This portion of the web site will attempt to take a deeper look at the second chapter by relating it to Fitzgerald's personal life.
typical analysis of chapter two in The Great Gatsby finds two major
symbols: the valley of ashes and the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg.
These two symbols are undoubtedly important to the meaning of
Fitzgerald’s masterpiece and both comment on his perceptions of the 1920s.
The valley itself is a desolate wasteland that Fitzgerald uses to
describe the moral, or perhaps the overall state of society during the 1920s.
Any truth and dignity left has disintegrated into a mass of
indistinguishable gray ash. The
fantastic billboard of the faceless T.J. Eckleburg contains similar revelations
about the decade. Color is
important in this symbol, as the eyes have been covered by “a pair of enormous
yellow spectacles”. In The
Great Gatsby, the color yellow symbolizes wealth and money.
Thus, even the God-like Eckleburg has succumbed to the materialistic
values of the decade. However, as
important as the two symbols are, the second chapter provides very brief
glimpses at them, as the majority of the time is spent at a party at Myrtle’s
New York apartment. This fact
indicates that Fitzgerald was making other symbolic statements about the Jazz
Age but at a less direct level. Chapter
two’s most important feature is not the two heavily symbolic elements detailed
in the beginning, but Fitzgerald’s take on the social classes of the era
during the party scene. In chapter
two, Fitzgerald uses the characters to comment on the unfair and negative
aspects of the social class system during the 1920s using autobiographical and
Fitzgerald’s personal experiences with the tragedy and unfairness of one’s social class stemmed from his experiences with a woman named Ginevra King. From 1915 to 1917, Fitzgerald and King were an unlikely couple because of the difference in their social status. A curator at Princeton, Don Skremmer described Gatsby’s continuing love for King even after they both had married other people; “King remained for Fitzgerald an archetype for the alluring, independent and upperclass woman, ultimately unattainable by someone of a modest social background like himself” (Allen). Many critics have thought of Ginevra King as the most likely inspiration for Daisy in The Great Gatsby. After their meeting and relationship based in St. Paul Minnesota was ended by King’s engagement in 1918 Gatsby was disgusted by the fact that arbitrary factors such as class could separate two people who were truly in love (Allen). This disgust, rather than any type of romantic hope was illustrated in the second chapter of The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald bitterly satirizes the fundamental differences in social classes of the 1920s that had cost him his love.
Chapter two brings the first real descriptions of Tom and Myrtle’s
relationship, a relationship that at first seems to be exactly what Fitzgerald
was trying to achieve with Ginevra King. Myrtle
was the lower class woman, having a romantic relationship with someone well
above her social station in Tom Buchanan. However,
a look at these characters shows the satiric nature the relationship.
Johanna Järvinen’s study on character
language in The Great Gatsby shows not only the distinction between
classes, but also how Myrtle tries, unsuccessfully to blur that distinction in
the presence of Tom. Järvinen
points to the scene in chapter two when Myrtle wants to buy a dog as an example
of her attempts at sounding cultured. Myrtle
“delicately” asked whether the dog was “a boy or a girl”, attempting to
make a more genteel word choice than the commonly accepted word “bitch”
(Fitzgerald 49). This attempt at
class assimilation is abandoned later in the chapter at the party, where Myrtle
reveals her crude nature by shouting Daisy’s name in Tom’s face (Fitzgerald
37). Tom subsequently breaks
her nose in an act that suggests that these types of relationships could never
work, echoing Fitzgerald’s cynical stance.
The separation of Myrtle and Tom also relates to their incompatibility.
In order to visit the lower classes, Tom needs to travel to the desolate
valley of ashes. Fitzgerald’s portrayal of the failure of intra-class
relationships echoes his bitterness over his own experience and his distaste for
the crude nature of relationships during the 1920s.
other characters at the party, especially the McKees, also help to illustrate
the difference between social classes. Lucile
and Chester McKee represent those from lower classes who try to raise their
status by fraternizing with the upper classes.
However, they do not have the success of other characters like Gatsby,
who while never actually becoming a true member of the upper class comes much
closer to his goal than do the McKees. The
analysis of their language as provided by Järvinen
did not seem entirely accurate, as she thought of Chester McKee as more of an
artistic gentleman. However, his
dialogue seems to betray a negative image of his low social status.
The very first words he utters to Nick at the party is that “he was in
the artistic game” (Fitzgerald 30), hardly dignified way of talking about the
art form. Nick is also obviously
unimpressed with his work, giving the reader the impression that Chester McKee
is a lower class failure. McKee’s
wife also shows evidence of Fitzgerald’s distaste for the gaudiness of the
lower classes during the period. Her
vanity is almost comical, as she told Nick that, “her husband had photographed
her a hundred and twenty-seven times since they had been married” (Fitzgerald
30). Fitzgerald also uses Lucille
to comment on the snobbery of upper classes in relationships.
Her story about how she almost married a man who was “way below”
(Fitzgerald 35) her until she found Chester is ridiculous because Fitzgerald
makes it obvious that Chester himself is not much of a catch.
This satire is a reaction to the snobbery that Fitzgerald faced in his
relationship with King.
The Great Gatsby is a complex novel that deals with Fitzgerald’s
interpretations of the Jazz Age directly as he saw them.
In doing so, his personal experiences often came into play.
Like Fitzgerald, Nick Carraway is a Midwesterner, and Daisy’s dialogue
was sometimes directly taken from Fitzgerald’s wife.
Chapter two contains some Fitzgerald’s most basic views, especially
regarding the social classes of the time. His
experience direct experience with the upper class left him with a feeling of
disgust that class should be able to dictate love.
This idea can actually be interpreted to be a main theme of the novel, as
Gatsby tries to manipulate his social standing in order to gain the affections
of Daisy. However, chapter two
offers the most in-depth look at the relationships between classes.
Tom and Myrtle’s relationship is a failure because of the
irreconcilable differences between the two classes.
Tom cannot let his reputation suffer by leaving Daisy, even if it costs
him his true love. The other characters at the party are used to foreshadow the
futility of trying to change one’s social status and the absurdity of snobbery
especially when it comes to love. Fitzgerald’s
comments on class distinctions have a decidedly pessimistic outlook on the
possibility of an end to social classes because of the selfish and materialistic
nature of the Jazz Age.
Patricia. Documents tell more about Fitzgerald's first love. 5 Sep. 2003.
23 Jan. 2004.
F. Scott. The Great Gatsby.
New York: Collier Books, 1925.
Johanna. Class and Language
in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. 12 Dec. 2002. 23 Jan. 2004.