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The Great Gatsby – Chapter II

F. Scott Fitzgerald Now begins Chapter II, a very strange and dreamlike chapter full of mythical imagery.

Nick travels from West Egg to New York City on the train with Tom Buchanan, who in his typically violent way (“taking hold of my elbow, literally forced me from the car”) disembarks halfway along to take Nick to meet “my girl.” This halfway point is a literal ashheap, a metaphorical wasteland bounded on one side by “a small foul river” and watched over by the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg: “…his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.” It is peopled by “men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.”

Tom takes Nick to a building “contiguous to absolutely nothing,” which is the home of Tom’s mistress and her husband, Myrtle and George Wilson. George is Tom’s opposite: “a blond, spiritless man, anaemic, and faintly handsome,” a “ghost.” Myrtle is Daisy’s opposite: “thickish,” “faintly stout,” sensuous, but with “no facet or gleam of beauty.” In this land of ashes she is “smouldering.”

Tom whisks Myrtle and Nick away to “pastoral” Fifth Avenue, where a bizarre party takes place. Myrtle invites her sister and the McKees, a photographer and his wife. Gatsby’s name is reintroduced again, by Myrtle’s sister, who attended a party at his house. Myrtle plays hostess, changing into a finer frock that she pretends not to care anything about, but it is abundantly clear from her many remarks that clothes are her chief marker of class.

Nick is uncomfortable and out of his class at this party, but seems to be under some sort of spell:

I wanted to get out and walk eastward toward the Park through the soft twilight, but each time I tried to go I became entangled in some wild, strident argument which pulled me back, as if with ropes, into my chair….I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.

In fact, the whole party seems enchanted: “People disappeared, reappeared, made plans to go somewhere, and then lost each other, searched for each other, found each other a few feet away.”

The evening climaxes in, predictably, an act of violence: Myrtle angers Tom by insisting on her right to invoke Daisy’s name, and he responds by breaking her nose. Nick takes the opportunity to sneak out with Mr. McKee, the photographer. The chapter ends with a strange interlude:

… I was standing beside his bed and he was sitting up between the sheets, clad in his underwear, with a great portfolio in his hands.

“Beauty and the Beast … Loneliness … Old Grocery Horse … Brook’n Bridge…”

Apparently Nick has put Mr. McKee to bed, and McKee returns the favor by unconsciously recapping the events of the chapter in the titles of his photographs, right up to the broken bridge of Myrtle’s nose and the loneliness of her old grocery horse of a husband.

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9 Responses

  1. “Nick has put Mr. McKee to bed”

    *That’s* a polite way of wording it 🙂

  2. You can do a lot with an ellipsis.

  3. Ellipsis are a great way of keeping a very intriguing suspense – I love using it.

  4. Hi, Ms McCullough. I’m Keiko from Japan. Just now we are reading this chapter Ⅱin a group. Would you mind telling me what ‘Grocery Horse’ is? I have no idea what it is. You word it in the meaning ‘a man earning their bread and butter at pains’?

  5. Hello, Keiko. I think an “old grocery horse” would be a horse that back in the time of Gatsby would pull a grocery delivery wagon — a dependable workhorse, not young, not glamorous, used to doing the same job and following the same route day after day. Steady, dependable, but dull and kind of dim-witted.

  6. I thank you very very much,Ms McCullough! I really appreciate your quick response. It helps me a lot.This novel is very interesting,isn’t it? I feel like meeting a grocery horse back to the 1920’s and saying hello to him.(^^)

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