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Marguerite Duras

Chapter 1

Nick Carraway is a young man who has moved to the West Egg area of Long Island from Minnesota. He is the narrator of The Great Gatsby, and portrays himself as being the author of the book. He starts out by talking about himself and the things he learned from his father. One of those things was not to judge others by his own standards of morality, because doing that will cause a misunderstanding of who they really are and how they live their lives. He claims to be very tolerant of people in their own right, but also a very moral individual when it comes to the way his own life is lived. He also mentions Gatsby, the protagonist of the story, very briefly. As he talks about the man, he portrays Gatsby as a representation of everything that is scorned by Nick, himself. Because of his tolerant nature, though, he also says that Gatsby had a "gorgeous" personality, and exempts him from judgment. This withholding of judgment is common for Nick, no matter the person he is discussing.

As Nick continues discussing his life, he talks about the summer of 1922, which was spent in West Egg. He was new to New York, having just arrived and rented a house there. The West Egg area is home to people who have newly-acquired wealth. East Egg, across from West Egg, is for those who have established wealth and social connections. While both areas are equally rich, the character of the people who live in them is different because of the length of time they have had their money and status. Because the people in West Egg have not had money long and often want to flaunt that they have it at all, there are lavish displays and garish homes that are in poor taste. Nick has rented a house that is relatively modest, but it sits next to the Gothic, over-the-top mansion that belongs to Gatsby.

Nick is also different from the others in West Egg in that he is a Yale graduate and has connections in East Egg, where the elite live. He drives to East Egg to have a dinner with his cousin, Daisy, and her husband, Tom. Tom Buchanan was a member of Nick's social club when they both went to Yale. He is a powerful man, both physically and financially, and greets Nick on the front porch. He is dressed in riding clothes. When the two men go inside, they see Daisy lounging on the couch with Jordan Baker, a competitive golfer who is also one of Daisy's best friends. Jordan yawns and appears as though she is bored by everything. Tom is discussing a book about white supremacy that he is trying to get the others to take an interest in, but he is interrupted by a phone call. Daisy hurries out after him, and Jordan tells Nick that the call is from Tom's lover.

The dinner is awkward, and there is not much conversation afterward. Jordan has a golf tournament the next day, so she goes to bed. Nick is preparing to leave, and Daisy and Tom drop hints that they would like to see Nick and Jordan in a romantic relationship. Nick gets home and sees Gatsby for the first time. He is a good-looking young man who is standing on the lawn of his home. His arms are stretched out toward the water of the bay that separates West Egg from East Egg. Nick looks across the water to see what Gatsby is focused on, but all he sees is a tiny, green light in the distance. He assumes it must be the end of one of the docks on the East Egg side of the water, but he does not think any more about it. There is no reason for him to speculate, and he is far less opinionated, gossipy, and judgmental than the vast majority of his neighbors.

The attitudes and perceptions Nick has about the characters and the events seen in the novel are an important and significant part of The Great Gatsby. Nick played a big part in the story, and as he tells that story he is better able to wrestle with the meaning behind some of the things that took place. In the early pages of the first chapter, the contradictions Nick has in his life are established. For example, he says that he is not a judgmental person and that he is very tolerant, but then he goes on to say that he sees himself as better than others when it comes to his morality. In other words, his sense of "decency" is much better than those around him. It is difficult to see how this is not a judgmental attitude, because it is clearly intolerant of others. The desire to come to terms with the challenge of how Gatsby can represent everything Nick loves and everything he despises at the same time is a central part of the novel and affects how Nick portrays everyone in it – including himself.

East Egg is across from West Egg, and there are many beautiful homes and beautiful (looking) people there. There are also many realities there that are not nearly as attractive as what they would appear to be on the outside. Daisy and Tom appear to have a good marriage on the outside, but there is nothing good about it, in truth. Tom is dishonest and arrogant, and he is both sexist and racist. He argues with others in an attempt to shove his own views on them, and the love affairs he has with other women are generally public in nature. He does not make much of an effort to hide them from his wife. Daisy, on the other hand, is focused on acting shallow, because she seems to believe that is what women should do, and it is easier for them that way. She hopes her infant daughter grows up to be a "beautiful fool." Jordan Baker's character helps the story along with her beauty and wealth coupled with cynicism, dishonesty, and a sense of boredom. Just like Tom and Daisy, Jordan uses the glamour that she shows to the world to cover up how empty she really is inside.

