Preferred Citation: Chandler, Marilyn R. Dwelling in the Text: Houses in American Fiction. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991.

8— The Great Gatsby: Awakening from the American Dream

The Great Gatsby:
Awakening from the American Dream

Alfred Kazin once claimed of writers, "One writes to make a home for oneself, on paper."[1] That claim seems to capture with particular aptness the role of writing in Fitzgerald's life. His biographer, Arthur Mizener, says of him that "nothing was ever quite real to him until he had written about it."[2] Fitzgerald had a legendary ability to concoct fictions that for the time they lasted took on compelling reality not only for his audience but for himself. That capacity combined with the sense of himself as perennially on the margins of a magic circle defined by money and social position resulted in the now well-chronicled Fitzgerald legend—a glamorous decade of living in the public eye a life that was partly a fiction of which he was himself author, protagonist, and audience. Mizener records an incident in Fitzgerald's childhood that illustrates his capacity to make the figments of his imagination real both to others and himself and links his character in at least one respect closely with that of Jay Gatsby: "As a small boy Fitzgerald lived, as he said later, 'with a great dream' and his object was always to try to realize that dream. When he was four or five, for instance, he described his pony to his Grandmother McQuillan in minute detail; she was horrified that so small a child should have a pony, and it was not easy, after Scott's persuasive description, to convince her that the pony was quite imaginary."[3] The imagination and desire that drove fantasy to the very edge of reality seems epitomized in the man from the Midwest, son of an immigrant family that had a "history of dislocation and alienation,"[4] who built his dream into a house and won his woman until the dream burst like a bubble, taking his life and fortunes with it.

If there is something of Fitzgerald in Gatsby, there is certainly as much of him in Nick, the narrator who observes the legendary life literally from the margins, living in the shadow of


the mansion, watching it like a stage as the fabulous tale unfolds before him, a vicarious participant who in his detachment survives, like Ishmael, to tell the tale. Nick, also a boy from the Midwest, seems to have one foot in and one out of the world whose clamor and high drama both fascinate and exclude him. As the prototype of that midwestern boy, Fitzgerald lived in a home—or rather a series of homes, for his parents moved every year or two for much of his childhood—on "the periphery of St. Paul's finest residential street," a row of brownstones that Fitzgerald later called "a museum of American architectural failures." Mizener quotes from a letter Fitzgerald sent a friend from his home at 599 Summit Avenue where he locates himself "in a house below the average / Of a street above the average / In a room below the roof."[5] Always in the position of aspirant, given alternately to the snobbery of the climber and the reverse snobbery of the snubbed, he maintained a delicate balance for most of his career at that edge of the theater of action from which so many American narrators have told their ambivalent stories. Those narrations, which loom so large in our national canon, are forms of symbolic action that mirror the action of the protagonist in which the teller who tells the tale is, finally, the hero. This is the basic situation of The Great Gatsby , where, as David Minter puts it, Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby are engaged in "parallel pursuits," the one building his dream into a house, the other building his observations and speculations into a story.[6]

Gatsby's house is probably the easiest among all the houses in our fiction to identify as the embodiment of the "American dream," a notion that incorporates a host of moral and social values and romantic ideals in complex relationship. Jay Gatsby, a self-made man from a poor and obscure background who has risen to wealth and power by sheer force of will and the inspiration of obsessive romantic love, incarnates a mélange of romantic prototypes that taken together fall just this side of caricature. The mansion he inhabits, which he did not build but bought, represents a naive effort to transplant European architectural and decorative tastes into an American setting, where they look hopelessly artificial and out of context. Gatsby is Captain Ahab in a domestic setting, whose passion is amorous


rather than vengeful but whose obsession is just as blind. His house, devoted to an inappropriate purpose, is a mere shell around the vacancy of his life—a mockery of the idea of home, an empty facade constructed around an idea. Like Hawthorne, Fitzgerald recasts the most besetting questions of the American cultural conscience—questions of class conflict, expropriation and use of land, the morality of capitalism, and the coexistence of sexuality with innocence—in a contemporary setting. The houses that appear in the novel establish a spectrum along which we can locate and measure the relative values of the styles of American life they represent. Here again lines of class and gender become an important grid on which the architecture of the novel is designed.

