Study Guide for The Great Gatsby

By F. Scott Fitzgerald

Chapter 3 (43-64)

Party#3: Summer Parties on West Egg at Gatsby's Mansion

PARAGRAPH: Describe the amenities available at Gatsby's mansion as it turns into the ultimate summer party machine:

Rolls Royce service to Manhattan... station wagon makes regular trips to the train station... raft with diving tower, beach, two motor boats, automatic orange squeezer for two hundred... caterers with covered lights and buffet tables loaded with ham, turkey, and pastry: enough for early and late suppers ....bars with real brass rails and stocked with booze.... a full orchestra!

It's Club Med; its the ultimate amusement park! Everything is free and everyone is invited.  Hey, tear your evening dress and a package arrives from Courier's a week later! One drunk guy is amazed that the books in the library are all real, but the pages have not been cut. He refers to Gatsby as a 'regular Belasco'. Who is that?

For a few weeks that summer, the party goes on almost every night!

The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher. Laughter is easier minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word. The groups change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath; already there are wanderers, confident girls who weave here and there among the stouter and more stable, become for a sharp, joyous moment the centre of a group, and then, excited with triumph, glide on through the sea-change of faces and voices and color under the constantly changing light.

Suddenly one of the gypsies, in trembling opal, seizes a cocktail out of the air, dumps it down for courage and, moving her hands like Frisco, dances out alone on the canvas platform. A momentary hush; the orchestra leader varies his rhythm obligingly for her, and there is a burst of chatter as the erroneous news goes around that she is Gilda Gray's understudy from the FOLLIES. The party has begun. (44-45)

More on Flappers of the 1920's: (from Jazz Age Culture, U. of Pittsburgh):
 

Learn the hottest 1920s dance: How to Do the Charleston. Read some interesting history on jazz slang and the Jitterbug.   Good short history: Flappers in the Roaring Twenties (click on Page 2 also).  Find out the truth about flappers: The Flap Over Flappers. And read these strong defenses of flappers: Flapper Jane and A Flapper's Appeal to Parents.

 

Yet Gatsby is only rarely seen! What kind of rumors circulate about him?

"Gatsby. Somebody told me----"

The two girls and Jordan leaned together confidentially.

"Somebody told me they thought he killed a man once."

A thrill passed over all of us. The three Mr. Mumbles bent forward and listened eagerly.

"I don't think it's so much THAT," argued Lucille skeptically; "it's more that he was a German spy during the war."

One of the men nodded in confirmation.

"I heard that from a man who knew all about him, grew up with him in Germany," he assured us positively.

"Oh, no," said the first girl, "it couldn't be that, because he was in the American army during the war." As our credulity switched back to her she leaned forward with enthusiasm. "You look at him sometimes when he thinks nobody's looking at him. I'll bet he killed a man."

She narrowed her eyes and shivered. Lucille shivered. We all turned and looked around for Gatsby. It was testimony to the romantic speculation he inspired that there were whispers about him from those who found little that it was necessary to whisper about in this world.(48)

Luckily Nick runs into Jordan Baker again.  Describe the quartet from East Egg with whom she has come? (Jump ahead a bit: what does Nick like about her? see pp. 63-64)

When we were on a house-party together up in Warwick, she left a borrowed car out in the rain with the top down, and then lied about it--and suddenly I remembered the story about her that had eluded me that night at Daisy's. At her first big golf tournament there was a row that nearly reached the newspapers--a suggestion that she had moved her ball from a bad lie in the semi-final round. The thing approached the proportions of a scandal--then died away. A caddy retracted his statement, and the only other witness admitted that he might have been mistaken. The incident and the name had remained together in my mind.

Jordan Baker instinctively avoided clever, shrewd men, and now I saw that this was because she felt safer on a plane where any divergence from a code would be thought impossible. She was incurably dishonest. She wasn't able to endure being at a disadvantage and, given this unwillingness, I suppose she had begun dealing in subterfuges when she was very young in order to keep that cool, insolent smile turned to the world and yet satisfy the demands of her hard, jaunty body.

It made no difference to me. Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply--I was casually sorry, and then I forgot. (62-63)

Who typically shows up at these parties, East Eggers? Past midnight the party gets out of control. For Nick the scene turns into "something significant elemental and profound"(51) What does he mean?

By midnight the hilarity had increased. A celebrated tenor had sung in Italian, and a notorious contralto had sung in jazz, and between the numbers people were doing "stunts." all over the garden, while happy, vacuous bursts of laughter rose toward the summer sky. A pair of stage twins, who turned out to be the girls in yellow, did a baby act in costume, and champagne was served in glasses bigger than finger-bowls. The moon had risen higher, and floating in the Sound was a triangle of silver scales, trembling a little to the stiff, tinny drip of the banjoes on the lawn. (51)

How does Nick finally meet Gatsby? What is his first impression of the man?

Gatsby has been sitting at Nick's table and watching the scene for some time before he speaks to Nick directly. He asks him about his war service and then finally reveals his identity, apologizing for his rudeness with a smile and the affectionate term, "Old Sport."

He smiled understandingly--much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced--or seemed to face--the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey. Precisely at that point it vanished--and I was looking at an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. Some time before he introduced himself I'd got a strong impression that he was picking his words with care. (52-53)

Nick is amazed and wonders at Gatsby's history:

"young men didn't--at least in my provincial inexperience I believed they didn't--drift coolly out of nowhere and buy a palace on Long Island Sound." (54)

What does Nick find out has happened in the driveway when the party finally breaks up? Just another debauched detail?

In the ditch beside the road, right side up, but violently shorn of one wheel, rested a new coupe which had left Gatsby's drive not two minutes before....Then, very gradually, part by part, a pale, dangling individual stepped out of the wreck, pawing tentatively at the ground with a large uncertain dancing shoe. (58)

Blinded by the glare of the headlights and confused by the incessant groaning of the horns, the apparition stood swaying for a moment before he perceived the man in the duster.

"Wha's matter?" he inquired calmly. "Did we run outa gas?"

"Look!"

Half a dozen fingers pointed at the amputated wheel--he stared at it for a moment, and then looked upward as though he suspected that it had dropped from the sky.

"It came off," some one explained.

He nodded.

"At first I din' notice we'd stopped." (59-60)