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The main purpose of this first chapter is to introduce the characters and setting of the book. Nick Carraway, the narrator of the entire story, is clearly depicted. He is a young man in his late twenties who grew up in the Midwest in a prominent, respected middle class family with Scottish ancestry. He says he is a decent human being who was taught at an early age to reserve judgment, a trait which has made him a confidante to many people in his life. He graduated from New Haven (Yale) in 1915, and then served in the military in World War I.
When he returned to the Midwest after the war, he quickly grew restless and found his small hometown to be too confining. As a result, he has come to New York City to learn the bond business, like many of his friends. He has rented a home on West Egg, one of two identical (in appearance) egg-shaped islands located on Long Island Sound, twenty miles from the city. His house is a small bungalow, renting for $80 per month; it is really an eyesore located between two large mansions. The one on his right is a “colossal affair,” fashioned after a City Hall in Normandy, France, complete with marble swimming pool and forty acres of lawn and gardens. Nick has learned that a Mr. Jay Gatsby owns and inhabits the mansion.
East Egg is located across a small bay from West Egg, but they are separated by more than a body of water. West Egg is the less fashionable island, peopled with flashy mansions built by new money; in contrast, East Egg is filled with the fashionable, substantial, and sturdy palaces representing the old guard and inherited wealth. It is on East Egg that Nick Carraway’s distant cousin Daisy lives with her husband Tom Buchanan. Tom, who was at Yale with Nick, was a football hero in college and comes from an enormously wealthy Chicago family. After marrying Daisy, the two of them “drifted” for several years from place to place, including a year’s stay in France. Now Tom has brought his polo ponies east and established himself and his family in an elaborate Georgian Colonial mansion on East Egg, of which he is very proud.
Nick has been invited to dinner at the Buchanans. When he arrives at their home, he is amazed at its size and the expansive grounds that run from the house for a quarter of a mile down to the beach. Tom Buchanan, his thirty year old host, is standing on the wide front porch, dressed in his riding clothes. Nick immediately notices that Tom has changed since his college days. Although still blond, handsome, and muscular, he appears more sturdy and arrogant; in fact, Nick comments that Tom has a “cruel body, capable of enormous leverage,” an analysis which foreshadows Tom’s future actions.
In total contrast to Tom’s appearance, Daisy, Tom’s wife and Nick’s cousin, appears to be light as a feather. It is an appropriate image, for there is not much depth to her. She sits inside the living room on a sofa and is dressed in a lightweight, white garment that is rippling in the breeze, giving the young woman the image of floating. Her voice, light and thrilling to Nick, intensifies the cool, airy picture of her appearance, but as she speaks, Daisy reveals that her purpose in life, like her looks, is also “flitting.” She tells Nick that they will all have to plan to do something, but it is beyond Daisy to make any plans. She even says of herself that each year she looks forward to June 21, the longest day of the year, and then manages to miss it each time. Throughout the evening, she continues with such inconsequential chatter. When Nick looks in her eyes, he sees the true Daisy, for they hold a sadness and absence of desire.
During the course of the dinner, part of the reason for Daisy’s unhappiness is revealed. When Tom receives a phone call and leaves the table, followed by his wife, a second guest, Jordan Baker, tells Nick that Tom has a mistress in the city. In a conversation after dinner, Daisy also reveals other “turbulent emotions” to Nick. She tells him that when she had her daughter two years ago, Tom was no where around. She is glad that the child is a daughter, for she feels she can raise her to be “a fool--that’s the best thing a girl can be in the world, a beautiful little fool.” She then admits her misery to Nick and says, “I’ve had a very bad time, and I’m pretty cynical about everything.” The noble Nick, hesitant to make judgements, feels very uneasy about Daisy’s confessions and the smirk that spoils her lovely face. He also feels like an outsider, excluded from the distinguished secret society to which the Buchanan’s belong.
After their private conversation on the porch, Nick and Daisy go inside to join Tom and Jordan. Tom warns Nick about Daisy’s complaints and says, “Don’t believe everything you hear.” Nick then learns that Jordan is a well-known golf star, and Daisy teases them both about arranging their marriage. They then quiz Nick about his being “engaged to a girl out West,” but he explains that she is only a friend and part of the reason he has escaped to the East coast. Since Jordan must depart to rest before her morning golf tournament, Nick also takes his leave. As he drives away, he has feelings of confusion and disgust about the Buchanan’s. He really feels that Daisy and her daughter should rush out of Tom’s house forever, but he also knows that will never happen. When Nick arrives home, he stands outside to take in the view of the bay. He notices that his neighbor is also outside, staring at the stars with hands in his pocket. Just as Nick prepares to greet him, the neighbor stretches out his arms to the dark water and appears to tremble. Nick looks out to the bay to see what attracts the neighbor’s attention, but he sees only a single green light, probably at the end of a dock in East Egg. When Nick looks back toward his neighbor, the man has vanished. What an appropriate first glimpse of the mysterious Gatsby!
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