by alcohol, despite his willingness to provide it for others.
— Owl Eyes Editors
France was one of the first nations drawn into World War I (1914–1918) when it declared war on Austria-Hungary on August 1, 1914. It joined Russia and Britain to form the Triple Entente, which later expanded to become the Allied Powers with Japan and Italy, along with associated allies that included the United States and Portugal.
— Owl Eyes Editors
A finger bowl is a bowl of water used to clean one’s fingers after the final course of a formal meal. Nick compares the glasses of champagne to finger bowls to indicate that they are large, and to further depict the excesses of the party.
— Owl Eyes Editors
The spectacled man’s cynical praise for Gatsby includes knowing “when to stop”: he “didn’t cut the pages” of his books. Uncut—or, technically, unopened—describes pages in a book that are still joined together along one or more edges where the larger paper on which they were printed is folded. A reader would have to cut these folds to be able to see all the book’s pages. By leaving the pages of his books unopened, Gatsby is protecting them as an investment but also proving that he hasn’t actually read them. To the man in the library, Gatsby’s collection is little more than a stage for his performance of worldliness, wealth, and importance.
— Owl Eyes Editors
David Belasco (1853–1931) was an American playwright, director, and producer with a reputation for realistic stage designs and productions. The spectacled man’s comparison is meant as a slight; he expected that Gatsby’s library is only for show, but was surprised to find that Gatsby has in fact stocked it with real books.
— Owl Eyes Editors
European Gothic architecture was popular in the High and Late Middle Ages (approximately 1100–1500 CE) and is chiefly characterized by its use of pointed, or ogival, arches. Gatsby’s library taking inspiration from such an old European style could be seen as an attempt on his part to associate himself with “old money” and older traditions, despite his West Egg residence.
— Owl Eyes Editors
It is interesting that Jordan characterizes her group as being “much too polite,” given that she is being rudely pursued by a man making “violent innuendo.” However, her boredom captures the ongoing examination of members of the “old money” class as being artificial and empty. Despite being from an established family in the West, here in New York, Nick could be considered to be of the new up-and-coming class and, Jordan hopes, more interesting than her other companions.
— Owl Eyes Editors
A spectroscope is an instrument usually used to create and study the full electromagnetic spectrum, as well as measure radiation intensity as a function of wavelength. In that sense, spectroscopy involves using a prism to study different types of light, such as infrared and ultraviolet light by breaking it into a range of colors—spectra. The noun “gayety” here refers to people exuberantly enjoying the party. The phrase “spectroscopic gayety” suggests that the party is colorful and diverse and that people are enjoying themselves in a number of different ways. Further, applying the esoteric, scientific word “spectroscopic” develops Nick’s character as a well-educated, perhaps condescending narrator.
— Owl Eyes Editors
“Homogeneity” means the quality of sameness, that things in a group are similar or the same. Jordan’s group (despite the undergraduate spouting his “violent innuendo”) is contrasted with “rambling” guests because they have remained together, aloof from the other partygoers. They represent “the staid nobility of the countryside,” or the highest classes of East Egg looking down on this fashionable but less refined West Egg party.
— Owl Eyes Editors
An “innuendo” is an indirect remark, usually one that suggests something disparaging or scandalous. Here, the “persistent undergraduate” is saying sexually suggestive things in front of the group and expects Jordan will eventually “yield him up her person to a greater or lesser degree”—meaning that he expects her to have sexual intercourse with him. Nick’s characterization of the innuendo as “violent” indicates that the undergraduate is being obvious as opposed to discreet about his suggestions. The word choice further hints at the violence many women still face today at the hands of entitled men.
— Owl Eyes Editors
Lucille means that she believes—or at least has heard—that Gatsby spied on behalf of Germany in World War I. During the war, Germany led the Central Powers of Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria, and their enemies were the Allied Powers that included France, Italy, Russia, Japan, and the United States. Therefore, the rumor that Gatsby was a German spy suggests that he could have committed treason. The women’s spreading of baseless but salacious gossip seems to be a nod to the country’s growing love not only of gossip, but also of constructing fictional personas around the celebrities it worships.
— Owl Eyes Editors
Gatsby seems interested in cultivating a reputation as a generous person, both by hosting massive parties and by giving gifts. Gatsby’s penchant for giving, however, doesn’t reassure readers that Gatsby’s character is truly generous; nor does it reassure his guests, who view his extravagant gifts with suspicion. It seems that Gatsby participates in the same superficiality, whether purposefully or not, as his guests.
