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The Great Gatsby
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
ScribnerCopyright © 1925 Charles Scribner's Sons
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Chapter OneIn my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.
"Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."
He didn't say any more but we've always been unusually communicative in a reserved way and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence I'm inclined to reserve all judgements, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men. Most of the confidences were unsought - frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon - for the intimate revelations of young men or at least the terms in which they express them are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions. Reserving judgements is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth.
And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit. Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes but after a certain point I don't care what it's founded on. When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction - Gatsby who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the "creative temperament" - it was 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. No - Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.
My family have been prominent, well-to-do people in this middle-western city for three generations. The Carraways are something of a clan and we have a tradition that we're descended from the Dukes of Buccleuch, but the actual founder of my line was my grandfather's brother who came here in fifty-one, sent a substitute to the Civil War and started the wholesale hardware business that my father carries on today.
I never saw this great-uncle but I'm supposed to look like him - with special reference to the rather hard-boiled painting that hangs in Father's office. I graduated from New Haven in 1915, just a quarter of a century after my father, and a little later I participated in that delayed Teutonic migration known as the Great War. I enjoyed the counter-raid so thoroughly that I came back restless. Instead of being the warm center of the world the middle-west now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe - so I decided to go east and learn the bond business. Everybody I knew was in the bond business so I supposed it could support one more single man. All my aunts and uncles talked it over as if they were choosing a prep-school for me and finally said "Why - ye-es" with very grave, hesitant faces. Father agreed to finance me for a year and after various delays I came east, permanently, I thought, in the spring of twenty-two.
The practical thing was to find rooms in the city but it was a warm season and I had just left a country of wide lawns and friendly trees, so when a young man at the office suggested that we take a house together in a commuting town it sounded like a great idea. He found the house, a weather beaten cardboard bungalow at eighty a month, but at the last minute the firm ordered him to Washington and I went out to the country alone. I had a dog, at least I had him for a few days until he ran away, and an old Dodge and a Finnish woman who made my bed and cooked breakfast and muttered Finnish wisdom to herself over the electric stove.
It was lonely for a day or so until one morning some man, more recently arrived than I, stopped me on the road.
"How do you get to West Egg Village?" he asked helplessly.
I told him. And as I walked on I was lonely no longer. I was a guide, a pathfinder, an original settler. He had casually conferred on me the freedom of the neighborhood.
And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees - just as things grow in fast movies - I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.
There was so much to read for one thing and so much fine health to be pulled down out of the young breath-giving air. I bought a dozen volumes on banking and credit and investment securities and they stood on my shelf in red and gold like new money from the mint, promising to unfold the shining secrets that only Midas and Morgan and Maecenas knew. And I had the high intention of reading many other books besides. I was rather literary in college - one year I wrote a series of very solemn and obvious editorials for the "Yale News" - and now I was going to bring back all such things into my life and become again that most limited of all specialists, the "well-rounded" man. This isn't just an epigram - life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all.
It was a matter of chance that I should have rented a house in one of the strangest communities in North America. It was on that slender riotous island which extends itself due east of New York and where there are, among other natural curiosities, two unusual formations of land. Twenty miles from the city a pair of enormous eggs, identical in contour and separated only by a courtesy bay, jut out into the most domesticated body of salt water in the Western Hemisphere, the great wet barnyard of Long Island Sound. They are not perfect ovals - like the egg in the Columbus story they are both crushed fiat at the contact end - but their physical resemblance must be a source of perpetual confusion to the gulls that fly over-head. To the wingless a more arresting phenomenon is their dissimilarity in every particular except shape and size.
I lived at West Egg, the - well, the less fashionable of the two, though this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them. My house was at the very tip of the egg, only fifty yards from the Sound, and squeezed between two huge places that rented for twelve or fifteen thousand a season. The one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard - it was a factual imitation of some Hôtel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool and more than forty acres of lawn and garden. It was Gatsby's mansion. Or rather, as I didn't know Mr. Gatsby it was a mansion inhabited by a gentleman of that name. My own house was an eye-sore, but it was a small eye-sore and it had been overlooked, so I had a view of the water, a partial view of my neighbor's lawn and the consoling proximity of millionaires - all for eighty dollars a month.
