I'd like to know why a character repeats "and not even trying" in this excerpt from the chapter three of The Great Gatsby. Does the phrase mean just that he was not attempting to drive at night or that he was not making the least effort to be a good driver at night? What is the nuance suggested by the italics?
“Well, if you’re a poor driver you oughtn’t to try driving at night.”
“But I wasn’t even trying,” he explained indignantly. “I wasn’t even trying.”
An awed hush fell upon the bystanders.
“Do you want to commit suicide?”
“You’re lucky it was just a wheel! A bad driver and not even trying!”
“You don’t understand,” explained the criminal. “I wasn’t driving. There’s another man in the car.”
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The character who repeatedly states that he "wasn't even trying" is Owl Eyes, the party guest that Nick had met in Gatsby's library earlier in the evening. Having spent quite some time enjoying himself as well as exploring the Gatsby mansion, he is more than a little drunk as he leaves the party.
Owl Eyes isn't capable of communicating clearly, so he doesn't immediately explain to the bystanders gathering around the wrecked car that he had not been driving when it "went in the ditch." He goes on to explain that "I know very little about driving...It happened, and that's all I know."
The witnesses assume he had been driving, however. One informs Owl Eyes that "you oughn't to try driving at night." Owl Eyes replies (twice) that he "wasn't even trying", which is his attempt at explaining that he had not been the driver. The witnesses interpret his response to mean that he did not care about being a careful driver. The italics when the witness says "A bad driver and not even trying!" indicate the emphasis in the witness's statement, strongly criticizing Owl Eyes for not attempting to be careful as he drove.
Eventually, Owl Eyes is able to clear up the misunderstanding caused by the miscommunication by saying, "You don't understand...I wasn't driving. There's another man in the car."
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