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What is the precise and metaphorical or symbolical meaning of "flabby" in this excerpt...

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coutelle | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted April 5, 2013 at 5:22 PM via web

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What is the precise and metaphorical or symbolical meaning of "flabby" in this excerpt of The Great Gatsby?

"If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the “creative temperament”—it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again." 

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 5, 2013 at 7:02 PM (Answer #1)

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Fitzgerald's choice of word (i.e. flabby) in this passage is certainly interesting as well as rather curious. Indeed, one can only describe it as poetic, having come from this lyric Romantic writer. While the word flabby denotes a "lack of firmness as character, principles, utterances, etc." it is connotative of shallowness or indecisiveness.

With the introduction of the major characters of the novel in Chapter One, there occurs a marked contrast between Gatsby and the Buchanans and Jordan. He is "the great Gatsby"; exceptional and grand in his gestures and personality. Like the knights of the Arthurian legends, he is supremely devoted to his cause, his search for the "grail."  For, his "extraodinary gift" is no "flabby," or indecisiveness aim; it is the one aim of his entire existence. And, it is a goal that Gatsby is absolutely certain that he will achieve. Unlike Daisy and Tom and Jordan, there is no flabbiness; that is, there is no vacillation between sincerity, cynicism, and pretense. Gatsby is the quintessential romantic hero, firmly driven by courage and a pure, decisive heart.

It is this recognition of this firm impression--"no flabby impressionability"--that Nick has of Gatsby that later leads him to tell his neighbor in Chapter Eight, 

"They're a rotten crowd....You're worth the whole damn bunch put together."

Gatsby possesses an extraordinary gift of hope, a firm conviction that he can repeat the past. He is not disillusioned and cynical as are the "rotten crowd"; instead, he decisively pursues his dream with the "romantic readiness" that knows no obstacle.


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