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Nick sees Gatsby for the first time at the end of Chapter 1. He describes seeing someone emerge from the shadows of Gatsby's house and stand watching the stars, his hands in his pockets. Gatsby's movements are "leisurely." As Nick continues to watch, Gatsby raises his arms and reaches toward the ocean in what Nick calls "a curious way." Nick thinks that Gatsby was trembling. He seems to be reaching for the one thing Nick can see across the water, the green light at the end of a dock. Gatsby suddenly vanishes. We learn later that the green light Gatsby reaches toward is the light at the end of Daisy's dock. It becomes a major symbol in the remainder of the novel.
Nick first describes Gatsby as a man “who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn.” This after he notes that Gatsby was the only exception to the distaste he has accrued for wanton immorality and the disorder of the rich, loose citizens of the East Coast. “If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures,” he writes,
then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life. . . . 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. . . . No—Gatsby turned out all right in the end . . .
Nick states that “what preyed on Gatsby” was what was truly at fault, and what set in motion all the events relayed in the book that forced Nick to abandon the East Coast and develop his aversion to a certain lifestyle upheld by the other characters in the novel. So Gatsby, to Nick, is a paradox: he is a representative of this lifestyle, and yet he does not attract the narrator’s contempt. He is, rather, in Nick’s mind a victim, and therefore is both at fault and not at fault for the events that occur in the book. Gatsby is a dreamer, a slave to his own bastardized version of the American Dream, and it is this magnetic hopefulness that proves his fatal flaw, blinding him to reality and perpetuating a selfishness and single-mindedness that destroys him.
Despite this fact, “there was something gorgeous about him,” for he was successful; he had created his own personality and his own outward display of wealth and power; his life was one long, seamless façade of finery and confidence. In this sense he was a work of art, and something to be admired.
In this way is the reader first introduced to The Great Jay Gatsby—within Nick’s measured recollections of his story. Later in the chapter, Nick tells of his first glimpse of his neighbor, as the man is standing staring over the water staring at the green light on the end of the Buchanans' pier—what has become the quintessential symbol of the story. Nick glances away, over the water to the light, and when he looks back, Gatsby is gone, disappeared from the scene as he will ultimately disappear from Nick’s life forever. So in this first chapter, within a tiny glimpse of the plot, we are given a full description of Gatsby upon which his ideals, his goals, his vices, and his flaws will be elaborated over the course of the novel.
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