The Great Gatsby – Chapter 1- Quotes, Themes, Symbols

I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parceled out unequally at birth. (Society and Class) Here, Nick says that money isn’t the only thing that some people are born to. Some people are naturally just nicer and more honest: they have more “sense of the fundamental decencies.” But does Nick believe that poor people can be born with these fundamental decencies, too, or do you have to be rich to have natural class?
When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction—Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. (1.4) 9Society and Class) Gatsby may be low-class, but Nick still manages to see something good in him, anyway. Maybe he has the “natural decencies” that other members of high society don’t. Except, we think this might be a little like the, “but I have a lot of ______ friends” excuse to make someone not sound racist or xenophobic.)
I lived at West Egg, the – well, the least fashionable of the two, though this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them. My house was at the very tip of the egg, only fifty yards from the Sound, and squeezed between two huge places that rented for twelve or fifteen thousand a season. The one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard … My own house was an eyesore, but it was a small eyesore, and it had been overlooked, so I had a view of the water, a partial view of my neighbor’s lawn, and the consoling proximity of millionaires—all for eighty dollars a month. (1.14) (Society and Class) It may be a small house, but at least Nick gets to live near millionaires. He’s joking, but this is the same logic that makes people buy designer sunglasses: you may not be able to afford the actual clothes, but you still get to have a little reflected glamour. Hey, no judgment here.
The Carraways are something of a clan, and we have a tradition that we’re descended from the Dukes of Buccleuch, but the actual founder of my line was my grandfather’s brother, who came here in fifty-one, sent a substitute to the Civil War, and started the wholesale hardware business that my father carries on to-day. (1.5) Nick self-deprecatingly punctures the illusion that his family comes from nobility—but instead, he makes himself into another kind of nobility: a family that actually has achieved the American Dream of wealth and respectability through hard work.
I lived at West Egg, the—well, the less fashionable of the two, though this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them. […] Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water, and the history of the summer really begins on the evening I drove over there to have dinner with the Tom Buchanans. Daisy was my second cousin once removed, and I’d known Tom in college. And just after the war I spent two days with them in Chicago. (1.14-15) Nick sees two kinds of America: the hard-working Chicago, part of a “Middle-West” culture; and the “white,” fashionable East Egg. Nick may be able to make it in the Middle-West, but he’s not cut out for East Coast life.
His speaking voice, a gruff husky tenor, added to the impression of fractiousness he conveyed. There was a touch of paternal contempt in it, even toward people he liked—and there were men at New Haven who had hated his guts. (1.20) Wealth makes Tom “paternal,” as though it gives him the right to tell the entire world how to behave. But remember—he didn’t earn the wealth. He’s literally done nothing to deserve it. So why does he get to be mean-dad to everyone?
East Egg vs West EggNick rents a house in West Egg, a Long Island suburb located directly across a bay from East Egg. Nick observes that the two communities differed greatly in every way but shape and size. West Egg is where the “new rich” live, people who have made their fortunes only recently and have neither the social connections nor the cultural refinement to be accepted among the “old money” families of East Egg. Theme – Class (Old Money, New Money, No Money) – “Old money” East Egg faces “new money” West Egg across the water, symbolically showing the class rivalry: the towns literally oppose each other. That “old money” Nick rents a house in “new money” West Egg shows he spans both worlds.
The West Egg “new rich” are characterized by garish displays of wealth that the old money families find distasteful. For instance, Nick’s small house sits next to an “eyesore” of a mansion owned by Gatsby, a man Nick knows only by name. Gatsby’s mansion is a gigantic reproduction of a French hotel, covered in ivy and surrounded by forty acres of lush lawns and gardens. Theme – Class (Old Money, New Money, No Money) – Theme- The Roaring Twenties Gatsby’s mansion represents the “new money” class, which overcompensates for its lack of social connections through lavish displays of wealth. The “old money” class considers this tacky, proof of their superiority to “new money.”
The main story begins when Nick, who, though he lives in West Egg has East Egg connections, drives over to East Egg to have dinner at the Buchanans. Daisy Buchanan is Nick’s cousin, and Nick vaguely knew her husband Tom because Tom also attended Yale. When Nick arrives, Tom is dressed in riding clothes. Tom speaks to Nick politely but condescendingly. Nick remembers that plenty of people hated Tom at Yale, and notes that both Tom’s arrogance and imposing stature have changed little since those days. Theme – Class (Old Money, New Money, No Money) Tom’s riding clothes identify him as a member of the “old money” class: horseback riding was a hobby only of the rich who had great country estates. The more urban “new money” wouldn’t ride horses. Yet Tom’s stately riding clothes can’t hide his hulking body, just as his politeness can’t hide that he’s a jerk.
At dinner Nick meets Jordan Baker, a young professional golfer, who is beautiful but also seems constantly bored by her surroundings. Theme – Class (Old Money, New Money, No Money) – Theme- The Roaring Twenties Jordan’s world-weary boredom shows the emptiness of “old money.”