When Nick Carraway leaves West Egg for the last time, sad and reflective after Gatsby's death, he walks across the yard to look once more at "that huge, incoherent failure of a house" (137). The Great Gatsby is, among other things, a sobering and even ominous commentary on the dark side of the American dream. Jay Gatsby's house is the visible result of determination, idealism, romantic love, and hard capitalism. But like so many American dreams, the idealism is not sufficiently grounded in wisdom, the romantic love is untempered by experience, and the capitalistic success the house represents is bought at a questionably high price.

In this novel we are visitors, like Nick, in a world of earnest materialism, where cars and garden parties and white suits and, most importantly, houses, serve, as in Wharton's fiction, as indices of success and taste but also of fantasy and desire and, beneath them, of lack and loss. We enter five dwellings in the course of the novel: Gatsby's grandiose "imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy" (6), Tom and Daisy's Georgian colonial mansion, Nick's modest and nondescript rented cottage, Myrtle and George Wilson's ramshackle apartment over their gas station, and the vulgar, overfurnished Manhattan flat Tom keeps for his trysts with Myrtle. Each dwelling clearly mirrors the character of its inhabitants; Tom's and Gatsby's houses, and in a comically ironic fashion, Myrtle and Tom's apartment, are self-consciously designed and decorated to project a carefully designed public image. The poorer houses speak just as clearly


of status, taste, and means, all, however, that are matters beyond the tenants' control.

Gatsby's house, like a formula romance, fulfills certain obvious, rather vulgar ideals. It is less an expression of a defined self than a declaration of achievement in received terms—the home of someone who can afford the very best and has taken care to find out what the "very best" is, though his fine possessions breathe no aura of refinement. Everything is "genuine"; the books in the library are real books, albeit uncut and unread; his shelves are full of shirts imported from England; his toiletries are burnished gold. The house, like Gatsby himself, is a decorative shell behind the glamour of which he seems to have disappeared into inexplicable and inappropriate seclusion.

Tom's house is likewise a self-conscious symbol of success, a fitting combination of traditional American design with French and Italian touches, an appropriate home for a Yale man. In it he houses Daisy, his most prized possession, with whom he lives in a state of suppressed tension, unreflectively conventional in his attitudes toward home and marriage. Inherited wealth has relieved him of the necessity of creating or imagining anything other than what money and prestige can buy. His ignorance and complacency throw Gatsby's awkward but self-reliant virtues into high relief. One of the great ironies of the novel is that Tom, the antithesis of the romantic hero, survives and wins, though not without heavy losses of his own, at Gatsby's expense.

Nick's "weatherbeaten cardboard bungalow," always seen in contrast to Gatsby's mansion, in whose shadow it inconspicuously stands, is a transition space for him. He does not own it, but he does inhabit it; he is an itinerant, rootless as yet, a kind of Ishmael in Eastern society, where he maintains the position of outsider and observer, forfeiting ownership and the intimacy of binding connections. He is free of his house, as he is free of most other identifying paraphernalia of adult life, and so is poised in a transitional, quasi-adolescent state, a state of relative innocence of the temptations of proprietorship as well as freedom from its responsibilities. He settles into West Egg feeling like "an original settler," filled with the optimistic sensation that "life was beginning over again with the summer" (5). This is the perspective of the puer aeternus (the eternal youth), the Huck


Finns and the Natty Bumppos who are nomads in a culture of settlers, planters, owners of houses and land.

Nick's general intention for himself during this golden summer is to become "that most limited of all specialists, the 'well-rounded man.'" He goes on to reflect on this objective, "This isn't just an epigram—life is much more successfully looked at from a single window after all" (5). The architectural metaphor here makes the common conflation of self and dwelling, both places from which one looks out on "life." It also underscores the practical value of limited perspective: the modern hero's predicament is to "see too much." Nick, like Quentin Compson, Stephen Dedalus, or even the Tiresias of The Waste Land , sees more than he can do anything about. He sees, in fact, through too many windows, cherishing a neutral and detached stance that makes him privy to multiple points of view but depriving him of the luxuries of conviction and passion.