The people who live in East Egg provide a strong contrast to Gatsby. Nick is uncertain as to the origin of the green light or Gatsby's interest in it, but the yearning Gatsby portrays in his emotional response to it and his posture toward it make him appear very different from the Buchanans and other East Egg families. It makes Gatsby somewhat mysterious to Nick, because Nick does not know anything about Gatsby's motives, how he became rich, or what he has done with his life up to this point. What he yearns for remains remote and cloaked in secrecy, just like the green light on the other side of the bay. Social values and geography are significant in The Great Gatsby, because every setting used in the story corresponds to some character type or idea Fitzgerald is working to portray. In the first chapter, both West Egg and East Egg are introduced. Each one offers extreme wealth, but they also have the water in between them, signifying a separation in the way people live and who those people are, from a social standpoint. The romance between Daisy and Gatsby shows the inability of the two Eggs to meet, meld, or accept one another.

Chapter 2

Between New York and West Egg lies the Valley of Ashes. This is a desolate, gray place where the ashes from New York are dumped. The people who live there shovel the ashes. That is their job. There are two huge, blue eyes, framed by glasses, that look down on them. They were part of an advertising gimmick by an eye doctor who left long ago. Still, it looks as though those giant eyes are watching over everything that is taking place in the valley. There is a commuter train running between New York and West Egg, and it goes right through the valley. It makes several stops. Nick and Tom ride the train into the city one day, and Tom insists that Nick get out with him at a stop in the valley. Nick does so, not feeling like he has much choice, and Tom takes them to the garage of George Wilson. Myrtle, George's wife, is the lover that Tom has taken.

George Wilson is a handsome man, but he appears lifeless. The ashes that are constantly in the air in the valley have turned him gray. Myrtle is a contrast to her husband. She seems very vital, almost desperately so, and is sensuous even though she is stocky and overweight. Tom enjoys taunting her husband, and then tells Myrtle to follow him. Tom, Myrtle, and Nick go back to the train, and they head into New York City. He has an apartment there, where he takes Myrtle frequently. The apartment is only for his affair. They have a party with Catherine, Myrtle's sister, and another couple. Catherine is very gaudy and wears too much makeup. She says that Gatsby is related to Kaiser Wilhelm, who ruled Germany during the First World War. She has heard that information somewhere, but does not know where. The other couple is very odd, and they all drink heavily. Nick got drunk, too, and claims that was only the second time he had ever had too much to drink.

The way the people behave at the party is completely repulsive to Nick, and he wants to leave. Even though he feels this way, he is also fascinated by the people in the group and how they are making such gaudy, lurid spectacles of themselves – seemingly without realizing it. Myrtle is loud, and she gets louder and even more obnoxious the more she has to drink. Tom gives her a gift of a puppy, and then she starts talking about Daisy. Tom tells her that she is never to mention his wife, but Myrtle retorts that she will speak about anything she wants to, and he does not have control over her. Then she starts to chant Daisy's name over and over again. Tom hits her and breaks her nose, which ends the party. Nick is still very drunk, and he leaves the party. He gets on the 4am train to Long Island, to go back home. He is seemingly unconcerned at that point with what happens to the others.

The Valley of Ashes is full of poverty and desolation. It contrasts sharply with the other settings that are seen throughout the novel, such as West Egg, East Egg, and even New York City, itself. There is no glamorous surface placed on the Valley of Ashes, and nothing to hide the moral decay and desperation that is felt there. It is a symbol for the decay that is also seen in both of the Eggs, but that is hidden in those areas by all the money and materialism. The same kind of ugliness that is seen in the Valley is in both of those places, but the people who live there have the money and the power to hide it. Other than that, they are really no different, although they would surely disagree with that assessment. The only poor people that are discussed in the book live in the Valley, which Fitzgerald has shown to be a product of the capitalism and affluence that is going on all around it. Industrial dumping of ashes make the place look bleak and depressing, and only people who do not have any money or other means to escape it would live there.