Soon, Tom launches into a diatribe about the downfall of civilization as described in a book entitled The Rise of the Colored Empires. The book explains that the Nordic race, with which Tom identifies himself, created civilization and is now threatened by the rise of other, inferior races. Tom urges everyone to read the book. Daisy tries to make light of his suggestion. Theme – Class (Old Money, New Money, No Money) – Theme- The Roaring Twenties Tom’s outburst shows that old money is insecure about the rise of new money, which makes old money feel as if the world was falling apart. Old money is also hypocritical, hiding hatred and corruption behind a veneer of taste and manners.
Just then, Tom learns he has a phone call and leaves the room. Daisy follows quickly behind, and Jordan tells Nick that the call is from Tom’s mistress. The rest of dinner is awkward. As Nick is leaving, Daisy and Tom suggest he think about striking up a romance with Jordan. Theme – Class (Old Money, New Money, No Money) – Theme- The Roaring Twenties While Tom shows off his house and family and manners, he has a mistress on the side. Hypocrisy and rot are at the heart of old money in the 1920s boom.
Upon returning from dinner, Nick sees Jay Gatsby standing on his lawn and gazing out across Long Island sound. Nick considers calling out to Gatsby, but stops himself when he sees Gatsby extend his arms out toward the far side of the water. Nick looks across the water and sees only a tiny green light blinking at the end of a dock. Theme: The American Dream Gatsby’s gesture is symbolic of his character: he is a hopeful seeker of unattainable dreams. It’s not clear at this point what the green light symbolizes, but it’s clear that to Gatsby it symbolizes some dream or hope.
Nick Carraway, the novel’s narrator and protagonist, begins The Great Gatsby by recounting a bit of advice his father taught him: don’t criticize others, because most people have not enjoyed the “advantages” that he has. Nick says that as a result of following this advice, he’s become a tolerant and forgiving person who resists making quick judgments of others. Theme – Class (Old Money, New Money, No Money) – Theme- The Roaring Twenties Nick’s “advantages” come from “old money.” Nick casts himself as someone who doesn’t judge based on class, which indicates that other people do judge based on class.
For instance, Nick says that though he scorns everything Gatsby stood for, he withholds judgment entirely regarding him. Nick says Gatsby was a man of “gorgeous” personality and boundless hope. Nick views Gatsby as a victim, a man who fell prey to the “foul dust” that corrupted his dreams. Theme – Class (Old Money, New Money, No Money) – Theme- The Roaring TwentiesTheme- The American Dream Nick introduces Gatsby and connects him to both new money and the American Dream, and indicates that Gatsby was done in by the “foul dust” of the Roaring Twenties.
In the summer of 1922, Nick, a Yale graduate, moves from his hometown in Minnesota, where his family has lived for three generations, to live and work in New York. He has recently returned from military service in World War I, an experience that left him feeling restless in the dull Midwest. Theme – Class (Old Money, New Money, No Money) – Theme- The Roaring Twenties As a Yale graduate, Nick clearly comes from old money. His wealthy heritage has been closely tied to one place, but WW I and the 1920s upset that old order.
Nick intends to become a bond salesman, a line of work he says that almost everyone he knew was entering. Nick hopes to find a taste of the excitement and sense of possibility that was sweeping the nation in the early 1920s. He says moving to New York offered him and everyone else the chance to discover or reinvent themselves. Theme – Class (Old Money, New Money, No Money) – Theme- The American Dream The 1920s boom turns the American Dream on its head. Instead of going west to build a fortune and a life, people in the 20s abandoned their roots to come east for the chance at fortune.
Theme- Class (Old Money, New Money, No Money) The Great Gatsby portrays 3 different social classes:Tom and Daisy Buchanan- old moneyGatsby- new moneyGeorge and Myrtle Wilson- no money
Old money have fortunes dating from the 19th century or before, have built up powerful and influential social connections, and tend to hide their wealth and superiority behind a veneer of civility.
New Money made their fortunes in the 1920s boom and therefore have no social connections and tend to overcompensate for this lack with lavish displays of wealth.
Theme: The American Dream hard work can lead one from rags to riches—has been a core facet of American identity since its inception.
The American Dream- the Great Gatsby The Great Gatsby shows the tide turning east, as hordes flock to New York City seeking stock market fortunes. The Great Gatsby portrays this shift as a symbol of the American Dream’s corruption. It’s no longer a vision of building a life; it’s just about getting rich.
Theme: The Roaring Twenties decade of decadence and prosperity that America enjoyed in the 1920s, which was also known as the Roaring Twenties. After World War I ended in 1918, the United States and much of the rest of the world experienced an enormous economic expansion. The surging economy turned the 1920s into a time of easy money, hard drinking (despite the Prohibition amendment to the Constitution), and lavish parties. Though the 1920s were a time of great optimism, Fitzgerald portrays the much bleaker side of the revelry by focusing on its indulgence, hypocrisy, shallow recklessness, and its perilous—even fatal—consequences.

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