Or perhaps it is just that the frame around Nick's window is extraordinarily large. His sees things on a broad canvas of history; his spatial sense grows quickly to cosmic dimensions; he looks at a house and sees the sky and stars behind it as part of the pattern. The perspectives Nick adopts about what he sees, which quickly move from the physical to the moral and metaphysical planes, derive from an old puritanical habit of mind: throughout the story he describes what he sees in terms of large, general dichotomies, polarities, oppositions. Everything is presented in terms of its opposite, beginning with the two points of land that form the poles of the story—East Egg and West Egg. Nick explains, "I lived at West Egg, the—well, the less fashionable of the two, though this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them" (6).

Contrasts quickly assume symbolic value and are pushed in Nick's descriptions to extremities. The absence of a wide middle ground in his presentation of the geography of the social spectrum reiterates a commonplace in traditional American Protestant thought—that the middle is a radically uncomfortable place to be and in a sense an "unreal" place to remain; the individual tends toward one extreme or the other—heaven or hell. Middle means on the way up—or down. The points of


stability on the spectrum of material life are likewise at the top or at the bottom.

Nick's hesitant description of the differences between the two similar strips of land works symbolically on a number of levels. They are equal and opposite entities: it seems that if one were fashionable, the other, to maintain some kind of necessary cosmic and social balance, would not be. Such contrasts appear to be the necessary order of things. Moreover, "fashionable" seems to be a term that masks the sharpness and depth of the differences it demarcates. Here, too, we find a vestige of an entrenched American habit of mind: surfaces are at odds with interiors; the body both mirrors and masks the soul. Appearances are both telling and deceptive. So "fashionable," a term that would seem definitively superficial, acquires a metaphysical resonance: Nick recognizes the contrast between fashionable and unfashionable areas as "bizarre" and "sinister." The words alert us to the fact that surface distinctions generally reflect in more palatable fashion profound and potentially unsettling differences. The Gothic note sounded here echoes frequently in descriptions of the material contrasts between Gatsby's house and Nick's, between New York and the Midwest, between Daisy and Myrtle.

Nick's house, significantly enough, is described as situated both at an extreme and "in between":

My house was at the very tip of the egg, only fifty yards from the Sound, and squeezed between two huge places that rented for twelve or fifteen thousand a season. The one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard—it was a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden. It was Gatsby's mansion. Or, rather, as I didn't know Mr. Gatsby, it was a mansion, inhabited by a gentleman of that name. My own house was an eyesore, but it was a small eyesore, and it had been overlooked, so I had a view of the water, a partial view of my neighbor's lawn, and the consoling proximity of millionaires—all for eighty dollars a month. (6)

The essential feature of Nick's house, the aspect that provides its character, is its proximity to the neighboring mansions that


almost obliterate it. It is interesting by association, not by any property of its own. This, of course, reflects Nick's own adopted persona: as a detached spectator whose involvement in the story he tells he belies by means of a bystander stance. He evaluates his own house as well as his neighbors' primarily in monetary terms; quantifying the difference of quality makes the contrast sharp and exact: the distance between twelve or fifteen thousand and eighty. This ludicrously extreme discrepancy serves to remind the reader of one more general truth: that in the United States such things can exist side by side. He describes his house as an "eyesore" but one that has made no eyes particularly sore because it has been "overlooked." The irony in the juxtaposition of these two designations is clear: it is Nick's own eyes that are "sore." His house is not a thing to be looked on but looked from. Its attractiveness lies in its views, as well as its "consoling proximity of millionaires."

Nick's house lies to the left of Gatsby's. In keeping with the symbolism assigned to spatial relations in this novel, the position of Nick's cottage may suggest the sinister or darker vantage point—the place in the shadow from which the more conspicuous world can be observed and evaluated. The house in this respect also reflects Nick's position in relation to the other characters.

