Notes: The Great Gatsby Chapter 4
Fitzgerald places a second description of a typical Gatsby party at the opening of Chapter 4. It establishes Hedonism as a religion replacing conventional church-going , reinforces the sense of loosened sexual morals and introduces two more Gatsby myths – the bootlegger and the nephew to Von Hindenburg, one of which will be seen to be true, The interest lies in the satirical bit eof the second half of the Hindenburg idea –‘second cousin to the devil’ – and the empty opulence of the event – ‘ reach me a rose, honey, and pour me a last drop into that there crystal glass’. Roses are generally symbolic of fading beauty rather than consistency and this one is almost out of reach. Possibly the dream-time is coming to an end, just as the champagne seems to have reached the ‘last drop’.
Nick’s careful charting of the event is shown in his recording of guests on a time-table. As ever we are reminded of time as a concept which moves on regardless of the world around it and leaves humans helpless in its thrall. The list reads as an Homeric list on one level, simply recording those who attended, ye the names tell a clearer story. Nick divides the list between East and West Egg, and the names tell their own story. The East Eggers seem to have harsh and generally ‘older’ names – there is not a little ill-omen in fights and deaths. Dr. Civet, will reappear at the second party and helps to establish the time-lapses in the narrative since he died ‘last summer. If Nick is recalling this timetable, written in 1922 from the vantage point of 1924, then Dr. Civet neatly dies in the gap between the two major narrative times of the book. The West Eggers seem more European and possibly more recent in arriving. Schoen, Gulick, Cohen, Schwartz suggest Middle European and Jewish heritage. Some come from the movie world and others to gamble. James B. (Rotgut) Ferret seems to sum up this group – his nickname suggesting some link to the illicit liquor market and his wealth significant but essentially transient. He relies on the daily success of his company. This is not old money and suggests a parasitic relationship with those who buy from Associated Traction. Death is never far from this list and there is a clear sense of relaxed marital morals all of which foreshadow the direction of the narrative as we move into the chapter. As the section closes, Nick loses the clarity of recall. These are transient events and have no lasting impact on the world around them.
- Gatsby’s car is the first setting of note. It is vehicle of excess – when not released on the highway it lurches, suggesting size and shatters the relative peace with the ‘three-noted horn. Gatsby uses it to pose and to show-off his wealth and is self-deprecating when describing it as ‘pretty’. Nick’s description suggests something far from pretty – it is ‘swollen… monstrous… triumphant’ much in the manner of pre-crash New York wealth and business. It reflects ‘ten suns’ suggesting enormous power and wealth and the traveller is caught up inside a ‘green leather conservatory’. It’s colour –rich cream – extends the use of shades of yellow as considered in Chapter 3 yet will also confuse. At the time of the accident no one seems quite to be able to settle on a description of this colour. It seems to resemble Gatsby in this way. This setting is the safe space in which Gatsby will divulge his first version of his life story, and also from which Nick will see first-hand the power and corruption available to the very rich as the card from the commissioner buys off the lowly traffic cop. Despite the memento mori image of the hearse, this is a journey from myth – the car scatters light with ‘fenders spread like wings’ suggesting power beyond the normal and suggesting two images to the reader – neither being good: Icarus flying close to the sun and the vehicle of Lucifer, the light bearer. I do not wish to force the latter image, though it interests me. Lucifer is always plausible when seducing the innocent and Nick is seduced by Gatsby. If the Old Money of the East can be seen as the heavenly form of wealth and power to the long-standing families, then Gatsby can certainly be seen as some form of rebel angel, one who will, ultimately, be removed from paradise. Enough.
- The lunch venue in ‘well-fanned… cellar’ on 42nd street places the reader in the heart of New York. Not the business district, but the centre of life. Yet a cellar is a curiously dark and secretive locale, especially in contrast to the two mansions where most of the action has taken place thus far. It seems right that Nick should be introduced to the criminal Wolfshiem in this urban hell –no fire as such, but hot and dark, even if not as ‘hot’ as the old Metropole. It is somewhere to avoid being seen, which makes it perhaps surprising that Tom Buchanan should be seen, yet his life with mistresses and deception should allow him entry to such a place. It is a place of ‘succulent hash’- suggestive of raw meat – and of discussion around gang murder and the enormous gambling deception of the fixing of the World Series, a feat so huge that Nick cannot conceive of a single person undertaking such an action.
- The Plaza and Central Park. In the formal surroundings of the grand Plaza Hotel, Nick is told about Daisy’s background by a very formal Jordan – ‘sitting up very straight on a straight chair). Nick notes the wealth redolent in the buildings around the Park as they ride and the children singing a 1920s popular love song, full of mystery and Eastern allure act almost as Shakespeare’s fairies in this pastoral dream-scape. Despite it being dark, Jordan’s shoulder is described as ‘Golden’ due to her wealth, beauty and power and also denying her any link to the moon, conventionally used to portray femininity and chastity. Jordan seems to provide her own sun. The pair pass out of the trees and the ‘façade of 59th street into the park proper and a romance of a sort begins. Nick seems to take the opportunity offered to him, and Jordan, despite ‘her wan, scornful mouth’ allows him to draw her up closer to his face. Despite the setting there is little romance here. The do not ‘kiss’ and she is chosen since he has ‘no girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices…’.
