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January 29, 2009

So much inside an ellipsis...

"...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."
--The Great Gatsby, pg. 38

This sentence is part of a scene that felt a little out of place to me. It takes place after Tom takes Nick and his mistress Myrtle to a party and Tom breaks Myrtle's nose. The party seems to have turned very unpleasant at this point, and when Nick follows Mr. McKee out the door, it seems like for sure he's going to go back home. But in the elevator Mr. McKee invites him to have lunch with him sometime, and one ellipsis later, they're in his room, and Mr. McKee is in his underwear for some reason. Pair that with Mr. McKee being stereotypically described as a "pale, feminine man" (pg. 30) as well as the potentially homoerotic undertones of "'Keep your hands off the lever'" and "'I beg your pardon...I didn't know I was touching it'" (37) and it certainly seems as though Nick and Mr. McKee had some sort of tryst during those ellipsis marks. And yet Nick appears to be heterosexual by all other accounts; he seems to be somewhat attracted to Jordan ("for a moment I thought I loved her", 58). Is Nick bisexual? Did he just have one drunken tryst with a man? Or am I just reading too much into that one passage and their encounter was purely celibate? I don't know. But it seems that if Fitzgerald wanted to portray the narrator of his story as homosexual, he wouldn't have been able to do it very bluntly, given the social mores of the time; the character may not even be willing to admit his homosexuality to himself. But what would be the point of this subtext? From what we have read so far, what seems to be linking all the main characters is that they all have some amount of subterfuge going on in their lives--Tom has a mistress, Daisy is secretly extremely unhappy in her marriage, Nick seems to believe Jordan is a compulsive liar who's covered up a scandal over a golf tournament among other things, and the title character himself has a mysterious background. Since Nick is telling the story, he wouldn't willingly tell us any of his secrets, so it makes sense to include small suggestive details that may clue us in to what he may be hiding. He may claim to be attracted to Jordan, but his initial description of Gatsby's smile is much more enamored than the way he describes any woman thus far--"He smiled understandingly--much more than understandingly...It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood...and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey" (48). Nick's attraction to Gatsby may or may not be romantic, but it certainly fixates on an aspect of him all the main characters could readily gravitate to--belief in the facade they are hoping to convey to the world rather than the secrets they are hiding behind the facade.
I don't think Nick's character must be interpreted as homosexual, but it certainly adds an interesting dynamic that resonates with the themes that seem to be present in the novel so far. It at least provides more clarity to me about why Fitzgerald would include such a seemingly incongruous scene on pages 37-38.

Spring on the outside, winter on the inside

"Okay, let's see now. Winterbourne and Daisy carry associations of winter--death, cold--and spring--life, flowers, renewal--that ultimately come into conflict...with winter's frost destroying the delicate young flower." (19)

When I read this quote, I automatically tried to relate this back to The Great Gatsby, obviously because one of the main characters is named Daisy. I couldn't agree more that a name like Daisy carries with it connotations of spring and vibrancy and renewal; you don't even have to know much about literary analysis to make that association because it happens subconsciously. It's interesting that the Daisy of The Great Gatsby is not really the vibrant person full of life that her name suggests. She maintains an appearance of being bright and vivacious, but in reality she is very unhappy and cynical about the world. This is in keeping with my theory that all of these characters are maintaining a facade that is very contradictory to their internal selves (I go into more detail about that here.
It is a nice ironic effect that Daisy only reflects the connotations of her name in appearance but in reality goes against them entirely. This book is definitely useful in helping me pick up on things like that; while some of these concepts may seem obvious, it is very helpful to have a reference tool like this book to call my attention to details I might otherwise read over without giving a lot of thought.

What's it all for?

"For all/That struck the earth,/No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,/Went surely to the cider-apple heap/As of no worth./One can see what will trouble/This sleep of mine, whatever it is."

I thought this was an interesting quote because it adds a little bit more complexity to the poem. From what I've read of Robert Frost, his poetry is powerful in the fact that it's never exactly what it appears to be at first glance. There is always an extra layer that makes the poem more ambiguous or complicated. At first glance this poem seems to be about picking apples; looking at it again, it seems like this might be a metaphor about dying and coming to the end of life's journey. Reading it that way, it's easy to interpret it as looking at death as a warm, comforting sleep at the end of a long day of work. But according to this quote the sleep is not comfortable but "trouble[d]." The apples the speaker has picked are all going into a heap to be made into cider, no matter how ripe or good to eat they may be--a heap the speaker believes indicates the apples, and thus all the work he has been doing,as being "of no worth." The complacency I initially associated with this poem doesn't really hold up in this set of lines. There seems to be much more of an existential struggle for what the purpose of life is here, if apple-picking really is a metaphor for life. In fact, the "sleep" the speaker mentions may not even be death; he does not know what kind of sleep it is, but he feels the woodchuck might be able to tell him. So now it seems like this poem is not so much a comforting reassurance of the well-deserved sleep that comes at the end of life but more a portrayal of the uncertainty of when death will come, and when it does come, the uncertainty of what the purpose of life really is. Way to go, Frosty!

Leafy Paradise

"Her early leaf's a flower;/But only so an hour./Then leaf subsides to leaf./So Eden sank to grief,"
--"Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost

I chose this quote because I think it's a really effective illustration of the way Frost links seemingly small insignifcant aspects of nature with larger ideas in short and simple language. It's obvious that leaves eventually turn color and fall off; what makes this poem interesting is the fact that Frost links it to the fall of Eden. All of the poems that I've read by him use nature in an eye-opening way, pointing out the way the natural world mirrors what happens in human life. The fall of Eden represents more than just Adam and Eve being forced out of paradise; it's something that on some level every human experiences. Sooner or later, the things that bring us joy will leave us. Everyone can relate to becoming disillusioned with something they once loved or having to put aside doing something they loved doing as a kid. Human happiness is fleeting; this is a simple statement, but if you think about it, it really is a deeply profound, all-encompassing, sad truth. The fact that Frost was able to link the tiny detail of a leaf changing color and falling off to being cast out of Paradise is a huge journey to make in only four lines, but I think it works because of the sheer simplicity of both of these events--they are different in scale and scope but neither is a complex event to comprehend. They're both just things-that-happen, basic truths we must learn to accept as we get older.

About January 2009

This page contains all entries posted to MatthewHenderson in January 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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