The terms in which Nick describes Gatsby's house—a "colossal affair by any standard"—suggest a certain irony mixed with admiration; its grandioseness seems slightly vulgar; it is an imitation style borrowed from another culture in a kind of gratuitous and vulgar eclecticism, like so many things American, and set down in incongruous context. Gatsby's "forty acres" conform to the pattern of mythic elements that attach to Nick's presentation of Gatsby's house and person, forty being a biblical number of great symbolic significance frequently used to designate great stretches of time or space. The forty acres may by extension signify something as potentially limitless as the continent once seemed.[7]

In identifying Gatsby as the owner, Nick corrects himself: "Gatsby's mansion" suggests that the house is a function of the inhabitant. Correcting that phrase to "a mansion, inhabited by a gentleman of that name" not only reinforces the sense of mystery surrounding Gatsby's identity but alters the relation


between the man and the house. The house is the essential; the man, the accidental.

After establishing these contrasts between Gatsby's house and his own as a matrix of the story, Nick adds a third term to the equation by taking us across the Sound to East Egg to receive our initial tour of Tom and Daisy's house:

Their house was even more elaborate than I expected, a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens—finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run. The front was broken by a line of French windows, glowing now with reflected gold and wide open to the warm windy afternoon, and Tom Buchanan in riding clothes was standing with his legs apart on the front porch. (7)

Unlike Gatsby's fake French effect, Tom and Daisy's house is built in a style that dates back to the American Revolution and evokes a long history of American gentility. It is more organically unified with its surroundings, which indeed seem actively to have assimilated it—the grass and vines running, jumping, and drifting toward and over it, apparently eager to make it part of the natural landscape. The glowing French windows, a cosmopolitan touch, absorb the sun and open the interior to the warm afternoon wind. This is a place whose interior and exterior are in apparent harmony—a place apparently frank and hospitable and without mystery. Tom in his riding clothes on the front porch is the picture of a master on his own estate. He is an owner, a sportsman, an entitled member of the monied class, at home with luxury, situated between his house and his land, plainly in charge of both. His elevated position as well as his posture suggests symmetry, rootedness, stability, and command. He is a self-conscious representative of a class characterized by all these qualities, and his house and land are extensions of this persona.

Tom's comment on his own property is characteristically understated for effect:

"I've got a nice place here," he said, his eyes flashing about restlessly. Turning me around by one arm, he moved a broad flat hand


along the front vista, including in its broad sweep a sunken Italian garden, a half acre of deep, pungent roses, and a snub-nosed motor-boat that bumped the tide offshore.

"It belonged to Demaine, the oil man." He turned me around again, politely and abruptly. "We'll go inside." (7–8)

Tom is both self-satisfied and dissatisfied with his property. Its details seem to escape him; he passes them by with a sweep of the hand while Nick takes them in one by one. Tom's sole comment on the rich and impressive property focuses not on its beauty or on his pleasure in it but on its pedigree. The name of the former owner gives the property much of its value for Tom, on whom forms of value other than those relating to money and status are largely lost.

Entering the house, Nick describes a scene that surely is one of the most memorable in the novel. In this dreamlike scene Nick's poetic fancy achieves a baroque eloquence that underscores both the dazzling inventiveness of his imagination and, correspondingly, his unreliability as a narrator, prone as he is to invest what he sees with his own imaginative whimsy. A little like Poe's distracted narrator in "The Fall of the House of Usher," Nick's visions are prophetic, if slightly unreal. Here in his vision of Tom and Daisy's living room the whole story of Tom and Daisy is prefigured in symbolic, surrealistic fashion, their incompatibilities of character made evident in the way they occupy space:

We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as the wind does on the sea. The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan


shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor. (8)

Tom and Daisy's house embodies the tensions between their characters. Before Tom enters the room it is "rosy-colored" and full of light and air. It lets in the outside; its walls, mostly window, are transparent and permeable. The whole room seems in motion, as the lawn did, and the two young women are borne on that motion, integrated into the environment by their billowing dresses, which replicate the breeze-blown curtains. To Nick the room seems all atmosphere, heady and dreamlike. Tom's first gesture on entering breaks the spell and brings everything "down to earth." This tension between the ethereal and the earthy recurs in numerous encounters between Tom and Daisy, whose respective masculinity and femininity, exaggerated to the point of cliché, constitute an antagonism that is also a profound bond of dependence; each is lopsided and incomplete without the influence of the other. And in this scene the house appears to be an epiphenomenon—a projection of the two selves that inhabit it, changing its aspect and atmosphere in response to the presence of each in turn. As Daisy's room it appears to Nick sensuous and sumptuous; the "wedding cake" ceiling and "wine-colored" rug suggest festivity and celebration. Daisy is a presiding spirit whose presence, here as elsewhere, seems literally to animate the room itself, whereas Tom's entry restores hard realism and reduces the objects in the room to their inanimate state.

