The Great Gatsby – Chapter III

flapperWe meet the great man at last, in one of the most memorable chapters of The Great Gatsby — the party scene. The chapter opens with images of machinery and transformation: motor-boats, aquaplanes, electric juicers, and cars, cars, cars. The Gatsby estate is a Circe’s island of transformation where oranges are changed into pulp with the touch of a thumb, and bad taste is transformed into glamor.

In almost every book I read I run across a passage in which, consciously or not, the author shows his hand. In Gatsby one of these passages comes with a letter of invitation from Gatsby to Nick: “He had seen me several times, and had intended to call on me long before, but a peculiar combination of circumstances had prevented it.” The peculiar combination of circumstances that has prevented us from meeting Gatsby is about to end. Nick attends the party, meets Jordan there, and she whisks him away to find Gatsby, explaining to her date, “I [Nick] had never met him, she said, and it was making me uneasy.”

The moment of meeting is itself both magical and mundane. Nick and Jordan sit at a table “with a man about my age.” After a couple of glasses of champagne, “the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental, and profound.” The man invites Nick to join him the next morning to try out his new hydroplane, and after a moment of confusion for both parties, reveals that he is Gatsby.

What is Gatsby like? Here’s Nick’s description of Gatsby’s smile:

It understood you just as 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.

They are like two mirrors facing each other, Nick and Gatsby, both hoping to be seen as they would wish to be seen, assuring each other that each has precisely the impression of the other that he hoped to convey.

The party winds down with a recital of Mr. Vladimir Tostoff’s Jazz History of the World, a tidy little joke that summarizes the whole grand tossed-off affair. Jordan is summoned by Gatsby for a private conference. Women begin to fight with their husbands. A minor drunken car accident occurs. The party’s over.

That summer Nick engages in a casual affair with Jordan, who proves to be “incurably dishonest.” She gets into a near accident with her car and declares that she hates careless people. Her theory is that as long as other people aren’t careless, it doesn’t matter that she is.

Nick caps off the chapter in style by declaring, as he two-times his girlfriend back home, that “I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.”

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