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Could you please tell me the meaning of "beating his way" and "lived naturally" in the...

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coutelle | Valedictorian

Posted April 30, 2013 at 11:59 AM via web

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Could you please tell me the meaning of "beating his way" and "lived naturally" in the following excerpt from the Chapter Six of The Great Gatsby?

The Great Gatsby Excerpt

For over a year he had been beating his way along the south shore of Lake Superior as a clam digger and a salmon fisher or in any other capacity that brought him food and bed. His brown, hardening body lived naturally through the half fierce, half lazy work of the bracing days. 

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted April 30, 2013 at 1:10 PM (Answer #1)

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This is actually an instance of metaphor and imagery that is simpler than some that are encountered. First, the context is a flashback where Nick explains Gatsby's past as James Gatz. Gatz rejected his farming background for something less isolated and insular and headed to Lake Superior to become a fisherman. It is there that Gatz meets Cody and starts his new life of "future glory." Actually, this is a flashback within a flashback because Nick first takes us to Cody then back further to the year before Gatz met Cody. This is important as a framework for the figurative (not literal) phrases you ask about.

James Gatz-- ... changed [his name] at the age of seventeen and at the specific moment that witnessed the beginning of his career--when he saw Dan Cody's yacht drop anchor over the most insidious flat on Lake Superior.

To become a fisherman, Gatz took any kind of fishing work he could get, and these jobs led him from one location to another along the shore of the Great Lake. As a fisherman, Gatz did rigorous physical work either living out in the open on the fishing boats or working out in the open on the shore.

With this in mind, the first phrase you ask about, "beating his way," provides a double metaphoric image of the progress Gatz made further and further along the shore in his quest for his future and its glory. "Beating" alludes to the hard work he performed and compares it to trying to beat something, like harvested flax. "Beating" also alludes to his slow but constant progress from one place, one opportunity, to another and compares it to something beating along the ground toward a known end, like a harvest machine beating along through a ripened field. This phrase awakens farming images that link Gatsby to his farm upbringing as James Gatz. 

The second phrase, "lived naturally," provides an image for how Gatz lived as a fisherman: out of doors, with few amenities, working in foul weather and fair, only eating and sleeping under shelter: he lived and worked in nature thus he "lived naturally."

Both figurative phrases combine to paint a picture of dogged determination to work and to attain a goal, even if the goal was as yet only a vision of "future glory."

Each night he added to the pattern of his fancies until drowsiness closed down upon some vivid scene ... they were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy's wing.

An instinct toward his future glory had led him, ... the day that Dan Cody's yacht dropped anchor in the shallows along shore.

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