The Great Gatsby

by: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Jay Gatsby

If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away.

With these words, which come early in Chapter 1, Nick describes Gatsby for the first time. Nick indicates that many people find Gatsby “gorgeous” because he exudes an aura of success. But this aura is just the effect of “gestures”—that is, Gatsby projects an image of success, whether or not there is any substance behind the image. Nick also implies that Gatsby is able to project an image of success because he’s especially responsive to what others desire. According to Nick, Gatsby possesses “an extraordinary gift for hope,” and he measures this hope with great sensitivity, like a seismograph.

It was testimony to the romantic speculation [Gatsby] inspired that there were whispers about him from those who had found little that it was necessary to whisper about in this world.

This quote appears in Chapter 3, during Gatsby’s party. At this point in the book, Nick has yet to meet Gatsby face to face, and rumors are circulating about the party’s host. One young woman puts forward an especially extreme hypothesis: “I’ll bet he killed a man.” In response, Nick observes that such gossip just goes to show how greatly Gatsby is shrouded in mystery. Even those world-weary and cynical folks who are not usually driven to gossip find pleasure in speculating about Gatsby.

I was looking at an elegant young roughneck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd.

Nick makes these observations about Gatsby in Chapter 3, just after he’s exchanged his first words with the man. “Roughneck,” a word used to describe workers on an oil rig, or any person who does manual labor, hints at the later revelation of Gatsby’s working class beginnings. The phrase “elegant young roughneck” indicates something contradictory about Gatsby’s appearance—at once stylish and rugged. Nick links this contradiction in his appearance to his strange way of expressing himself. Gatsby’s “elaborate formality of speech” indicates that something is off, as if he doesn’t feel truly at home among affluent society. In other words, the near absurdity of Gatsby’s speech suggests that he doesn’t really fit in.

He hurried the phrase “educated at Oxford,” or swallowed it, or choked on it, as though it had bothered him now. And with this doubt, his whole statement fell to pieces, and I wondered if there wasn’t something a little sinister about him, after all.

In Chapter 4, Nick once again notes an oddity in Gatsby’s speech. This time the oddity relates to the moment when Gatsby says he was educated at Oxford. The way Gatsby seems to choke on the words makes Nick suspicious, as if he’s is telling a lie. And indeed, as Nick finds out in Chapter 7, Gatsby was not educated at Oxford—or, not exactly. He attended Oxford for five months before dropping out. Although at this moment in the novel Nick doesn’t yet know this information, he senses the lie, which in turn makes him mistrustful of Gatsby altogether.

There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams—not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion.

Here Nick comments on Gatsby’s idealism regarding Daisy. As Nick points out with these words from Chapter 5, the “colossal vitality” of Gatsby’s illusions about Daisy doomed their reunion from the start. There’s simply no way Daisy could live up to the image Gatsby’s created of her. In articulating this thought, Nick foreshadows the inevitable failure of Gatsby’s pursuit of Daisy.

It excited him, too, that many men had already loved Daisy—it increased her value in his eyes.

Nick makes this observation in Chapter 8 while recounting Gatsby and Daisy’s backstory. It is unclear whether Gatsby said this to Nick, or if this represents Nick’s interpretation. Either way, Nick’s words indicate how Gatsby’s desire for Daisy cannot be separated from a concept of value. Although the “value” mentioned here is not monetary value, the economic metaphor still holds: the greater the demand for Daisy, the greater her value.

[Gatsby] must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass.

In Chapter 8 Nick speculates about Gatsby’s last moments of life. Nick imagines that Gatsby must have felt a sense of grief about how the events of the previous day had unfolded. Nick describes this grief in his own characteristically abstract way, referring to the loss of “the old warm world.” This turn of phrase encompasses Gatsby’s desire for Daisy and his hopes for their future together, both of which Nick thinks are illusory. With Gatsby’s hopes shattered, the old world of illusions gives way to a “grotesque” and “raw” reality.