What is the meaning of the word "row" in this excerpt from Chapter Seven? Why does Tom say "what kind of a row are you trying to cause" and not ""why are you trying to set my couple at odds"?...
What is the meaning of the word "row" in this excerpt from Chapter Seven? Why does Tom say "what kind of a row are you trying to cause" and not ""why are you trying to set my couple at odds"?
“Wait a minute,” snapped Tom. “I want to ask Mr. Gatsby one more question.”
“Go on,” Gatsby said politely.
“What kind of a row are you trying to cause in my house anyhow?”
They were out in the open at last and Gatsby was content.
“He isn’t causing a row.” Daisy looked desperately from one to the other. “You’re causing a row. Please have a little self control.”
The word "row" is used as a noun rather than a verb and is commonly used to refer to a loud quarrel or commotion in this context. In this instance, Tom is aggressively asking Jay Gatsby what kind of trouble he is trying to cause in his house. He is deliberately confrontational at this point. He has come to realize that something is going on between Daisy and Jay and wants to confirm his suspicions.
There has been a build-up to Tom's actions. Daisy has invited Jay and Nick over to their house. Nick is surprised that Jay has accepted the invitation and foreshadows the conflict by thinking:
And yet I couldn’t believe that they would choose this occasion for a scene...
It is an extremely hot day, and a few events after Jay and Nick's arrival contribute to the tense mood. Tom is on the phone, and both Jordan Baker and Daisy suspect that he is conversing with his mistress. Nick assures them that he is not. When Daisy asks who wants to go to town and Jay replies, they share a profoundly intimate look which shocks Tom.
His mouth opened a little, and he looked at Gatsby, and then back at Daisy as if he had just recognized her as some one he knew a long time ago.
Tom is clearly unnerved and insists that they should all go to town. When they leave for New York Daisy chooses to drive with Jay in Tom's coupe while Nick and Jordan go with Tom in Jay's yellow car. Tom notices Daisy's intimate gesture when she accompanies Jay.
She walked close to Gatsby, touching his coat with her hand.
He is clearly upset and asks his passengers if they had seen and then states, rhetorically, that he is not dumb. He suggests that he knows what is going on between his wife and Jay Gatsby. When they later stop for fuel at Wilson's garage, Tom learns that Myrtle (his mistress) is going to leave for the West at her husband's insistence.
Nick comments about what Tom has learned and the effect it has on him:
...Tom was feeling the hot whips of panic. His wife and his mistress, until an hour ago secure and inviolate, were slipping precipitately from his control.
All of the above factors add up and pushes Tom to the brink so that he eventually lashes out and asks Jay what his purpose is in trying to bring disorder into his household. Daisy, in reply, admonishes him:
“He isn’t causing a row.” Daisy looked desperately from one to the other. “You’re causing a row. Please have a little self-control.”
The word "row" is more suited to the context of the narrative. The word illustrates the immediacy of the confrontation and indicates brevity in speech. People seldom use complicated expressions when they are arguing. Their words are filled with passion. So, Tom asking, "Why are you setting us at odds?" will not be suitable here.
In this passage, the word "row" means quarrel or argument. It is a noun, not the verb that we use to mean putting one's oars in the water to move one's boat. Now, the word "row" as a disagreement can also be used as a verb, for example:
The couple frequently rowed over how to bring up the children.
The only way to tell which meaning is meant is to see the word within the context of a sentence, where the surrounding words help us to understand which definition is correct. Contrast these sentences:
They rowed against the current to reach the shore.
They rowed ceaselessly over everything.
Why Fitzgerald used the word "row," rather than some other way of expressing his idea is probably because the word was much more commonly used in times past in the United States than it is today. It is still a fairly common word in British English, and if you read contemporary English literature, you will see if far more often than in contemporary American literature.