Fitzgerald does not address the significance of the old advertising from the eye doctor. The eyes simply gaze down, becoming a troubling aspect to the reader who is looking for explanation. There is no specific value to them, and that holds true throughout the entire story. Some believe that they are representative of God, looking down on the 1920s and seeing all the moral decay that has taken and is taking place. The paint in and around the eyes is faded, possibly indicative of the fading connection that people had to God before so much greed and debauchery took over. Still, this interpretation is one that is held by many readers and critics but that is not specifically alluded to in the novel. Nick does not describe the eyes that way, reference God or any particular religion, or otherwise indicate that the eyes are anything more than the remnants of an old billboard for an eye doctor who has left the Valley of Ashes behind long ago.

New York City is used in stark contrast to the Valley of Ashes. Nick finds the city repulsive and fascinating at the same time. It is certainly thrilling and glamorous, but there is nothing more than that. Where are the morals and the values that should be important to people? They are not to be found. In the Valley, Tom is discreet about his affair. In New York, however, he is very public about it. Even Nick does not seem to mind the infidelity, despite being Daisy's cousin. The events before and during the party provide a lot of information about the characters in the novel. Nick is indecisive in that he is repulsed by the vulgarity of the party but yet does not leave. He is ambivalent, and that extends far beyond just his feelings about the party overall. It also shows what a hypocrite Tom really is. There is no guilt for cheating on Daisy, but Myrtle still has to be kept "in her place," and striking her is a perfectly acceptable way of doing that, in his eyes. He is a bully, both physically and with his money and status. There is no sign that Tom feels guilty about any of his behavior, or even that he sees anything the slightest bit wrong with the way he treats others.

George, Myrtle's husband, is the complete opposite of Tom. He does not have the vitality, money, and status, but he is attractive and has strong morals. The scene at the party continues to build mystery around Gatsby, because there are many rumors about who he really is and what is known about him. Not all are true, of course, but all are found to be interesting. Since Gatsby has still not really made much of an appearance in the novel, the reader is kept intrigued by who Gatsby might actually be and where he came from. People seem to "know" him – but only through gossip. There is no information that can be verified. Catherine's rumor about Kaiser Wilhelm showcases how curious the public is about Gatsby and what kinds of lengths people will go to in order to say that they know something about him. The rumor may be ridiculous, but it is the kind of rumor that is common where Gatsby is concerned.

Chapter 3

Gatsby's elaborate parties are part of the reason he has become so famous in the New York City area. People hear rumors about the lavishness of the parties, and they desperately want to be invited to them. Gatsby's chauffeur shows up at Nick's and provides him with an invitation to a party. Nick walks to the house at the appointed time and gets in on the festivities, but he feels out of place. There are many happy strangers there, but there does not seem to be anyone he knows. He is not sure who to talk to or what to talk about, but the party is certainly over-the-top and lavish beyond compare. One of the things Nick notices almost right away is that the guests are trading all kinds of rumors about Gatsby amongst themselves. He finds Jordan Baker in the crowd, and she is with her friend, Lucille, who says that Gatsby was a spy for Germany in the war. Nick hears other rumors, too, such as the idea that Gatsby killed a man in cold blood, and that he was educated at Oxford. He has no idea whether he should believe any of the rumors, or just ignore them.

The party Gatsby throws is so luxurious and decadent that is almost not to be believed. The swimming pool, beach, Rolls-Royce, and tents full of wonderful food and liquor are the height of wealth and privilege. Guests begin to drink, and there is more noise to the crowd. Jordan and Nick decide that they are going to find Gatsby himself, and see whether the rumors are true. They find a man Nick calls "Owl Eyes" looking over the books in Gatsby's library, but they do not find their host. At midnight, they decide to go outside and see the entertainment. They take a table where a good-looking young man is already seated, and the man says that Nick appears familiar to him. They determine that they were in the same division in the war, and the man introduces himself as Jay Gatsby. They found their host without even looking for him, surprising Nick.