Across the courtesy bay the white places of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water and the history of the summer really begins on the evening I drove over there to have dinner with the Tom Buchanans. Daisy was my second cousin once removed and I'd known Tom in college. And just after the war I spent two days with them in Chicago.
Her husband, among various physical accomplishments, had been one of the most powerful ends that ever played football at New Haven - a national figure in a way, one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterwards savours of anti-climax. His family were enormously wealthy - even in college his freedom with money was a matter for reproach - but now he'd left Chicago and come east in a fashion that rather took your breath away: for instance he'd brought down a string of polo ponies from Lake Forest. It was hard to realize that a man in my own generation was wealthy enough to do that.
Why they came east I don't know. They had spent a year in France, for no particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together. This was a permanent move, said Daisy over the telephone, but I didn't believe it - I had no sight into Daisy's heart but I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking a little wistfully for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game.
And so it happened that on a warm windy evening I drove over to East Egg to see two old friends whom I scarcely knew at all. Their house was even more elaborate than I expected, a cheerful red and white Georgian Colonial mansion overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens - finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run. The front was broken by a line of French windows, glowing now with reflected gold, and wide open to the warm windy afternoon, and Tom Buchanan in riding clothes was standing with his legs apart on the front porch.
He had changed since his New Haven years. Now he was a sturdy, straw haired man of thirty with a rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner. Two shining, arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body - he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage - a cruel body.
His speaking voice, a gruff husky tenor, added to the impression of fractiousness he conveyed. There was a touch of paternal contempt in it, even toward people he liked - and there were men at New Haven who had hated his guts.
"Now, don't think my opinion on these matters is final," he seemed to say, "just because I'm stronger and more of a man than you are." We were in the same Senior Society and while we were never intimate I always had the impression that he approved of me and wanted me to like him with some harsh, defiant wistfulness of his own.
We talked for a few minutes on the sunny porch.
"I've got a nice place here," he said, his eyes flashing about restlessly.
Turning me around by one arm he moved a broad flat hand along the front vista, including in its sweep a sunken Italian garden, a half acre of deep pungent roses and a snub-nosed motor boat that bumped the tide off shore.
"It belonged to Demaine the oil man." He turned me around again, politely and abruptly. "We'll go inside."
We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding cake of the ceiling - and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.
The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.
The younger of the two was a stranger to me. She was extended full length at her end of the divan, completely motionless and with her chin raised a little as if she were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall. If she saw me out of the corner of her eyes she gave no hint of it - indeed I was almost surprised into murmuring an apology for having disturbed her by coming in.
The other girl, Daisy, made an attempt to rise - she leaned slightly forward with a conscientious expression - then she laughed, an absurd, charming little laugh, and I laughed too and came forward into the room.
"I'm p-paralyzed with happiness."
She laughed again, as if she said something very witty, and held my hand for a moment, looking up into my face, promising that there was no one in the world she so much wanted to see. That was a way she had. She hinted in a murmur that the surname of the balancing girl was Baker. (I've heard it said that Daisy's murmur was only to make people lean toward her; an irrelevant criticism that made it no less charming.)
At any rate Miss Baker's lips fluttered, she nodded at me almost imperceptibly and then quickly tipped her head back again - the object she was balancing had obviously tottered a little and given her something of a fright. Again a sort of apology arose to my lips. Almost any exhibition of complete self sufficiency draws a stunned tribute from me.
I looked back at my cousin who began to ask me questions in her low, thrilling voice. It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again.
