There are some things we simply have to do, like assigned reading, taxes, and dying. I can’t do anything about two of those, but the first one? I can’t really do anything about that, either. What I CAN do is read The Great Gatsby and have thoughts about it. If memory serves (I read it once, long ago in the days of yore), then these are the thoughts I’ll be having:
“Gatsby, chill. For the love of God.”
“How is nobody trying to murder Tom Buchanan every minute of every day?”
“If you represent the American Dream and I represent the American Dream, then WHO’S DRIVING THE CAR?”
It’s going to be a good time. Come on. Take a journey with me.
The novel begins with our narrator, Nick Carraway, a wealthy and educated man who checks his privilege, thinks about not criticizing people, and then proceeds to criticize everybody anyway. Well, except for Gatsby. He’s a dude we’ll meet in due course. Nick had all these preconceived notions about the world, and then Gatsby came in like a wrecking ball and made him question everything. This sounds like the premise to a romance novel. For what it’s worth, Nick also says there was “something gorgeous” about Gatsby, but that’s just what bros do.
The very first thing that happens is that Nick moves to West Egg on Long Island in New York City. Also, his dog runs away. He doesn’t seem to care much about this. Does he feel things ever? I’m guessing not. Later he even says having dinner with his cousin, Daisy, and her husband, Tom, feels like a trick devised to make him have emotions, presumably because he’s a cyborg. Nick knows Tom from their days at Yale, and his description of Tom is hilarious. He was “ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL ENDS THAT EVER PLAYED FOOTBALL AT NEW HAVEN.” Also, “NOT EVEN THE EFFEMINATE SWANK OF HIS RIDING CLOTHES COULD HIDE THE ENORMOUS POWER OF THAT BODY.” He says some other stuff about boots glistening and muscles shifting, and the “gruff husky tenor” of Tom’s voice, but I think you get the picture. They were “never intimate” (actual quote), but Nick always had the feeling Tom wanted his approval. Nick. Dude. Just be cool, okay?
As Nick struggles to keep it in his pants, Tom proceeds to have no chill whatever. He also seems to have no inkling of how to hold an actual conversation with an actual person.
TOM: I’ve got a nice place here.* NICK: Okay. TOM: Nick, have you noticed my place? Have you noticed how nice it is? Do you like it, Nick? Nick! Do you like my place? NICK: Yeah. I mean, I guess it’s pretty nice. TOM: We’ll go inside.**
* ACTUAL DIALOGUE. HE SAYS THIS WHILE LITERALLY SPINNING NICK AROUND TO BEHOLD THE PROPERTY IN ITS ENTIRETY.
** MORE ACTUAL DIALOGUE. DOES HE ABRUPTLY GRAB NICK’S HAND AND DRAG HIM INTO THE HOUSE? IT DOESN’T SAY.
They go inside and meet up with Daisy, along with her friend, Jordan Baker. Jordan is a competitive golfer who yawns a lot and is everything that I aspire to be. She ignores Nick so severely that he almost apologizes twice just for existing in her presence. She then mentions Gatsby, who at this point is just some wealthy, probably gorgeous stranger that Nick doesn’t yet know, and they all have dinner. Tom goes off on a racist diatribe and then gets a phone call from his secret mistress. Yikes. Tom is making nothing but winning moves so far. I think Tom is the most ridiculous person in this novel. And that’s really saying something, considering we’re dealing with Nick “EMOTIONALLY CONSTIPATED” Carraway and Jay “I WANT YOU TO WANT ME” Gatsby.
But it does give Nick the opportunity to make what I think is the funniest joke in this chapter:
DAISY: I’ll tell you a family secret. It’s about the butler’s nose. Do you want to hear about the butler’s nose? NICK: That’s why I came over tonight.
Nick is the rough equivalent of me at family parties.
Daisy leaves the room to bicker with Tom. When they return, dinner ends. Daisy takes Nick out onto the porch, and Nick makes small talk about the two-year-old daughter that he’s pretty sure exists. Daisy all but says “What daughter?” and then admits that she wants her daughter to be a “beautiful little fool.” I feel like she gets a lot of flack for this line, but it speaks to the marginalization of women in a society where they were valued for their beauty and not much else. Elsewhere, Tom is probably forcing Jordan to look at the property while Jordan plots his death and yawns.
When Jordan departs, Daisy addresses some of the rumors going around about Nick’s love life. Apparently he had a girlfriend back in the Midwest who he broke up with for reasons that had nothing to do with Tom and his powerful body. Nick dismisses her questions, and he leaves.
Nick goes home feeling more jaded and cynical than usual. It was a loss, as dinners go. Daisy didn’t rush out to meet him, child in arms, which really ticks him off for some reason. Tom may be a physically impressive specimen of a man, but he’s also a complete idiot. You know when you used to have a crush on a guy, and then you reconnect, except now he’s violently racist and married with a girl on the side? Nick knows that feel.
And then… and then? Well, then Nick pulls into his driveway, forlorn and disappointed, and he spots him—Gatsby, the mysterious next-door neighbor. Nick thinks about calling out to him, but he doesn’t. The chapter ends with Gatsby staring longingly at a green light across the water, but that’s probably not important.
For all of Elodie’s Great Gatsby blog click HERE, and to find our full index of classic lit blogs click HERE.
If you just started reading The Great Gatsby in high school, then this blog is THE BEST THING EVER TO HAPPEN TO YOU. Even if you aren’t reading the Great Gatsby and never plan to, THE PREVIOUS CLAIM STILL APPLIES. If you need some deets to supplement Elodie’s hilarious summary of Chapter 1, check out the SparkNote!