Lots of great comments yesterday — I wish I had the time to respond to all of them. In yesterday's post, I got a little bogged down in the set up of the story and the structure. This is a weakness of mine. I could discuss structure all day, and I think that Gatsby has a singularly interesting plot structure. We don't even meet the main character, the character who single-handedly drives the action of the novel, until just over a third of the way through the book. That's unusual. If any of you want to talk about how the story is structured (especially as we get toward the end) you won't have to twist my arm.
But for now, Chapter Two. I'm interested in hearing what you think. I'll come right out and say it. I think this is my least favorite chapter in the whole book. Probably because it centers on characters who I just don't like that much. The whole day trip to the city and afternoon in the apartment feels interminable. If I were there, I would pretend to fall asleep.
Which, of course, is the point. Everything about this chapter is too real and too raw.
First, we drive through the Valley of Ashes, where everything is gray. This is the literal connective tissue between the city and the "Eggs" — the colorful, vibrant West Egg and the cool, white, glittering East Egg. It's also an allusion to Eliot's "The Waste Land" which was published in 1922. William Carlos Williams referred to the poem as an atom bomb that blew the work of all other writers to dust. And the Valley of Ashes, the way it's described, looks like the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. While the homes in East Egg are a glittering, spotless white...the buildings in the Valley of Ashes are yellow brick or, at best, whitewashed. I'm looking forward to seeing how the new film depicts the valley.
Then we get the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg. Lots has been written on this symbol...it is the most obvious symbol in the book. What do you all think about the eyes? How do you picture them? And then we meet George Wilson: Cars Bought And Sold. Nice foreshadowing here.
But after they leave the Valley of Ashes, the chapter becomes exhausting to me. Still, we ought to say something about Myrtle. She is messy, pulsing, vital. Even her name suggests it. She is not cool, collected, and sunny like a Daisy (though she is desperately trying to be.) If you aren't familiar with the Myrtle tree, here's a picture:
We have a lot of these in the South. I'm not a fan. They need to be trimmed back a lot, they drop their flowers everywhere. Too frilly for my tastes. What else? The Myrtle tree is a symbol for Venus. And the name Myrtle was first used in the 1850s but didn't become popular until the turn-of-the-century. Trendy. Whereas Daisy believe it or not dates back to Old English and was often used as a nickname for Margaret, since the flower is called a marguerite in Old French. Classy.
But you didn't need to know all of that to know that Myrtle and Daisy are foils. What do you think about the two characters so far? The main character of Chapter One and the main character of Chapter Two? Do you have a favorite?
So they buy pedestrian things and talk about buying pedestrian things and do pedestrian things and wear pedestrian clothes and drink pedestrian drinks and talk about their pedestrian vacations (they went to Monte Carlo to gamble and lost everything in two days. Kind of like this guy.) And they gossip about Gatsby (there's not a single chapter where people aren't talking about him.)
And they discuss their pedestrian tastes. I do like this part — the only art in the apartment is an optical illusion painting that looks like a hen at one distance and an old woman in a bonnet at another. Nick looks at it, confused...like you did the first time you went to a house and saw "Dogs Playing Poker" hung up non-ironically. And the only book is Simon Called Peter which was a semi-erotic bestseller about the Catholic church published in 1921. You know those women who have Fifty Shades of Grey on their bookshelves right next to their daily devotional guides? This book is better because it combines both into one.
Two more things. There is gossip about Myrtle's husband and Tom's wife, much of it mean-spirited and untrue. And then there's this beautiful moment, beautiful revelation from Nick:
Yet high over the city our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering. I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.
How gorgeous and profound. And also why I think Fitzgerald chose this kind of narrator...to put us both within and without his story. But right after this paradoxical moment of inexhaustible life and profound peace, of within and without, we move straight to the disturbing end of the chapter before there's any time to reflect on it.
Myrtle tells Nick about the first time she met Tom — and it's a semi-violent meeting. Tom presses against her and forces her into a taxi. She wanted to be forced, she says. But this is how Tom, unrestrained by society, by the rules of his class, relates to women. And then, less than a page later, Tom and Myrtle get into an argument about Daisy and he breaks her nose.
I would have much rather ended within and without, cozy and distant...but that's not what Fitzgerald wanted. He wanted the violent crack at the end of Chapter Two.