Excerpted from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald Copyright © 1925 by Charles Scribner's Sons. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Brief Chronology
A Note on the Text
The Great Gatsby
Appendix A: Fitzgerald’s Correspondence about The Great Gatsby (1922-25)
Appendix B: Contemporary Reviews
- H.L. Mencken, Baltimore Evening Sun (2 May 1925)
- William Rose Benét, Saturday Review of Literature (9 May 1925)
- William Curtis, Town & Country (15 May 1925)
- Carl Van Vechten, The Nation (20 May 1925)
- Gilbert Seldes, The Dial (August 1925)
Appendix C: Consumption, Class, and Selfhood: Eight Contemporary Advertisements
Appendix D: The Irreverent Spirit of the Jazz Age
- From F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Echoes of the Jazz Age” (1931)
- Duncan M. Poole, “The Great Jazz Trial” (1922)
- From H.L. Mencken, [“Five Years of Prohibition”] (1924)
- Zelda Fitzgerald, “What Became of the Flappers?” (1925)
- From Walter Lippmann, A Preface to Morals (1929)
Appendix E: Race and the National Culture, 1920-25
- From Lothrop Stoddard, The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy (1920)
- From Henry Ford, Jewish Influences in American Life (1921)
- From Frederick C. Howe, “The Alien” (1922)
- Miguel Covurrubias, “The Sheik of Dahomey” (illustration, 1924)
What People are Saying About This
James Dickey Now we have an American masterpiece in its final form: the original crystal has shaped itself into the true diamond. This is the novel as Fitzgerald wished it to be, and so it is what we have dreamed of, sleeping and waking
Reading Group Guide
This Scribner reading group guide for The Great Gatsby includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
The Great Gatsby, one of the classics of twentieth-century literature, brings to life America’s Jazz Age, when, as The New York Times puts it, “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession.” Nick Carraway, a Yale graduate and veteran of the Great War, moves to Long Island in the spring of 1922, eager to leave his native Middle West behind. He rents a tiny house in West Egg, dwarfed by a mansion owned by the most celebrated host of the season, Jay Gatsby. Everyone loves to drink and dance at Gatsby’s legendary parties, and everyone loves to gossip about Gatsby’s secret past. Directly across the bay in the tonier town of East Egg lies the home of Nick’s beautiful cousin and her millionaire husband: Daisy and Tom Buchanan. When Nick starts dating Daisy’s friend, the famed but deceitful golfer Jordan Baker, he finds himself caught up in a different romance: Gatsby begs for a reintroduction to Daisy. Gatsby and Daisy fell in love years ago, but the war and Tom Buchanan came between them. As the love triangle of Daisy, Tom, and Gatsby resurfaces – and Tom’s mistress, Myrtle, grows desperate with jealousy – Nick finds himself missing the plains of the Middle West, where hope can thrive in a wider landscape.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The Great Gatsby features an epigraph by “Thomas Parke D’Invilliers” (a writer invented by Fitzgerald) about winning a lover by any means. How does this short poem set the scene for the novel to come? Why do you think Fitzgerald would open The Great Gatsby with a fictional epigraph, rather than a real quote or poem?
2. Compare East Egg and West Egg. What kinds of people settle on each side of the bay? Why would a couple like the Buchanans reside in East Egg, and men like Nick and Gatsby on the other side? How does the division between these two villages compare to differences between the American East and West?
3. Discuss the role of honesty in The Great Gatsby. Which characters pride themselves on telling the truth? How does duplicity affect the relationship between Nick and Jordan, and the marriage of Tom and Daisy? What falsehoods has Gatsby relied upon to advance in society?
4. Compare two classic party scenes in the novel: the first party at Gatsby’s house that Nick attends, and the impromptu gathering at Tom and Myrtle’s apartment in New York City. How is each party enlivened by booze, romance, and chaos? How are the guests at each party similar, and how are they different? How does Nick’s drunken perspective color each scene?
5. Consider the role of gossip in the novel. What kinds of rumors do Gatsby’s guests spread about their host, and why? Why does public opinion have such a strong hold over the characters in the novel?