As the party continues, Nick becomes highly fascinated with Gatsby. His formal, elaborate speech is interesting, and he calls everyone "old sport." He also does not drink, and does not really engage in the party. He prefers to stay to himself and only watch his guests enjoying themselves. By 2am, when people are starting to leave the party, Jordan is summoned by a butler. Gatsby would like to speak with her. She comes out of the meeting saying that she has extraordinary information. Nick says goodbye to Gatsby, and starts to walk home. On his way, he sees that Owl Eyes has put his car into a ditch. He and another man were in the car, and they are both drunk. Instead of talking about the party, Nick talks about his "normal" life, in order to prove that he does more than go to drunken parties. He meets women in New York City, where he works, and he often takes long walks there, as well.

Eventually, he takes the advice of Tom and Daisy, and begins a romantic relationship with Jordan. Nick knows that Jordan is dishonest, going so far as to cheat in her first golf tournament so that she could win. Still, he is attracted to Jordan. He claims to be very honest, but yet chooses to be with someone who is not honest. This is confusing for the reader, but works to show Nick's difficulties in reconciling how he really feels deep down with the way his lifestyle is on the East Coast. Early on in the chapter, the glamour and wealth that were part of the 1920s is brought into sharp focus. The upper class people attending a lavish party is a good setting for that information. Even though the people from East Egg have "old" money and the people from West Egg have "new" money, there does not seem to be any division at the party, when there is great food and entertainment, and the liquor is flowing freely. It is clear that Fitzgerald was fascinated by the social hierarchy of the 1920s, and also of the mood in which America seemed to find itself.

Many new money individuals made their wealth during that time, and they joined the upper class financially, even though they did not necessarily have any social connections upon which they could draw. Those who have old, family money are more refined. They have more taste and better manners than those who have just recently acquired their wealth. They want to break into the East Egg circles, but do not yet know how to do so. They need to develop East Egg connections, so that they can gradually be accepted into that area. Gatsby is the anomaly in this equation, because he is clearly a gaudy, new money, West Egger. Still, the East Eggers come to his parties freely and they enjoy themselves. They seem to accept him in that manner. There are tensions between the groups, but that is also part of American society. Fitzgerald waits until the beginning of this chapter to let the reader "meet" Gatsby, even though he has been seen from a distance before. Other characters have talked about him and Nick has put forth his thoughts about the man, but the readers only get a chance to get to know Gatsby beginning in this chapter and moving forward in the novel.

Gatsby is interesting to Nick (and to the reader) because of his mystery. Even after meeting him, there is still an aura about him that is hard to place. He keeps a low profile at his party, and does not seem to know the guests. It is as if the party is being thrown for the sake of the party, instead of for Gatsby to have a good time with people he cares about or people with whom he wants to interact. Nick sees the optimism and hope for the future that Gatsby possesses, but he does not know its source. It is also suggested that many people in East Egg and West Egg show their wealth and use it to cover up moral decay and corruption, but Gatsby seems to be masking something else that cannot quite be determined by Nick or by the reader. Gatsby and his mysterious life become the focus of the novel, and it is necessary over the next few chapters to unravel Gatsby's character and develop a better understanding of him.

The fact that Jordan learns something "remarkable" about Gatsby in this chapter only serves to pique the readers' interest. Owl Eyes suggests that Gatsby considers his life to be just a show, and that he is putting on a production for everyone. The vast differences between appearance and substance are shown by Nick as he describes New York City. He has similar differences and conflicts with his feelings for Jordan. Nick is becoming more used to the values (or lack thereof) that are offered in the East, and some of what he believed when he lived in the Midwest is getting abandoned. He does this so that he is better able to take full advantage of the excitement of his new surroundings, but what is it costing him from a moral standpoint when he foregoes what he first believed in order to focus on the raciness and vitality of the part of the country in which he finds himself?

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