Summary and Analysis
Nick's attentions again turn to Gatsby in Chapter 3. Gatsby, in the summer months, was known far and wide for the extravagant parties he threw in which "men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars." During the weekend, people flocked to his house for his parties, as well as to use his pool, his boats, his car, and so on. His gatherings were lavishly catered (serving two complete dinners), boasting not just a small combo of musicians, but a whole orchestra. The guests enjoyed themselves, flirting and dancing, until the wee hours of the morning.
After seeing these parties from afar, Nick is invited by Gatsby by a handwritten note to join in the festivities. Nick is one of the few to have actually been invited. The others simply arrive, knowing only that there will be a party and they won't be turned away. At the party, Nick tries to find Gatsby, but has no luck. No one can tell him where Gatsby is, suggesting that they, themselves, didn't know the host. As Nick mills around the party, he encounters Jordan Baker and the two of them two mingle around, inadvertently gathering rumors about Gatsby, including that he had once killed a man. After several glasses of champagne, Nick begins a conversation with a fellow who is, unbeknownst to him, Gatsby himself. Later, Gatsby takes Jordan Baker aside to speak with her privately. What they discuss is not revealed, but Jordan passes along that it is "the most amazing thing."
Not wanting the reader to think his summer was composed merely of the three events outlined in the book's first three chapters, Nick interjects that much more happened to him, although it largely entailed working, dating casually, and dining at the Yale Club. His affinity for New York has been growing throughout the summer as he begins to appreciate its "enchanted metropolitan twilight" and how everyone hurried "toward gayety." Nick meets up with Jordan Baker in mid-summer and as the two begin to see more of each other, Nick begins to look upon her with "a sort of tender curiosity." He realizes, though, that Jordan is "incurably dishonest." In fact, the reason Nick remembered her name initially is that she had once been accused of cheating in a golf tournament. Despite Jordan's downfalls, she intrigues Nick, although he ends the chapter by touting his own cardinal virtue, claiming modestly, "I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known."
Chapter 3 is, in many ways, like Chapter 2, moving from one party to another, encouraging the juxtaposition of the two events. Tom's party and Gatsby's party are quite different, although in some ways alike, encouraging the reader to explore in what ways the two men are also similar. The purpose of Chapter 3 is, also like Chapter 2, to provide essential background, although this time it is Gatsby who is introduced. By inserting the chapter about Tom, Fitzgerald has effectively held off introducing the story's main character, helping to build an air of mystery around him, not unlike the mystery that Nick and the others initially associate with him, and by keeping the reader from meeting Gatsby, Fitzgerald links the reader even more closely to Nick. However, the information is sketchy — later chapters help to round out the picture of him: who he is and where he comes from.
Nick tells of Gatsby's parties, elaborate and grand affairs that attract entertainers, socialites, and even ordinary people. Gatsby is a perfect host, generous and hospitable. In fact, he is courteous to the point of being taken advantage of. People routinely come to his house for the parties, but also to use his boats, his plane, his cars, and so on. Gatsby must not mind all his guests, however, because every weekend continues in the same patterns of excess and opulence as he provides his guests with only the finest food, drink, and entertainment.
Nick, living next door to Gatsby, has been observing the parties at a distance, as a casual observer, but in Chapter 3 he is officially invited to attend one. As he moves from being a spectator to being a participant, Nick is able to provide an informed view of not only what goes on at Gatsby's parties, but also what the partygoers themselves are like. When Nick reveals that he is one of the few invited guests at the party, this little detail tells quite a lot: It signals that in some yet unexplained way, Nick is set apart from the typical party guest. Despite living next door to Gatsby, he has never succumbed to the urge to crash one of the parties (which would have been easy enough to do, given the way in which people come and go from Gatsby's affairs). Perhaps it is Nick's Midwestern roots and their implied propriety that keep him at a distance, but regardless, his sense of decorum shows brightly throughout this scene, helping readers see him as a character with integrity.