- Gatsby: His virility and power is reflected in his car. It is an outward display. Once safe inside the vehicle he seems less secure, asking Nick what he thinks of him and beginning to create his mythology as a prelude to explaining the plan for Daisy and the tea-party which will be approached by Jordan later in the chapter, as though Gatsby cannot act on his own behalf in such a romantic notion – deals with Chicago, yes, but an attempt to grasp the grail of his dreams is too much for him . He calls his tissue of lies the ‘God’s truth’, yet as we have seen his party seems to be a new religion. If this is the case then he may not be far wrong, as long as he is the deity at the centre of the religion. What is clear is the level of fabrication (San Francisco in the Mid-West) and the lengths that he has gone to in order to prove his story as true – the photo might be carried, but the medal is surely there simply to provide bolstering evidence for that section of his story. Nick will believe the Oxford and the War and chooses to overlook the clear lies elsewhere in the story. His faith in Gatsby grows. Gatsby is seen both using his power to deflect authority and then engaging in his ‘real’ world – the shady underworld of the unspecified criminal dealings with Wolfshiem. There are secretive phone calls and unspecified references to deals before he vanishes on the introduction to Tom. Once again Gatsby can simply appear and disappear at will, it seems. Not only this, but as Jordan tells Nick, someone whose entire life at this time seems to have been constructed with the sole aim of capturing Daisy – a construct developed to catch his grail. His quest is nearing its end.
- Wolfshiem is the real face of Gatsby’s lifestyle. A creature of the dark, who eats with ‘ferocious delicacy’ suggesting some form of animal, an image enhanced by Nick eventually finding two ‘tiny eyes’ in a face dominated by nasal hair and described as that of a ‘small flat-nosed Jew’. He seems to be some form of rodent lurking in the cellar. He wears human molars on his cuffs and is a ruthless gambler who ‘fixed the world series of 1919’, an almost mythical action. Yet he is described by Gatsby as ‘sentimental’ and he bemoans the loss of his friends and the Old Metropole and is obviously fond of his protégé, Gatsby. As a ‘denizen of Broadway’ he establishes a clear link between that area of the city (the dancers, musicians, singers and players who attend Gatsby’s parties) and the criminal underworld. To Gatsby he remains a ‘smart’ man who ‘saw the opportunity’ – he did nothing wrong.
- Jordan and Daisy: Jordan is used as a narrative tool to present Daisy’s back story. Her impersonal manner ensures that the tale is detailed and also that it carries some hints of material not fully discussed. Daisy is presented as ‘white’ (pure but cold?) but who welcomes the constant calls from officers and who might have considered elopement at one stage. She seems to embody the new morals of the wealthy as the century got under way, as discussed by Fitzgerald and mentioned in my notes on Chapter 1: ‘petting’ is allowed if one is rich. Jordan is younger that Daisy and in awe of her, it appears, and had seen her alone in her car with a young Gatsby in 1917 before the latter’s time in Europe at war. He dotes on her, looking at her in a ‘way that every young girl wants to be looked at sometimes’ suggesting that he is utterly devoted, yet for the girl, the appeal to her vanity is equally strong. Ultimately it is suggested that the power and wealth of Tom Buchanan with the $350,000 pearl necklace is enough to displace Gatsby from her mind. That said, her drunken crisis on her wedding day suggests enough to explain the relative ease of the liaison which develops in the coming chapters. Daisy is beautiful wealthy and unhappy in marriage – Tom’s affairs begin even on the honeymoon and receive unwelcome publicity. The pair travelled in Europe and settled in Chicago where, Jordan hints, Daisy’s teetotal life might have spared her from notice and a bad reputation and allowed her to keep any indiscretions discreet! As Jordan comments, ‘Daisy ought to have something in her life’. Jordan is used as a go-between and we learn little of her at any time in the novel. We know she is a liar and has possibly risen to sporting prominence by cheating, yet we know little else. Nick describes her negatively, as always. She is ‘clean, hard, limited’ and leans back ‘jauntily’ in his arm at a time when one might expect her to be relaxed and snuggling affectionately. This lack of overt femininity appeals to Nick who is driven by the genderless formula that ’there are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired. A mantra for a new society based on outcome, and one which Nick will accept in Chapter 9 when he declares himself too old (tired) for the games being played in the world. Jordan aspired to Daisy as a teenager much as she aspires to a man’s world in adulthood. She is a ‘new’ woman, freed from the shackles of gender-based behaviour norms. Yet even she will revert to type when the crisis comes.
In this chapter we get backstory and detail. Some is clearly true and some clearly unreliable. Nick is caught on both sides of the fence and states his faith in Gatsby in exaggerated prose after the tale of war and Oxford has been told. He knows Gatsby is lying for much of the tale but is prepared to overlook it due to the romantic ideals of the man. He and Jordan begin some form of relationship, though clearly not one based on mutual attraction, let alone love. The reader is ready for the tea party of Chapter 5 and the meeting which has been anticipated since Gatsby was first seen in Chapter 1. The ‘pursuer’, his arms outstretched to the green light.