6. In Chapter VI, just after Daisy and Gatsby reunite at Nick’s house, Nick reveals the story of his friend’s transition from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby. Why does Nick choose this point in the story to tell Gatsby’s history? How does this chapter serve as a turning point in the novel?
7. Compare James Gatz to the man he became: Jay Gatsby. What do we learn about Gatz’s ambition as a youth? How did he make his transition to Gatsby? What elements from his past did he retain, even as he left his identity behind?
8. Eyes are a prominent feature throughout the novel – T. J. Ecklesburg’s spectacles watch over the “valley of ashes,” “Owl-eyes” attends Gatsby’s parties and funeral, and Nick senses Myrtle’s jealous gaze upon Tom and Jordan when they stop at Wilson’s gas station. What is the significance of this theme of surveillance? Who is being watched throughout the novel?
9. “‘Can’t repeat the past?’ [Gatsby] cried incredulously. ‘Why of course you can!’” (page 110). Discuss Gatsby’s attempts to recreate history. Why is he so eager to go back to life before he went to war, when he was a young officer in love with Daisy? What has Gatsby lost and gained since those days in Louisville?
10. At the moment of the accident that killed Myrtle Wilson, “first Daisy turned away from the woman toward the other car, and then she lost her nerve and turned back” (page 143). How else does Daisy lose her nerve on that drive from New York City to East Egg? Why does she turn back to Tom, instead of choosing a life with Gatsby?
11. Gatsby says about Daisy, “Her voice is full of money.” (page 120). Discuss how class and affects the romances in the novel. Would Daisy be just as alluring without her status? Would Gatsby or Tom be attractive without their fortunes?
12. Nick observes, “I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all,” (page 176) since none of its characters are from the East. How have ideas about the “West” changed since Fitzgerald’s day? What is particularly “Western” about each of these characters: Nick, Tom, Gatsby, Daisy, and Jordan? Do you agree with Nick that they are “unadaptable to Eastern life”? Why or why not?
13. Consider the setting of the novel: 1922 Long Island. Can you imagine this story within another time or place? Do you consider The Great Gatsby timeless, or do you think its characters and themes are deeply rooted in the postwar prosperity of the Roaring Twenties?
14. The novel ends with Nick thinking about “Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock” (page 180). Consider the symbol of the green light. What dreams and hopes does the light stand for? Is Gatsby’s “extraordinary gift for hope” an asset or a hindrance to his ambition, in the end?
15. If this was your first time reading The Great Gatsby, discuss what you knew about this American classic before you began reading, and how it met or defied your expectations. If you’ve read the novel before, think back to the first time you read it, and discuss how the novel has changed for you over time. Do you understand it differently today than you did in the past?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Come to your book club meeting dressed like your favorite Great Gatsby character! If you don’t happen to own a pink suit like Gatsby’s, consider donning a partygoer’s pearls, Daisy’s white dress, Owl-eyes’ oversized glasses, Jordan’s golf gloves, Tom’s riding pants, or any other accessory inspired by the Jazz Age.
2. In a nod to the Prohibition era, serve your book club’s refreshments – whether you’re pouring mint juleps or lemonade – in teacups.
3. Get your book club members in a jazzy mood – greet them with “Ain’t We Got Fun,” a song played during Gatsby and Daisy’s romantic reunion. You can find a recording of the 1921 classic here: http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/7859/.
4. Learn the history of the house that might have been the inspiration for Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s East Egg mansion, which was condemned in 2011: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-3445_162-20054710/the-end-of-an-era-for-the-gatsby-house/.
5. A theater company called the Elevator Repair Service has adapted The Great Gatsby into an eight-hour staged reading, Gatz. Stage a shorter version with your book club – assign parts to Nick, Gatsby, and Daisy, and have “Nick” read the beginning of Chapter V while “Gatsby” and “Daisy” read their lines of dialogue. Does the prose have a different impact when read aloud?