Having Nick at Gatsby's party provides an unprecedented chance to peer into the lives of the seemingly well-to-do people who attend. The impression is not very appealing. It turns out that the glamorous and glib party guests are, in fact, quite shallow. Nick says that they "conducted themselves according to the rules of behavior associated with amusement parks," again stressing the carefree, stereotypical roaring '20s atmosphere. Much to the partygoers' discredit, however, "sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all." In stark contrast, Nick "as soon as [he] arrived . . . made an attempt to find [his] host." He had little luck, however, because no one could help him. In fact, when Nick asks people for help in finding Gatsby, they can only look at him "in such an amazed way" and vehemently deny "any knowledge of his movements," again setting a stark contrast between himself and the people he tells us about.
The only person Nick encounters at the party whom he knows is Jordan Baker. The mere fact that Jordan is at the party suggests that she is, in some ways (ways that are explored later in this chapter and beyond), an extension of the party-going set. Although little is known of her, up to this point, her presence at the mansion suggests that she likely runs with the sort of people who frequent Gatsby's house. She seems intrigued by Nick, however, just as he is intrigued by her, for reasons that remain unstated. Perhaps she finds Nick a welcome relief to the kinds of men she generally meets, or perhaps she is drawn to his Midwestern sensibility, for it is clear he doesn't yet blend in with the East Coast crowd. Whatever it is that draws her to him, she has never before been involved with anyone quite like Nick (this is especially brought out in Chapters 8 and 9).
While Nick and Jordan mingle at Gatsby's party, they learn many intriguing things about their host, and everything they learn underscores the idea of reality versus rumor that underlies so much of The Great Gatsby. One of the first things the couple find out is that when one partygoer tore a dress at a party, Gatsby sent her a new evening gown worth a small fortune. Nick and Jordan also discover that part of the Gatsby mythos is that "he killed a man once." Another romantic rumor places Gatsby as "a German spy during the war." How interesting that no one really knows much about Gatsby! In a way, it is a sad commentary on the people attending the party: Can they really care so little about their host that they don't even have the common courtesy to find the difference between fiction and fact? Instead, they believe what is convenient or easy for them, creating a version of Jay Gatsby that meets their ideals. Ironically, the guests' construction of their host is not unlike how the host himself, as is later revealed, has constructed himself.
As Nick and Jordan saunter around, they also shed more light on the partygoers themselves. For example, while Nick and Jordan explore the house (under the pretense, at least, of looking for Gatsby), they meet a man known throughout the book as "Owl Eyes" due to his glasses. Two things are striking about him. First, he seems impressed that the books in Gatsby's library are real. Although this may seem merely a careless remark, in fact, it speaks volumes. Gatsby, unlike Tom, is "new money," and Owl Eyes knows it. Clearly he has spent a great deal of time among the nouveaux riches and knows them well enough to know that they are, by and large, about appearances. He is surprised that the books are real, expecting, instead, for them to "be a nice durable cardboard," giving the illusion of a library where none really exists. Instead, Gatsby does indeed have real books. Everything in the house, Gatsby reveals later, has been painstakingly chosen to create an image of affluence. The second revealing statement Owl Eyes makes is that he's "been drunk for about a week now." In this respect, he is a perfect poster boy for the Jazz Age, drunk to incapacitation for weeks on end.
The carnivalesque atmosphere of Gatsby's party continues as the couple heads outdoors, still searching for their host. Nick offers a telling commentary on the way of life he's witnessing, stating that after he had enough champagne, "the scene had changed before [his] eyes into something significant, elemental, and profound." Sober, this scene has no more significance than any other, but through the haze of alcohol, it seems to become steeped in meaning. Again, Fitzgerald offers candid commentary into life in the Jazz Age. He is, in effect, offering harsh social criticism, by suggesting that the only way in which a sense of meaning is to be found in this time is through altering one's sense of consciousness. Through the partying, people were able to bring meaning (regardless of the fact it may be false meaning) into their otherwise meaningless lives. For them, drinking was an escape, allowing them to exit the mundane world and take part in something bigger, something more meaningful.
