Notes on Chapter 3 of The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby: Chapter 3

Chapter 3 opens with a bravura description of a party at Gatsby’s mansion. Nick is given a rich palette of poetic language to evoke the early summer hedonism of the revellers: the gardens are ‘blue’, revellers move ‘like moths among the whisperings the champagne and the stars’. Despite the obvious allure of the performance, Nick is also clearly aware of the artifice – the crates of oranges to be pulped by a machine ‘pressed two hundred times by a butler’s thumb’. The reader sees that he is attracted to the spectacle yet his ability to see both sides of any situation calls him back to the reality of the master/servant relationship.

As he explores the regular parties, Fitzgerald shifts Nick into writing in the present tense and in ever longer sentences as he presents the picture of glamour to the reader. As the excitement mounts in this description of a typical Gatsby party, as yet unsullied by the appearance of Nick and Tom, so the writing once again evokes colour.


The Party: Colour is significant throughout this book: Daisy and Jordan are generally ‘white’, Gatsby moves in pastels ending in his ‘pink rag of a suit’, the light of desire is ‘green’ and in this chapter blue and yellow are inn opposition. Yellow, the base-colour of gold has already been associated with the Buchanan wealth and the allure of the wealthy life, now we see it as the colour of sunshine and by extension fertility and also as the colour of fire, or of dried grass, which might combust (Tom’s hair is ‘straw’ coloured. Whilst the lights here ‘glow brighter’ we see a shift – ‘the earth lurches away from the sun and now the orchestra plays yellow cocktail music’ as though there is a new star in the sky – star of alcoholic excess which has replaced the sun. Against this, blue is cool, liquid, twilight and the night sky, as suited to the ‘blue garden’ or the ‘blue honey of the Mediterranean’. The two colours work in some form of harmony as opposites – note the cars of Tom (blue) and Gatsby (Cream) which are swapped at the time of the death-drive.

Once Nick has met up with Jordan, the pair venture to enter the mansion and we see a new setting – the interior of the Gatsby mansion. We should be comparing this with the Buchanan home; Gatsby full of grandeur and artifice, he is after all a ‘regular Belasco’ as opposed to the huge emptiness of the Buchanan home. Gatsby has created a reconstruction of the original model inside as well as out. In the library the pair meet an anonymous man in ‘owl-eyed’ spectacles, recalling Eckleburg and reminding us of the close scrutiny paid to all in this text. He is impressed by the fact that the books are real – he has tried them and expected to find a façade. Evidently there is more to Gatsby than meets the eye. The library is ‘high Gothic’ and panelled in ‘English Oak’. This setting tells us that if Gatsby has set his eye to something, it will be done thoroughly.

The final setting of the chapter is the one described by Nick, looking back on his days working in New York. He sees 5th Avenue as a location for voyeuristic fantasies as he imagines himself entering the lives of ‘romantic women’, and he feels the ‘enchanted metropolitan twilight’ as time of loneliness and a link between himself and the poor young clerks he sees waiting for their restaurant supper. He seems to be enjoying his loneliness and allowing himself time to indulge his more romantic fantasies since he has lost touch temporarily with Jordan. The chapter closes with the pair meeting and discussing driving – Jordan’s carelessness appals him and the reader is reminded of the careless motor accident as guests leave the party and Fitzgerald establishes the idea of cars being dangerous and potential killers which will pervade the later sections of the novel.


  • Nick Carraway: ‘I hate careless people. That’s why I like you.’ Says Jordan to Nick as the chapter closes. Careless is interesting – yes it can mean accident prone but also carries the idea of cold selfishness. Nick does care for people and we see it in his behaviour in Chapter 2 and throughout the novel in his response to Gatsby. That Jordan should hate the careless is more curious – Tom and Daisy surely rank as totally careless… Nick is also seen as a voyeur in this chapter, not just at the party but also in his private life.

He has arrived at the party in his flannels, slightly under dressed, and anxious to behave in the prescribed manner for a polite guest at a party- he wishes to meet his host and to thank him – anyone he asks finds this risible and he is clearly uncomfortable until he joins up with Jordan. He ‘roars’ his greeting : he is slightly drunk but also hugely relieved to find what he assumes is a kindred spirit at the party. Surrounded by the young Englishmen clearly searching for a business connection, Jordan is seen to be ‘contemptuous’ of the party and the two take part in a sporadic conversation in which 6 versions of the Gatsby legend are discussed by the other guests. After the exploration of the house, Nick carefully notes the detail of the party before meeting a guest with whom he falls into conversation. This turns out to be Gatsby and his shock is complete. As he explains to Jordan, he had imagined a ‘florid and corpulent person’ matching his house. He is impressed and as Jordan says, he is now ‘started on the subject’. Before Nick leaves he notes carefully the change in the party – Jordan has been taken away be Gatsby and Nick notices her original partner clearly engaged in highly detailed sexual discussion – what Nick primly refers to as ‘obstetrical conversation’; Women ar efighting with their husbands and crying; the singer, ‘very ineptly’, is weeping into her song; even the East Egg group which arrived with Jordan has sunk to the base level of the amusement park behaviour, flirting and weeping in turns. The party has lost its glamour. Polite as ever, Nick makes his farewells and leaves to witness the various car accidents in the drive. His last comment clearly shows that despite the clamour he has been won over by Gatsby: he sees the ‘wafer of a moon’ as ‘surviving’ the laughter in the garden and suggests that a new moon such as this is a symbol of hope and of the potential of continual renewal; he senses the ‘sudden emptiness’ emanating from the house, an emptiness which we will learn that only Daisy can cure and he sees Gatsby caught in the posture of farewell and notes his isolation. He is still shut out from society and from the girl of his memories, as Nick will discover in Chapter 4.

