In The Great Gatsby, how do Jordan and Catherine compare and contrast as they are presented in Chapters I and II?

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Jordan and Catherine share some similarities. Both are unmarried women, young and slender. Catherine is about thirty years old, Jordan a bit younger. Catherine and Jordan live independent lives. Jordan has no family except for an elderly aunt, and Catherine lives with a friend, another single woman. Jordan and Catherine both live in New York City, although Jordan's tenure there is temporary. Each of the women travels. Jordan is on the golfing circuit; Catherine has visited Europe with a friend. Neither woman condemns Tom and Myrtle's affair. Catherine thinks Tom and Myrtle should divorce their spouses and marry each other. Jordan's only criticism of Tom's affair is that Myrtle should not call him at home.

In regard to their differences, Jordan is presented as being attractive, sophisticated, and self-contained. When Nick first sees her, Jordan reclines gracefully on a couch, a vision in white, seemingly oblivious to Nick's presence. When she does nod at him "almost imperceptibly," Nick feels somewhat stunned by her "exhibition of complete self sufficiency." Jordan is physically appealing to Nick, with her erect athlete's carriage and "wan, charming, discontented face."

Catherine, however, is common. When visiting Monte Carlo, she tells Nick, she and her friend had twelve hundred dollars, but were "gypped out of it all" when gambling and had difficulty getting home. Catherine, unlike Jordan, is a quite dynamic presence, unrestrained and ungraceful in her physical movements. When Myrtle's nose is broken, she responds by flying about the room with Mrs. McKee:

. . . scolding and consoling as they stumbled here and there among the crowded furniture with articles of aid . . . .

This image of Catherine contrasts vividly with Nick's first image of Jordan lying in repose on the couch. Catherine's appearance is unappealing, as well:

[She had] a solid sticky bob of red hair and a complexion powdered milky white. Her eyebrows had been plucked and then drawn on again at a more rakish angle but the efforts of nature toward the restoration of the old alignment gave a blurred air to her face. When she moved about there was an incessant clinking as innumerable pottery bracelets jingled up and down upon her arms.

Jordan is cool and confident to the point of being haughty; Catherine lacks Jordan's sophistication and grace.

 

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