The great Gatsby

We will keep this board quite simple.  Please respond to the following items.  This discussion board will be class wide, rather than putting you into smaller groups.  This time around I will try my best, time permitting, to add my own comments into things as well, and then for your followup posts, you can comment on my replies, to each others’ questions and comments, etc.  Do not wait for my comments to make your follow-ups, however, and please don’t feel offended or left out if I don’t happen to comment on your posting.  I will do as many as I can without being repetitious, and time permitting!


1. From the material in the lecture, what did you see that made the biggest impression upon you?  Why?  This can be anything…something you suspected was important, but didn’t know for sure, something you disagree with, something you didn’t even notice as you read the earlier chapters, something that was clarified, etc.  Whatever came through to you in some significant way, comment upon.


2. Based on the material in the lecture, what questions do you have for me, the invisible instructor?  This can be anything from the book’s earlier chapters, but please do not ask questions that by their very nature necessitate that I would have to give away something about the ending of the book.  Additionally, do not ask questions that are based upon YOUR knowledge of the ending of the book…keep everything contained within Chapters 1-4 for the most part, with a bit of Chapter 5 if needed, though you should remember that we have a Chapter 5 discussion board this week as well, so most mention of that chapter probably belongs over there.


3. Be totally honest here…what is your opinion of the novel thus far?  If you dislike it, are bored by it, are confused by it, etc., FEEL TOTALLY FREE TO SAY SO!!!  I do not expect that everyone is going to be enthralled by the book, and I am not going to penalize you for an honest opinion.  Regardless of whether your reaction to the book is positive or negative, though, please explain WHY you feel the way that you do.  Explain yourself a bit!


Lecture: The Great Gatsby Chapters 1-5

Since we’re a little getting to be around the halfway mark of the novel, I figured it would be a good time to recap things that have gone on before and give you an idea of what to look for in this week’s chapter from Gatsby.  This will also be the first week that a discussion board assignment will be based upon the lecture, so as to semi-guarantee that you actually do read this stuff in the lecture section, rather than just skip it or gloss it over and jump straight into the books (or SparkNotes).  The next essay is not really all that entirely far around the corner, however, so don’t get too comfortable, though!

So, without further ado, here we go with my fascinating lecture, which reviews and emphasizes what we’ve been through so far with The Great Gatsby.  It doesn’t go in perfect order, chapter by chapter…I am simply trying to review and clarify major aspects of the book that I hope you have picked up on, and if you haven’t, now you may see.  Here we go with fairly important highlights of the book, characters, and symbolism and whatnot so far:

I hope you noticed that Nick mentions that while he is related to Daisy and went to school with Tom, he notes that he does not know them very well.  This lets Nick as a character be integrated into the lives and socializing of Tom and Daisy easily and quickly since there is already a connection, but also lets him (and you, the reader) get to know them better and observe their actions and words with a certain sense of discovery and newness.

Notice that when you first see Daisy and Jordan Baker, they are the only still objects (symbolically, anyway) in the room, and that Daisy here (and elsewhere, throughout the book, many times over) is associated with the color white.  White being a symbol of purity and innocence, it seems to suit Daisy, at least at first, and in a certain way, but later in the book you may wish to ask yourself if Daisy is as pure and innocent as she first seems, or at least if she is worthy of that purity that Gatsby sees in her.

As far as Tom Buchanan goes, make note of how many things about him in Chapter 1 make him a person you would be a bit intimidated by, and also dislike.  His words are arrogant; his body is described as powerful and cruel; you know that he can be physically abusive; he reads and advocates a book called Rise of the Colored Empires that is proudly racist; he really only just barely cares if Daisy knows about his affair with another woman, and the list goes on.  Right away you should realize that Tom is unlikable and in a certain way even dangerous.  Additionally, when Tom and Myrtle go to the party at the McKee’s, notice how it is obvious that Tom lies to Myrtle about why he doesn’t leave Daisy…he claims the Catholic religion won’t allow such a divorce, so he has to remain with Daisy.  This is a lie, however, and if you read into that, it shows that while Tom likes having a little “something something” extra on the side, he has no plans to become permanent with Myrtle. Several places in the book hint that she thinks they are going to somehow be permanent eventually, however, and that she is going to move up from her lowly social and economic class and be latched on to Tom for good.  Myrtle is probably in for disappointment, but so far she thinks she is going to be sitting pretty!

