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Could you please tell me the meaning of "purposeless" in the following excerpt from...

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coutelle | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted April 18, 2013 at 10:40 PM via web

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Could you please tell me the meaning of "purposeless" in the following excerpt from Chapter 3 of The Great Gatsby

"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." 

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 18, 2013 at 11:42 PM (Answer #1)

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In Chapter Three, unlike Gatsby's other guests, Nick has been invited to attend the lavish party at Gatsby's mansion.  Ironically, when Nick arrives and observes guests as a "sea-chain of faces" who walk around without any idea of who or where their host is, he is uncomfortable and finds a cocktail table where he can sit without looking as though he has no reason to be there.  His embarrassment increasing, Nick decides to "get roaring drunk" until he spots Jordan Baker and calls to her.

It is, therefore, somewhat ironic that Nick Carraway expresses his uncomfortableness with looking "purposeless," a word that is metaphoric for waste in Fitzgerald's novel. For, in Chapter Four, Fitzgerald has Nick comment in this manner about Gatsby after learning of his desire for Daisy,

He came alive to me, delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor.....

Here Nick realizes that Gatsby's lavish style of living has been necessary to the fulfillment of his dream of having Daisy.

With his Midwestern values, Nick, of course, disdains lavishness, especially when it is without purpose. But, once he sees Jordan in Chapter Three, then he has reason to remain despite the waste and amoral behavior of many of the guests.




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