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Free Study Guide-The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald-Book Notes

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CHAPTER III

Summary

This chapter opens with a general description of another party scene, this one set at Gatsby’s mansion. Nick describes how “there was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights” with sunning on the beach, diving into the pool, drinking champagne, and dancing to the orchestra from early evening until the wee hours of the morning. Gatsby’s Rolls-Royce becomes a shuttle bus for the party-goers, and cars were still parked five deep in the drive. A “corps of caterers” arrives once a week to set up buffet tables filled with gourmet treats, and the main hall is transformed into a bar complete with brass rail and every type of liquor. Nick then describes more specifically the first party that he attends at his neighbor’s house. Gatsby has sent his chauffeur next door with a formal invitation to Nick to attend a “little party” on Saturday night. Nick accepts the offer, dresses in white flannels, arrives at Gatsby’s around 7:00, and wanders, rather ill at ease, among the swirls of unknown partyers. He is delighted to find Jordan Baker among the guests, greets her warmly, and remains by her side for much of the evening.

During the course of the party, Nick looks several times unsuccessfully for Gatsby in order to formally introduce himself; he overhears much talk about the host, including rumors that he is an Oxford graduate, that he has killed a man, and that he served as a German spy during the war; he also learns that Gatsby has sent an expensive dress to a young lady as a replacement for one torn at a previous Gatsby gathering. He visits the library and meets a middle-age man, who has been drinking for a week and who wears “enormous owl-eyed spectacles” (recalling the image of T.J. Eckelberg). The man is absolutely amazed that the titles in Gatsby’s library are actually real books with real pages. He then exclaims, “It’s a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! --- didn’t cut the pages.” It is as if this drunken gentleman knew the real Gatsby and believes he is hiding behind a facade that includes his mansion, his parties, and his library.

At midnight, the party is still going strong with dancing, music, and “stunts” in the garden. Nick notes that “the hilarity had increased. . .while happy vacuous bursts of laughter rose toward the summer sky.” Nick is sitting at a table with Jordan and an unknown man of his approximate age. The man tells Nick that his face looks familiar, and the two of them discover that they had both been in the Third Division during the war. The gentleman then warms towards Nick, calls him “old sport” repeatedly, and asks him to take a ride in his newly purchased hydroplane on the next morning. After accepting the invitation, Nick is surprised to learn that this gentleman is Jay Gatsby himself. Nick then notes the warmth and reassurance of his neighbor’s smile that seems to be an appearance that vanishes too quickly. When Gatsby leaves to take a phone call, Nick admits to Jordan, “I had expected that Mr. Gatsby would be a florid and corpulent person in his middle years.” He then asks Jordan to tell him more about this mysterious man. Jordan simply replies, “He’s just a man named Gatsby,” a classical example of understatement.

Later at the party, Nick has a chance to study his host from a distance and without detection:

Gatsby was standing alone on the marble steps and looking from one group to another with approving eyes. His tanned skin was drawn attractively tight on his face and his short hair looked as though it were trimmed everyday. I could see nothing sinister about him. 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.

As Nick makes these observations, he and Jordan are interrupted by a butler sent by the host. Mr. Gatsby has requested to see Jordan, so she takes her leave. Alone again, Nick surveys the degenerating party scene. The orchestra has left, but the room is still crowded. A drunken red-headed woman is singing loudly and weeping at the same time. Most of the women are fighting with their husbands or dates about leaving the party, and two women are physically carried out. As Nick prepares to leave the party himself, Jordan emerges from the library with her host and tells Nick, “I’ve just heard the most amazing thing,” building even more suspense about the mysterious Gatsby. Nick promises to call Jordan and then bids Gatsby goodnight with new apologies for not having known him earlier in the garden. Gatsby says, “Don’t mention it,” and reminds Nick of their morning hydroplane plans.

As Nick turns towards his home next door, he finds an accident has just occurred outside. A car has left Gatsby’s drive, run into a wall, and lost its wheel. The first person to emerge from the wreck is Owl-Eyes, the drunken man with the spectacles found earlier in the library. When questioned about the accident, he “washes his hands of the whole matter,” just as he washes his hands of his careless, drunken behavior and lack of moral responsibility. He is followed out of the car by the driver, “a pale, dangling individual,” an apparition of a man (with flashback to the valley of ashes). He is also quite drunk and cannot quite understand that the wheel is gone from the car, rendering it undrivable. Nick, disgusted with this drunken scene of destruction and the attendant cacophony of impatient horns, goes home. As he glances back to Gatsby’s mansion, he is struck by the sudden emptiness he sees and by the isolated figure of the host waving upon the porch.

Nick closes the chapter with explanations about himself, to fill in his life between the parties. Most of his time is spent working at Probity Trust and studying about investments. He says he is learning to like the “racy feel” of New York, but dreams of finding a romantic attachment. He also admits that he sometimes, in the hustle and bustle, feels a “haunting loneliness” in himself and others, and personally longs for “gayety and...intimate excitement.” He also reveals that he has dated Jordan Baker during the latter part of the summer and developed a tenderness for her. He was shocked, however, to learn that she was “incurably dishonest” and terribly careless. At least Jordan admits that she “hates careless people. That’s why I like you.” Despite their mutual interest in one another, the noble Nick puts the brakes on their relationship because he has still not settled his feelings for the girl at home. Nick believes that relationship had to be “tactfully broken off before I was free.” Nick ends the chapter by proudly stating he is the only honest person he knows.

 

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