The chapter begins with some dude talking about his dad. Then he talks about himself. A lot. Then he talks about his family, the Carraways, and then he is back to himself. Seems he is a rich fella back from the Great War (Never be another one like it!) and in the bond business. While on his first job, he takes a house out on West Egg Island and commutes to the city.
After laying down the community around the island and its various characters, he pays a visit to Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Our narrator went to school with Tom and is Daisy’s cousin. Tom is a bit of a jerk focussed on status and wealth while Daisy is laying about. We also meet Miss Baker, a golf pro who also lays about. Everyone gets drunk.
The name “Gatsby,” Carraway’s neighbor, is brought up and our narrator and Daisy seem interested, but then Tom goes off on a rant about how the minorities are going to overtake the white people. Daisy calms her racist husband until Tom gets a phone call.
Carraway attempts to ask Miss Baker about Gatsby, but Miss Baker is more interested in Tom and Daisy. She tells our narrator that Tom has a woman on the side in New York and that that’s who must be calling. When Tom and Daisy come back feigning happiness, the phone rings again and Daisy flips her shit. She talks to Nick (Carraway, our narrator), explaining how she hopes they can become closer as well as the times around her daughters birth.
Much later after dinner, Miss Jordan Baker, whom Nick recognizes as the Jordan Baker, Golf Goddess, leaves and they discuss her wild ways until everyone becomes uncomfortable with the notion of independent women. Nick gets the hell out.
Nick drives home. As he pulls up, he sees a man strolling about in the dark looking at the stars. He goes to call for him, deciding the man is Gatsby, his neighbor, but the man disappears.
What do first chapters do, kids? That’s right, they introduce us to the principle characters and start the main conflict of the story. What’s that? No, you can not go to the bathroom until we have gone over what we have just read.
First up is Nick Carraway, our narrator and all around nice guy. We learn that he is a former soldier and young buck, unattached and out to make his mark on the world by doing bonds. Really, the reader does not have to know much about Nick. He’s a pretty average dude and a bit of a realist. He sees and tells things the way they are. Pretty much, he is boring and plunked down to tell us a story so that we may go inside his head John Malkovich style and trust what he says, sees and hears without him going all “I was the killer all along” on us at the end. Not that anyone have died yet...
Second we have Jordan Baker, another outside observer, meant to be Nick’s twisted Nora, a counterbalance that the reader cannot trust. And why should the reader mistrust her? Simple, she is the opposite of our narrator Nick. She is mysterious and seductive, spending the day laying about and doing little. She is aloof, casually tossing off lines of dialog that contain pounds of weight yet treating them flippantly. Also, unlike Nick, she earns her money and renown with a game being a professional golfer, not a fancy working person in the bond trade such as Nick.
Dare we not mention Tom any longer? Because if we did not, he might chime in with some tidbit about how we should have. When that person whom I cannot remember wrote about keeping up with the Jones’s, the author must have been living next to Tom Buchanan. Tom is excess, power and bravado. He reads things he deems interesting and spouts them back out from on top of his high horse. The reader can trust everything he says to be overblown lies because the reader finds out that he is an overblown liar and an adulterer.
That brings us to Daisy... Poor Daisy. She shares traits of all three characters, yet none of their strengths. She is weak, quiet and the peace keeper of the group, always the wilting flower. She has Miss Baker’s love of gossip and aloofness coupled with Tom’s extravagant nature. In the few lines she does get to show her one strength, intelligence, she allows herself to be rolled over held under a tide of misdirection that is her life. A pitiful creature that sees her cage and closes the door when it is opened.
Our last character introduced is the still mysterious title character Gatsby. Only mentioned a few times in this chapter, narrator Nick does not hesitate to give us a glowing review of his neighbor. The next two times are requests for information on the hidden figure, both of which are thwarted. The final time is against the backdrop of stars. The image of the man in the shadows looking toward the stars paints the picture of a man with dreams and hope that come from a dark place, a land of shadow that hints at greatness through the hope. Will he live up to the hype?
The main conflict of this chapter in the readers intentions is “who is Gatsby?” By not introducing the character right away, Mr. Fitzgerald keeps the question in the reader’s mind, holding him/her/it/shem with the question and focusing on it by narrowing the gaze to these outside characters. By only bringing up the question a few times, the question becomes like the man, always in shadows but full of awareness.
- Will Gatsby live up to the hype his shadowy figure suggests?
- Which of these characters do you most resemble? Do you think you would look hot in their clothes?
- Have you ever drunk all day and then watched a dude stare at the stars? Discuss.
- List all the consequences of the first World War in order of socio-economic impact of the major superpowers in the world at that time. Trippy shit, huh?