Student Question

On page 118 of The Great Gatsby, what does the "elusive rhythm" and "fragment of lost words" remind Nick of?

Expert Answers

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This is one of the more elusive passages of the novel. Critics have debated Fitzgerald's intention here. I think it's open to various interpretations.

Since this is a pretty vague passage, let's look at what was happening immediately preceding this passage for some clues about what Fitzgerald could have meant:

[Gatsby] knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.

Nick has been privy to all of Gatsby's dreams for Daisy, and he now witnesses the transformation from dream to reality. Gatsby's attainment strikes a chord within him and makes him question his own less-than-grand attempts toward love and romance. Although he enjoys the company of Jordan, he definitely isn't compulsively drawn to her as Gatsby is to Daisy. Instead, he says that Jordan is "incurably dishonest." He only "thought [he] loved her" (Chapter 3). This is no romance for the books by anyone's standards. Jordan is simply a fun woman with whom to spend a summer. Nick also recalls a girl from Jersey City whom he had a "short affair" with, but her brother didn't approve of their fling. Nick was content to let her "blow quietly away" in response (Chapter 3). It also seems that although Nick has been spending time with Jordan, he's been stringing along a girl "back home," signing his letters "Love, Nick." He knows that he needs to "[get] out of that tangle" (Chapter 3).

Nick's "elusive rhythm" is therefore his inability to connect on a meaningful level with any potential love interests—or to even recognize exactly what he is looking for. Gatsby found his one true passion and has created an entire life trying to please her. Nick flounders around in meaningless relationships, and as he watches Gatsby's dreams realized right in front of him, Nick grasps to understand his relationships with these insignificant women.

He's reaching toward something more than he has experienced, yet his efforts leave him with only a "fragment of lost words" in trying to imagine what his own personal fulfillment in a relationship might look like. Gatsby's certainty highlights Nick's uncertainty.

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