— Owl Eyes Editors
Though many Americans lived in poverty during the 1920s, the healthy post–World War I economy gave the perception that money and success were easily obtained; one must only work hard, or perhaps get lucky in the stock market, to make a fortune. The Great Gatsby makes clear distinctions, however, between allegedly dubious sources of this “new money” and the seemingly respectable “old money” passed down through powerful families.
— Owl Eyes Editors
Nick repeatedly emphasizes the strangeness of the social interactions happening at Gatsby’s parties. Many guests are not only content to be strangers to each other, but also to the man whose hospitality they enjoy. The fact that Gatsby’s huge house is full of strangers who do not care about him indicates that his social life is superficial; he lacks meaningful connections with other people, which Fitzgerald seems to identify as an unspoken cost of pursuing wealth.
— Owl Eyes Editors
The dancer and actress Gilda Gray was famous during the 1920s, notably for her popularization of a dance called the “shimmy,” which became her trademark. The “Follies” refers to the Ziegfeld Follies, a theatrical revue that ran on Broadway in the early 20th century. The style of a “Follies” performance was a blend between what one might see in a Broadway play, a vaudeville show, and a variety show. The “erroneous news” that the dancer is Gilda Gray’s understudy both situates the events of the novel in time—Gray appeared in the 1922 Follies—and reminds readers of the novel’s fixation on celebrity culture and gossip, which was becoming increasingly influential in the United States.
— Owl Eyes Editors
The noun “prodigality” refers to wasteful spending. Here, the word describes the tipsy laughter of Gatsby’s guests as they listen to the orchestra. When Nick says that the party-goers “spilled” their laughter “with prodigality,” he may be suggesting that they are complicit in Gatsby’s overspending simply by taking advantage of his extravagant hospitality.
— Owl Eyes Editors
The narration often represents the superficiality of the upper class through its portrayal of women—or, specifically, through what Nick and Gatsby say about women. As seen through Nick’s eyes, it seems that none of the women in The Great Gatsby are without superficiality; even Myrtle Wilson, who seems full of “intense vitality” when Nick first meets her, devolves into artifice. Here, anonymous women who do not know each other’s names engage in enthusiastic conversation, presumably without ever bothering to get to know each other outside of Gatsby’s parties. The effect sets Gatsby’s parties apart from the rest of the world in a way that could seem fresh and exciting, but it also reveals a potential lack of authenticity in the guests’ relationships with one another.
— Owl Eyes Editors
Nick alludes to brightly colored Spanish shawls, like those called Manila shawls, which are made of embroidered silk and have long, knotted fringes. They were in vogue during the 1920s, and Nick describes those of Gatsby’s guests as being “beyond the dreams of Castile” in order to convey the extent of the partygoers’ luxury and wealth, as well as their possible distance from their places of origin.
— Owl Eyes Editors
A cornet is a brass instrument that resembles a trumpet, though its tube is slightly more cone-like and its tone is less bright. Gatsby’s hiring of an orchestra to perform for his guests seems to represent the more literal aspects of his own performance—that is, his performance of opulence and status.
— Owl Eyes Editors
The French noun hors-d’oeuvre refers to a small, usually savory appetizer served before a main meal. Nick spends a lot of time describing the many types of food—most of it expensive—that Gatsby serves to his guests. Some of Gatsby’s food-related preparations seem pointless or self-indulgent, such as the butler having to squeeze 200 oranges to make fresh orange juice. The plentiful array of food at Gatsby’s parties perhaps represents not only the wasteful decadence enjoyed by upper classes in any time, but also the specific prosperity associated with American life following World War I.
— Owl Eyes Editors
Nick refers to the mess made at Gatsby’s house each weekend. The specific word choice, however, implies that another type of damage has been done that extends deeper than the disorder left after a large gathering. Gatsby’s parties are ultimately frivolous and superficial, a spectacle of wealth and status rather than a show of generosity. The people who attend his parties are also frivolous and superficial: they drink copiously, behave outrageously, and spread rumors about Gatsby while taking advantage of his hospitality. The “ravages” of the parties suggest a moral degradation, not only within the upper classes, but throughout American society in general.
— Owl Eyes Editors
Jay Gatsby’s house has symbolic significance throughout the novel. The fact that Gatsby is able to acquire such a mansion without inheriting familial wealth suggests that his house symbolizes the promise of the American dream: that anyone can achieve success. However, the fact that he regularly fills his house with rich people who do not even know him suggests that money, as well as the pursuit of wealth, does not provide emotional or spiritual fulfillment.