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Hello! could you, please, explain me the meaning of "snapped out" in this extract from...

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coutelle | Valedictorian

Posted April 4, 2013 at 9:54 PM via web

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Hello! could you, please, explain me the meaning of "snapped out" in this extract from The Great Gatsby, chapter I:

“Why candles?” objected Daisy frowning. She snapped them out with her fingers. “In two weeks it'll be the longest day in the year.” She looked at us all radiantly. “Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day in the year and then miss it.”

Does it mean that she actually snapped her fingers immediately adjacent to the candle flame and that the sudden tiny puff blows it out or, more vaguely, that she frees the candle from the snuff by pinching or cutting this off?

Thank you

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 4, 2013 at 11:08 PM (Answer #1)

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I am quite sure that Fitzgerald did not intend the reader to imagine Daisy putting out the candles by snapping her fingers right next to the flame and thereby creating puffs of air that would put them out. And I don't understand the alternative you offer, i.e., "that she frees the candle from the snuff by pinching or cutting this off." I think what Fitzgerald means is simply that Daisy extinguished the flame of each candle by actually pinching the wicks between her thumb and middle finger and quickly snapping them. I assume there were only two candles.

I have never seen anyone do this, but I assume it is possible to do it without getting burned if you do it quickly enough. (I have often seen people pinch out burning cigarettes, and I have seen people pass a finger back and forth through a candle-flame.) Daisy would just get her fingers a little blackened from the string, or wick. Although the text says she snapped them out with her fingers, it is nearly impossible to snap any two fingers against each other; she must have snapped her index finger or middle finger against the ball of her thumb.

If a person tried to put out a candle by just pinching the burning wick, or string, he might get a slight burn, but if he pinched and snapped simultaneously there might not be enough exposure of any part of the finger or thumb to receive any pain or skin damage. Still, it seems like an odd way of putting out a candle.

Daisy's rather risky method of putting out the candles suggests that she has a bit of the masochist in her. Fitzgerald seems to be portraying her as putting up with suffering throughout the novel. Her indifference to the possibility of burning her fingers may be due to her slight enjoyment of, or stoic indifference to, pain.

Another possibility is that Daisy does it just because she doesn't know she can't do it safely. She is not a woman who is used to doing anything for herself. Her way of putting out the candles might be intended to show her total ineptitude and ignorance about practical matters.

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