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Could you please tell me the literal and metaphorical meaning of "random shot" in the...

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coutelle | Valedictorian

Posted June 21, 2013 at 8:46 PM via web

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Could you please tell me the literal and metaphorical meaning of "random shot" in the beginning of the chapter Six of The Great Gatsby? Does this phrase have a premonitory value (Gatsby shot dead)?

It was a random shot, and yet the reporter’s instinct was right. Gatsby’s notoriety, spread about by the hundreds who had accepted his hospitality and so become authorities on his past, had increased all summer until he fell just short of being news.

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 22, 2013 at 12:11 AM (Answer #1)

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The phrase has no premonitory value connected with Gatsby being shot. The reporter could have had no premonition that anything dramatic was going to happen in that mansion. He would have had to be psychic. Nick himself is writing from hindsight. He knows what was going to happen not long after the reporter's visit, and so he can say:

It was a random shot, and yet the reporter's instinct was right.

The instiinct might have suggested to the young man that with all the gossip being spread about Gatsby, something remarkable ought to happen out there sooner or later. Perhaps this reporter was hoping to separate fact from fiction. Nick sketches some of the wild stories being told about Gatsby by people who considered themselves authorities because they had been to one of his parties.

Contemporary legends such as the "underground pipe-line to Canada" attached themselves to him, and there was one persistent story that he didn't live in a house at all but in a boat that looked like a house and was moved secretly up and down the Long Island shore. Just why these inventions were a source of satisfaction to James Gatz of North Dakota isn't easy to say.

James Gatz, or Jay Gatsby, was becoming what we nowadays call a "celebrity," and celebrities have a way of attracting tragedy. Recent examples are John Lennon, Princess Diane, and John F. Kennedy, Jr. Meyer Wolfsheim liked having Gatsby as a sort of front man. Wolfsheim himself favored obscurity, and he refused to come to Gatsby's funeral because Gatsby's murder had attracted too much publicity. Gatsby liked being a celebrity because he thought it made him shine in Daisy's eyes--but it made it easy for Tom Buchanan to investigate him and for George Wilson to murder him. Gatsby was nouveau riche in the worst possible sense. He didn't know how inappropriately he was behaving with his gaudy mansion, his flashy clothes, and his obscene yellow car--but others did, including Daisy herself.

Perhaps Fitzgerald's reason for beginning Chapter Six with the little episode involving the young reporter was to illustrate that Gatsby was playing with fire, that he should have taken this incongruous visit as an ominous sign, a warning that he was heading for a fall, something like the Soothsayer's "Beware the Ides of March" in Julius Caesar.

Nick specifies that the reporter is young and ambitious. He must also be new and inexperienced. The American vernacular contains the word "shot" in many idiomatic expressions. The closest to "random shot" would be "a shot in the dark," "I'll take a shot at it," and "longshot." A random shot would be literally a wild shot with hardly any chance of hitting the intended target.

The young reporter wanted to get noticed by his editor. He wanted to dig up news, or make news. He was tired of just sitting on a hard chair in the news room, probably not even having a desk or telephone of his own. He wanted to prove he could be a self-starter--though he was young, naive, new to reporting, and really didn't know how to go about finding news. An older reporter wouldn't have taken such a wild, random shot, because an older reporter would have had better leads, better sources, better hunches. Nick shows the young reporter's ambition when he says:

This was his day off and with laudable initiative he had hurried out "to see."

The idea of a young reporter ringing Gatsby's doorbell and asking for a "statement" is comical.

"Anything to say about what?" inquired Gatsby politely.

 

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