Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1473
ch. 1, p. 2 (based on Scribner paperback edition 2004; your page numbers may not correspond)
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[Narrator describes Jay Gatsby.]
If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life.… [Gatsby had] an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.
In the introduction to the story, narrator Nick Carraway describes Gatsby as he, retrospectively, perceives him. Immediately, Fitzgerald establishes Gatsby as an exceptionally romantic hero and a hopeful dreamer. The narrator tips his hand and reveals his favoritism for Gatsby. This quote is important because it not only establishes the essence of the Gatsby character but it also foreshadows the very nature of the story and its primary themes: idealism, aspiration, and loss.
ch. 2, pp. 23-24
[Establishes the domain of the working poor.]
This is a valley of ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of ash-gray men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.… [And the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg] brood on over the solemn dumping ground.
In this dramatic description, Fitzgerald sets the scene for the world of the working poor, where George and Myrtle Wilson live. The “valley of ashes” provides a sharp, poetic contrast to the cool, lush estates of East Egg. What would normally be signs of life—wheat fields and gardens—are merely forms in a smoldering, colorless landscape. Importantly, this scene immediately follows a genteel luncheon at the Buchanan mansion. Sea breezes are replaced by “rising smoke,” extensive green lawns by “grotesque gardens.”
This scene also establishes the class conflict that permeates the book, and is a foreboding allusion to the death that occurs here. We become aware for the first time of the symbolic eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, who watches over this “solemn dumping ground” as a God-like witness to the despair and hopelessness that emanates from the place.
ch. 3, p. 50
[In the midst of his own party, Gatsby is alone.]
When the Jazz History of the World was over, girls where putting their heads on men’s shoulders … swooning backward playfully into men’s arms … but no one swooned backward on Gatsby, and no French bob touched Gatsby’s shoulder, and no singing quartets were formed with Gatsby’s head for one link.
This passage serves to capture a sense of Gatsby’s parties, as well as his place in them. Fitzgerald references a “sensational” piece of music of the day, describes the playful, affectionate nature of the guests, and casually notes the hairstyle that practically defined the “flapper.” In the middle of this scene, a scene that Gatsby himself created (he even requested the song), he stands alone, alienated from his own guests. We are reminded that this whole performance is just that—a show put on for everyone but himself.
ch. 5, p. 92
[Gatsby impresses Daisy with his shirt collection.]
[He] began throwing them, one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel.… While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher—shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange, with monograms of Indian blue. Suddenly … [Daisy] began to cry stormily.
“They’re such beautiful shirts,” she sobbed.… “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such—such beautiful shirts before.”
This quote, which comes at the climax of Gatsby’s tour of his mansion, highlights Daisy’s shallow, materialistic nature and Gatsby’s pathetic, transparent efforts to impress her. Gatsby has acquired the trappings of wealth and privilege to the point of absurdity. It’s clear that the shirts, like all of Gatsby’s possessions, exist for the sole purpose of convincing Daisy of his worth. Importantly, Daisy is not moved by the fact that Gatsby has dedicated his life since they parted to winning her back, that he has kept a constant vigil for their lost love. No, Daisy is crying because the shirts are beautiful.
ch. 6, p. 110
[Exchange between Nick and Gatsby.]
“You can’t repeat the past.”
“Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!”
There is no end to Gatsby’s romantic idealism. He never matures, or moves beyond his seventeen-year-old conception of the world. He does not permit incidental facts, like the passage of time, to dampen his dreams. He honestly believe that he can return to the past and to his short-lived affair with Daisy.
ch. 7, p. 120
[Gatsby describes Daisy’s voice.]
“Her voice is full of money,” [Gatsby] said suddenly.
That was it.… That was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbal’s song of it.…
Much is made throughout the book of Daisy’s voice, the musical quality of it, its allure, and its seductive power. At one point it is described as a “deathless song.” In this quote, Gatsby finally and simply captures the essence of it: money. Fitzgerald has succeeded in fully internalizing Daisy’s exalted position not only through her appearance and manners but also in the very sound of her voice. This also reinforces the strong musical theme that runs through the book.
ch. 8, p. 150
[Gatsby idealizes wealth.]
Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes, and of Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor.
This quote is important for two reasons. First it demonstrates the idealization that Gatsby maintains of the rich. It’s a fantastic, fantasy view of money—pure imagination. And this concept of wealth, that Gatsby formed at an early age, has stayed with him throughout his life, unspoiled by life’s realities, including even war.
Second, this quote foreshadows what’s to come. Gatsby imagines Daisy, because of her position, to be above the struggles of the poor. In fact, she becomes a central player in these struggles when she accidentally kills Tom’s mistress, Myrtle Wilson, as Myrtle tries to escape her husband and her miserable life.
ch. 8, p. 159
[Wilson recognizes the eyes of “God”.]
Wilson: “God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing. You may fool me, but you can’t fool God!”
Standing behind him, Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, which had just emerged, pale and enormous, from the dissolving night.
“God sees everything,” repeated Wilson.
“That’s an advertisement,” Michaelis assured him.
This exchange between the distraught Wilson and Michaelis, a local restaurant owner, is important because it finally brings to light the full impact of the billboard, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. At various points throughout the story, we are reminded that the watchful eyes of Dr. Eckleburg keep vigil over the sad happenings of the valley of ashes. Now the eyes are most explicitly equated with the eyes of God, the omniscient witness to the tragic incident that forms the novel’s climax.
ch. 9, p. 180
[America is a vast land of possibility.]
Gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world.… For a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
Possibly, one of the most quoted passages in the book, Fitzgerald likens the hopes and dreams of the first European settlers to those of Gatsby. The virgin continent, with all of its untouched potential, is symbolic of the vast opportunity that continues to fuel the American dream. The “capacity for wonder” reminds us of Gatsby’s “extraordinary gift for hope.” We realize that Gatsby is not unique in his romantic idealism. We understand that so many of us are lured by the promise of something great, something equal to our ability to dream. And in many ways this quality is uniquely American.
ch. 9, p. 180
[Gatsby believes in the future.]
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.… Tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.… And one fine morning—
At the close of the book, Nick tries to describe the nature of Gatsby’s hope and draws the parallel to all of our hopes.