Chapter 2-1: Tom’s Mistress
Aim: In this 30-minute lesson, you will go over the part 2-1 of the book. Go over comprehension questions after each paragraph, and practice using new expressions.
After saying hello, read the following part of the book out loud with the tutor.
About half way between West Egg and New York the motor-road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile, so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is a valley of ashes–a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air. Occasionally a line of grey cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-grey men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud which screens their obscure operations from your sight.
But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic–their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of , and then sank down himself into eternal blindness or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.
The valley of ashes is bounded on one side by a small foul river, and when the drawbridge is up to let barges through, the passengers on waiting trains can stare at the dismal scene for as long as half an hour. There is always a halt there of at least a minute and it was because of this that I first met Tom Buchanan’s mistress.
Describe the Valley of Ashes. What does it symbolize? What are the “eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg?
The fact that he had one was insisted upon wherever he was known. His acquaintances resented the fact that he turned up in popular restaurants with her and, leaving her at a table, sauntered about, chatting with whomsoever he knew. Though I was curious to see her I had no desire to meet her–but I did. I went up to New York with Tom on the train one afternoon and when we stopped by the ashheaps he jumped to his feet and taking hold of my elbow literally forced me from the car.
“We’re getting off!” he insisted. “I want you to meet my girl.”
I think he’d tanked up a good deal at luncheon and his determination to have my company bordered on violence. The supercilious assumption was that on Sunday afternoon I had nothing better to do.
Does Tom try to keep his affair a secret? Why or why not?
I followed him over a low white-washed railroad fence and we walked back a hundred yards along the road under Doctor Eckleburg’s persistent stare. The only building in sight was a small block of yellow brick sitting on the edge of the waste land, a sort of compact Main Street ministering to it and contiguous to absolutely nothing. One of the three shops it contained was for rent and another was an all-night restaurant approached by a trail of ashes; the third was a garage–Repairs. GEORGE B. WILSON. Cars Bought and Sold–and I followed Tom inside.
The interior was unprosperous and bare; the only car visible was the dust-covered wreck of a Ford which crouched in a dim corner. It had occurred to me that this shadow of a garage must be a blind and that sumptuous and romantic apartments were concealed overhead when the proprietor himself appeared in the door of an office, wiping his hands on a piece of waste. He was a blonde, spiritless man, anaemic, and faintly handsome. When he saw us a damp gleam of hope sprang into his light blue eyes.
“I can’t complain,” answered Wilson unconvincingly. “When are you going to sell me that car?”
“Next week; I’ve got my man working on it now.”
“Works pretty slow, don’t he?”
“No, he doesn’t,” said Tom coldly. “And if you feel that way about it, maybe I’d better sell it somewhere else after all.”
“I don’t mean that,” explained Wilson quickly. “I just meant—-“
Describe George Wilson. What kind of person is he?
His voice faded off and Tom glanced impatiently around the garage. Then I heard footsteps on a stairs and in a moment the thickish figure of a woman blocked out the light from the office door. She was in the middle thirties, and faintly stout, but she carried her surplus flesh sensuously as some women can. Her face, above a spotted dress of dark blue crepe-de-chine, contained no facet or gleam of beauty but there was an immediately perceptible vitality about her as if the nerves of her body were continually smouldering. She smiled slowly and walking through her husband as if he were a ghost shook hands with Tom, looking him flush in the eye. Then she wet her lips and without turning around spoke to her husband in a soft, coarse voice:
Describe George’s wife. What kind of person is she?
“Get some chairs, why don’t you, so somebody can sit down.”
“Oh, sure,” agreed Wilson hurriedly and went toward the little office, mingling immediately with the cement color of the walls. A white ashen dust veiled his dark suit and his pale hair as it veiled everything in the vicinity–except his wife, who moved close to Tom.
“I want to see you,” said Tom intently. “Get on the next train.”
“I’ll meet you by the news-stand on the lower level.”
She nodded and moved away from him just as George Wilson emerged with two chairs from his office door. We waited for her down the road and out of sight. It was a few days before the , and a grey, scrawny Italian child was setting torpedoes in a row along the railroad track.
“Terrible place, isn’t it,” said Tom, exchanging a frown with Doctor Eckleburg.
“It does her good to get away.”
“Doesn’t her husband object?”
“Wilson? He thinks she goes to see her sister in New York. He’s so dumb he doesn’t know he’s alive.”
So Tom Buchanan and his girl and I went up together to New York–or not quite together, for Mrs. Wilson sat discreetly in another car. Tom deferred that much to the sensibilities of those East Eggers who might be on the train.
Describe the relationship between the Wilsons. How is it similar and different from the Buchanans’?
- Describe the valley of ashes. Can you think of a place in your country that bears similar characteristics? Describe the setting of the valley of ashes where George and Myrtle live. What aspects of the setting imply that it is intended to have a symbolic meaning as well as a literal one?
- Describe Mr. Wilson and Myrtle. Do they seem to fit into the setting?
- Why do Tom and Myrtle take separate trains to New York? If this affair happened in your country, how would it be similar or different? Share your thoughts with your Cambly tutor!
Do you understand the following words and expressions? Practice using the new words or expressions with the Cambly tutor.
- Saunter about