Just as Nick gives us Tom and Daisy's relationship and character in terms of their house, so he reiterates this method of portrayal in bawdy comic form when we reach the New York West Side apartment where Tom and Myrtle carry on their affair.

The apartment was on the top floor—a small living-room, a small dining-room, a small bedroom, and a bath. The living-room was crowded to the doors with a set of tapestried furniture entirely too large for it, so that to move about was to stumble continually over scenes of ladies swinging in the gardens of Versailles. The only picture was an over-enlarged photograph, apparently a hen sitting on a blurred rock. Looked at from a distance, however, the hen re-


solved itself into a bonnet, and the countenance of a stout old lady beamed down into the room. Several old copies of Town Tattle lay on the table together with a copy of Simon Called Peter , and some of the small scandal magazines of Broadway. (23)

The tasteless incongruities of this anonymous little apartment again serve accurately to describe its oddly coupled inhabitants. The furniture suggests Myrtle's aspirations to taste and culture in the form of objects vaguely French and acquired with no attention to proper context—tawdry symbols of "culture" acquired ignorantly and housed inappropriately. Herein, as in many other particulars, Myrtle emerges as Gatsby's comic counterpart. The overenlarged photograph, too, suggests an entire lack of proportion. In the process of enlargement the picture has lost its clarity, sense, and significance, which can be recaptured only with effort by a discerning eye. Once Nick does distinguish the figure in the picture, it turns out to be a "stout old lady," and the reader cannot help noticing the similarities between the picture and Myrtle herself, large and loose and blurry, with her dull intellect and expanded form. The old lady of the picture and the ladies of the tapestries swinging in the gardens of Versailles dominate the room with exaggerated and overstylized forms of femininity, making the room coarsely seductive, as the femininity of the atmosphere Daisy evoked in her own living room awakens something subtler and more spiritualized. The reading material reiterates the impression of lowbrow vulgarity. Along with scandal sheets of the sort that pander to prurient and sensationalistic taste, the popular period piece, Simon Called Peter , suggests sentimental piety that makes cheap romance of religion.

In both serious and parodic fashion, Nick reverts repeatedly to the spiritual, religious, or cosmic dimensions of his subject. True to his puritanical habit of mind, everything is metaphor, and the social drama he witnesses enlarges by nuance to a cosmic scale. In the opening sentences of the third chapter Nick contemplates Gatsby's house from his obscure vantage point in a way that makes it a center point in a scene that takes on cosmic dimensions: "There was music from my neighbor's house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls


came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars" (31). All the particulars are subsumed in an atmosphere of twilight and starlight, and all seem connected in a web of relations, at the center of which is the house. A similar effect is created in a subsequent scene where Nick is again watching the activity of Gatsby's guests, this time in daytime, on his private beach: "At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his two motor-boats slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam" (31). Here again all the motion in the scene is somehow created or orchestrated by Gatsby, the invisible puppeteer enclosed in his mysterious house like the Wizard of Oz behind his screen.

Nick continues to observe, from various vantage points at various times of day, the life of the house next door, thereby accumulating a string of impressions that he fuses like a time-lapse photographer, noticing the cars that come and go for weekend parties, the servants and gardeners who emerge from their invisibility to prepare and dismantle the elaborate sets, as if the house and garden were a theater or circus. When we return to "real time," Nick describes a party on a particular summer night in elaborate, jeweled detail, down to the old-fashioned cordials and the instruments in the hired orchestra. The mind's eye of the reader is made to flit with dizzying rapidity about the fantastic scene, taking in its colorful details in distinct but shifting kaleidoscopic patterns. Again the dimensions shift radically and rapidly from the cars parked five deep in the drive to the vast nighttime cosmos: "The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun" (31). Gatsby's house is once again made to seem the center of the universe, as it seems the center of the social world in such succinct visions as, "On Sunday morning while church bells rang in the villages alongshore, the world and its mistress returned to Gatsby's house and twinkled hilariously on his lawn" (47).

