Chapter 4-2: Gatsby’s Past
Aim: In this 30-minute lesson, you will go over the part 4-2 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.
At nine o’clock, one morning late in July Gatsby’s gorgeous car lurched up the rocky drive to my door and gave out a burst of melody from its three noted horn. It was the first time he had called on me though I had gone to two of his parties, mounted in his hydroplane, and, at his urgent invitation, made frequent use of his beach.
“Good morning, old sport. You’re having lunch with me today and I thought we’d ride up together.”
He was balancing himself on the dashboard of his car with that resourcefulness of movement that is so peculiarly American–that comes, I suppose, with the absence of lifting work or rigid sitting in youth and, even more, with the formless grace of our nervous, sporadic games. This quality was continually breaking through his punctilious manner in the shape of restlessness. He was never quite still; there was always a tapping foot somewhere or the impatient opening and closing of a hand.
He saw me looking with admiration at his car. “It’s pretty, isn’t it, old sport.” He jumped off to give me a better view. “Haven’t you ever seen it before?”
I’d seen it. Everybody had seen it. It was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hatboxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of windshields that mirrored a dozen suns. Sitting down behind many layers of glass in a sort of green leather conservatory we started to town.
What kind of car does Gatsby drive? What does this say about Gatsby? How does Gatsby act while driving?
I had talked with him perhaps half a dozen times in the past month and found, to my disappointment, that he had little to say. So my first impression, that he was a person of some undefined consequence, had gradually faded and he had become simply the proprietor of an elaborate roadhouse next door.
Why was Nick disappointed at Gatsby?
And then came that disconcerting ride. We hadn’t reached West Egg village before Gatsby began leaving his elegant sentences unfinished and slapping himself indecisively on the knee of his caramel-colored suit.
“Look here, old sport,” he broke out surprisingly. “What’s your opinion of me, anyhow?”
A little overwhelmed, I began the generalized evasions which that question deserves.
“Well, I’m going to tell you something about my life,” he interrupted.
“I don’t want you to get a wrong idea of me from all these stories you hear.”
So he was aware of the bizarre accusations that flavored conversation in his halls.
“I’ll tell you God’s truth.” His right hand suddenly ordered divine retribution to stand by. “I am the son of some wealthy people in the middle-west–all dead now. I was brought up in America but educated at Oxford because all my ancestors have been educated there for many years. It is a family tradition.”
He looked at me sideways–and I knew why Jordan Baker had believed he was lying. He hurried the phrase “educated at Oxford,” or swallowed it or choked on it as though it had bothered him before. And with this doubt his whole statement fell to pieces and I wondered if there wasn’t something a little sinister about him after all.
“What part of the middle-west?” I inquired casually.
“My family all died and I came into a good deal of money.”
Does Nick think that Gatsby is telling the truth about his past?
His voice was solemn as if the memory of that sudden extinction of a clan still haunted him. For a moment I suspected that he was pulling my leg but a glance at him convinced me otherwise. “After that I lived like a young rajah in all the capitals of Europe–Paris, Venice, Rome–collecting jewels, chiefly rubies, hunting big game, painting a little, things for myself only, and trying to forget something very sad that had happened to me long ago.”
With an effort I managed to restrain my incredulous laughter. The very phrases were worn so threadbare that they evoked no image except that of a turbaned “character” leaking sawdust at every pore as he pursued a tiger through the Bois de Boulogne.
“Then came the war, old sport. It was a great relief and I tried very hard to die but I seemed to bear an enchanted life. I accepted a commission as first lieutenant when it began. In the Argonne Forest I took two machine-gun detachments so far forward that there was a half mile gap on either side of us where the infantry couldn’t advance. We stayed there two days and two nights, a hundred and thirty men with sixteen Lewis guns, and when the infantry came up at last they found the insignia of three German divisions among the piles of dead. I was promoted to be a major and every Allied government gave me a decoration–even Montenegro, little Montenegro down on the Adriatic Sea!“
Little Montenegro! He lifted up the words and nodded at them–with his smile. The smile comprehended Montenegro’s troubled history and sympathized with the brave struggles of the Montenegrin people. It appreciated fully the chain of national circumstances which had elicited this tribute from Montenegro’s warm little heart. My incredulity was submerged in fascination now; it was like skimming hastily through a dozen magazines.
What did Gatsby do after his Oxford days?
He reached in his pocket and a piece of metal, slung on a ribbon, fell into my palm.
“That’s the one from Montenegro.”
To my astonishment, the thing had an authentic look.
_Orderi di Danilo_, ran the circular legend, _Montenegro, Nicolas Rex_.
_Major Jay Gatsby_, I read, _For Valour Extraordinary_.
“Here’s another thing I always carry. A souvenir of Oxford days. It was taken in Trinity Quad–the man on my left is now the Earl of Dorcaster.”
It was a photograph of half a dozen young men in blazers loafing in an archway through which were visible a host of spires. There was Gatsby, looking a little, not much, younger–with a cricket bat in his hand.
Then it was all true. I saw the skins of tigers flaming in his palace on the Grand Canal; I saw him opening a chest of rubies to ease, with their crimson-lighted depths, the gnawings of his broken heart.
Was Gatsby telling the truth?
- Why do you think Gatsby tries so hard to associate himself with certain institutions or places?
- Do you think owning a fancy car matters to Gatsby? Why? Does it matter to you?
- What kind of goods, places, or institutions represent certain status in your culture? 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.