Make sure to notice the size and elaborateness of the parties that are thrown at Gatsby’s house throughout this summer.  These are not parties where you put out some Lay’s potato chips and dip, barbeque a few hot dogs, and have a couple of Miller Genuine Drafts.  These a huge social EVENTS that people simply appear at, provided they are among the famous, rich, powerful, influential, etc.  That huge list of names of attendees that begins one of the chapters is meant to indicate that; even though the reader will not actually know all those names (some of them are fictitious, while some are real life people of the time who were very rich, or are names close to real life people of time who were rich), the reader is meant to react to that list as if “wow…those must be big shots!”  Additionally, notice the preparation for these parties is enormous…huge crews are needed to set things up, there are full bands, waiters, etc.  Nick even notes that he is one of the very few people who gets invited to these parties; most people simply go because they know it is free booze, free entertainment, free food, and social and professional networking before the days of Instagram and LinkedIn.

Also notice that Gatsby himself does not really attend his own parties…yes, he is there on the property somewhere, and he does circulate through the crowds a little, but he does not advertise himself, and most people know little about him.  This results in many rumors circulating about him, most of the sinister, and yet these people still attend his parties.  Why?  Additionally, when Nick gets invited to the party, why would Gatsby want to make sure Nick of all people, who is not rich or famous, and who has never met Gatsby, is at the party?  Odd!  And then there is also the moment when one of Gatsby’s staff specifically seeks out Jordan Baker for a word…hmm…wonder why….what is so important about Jordan being spoken to privately, and what is so important about trying to get Nick to attend?

At all the parties, notice the behavior of the attendees.  They pretty much ruin the place every time, and the parties almost always end with masses of drunken people fighting with each other, crying, crashing cars, and so on.  (Just like most weekends at my house!)  These are the rich and famous, acting in the most undignified of ways in the most elegant of settings.  What do you think Fitzgerald is saying about people in general, and a little more specifically, about the rich and famous?

Once Nick does finally meet Gatsby, make sure you notice the description of Nick’s reaction to the guy.  From that point on, as Gatsby does everything he can to befriend Nick, notice the things Gatsby throws out there to impress Nick or reassure him.  A lot of what Gatsby says, does, and so on is to throw a good light on himself.  Why is he trying so hard?  Why does he have to make a positive impression so badly, particularly to Nick?  Is it necessary?  Are his words and claims honest?  Are there any cracks in his facade?

Wolfsheim is a relatively minor character, but will have some fair importance by the end of the book.  Take a careful look at the scene where Nick and Gatsby join him for lunch…there are things in that scene that cast some doubt on him as a businessman, and, by association, further doubt on Gatsby as well.  Wolfsheim obviously is not entirely above the board in his dealings, and Gatsby is an associate of Wolfsheim, soooo….both you and Nick are to take much of what Wolfsheim (and Gatsby) say and do with a grain of salt.  And speaking of being suspicious of people, notice that on the way to lunch with Wolfsheim, Gatsby and Nick get stopped by a police officer, but then are let go simply because Gatsby has a card he shows the cop.  He pretty literally has a “get out of jail free card.”  How would a guy get a card that makes officers just let him go, perhaps even be a little fearful, of the holder of the card?  Doesn’t that seem odd to you?

Other minor characters to keep tabs on when they do appear are Klipspringer, and one that never gets truly named, but simply goes by “Owl-Eyes” in Nick’s narration.  Neither one is going to do anything super huge with the overall plot, but will add something to later chapters symbolically and thematically, so make sure to make notice of each one.  Klipspringer is a guy who has basically moved in to Gatsby’s house, and is just sort of there all the darn time, leeching off of Gatsby.  Owl-Eyes is the one who notes to Nick the oddities about Gatsby’s library, and is also involved with that car accident on Gatsby’s property wherein a car is ruined in a ditch, a wall gets damaged, and yet Owl-Eyes blames everything else but himself for the incident.  Make sure you notice how irresponsible Owl-Eyes is.  He represents the lack of caring these rich people at Gatsby’s parties have, and this will make some impact in the latter portion of the book, but perhaps in a way a bit different from what you might expect.

Symbolism is a big deal in this novel.  As noted above, the color white is a recurring symbolic element.  So is the green light at the end of the dock that is on Daisy and Tom’s property, Gatsby’s car, Gatsby’s fully stocked but unused library, the valley of ashes, the TJ Eckleburg billboard, and more.  I won’t fully reveal that symbolism here, at least not yet, but consider the possible meanings of these from your own interpretation, from what you have learned before with this novel if you have been taught it before, and (dare I say it) from the way the recent film presents some of these.  The film does make use of some of these items, though not all, and with varying degrees of importance.