In his book “Echoes of the Jazz Age” Fitzgerald writes: “A whole nation going hedonistic, deciding on pleasure. It was borrowed time anyhow—the whole upper tenth of a nation living with the insouciance of grand dukes and the casualness of chorus girls”. One of the critics, M. Cowly in his work “Exile’s Return” develops this thought: “One says too little about other qualities of the period: its high spirits, its industriousness, its candour and its reckless freedom… We became part of the system we were trying to evade, and it defeated us from within, not from without; our hearts beat to its tempo. We laughed too much, sang too much, changed the record and danced too hard, drank more than we intended, fell in love unwisely, quarreled without knowing why, and after a few years we were, in Zelda Fitzgerald’s phrase, “‘lost and driven now like the rest’”.
The descriptions of Gatsby’s parties help Fitzgerald portray a particular period, make the reader feel the spirit of the epoch; there we find details that belong to the Jazz Age.
Gatsby’s mansion in West Egg became a trend-setter of huge, extravagant parties. In some way these descriptions are autobiographical as after gaining success with “This side of Paradise” (published in 1920) Fitzgerald, having married the beautiful Zelda Sayre, embarked on a rich life of endless parties. Dividing their time between America and fashionable resorts in Europe, the Fitzgeralds became as famous for their lifestyle as for the novels he wrote. Fitzgerald once said: “Sometimes I don’t know whether Zelda and I are real or whether we are characters in one of my novels”.
In the descriptions of Gatsby’s party in the third chapter we can find the prevalence of two colours: yellow and blue. Yellow and golden symbolize wealth, prosperity; they are symbols of light, movement and, at the same time, of unrestfulness and anxiety. Nick compares Gatsby’s guests with moths in the opening lines of the chapter. And moths are often dazzled by the light and don’t know the reason for their striving for it—one of the two girls in yellow dresses, Lucille, says that she never cares what she does and she always has a good time. We find mentions of yellow and golden everywhere: Gatsby’s station wagon “scampers like a brisk yellow bug” to meet all trains; every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrive from New York; pastry pigs and turkeys are “bewitched to a dark gold”; the orchestra plays “yellow cocktail music”; Jordan Baker’s arm seems to be golden when Nick takes it; one of the “gypsy” dancers wears an “opal” dress, etc.
The blue colour symbolizes solitude, loneliness, sadness, calmness. It helps us reveal the true nature of the “mysterious” host—“the Great Gatsby”. Men and women move like moths in “his blue gardens”, his chauffeur is dressed in a uniform of “robin’s egg-blue” and the colour of the dress which Gatsby sends to the girl who tore hers on a chair is “gas blue with lavender beads”.
These things are of Gatsby’s personal choice and it emphasizes the conflict, divergence between him and his entourage as yellow is a “warm” colour and blue is referred to the “cold” ones. Nick Carraway, being a watchful narrator, notices this discrepancy at once: “I wondered if the fact that he was not drinking helped to set him off from his guests, for it seemed to me that he grew more correct as the fraternal hilarity increased… no one swooned backward on Gatsby, and no French bob touched Gatsby’s shoulder, and no singing quarters were formed for Gatsby’s head for one link”.
The music that accompanies the action in the third chapter is jazz music. At Gatsby’s request “Vladmir Tostoff’s Jazz History of the World” is played.
Among the “sea-change of faces” only two or three persons are singled out. One of them is the nameless man with “owl-like” glasses who is considered by some critics to be an incarnation of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg.
The vast majority of people are never invited—they just come and “end up” at Gatsby’s door. “…They conducted themselves according to the rules of behaviour associated with an amusement park”. Gatsby’s parties were full of “casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names.” Most of Gatsby’s guests were ungrateful and afforded disgraceful rumours about him to spread. Being pretty aware of it, Jay Gatsby didn’t care as he wasn’t interested in any particular person who attended his parties. People felt it, but, being tempted by the luxury of his mansion, couldn’t resist coming there.
All this created fantastic, absurd atmosphere and summing up all the said above I want to quote M. Cowly’s words that “writing about the late 1920’s and remembering how disastrously they ended, one is tempted to dwell on everything in those years that now seems ominous or frantic or merely ill directed.”
Through Gatsby’s parties Fitzgerald shows us not only the “ill direction” of the main hero, but of the whole nation which stepped into the period of Great Depression after the “Golden” Jazz Age.
We can enumerate different excellences of the novel “Great Gatsby”: its form; poetic style; its grasp of “a moment of history as a great moral fact; its characters who may be taken not only as individual, but also as symbolic or even allegorical characters ‘to be thought of as standing for America itself’”, etc. But there is a merit to which I want to attract your special attention: it’s Fitzgerald’s method of portraying his characters, vivid and capacious descriptions of the city, urban landscapes, Nature, places where the main heroes live.
My favourite episode in the novel is the scene when Nick sees Daisy and Jordan for the first time after his arrival; the descriptions of the two women and of the Buchanans’ mansion which we find in the first chapter. Through the description of the Buchanans’ mansion we get acquainted with the world of “the very rich”. “Their house was even more elaborate than… expected, a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over the sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens—finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run. The front was broken by a line of french windows, glowing now with reflected gold and wide open to the warm windy afternoon…”.
We can notice that there are two colours which prevail in this description. Red and golden are symbolic; since ancient times they symbolize wealth, prosperity, power and at the same time blood, sufferings, betrayal. “Pungent” roses and “burning” gardens make us imagine all the hues of red: crimson, pink, purple, rubicund, creating an atmosphere of gorgeousness, fabulous prosperity like that of Croesus. You begin to anticipate the appearance of some slaves and beautiful women in white tunics inhabiting the house. It’s time for the white colour to come into the stage.
All the hues of white and silver are connected with Daisy and Jordan who embody everything aristocratic, sophisticated, refined. They are as cold, impartial, unattainable, ideal, absolute as only silver and diamonds can be. “We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-coloured space, fragilely bound into the house by french windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-coloured rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.
“The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.
“The younger of the two was a stranger to me. She was extended full length at her end of the divan, completely motionless, and with her chin raised a little, as if she were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall. If she saw me out of the corner of her eyes she gave no hint of it—indeed, I was almost surprised into murmuring an apology for having disturbed her by coming in.
“Sometimes she [Daisy] and Miss Baker talked at once, unobtrusively and with a bantering inconsequence that was never quite chatter, that was as cool as their white dresses and their impersonal eyes in the absence of all desire. They were here, and they accepted Tom me, making only a polite pleasant effort to entertain or to be entertained”.
Jordan and Daisy seem to be some superior creatures, beautiful and inapproachable like angels; they enchant at first sight. But through these descriptions Fitzgerald shows Daisy and Jordan’s artificialness, they are void in their hearts. In their marvellous beauty they are ruthless to those who don’t “possess the world”.
They are like ivory statues of some Goddesses to whose feet men bring wealth together with their hearts as it is in the epigraph:
Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry ‘Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!’
Women like Daisy and Jordan can be called “les femmes fatales” and, “gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor”, they will always attract men like the light of a candle attracts moths.
The unforgottable images of these women are Fitzgerald’s descriptive masterpieces in the novel “Great Gatsby”.
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