I need help with an explanation of this excerpt in chapter 7 of The Great Gatsby.
“How do you feel, Miss Baedeker?”
The girl addressed was trying, unsuccessfully, to slump against my shoulder. At this inquiry she sat up and opened her eyes.
A massive and lethargic woman, who had been urging Daisy to play golf with her at the local club to-morrow, spoke in Miss Baedeker’s defence:
“Oh, she’s all right now. When she’s had five or six cocktails she always starts screaming like that. I tell her she ought to leave it alone.”
“I do leave it alone,” affirmed the accused hollowly.
“We heard you yelling, so I said to Doc Civet here: ‘There’s somebody that needs your help, Doc.’”
“She’s much obliged, I’m sure,” said another friend, without gratitude. “But you got her dress all wet when you stuck her head in the pool.”
“Anything I hate is to get my head stuck in a pool,” mumbled Miss Baedeker. “They almost drowned me once over in New Jersey.”
“Then you ought to leave it alone,” countered Doctor Civet.
“Speak for yourself!” cried Miss Baedeker violently. “Your hand shakes. I wouldn’t let you operate on me!”
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On the surface level, this passage concerns a woman who has a strange reaction to alcohol. When she drinks too many cocktails, she begins screaming. There is no explanation provided in the passage as to why the woman, Mrs. Baedeker, does this but we can presume that the explanation (and the entire episode) is related to the themes which this passage expresses.
Mrs. Baedeker's behavior is routine, for her. When she screams, someone puts her head under water. The details of this passage suggest that this has happened before.
Though her friends seem to believe that Mrs. Baedeker should avoid drinking, she refuses to be abashed or ashamed and along with one of her friends attacks the friends who would chastize her. Finally she turns the accusations away from herself and toward the doctor who has gotten her all wet.
We see the vapid decadent set at play in the passage, the social circle which gathers at Gatsby's parties, engaged in petty disputes and pursuing self-destructive behavior while also attempting to destroy one another morally. This specific type of decadence and disregard for the well-being of others form the thematic backdrop for Gatsby's courtship of Daisy and much of the action of the novel.
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