  • Jordan Baker: Jordan continues to be presented as unfeminine and ungracious in this chapter. In her first appearance she is ‘leaning a little backward… contemptuous…impersonal{ly}’ yet also she is clearly careful enough to recall the twins from an earlier party and also drily humorous as she excuses the pair of them with the comment that ‘this is much too polite for me’. Nick, the man of ambiguous opinions on everyone is happy in her ambiguous society. Her arm is ‘golden’ suggesting wealth and prosperity, though as discussed earlier, the sense of possible conflagration lurks around her. She does not join in the gossip and seems genuinely uninterested in Gatsby beyond attending his parties. To her he is ‘just a man named Gatsby’, at least until he asks her for a private conversation. As yet we do not know that he has declared to her is love for Daisy, but she is clearly fascinated and excited once she returns to the party. Gatsby now has a purpose and she tantalizes Nick as much from her own excitement as from a wish to have him hang on her every word. Her assignation with Nick, seen as the beginning of a romantic attachment must be seen also in the light of a business deal, after all, the girl who shuns femininity in favour of evening clothes which hang like ‘sports clothes’ has too much masculinity about her not to engage immediately in the business transaction which will bring Daisy back into Gatsby’s orbit.


  • Jay Gatsby/Jimmy Gatz…


Gatsby appears at last in this chapter and Fitzgerald neatly combines anticipation, felt by Nick’s continuing search for his host, with a suggestion of a key element of Gatsby’s character – his chameleon-like ability to avoid becoming noticed or attached. As soon as he appears, we are reminded of his ‘business’ in the two phone calls he is urged to take – whatever he does, it is a 24 hour concern. In terms of what he does and who he is, we receive 6 possible idea in the chapter – Nick’s wealthy neighbour, someone who ‘doesn’t want any trouble with anybody’, someone who ‘killed a man once’, a German spy, a former American soldier and an ‘Oxford man’. All could be rolled into the same body, but it is clear that no one has a clear idea of his background, even Jordan, who has clearly talked with him in the past and refers to him as just a man named Gatsby.

He meets Nick in the party and remains anonymous until Nick makes his little faux-pas. Is he man who is careful to conceal his identity or is just shy? We never find out because he leaves for a call, however Nick has been transfixed by ‘one of those rare smiles with a quality of reassurance in it’ before it is dropped and Nick sees something closer to reality: ‘an elegant rough neck, a year or two over thirty’.  It is clear from this phrase that this is not someone with whom Nick would usually mix, and we recall the comment from the opening chapter when he states that Gatsby embodies ‘everything for which I have an unaffected scorn’ and also ‘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 find again’.

Gatsby clearly has a plan – whether by luck or judgement he has discovered that Nick is related to Daisy and that Jordan is convenient link between the pair. He uses Jordan to develop a plan which will emerge as we read on. He knows that it would be impossible for him to approach Daisy as an equal in the East/West Egg scenario. Thus he develops connections to act on his behalf. He remains aloof and unknown.

Fitzgerald played with the idea of calling this novel ‘Trimalchio in West Egg’. Trimalchio is the central character of the Satyricon by Petronius, a master of vulgar and sexual revels who indulges his desires to the full in all of his vast and luxurious parties. We should note how little Gatsby partakes. His parties are the lure to attract Daisy, not opportunities for him to debauch himself without licence. We should not, therefore read too much into the character of the pair, yet Trimalchio has an obsession with the passing of time, as does Gatsby, who fears the passage of time which takes him further and further away from Daisy. Also Trimalchio is first seen engaged with study of a ‘green ball’ which he struggles to keep in the air. Fitzgerald has surely used this image in the ‘green light’ – the dream which must be kept alive (in the air) and which will be spoiled by attainment – just a sthe ball will ultimately come to ground.



Reading this chapter we should notice the patterns developing in the novel. Two intimate parties contrast each other and are followed by the extravagance of the first Gatsby party to be attended by Nick. When he returns in Chapter 6 so much is different as a new perspective is given to the party by the presence of the Buchanans. In this chapter we see how swiftly the veneer of attractiveness is replaced by a harsh and possibly cruel reality as time passes and we enjoy as Nick does, his first experience of a Gatsby function. At this stage we can say little about Gatsby, but we should be aware of the spectral world around him and the careful façade he has erected – his butler is ever on hand with the telephone and his business is evidently never far away. As the party ends he is seen alone and described as isolated – his solitude seems to be his own decision.

One image remains: as Nick described Gatsby’s musical request-  Tostoff’s Jazz History of the World (a name redolent with the easy frippery of the Twenties and an intention to present a new world order, reinvented for the young and flamboyant) – Gatsby is seen alone, watching with ‘approving eyes’ and Nick says that he could see ‘nothing sinister’ in him – the very fact that it is recorded suggests that many can and places Nick and Gatsby together in some form of acceptance of the other.