The Great Gatsby - Theme


Quotes and themes from The Great Gatsby
Flashcards by Heather Taylor, updated more than 1 year ago
Created by Heather Taylor over 10 years ago

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"[Daisy] had an absolute smirk on her lovely face, as if she had asserted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged." This extract is from chapter one, at Daisy's dinner party for Nick. Daisy has been complaining to him about having had "a very bad time". However, Nick is suddenly struck by her "basic insincerity". Daisy's smug grin suggests that she is actually quite contented with her life, and she enjoys being part of the exclusive social group which Tom's wealth and social status guarantee they are part of.
"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 frantic partying and loud music are characteristic of the Jazz Age. After the hardships and horrors of the 1st World War, people were hell-bent on enjoying themselves to the limit. The word "lurches" suggests the frequent displays of public drunkenness in the novel, despite it being set during the Prohibition era.
"From East Egg, then, came the Chester Beckers and the Leeches, and a man named Bunsen, whom I knew at Yale... and the Ismays and the Chrysties (or rather Hubert Auerbach and Mr Chrystie's wife), and Edgar Beaver, whose hair they say, turned cotton-white one winter afternoon for no good reason at all." Nick is listing some of the people who attended Gatsby's parties. The tone of the description is satirical (i.e. he is making fun of these people). Names like "the Leeches" imply they are hangers-on, making use of Gatsby; comments such as "...or rather Hubert Auerbach and Mr Chrystie's wif"' point to the adulterous relationships that are common in this social circle while "they say" captures the gossipy tone of the conversations. The reference to adultery here is humorous in tone, but is a link to the more serious treatment of the adultery of the main characters, Gatsby/Daisy and Tom/Myrtle.
"An instinct towards his future glory had led him . . . to the small Lutheran College of St.Olaf's in southern Minnesota. He stayed there two weeks, dismayed at its ferocious indifference to the drums of his destiny." This quotation comes from chapter six where Nick relates Gatsby's history. It reminds us that before he became obsessed with Daisy, Gatsby followed the original idea of the American Dream: the notion that anyone through hard work could aspire to a better life. This in turn led him to meet and take inspiration from Dan Cody whose career is an example of the American Dream coming true.
"There was a change in Gatsby that was simply confounding. He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation a new well-being radiated from him and filled the little room." This touching moment occurs when Gatsby has just met with Daisy at Nick's house after planning for this moment for five years. At first Gatsby had been as awkward and nervous as a school-boy, but after Nick leaves them alone together the ice is broken, and when Nick returns he finds Gatsby gloriously happy. However, the reader may feel a slight disquiet as to whether such a moment will last. We know there are many obstacles to Gatsby's future happiness with Daisy; for example, Daisy is married to a powerful man, and has a young child.
"'An Oxford man ... Like hell he is! He wears a pink suit.'" This comment by Tom Buchanan highlights the fact that although Gatsby has money he does not have the right background and is ignorant of social conventions. A similar example occurs in chapter six when Tom and his friend Sloane drop in at Gatsby's house. Sloane's female companion invites him for lunch but Gatsby does not pick up the signals that he should decline the invitation. Tom sneeringly remarks "Doesn't he know she doesn't want him?"
"... [Gatsby] had certainly taken [Daisy] under false pretences. I don't mean that he had traded on his phantom millions, but he had deliberately given Daisy a sense of security; he let her believe that he was a person from much the same strata as herself..." Nick comments that Gatsby had worked very hard to reinvent himself as someone from the same social class as Daisy. When he first knew her he succeeded in this, and she perceived him to be her social equal. The reality, however, is that in spite of imitating what he considers to be the mannerisms of a higher social stratum (such as calling people "old sport") Gatsby could never be accepted in these circles. This was a key factor in Daisy's choice of Tom; as Gatsby says to Tom in chapter seven, "She only married you because I was poor."
"'Jimmy was bound to get ahead. He always had resolves like this or something. Do you notice what he's got about improving his mind? He was always great for that. He told me I ate like a hog once, and I beat him for it.' He was reluctant to close the book, reading each item aloud and then looking eagerly at me. I think he rather expected me to copy down the list for my own use." When Gatsby's father arrives after his death, he proudly shows Nick a ragged old book on whose flyleaf Gatsby had written out his 'schedule' as a boy. This was in the form of a timetable of activities for self improvement, showing that even as a child, Gatsby, or Jimmy Gatz as he then was, had aspirations towards something better than the life he was leading on a farm in a notoriously poor and backward part of the country. Nick himself comes from a well-to-do background and has never had the need to pull himself up like this. He is slightly amused at how seriously Mr Gatz takes his son's efforts.
"'I said "God knows what you've been doing, everything you've been doing. You may fool me, but you can't fool God!' Standing behind him, Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg, which had just emerged, pale and enormous, from the dissolving night. 'God sees everything,' repeated Wilson. 'That's an advertisement,' Michaelis assured him.' At this point Wilson is dazed with grief following Myrtle's death and he is remembering how he discovered evidence of Myrtle's infidelity. However, when he starts addressing the old optometrist's advertisement as if it is God he seems on the verge of insanity. This also leads to the theme of mistaken identity as Wilson jumps to conclusions as to who is responsible for Myrtle's death, and ultimately executes the wrong man.
"And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes - a fresh, green breast of the new world." This quotation comes from the very end of the book when Nick links the idea of Gatsby's dream to the birth of the American Dream, when the Dutch settlers arrived and experienced the wonder of discovering a new, unspoilt world. The equivalent moment for Gatsby was when he "first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock". Note the use of the word "green" in reference to both the dreams of the settlers and Gatsby, providing a link between them.
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