The first glimpse of Gatsby reveals a man who stands apart from the type of guests he routinely hosts at his parties. Much to Fitzgerald's credit, the reader, just like Nick, falls into the trap of interacting with Gatsby before his identity is ever revealed. Nick strikes up a conversation with someone of a bit more substance than the typical party guest — someone who asks him questions about himself and is somewhat interested in him (albeit a general passing interest). In fact, Nick remarks that Gatsby possesses "a quality of eternal reassurance . . . that you may come across four or five times in life." His smile, Nick asserts, "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." The understanding projected through Gatsby's smile is not without its roots — the incidents in his past (especially those discussed in Chapter 6) have led him to value a well-crafted appearance.
The image of Gatsby is one of extreme propriety. From the "majestic hand" that signed Nick's invitation to the full-sized orchestra and exquisite catering, Gatsby appears the perfect gentleman. He is gracious and kindhearted (or else how could he put up with his own guests?), a combination that gives rise to rumors. He is, however, set apart from the guests, both mentally and physically. Nick indicates that during the course of the evening, as men and women began to move closer to each other in gestures of flirtation, Gatsby was strikingly marginalized. No one sought to rest her head on his shoulder, no friends sought him out to join their small and intimate groups. Gatsby, the host, remained strikingly aloof from his guests. Nick, likely, is one of the first people to ever realize this. (Again, as a testament to his general nature, Nick comes off as a credible and trustworthy narrator.) Just as one may think that Gatsby will have nothing to do with any woman, however, he sends for Jordan Baker, wishing to speak to her privately. When Jordan returns, Fitzgerald, wanting to maintain suspense for a bit longer, withholds the purpose of their discussion, but Jordan says that it was "the most amazing thing," which is finally discussed at the end of Chapter 4.
In addition to providing information about Gatsby, his parties, and his party guests, Chapter 3 also chronicles a return to the issues of morality and equity introduced in Chapter 1. Toward the chapter's end, Nick shifts his focus away from Gatsby and toward Jordan. He reveals his interest in her, but tempers it by discussing her apparent penchant for lying. While he is initially "flattered to go places with her," largely because of her fame, he isn't "actually in love" but feels "a sort of tender curiosity." Nick's opinion of Jordan changes, however, when he finds that she makes a habit of lying her way out of bad situations, thus revealing two contrary facets of his nature. Unlike many of the novel's characters who delight in basking in the fame and notoriety of others (take for instance Myrtle's delight at the power and prestige she gets from being with Tom), Nick's judgment is not entirely clouded by fame. Even though Nick is fond of Jordan he is still able to discern her lack of honesty. However, as admirable as that is, Nick contradicts this good judgment when he confesses that "Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply — I was casually sorry, and then I forgot." Clearly, although he wouldn't admit it, he does hold a double standard, excusing Jordan's shortcomings because of her gender. As the chapter ends, Nick reveals his own sense of self-worth: Of all the people he has known, he is one of the few who is honest. In many respects, this is true, and as the story continues, Nick's moral fortitude becomes more and more pronounced, but the mere fact that he has dismissed Jordan's dishonesty makes the reader wonder, at least momentarily, whether this is true.
omnibus a bus; having a variety of purposes or uses.
fortnight a period of two weeks.
prodigality wastefulness or extreme lavishness.
The Follies immensely popular revue started by Florenz Ziegfeld in 1907.
white flannels white trousers made of light flannel.
Stoddard lectures travel books taking in the entire world.
Belasco David Belasco (1853-1931); U.S. theatrical producer, playwright, and actor.
coupe a closed, two-door automobile with a body smaller than that of a sedan.
Yale Club private social club in New York City.