What is the meaning of the phrase "the formless grace of our nervous, sporadic games" in the following excerpt of Chapter 4 of The Great Gatsby, especially the precise significance of the words...

What is the meaning of the phrase "the formless grace of our nervous, sporadic games" in the following excerpt of Chapter 4 of The Great Gatsby, especially the precise significance of the words "formless" and "sporadic".

He was balancing himself on the dashboard of his car with that resourcefulness of movement that is so peculiarly American—that comes, I suppose, with the absence of lifting work or rigid sitting in youth and, even more, with the formless grace of our nervous, sporadic games. This quality was continually breaking through his punctilious manner in the shape of restlessness. He was never quite still; there was always a tapping foot somewhere or the impatient opening and closing of a hand.

 

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter Four of The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby, the romantic American hero, comes alive as he balances with a "resourcefulness of movement that is so peculiarly American." His energy and "formless grace," or natural athleticism, resemble the movements of players in American games, games that stop and start (sporadic), such as American football and baseball in which players are graceful, but never disciplined or exact in their movements as are, perhaps.rugby players or cricket players. And, much like the new, raw Western section of America, Jay Gatsby is energetic and restless. This unrefined and formless energy breaks through Gatsby's pretense of observance of the British-like form he so often imitates when he says "Old Sport," or when dresses in his many-colored shirts imported from England. 

Shortly after the passage cited, Nick admires Gatsby's car,

It was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hatboxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labrinth of windshields that mirror a dozen suns.

Indeed, this description of Gatsby's car is much like the above description of Jay Gatsby: "a formless grace," "restlessness." There is both an excessivenss and a certain panache to both Gatsby and his car .

 

 

munarriz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Nick Carraway's observations about Jay Gatsby's demeanor in chapter 4 of the novel reveal Fitzgerald's perspective of the American character. Carraway notes that Gatsby balances himself with the "resourcefulness of movement that is so peculiarly American." This suggests that Americans in particular are associated with a quickness of wit and perhaps even a clever knack for overcoming obstacles. Gatsby certainly proves this as he is able to lure Daisy back into his life against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Nick goes on to further note that Gatsby's appearance reflects "absence of lifting work or rigid sitting in youth and, even more, with the formless grace of our nervous, sporadic games." Here Nick is expressing a major difference between himself and Gatsby. He paints Gatsby as one who hasn't worked hard in the traditional sense. He also describes the type of grace he carries himself with as one associated with American sports. It is sporadic, or irregular. It isn't consistent, or perhaps, natural.

This fits with the Gatsby we know, the one who has changed and contorted himself in order to be able to attract the woman he lost. He is the American Dream, yet there is something not quite real about him. He looks the part, yet at the same time, he doesn't seem to have earned it.

Read the study guide:
The Great Gatsby

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question