What goes on at Jay Gatsby's mansion parties? What do the guests do and what activities go on there?
In F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby, set during the roaring twenties, Jay Gatsby's parties are elaborate affairs. They are meant to impress, giving a display of Gatsby's wealth, but Gatsby really only wants to impress one person: Daisy Buchanan.
A detailed description of the party atmosphere at Gatsby's mansion is found in chapter three of the novel. It is Nick Carraway's first time at a Gatsby party. Nick describes the preparations for the parties—crates of oranges and lemons, "corps of caterers," and so many lights it made a "Christmas tree out of Gatsby's enormous garden." Nick describes the buffet tables loaded with baked hams and turkeys. There is an array of salads and a full bar with a real brass rail set up that serves all manner of drinks—which of course, during this time in history, the time of Prohibition, were illegal. A full orchestra is on hand to play party music. Early revelers arrive and swim in the bay or take the motor boats out on the water; then, when evening arrives, they go inside the mansion to change for the party. Hundreds of people pour in from the city. Nick describes dancing, swimming, eating, and conversation to be the main activities at these parties. It is surely a who's who of society that frequents these parties, though the guest list, being absent, is hardly exclusive. Here is a part of the description Nick gives:
"The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music and the opera of voices pitches a key higher. Laughter is easier, minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word. The groups change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath—already there are wanderers, confident girls who weave here and there among the stouter and more stable, become for a sharp, joyous moment the center of the group and then excited with triumph glide on through the sea-change of faces and voices and color under the constantly changing light."
And through all of these weekend parties, no one seems to see or know the mysterious Gatsby.
Gatsby had full orchestras playing the latest music. He offered abundant bootleg liquor and sumptuous buffets. His parties were always open-house affairs, and people felt free to come without invitations. The guests drank, ate, and danced the Charleston and other popular dances of the Jazz Age, or else they sat around and gossiped. Naturally there was a lot of flirtation, but Fitzgerald does not describe any nudity or sexual intercourse, leaving that to the reader's imagination. Many prominent people came to these parties, including judges and politicians.
The movie The Great Gatsby features one of Gatsby's lavish parties. It must have cost a fortune to hire so many men and women and to provide the costumes of the period. It is well worth seeing this movie--which stars Robert Redford and Mia Farrow and includes a young Sam Waterston (of Law and Order fame)--to see one of Gatsby's parties recreated in color.