Nick eventually appears at one of these parties and the camera moves closer, first among the colorful, anonymous guests and then to the interior of the house, which until now has remained a wide, blank facade situated as an appropriate backdrop to the spectacle. Meeting Jordan Baker at the party, Nick


attaches himself to her conveniently, as he knows no one else. Finding that he has never met his host, Jordan embarks on a search for the missing Gatsby. Nick recalls the odd quest, during which Gatsby's absence becomes more conspicuous and almost palpable: "The bar, where we glanced first, was crowded, but Gatsby was not there. She couldn't find him from the top of the steps, and he wasn't on the verandah" (35). The search for Gatsby in his own house once again provides a Gothic touch to the tale: the director and host, the governing presence and first cause, is absent. Everything within the wide scope of his powerful reach is apparently under his control, but he is elusive, subject of much rumor and local legend and rapidly evaporating into a fiction. As Nick and Jordan hunt for him, it becomes apparent, as it does each time we enter the mansion, that its most conspicuous and peculiar quality is its emptiness. Evidences of life within it, like the man doing his exercises in an upstairs bedroom, the occasional servant, and the guest loitering in the library, seem purely incidental. There is no evidence of "life" of a deeper and more proper kind.

The peek into the library provides a moment of comic relief. It is "a high Gothic library, panelled with carved English oak, and probably transported complete from some ruin overseas" (35)—like the Normandy facade, an imported design that bespeaks borrowed elegance. Nick and Jordan surprise a curious visitor who is unabashedly marveling at the "realism" of the room as an achievement in effect. He is handling one of the expensive volumes pulled off a shelf:

"Absolutely real—have pages and everything. I thought they'd be a nice durable cardboard. Matter of fact, they're absolutely real. Pages and—Here! Lemme show you. . . . See!" he cried triumphantly. "It's a bona-fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me. This fella's a regular Belasco. It's a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop, too—didn't cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?"

He snatched the book from me and replaced it hastily on its shelf, muttering that if one brick was removed the whole library was liable to collapse. (36)

Particularly in this scene we encounter the irony of separation of form and function. The very "authenticity" of Gatsby's library,


the perfection of its completeness, combined with the obvious fact that the books are unread and the room is unemployed for its ostensible purpose, once again reinforces the sense that this is a movie set fashioned by an expert master-designer who went to such lengths to create appearances that the surfaces even have interiors. But these interiors, like his house, are, for all their authenticity, false; they are surfaces in their turn. Failing the ends for which they are created, they lack "soul." Then, too, the suspicion that the library was "probably transported complete from some ruin overseas" suggests an incongruity more skillfully and elaborately brought off but not unlike the imported tapestried furniture in Myrtle's and Tom's Manhattan apartment, slightly ludicrous when out of proper context.

The theme of incongruity is continued in Nick's speculations about Gatsby himself. Like Faulkner's Thomas Sutpen, Gatsby is a mythic character of unknown origins, whose reclusiveness adds to his mystery. The known and observable facts about him do not add up to a story. Nick reflects, "I would have accepted without question the information that Gatsby sprang from the swamps of Louisiana or from the lower East Side of New York. That was comprehensible. But young men didn't—at least in my provincial inexperience I believed they didn't—drift coolly out of nowhere and buy a palace on Long Island Sound" (38). Just as the house does not "add up," so the man himself seems a series of incongruous surfaces. There is no sufficient explanation for either. The lack of history and aesthetic integrity is itself an old theme in American cultural mythology. In this respect Gatsby is a parody of what James might have called the "American type," an intruder on foreign shores, lacking cultural, architectural, and often familial context, piecing together a persona and a past out of available materials and a patchwork of notions derived from some piecemeal form of autodidacticism—a self-made man in the worst sense, both powerful and pathetic, clever and abysmally ignorant, lacking the cultural formation that can be provided only in a setting of consensual values and shared tastes.

The biblical overtones that recur in Nick's rhetoric add another dimension to the depiction of Gatsby as ur-American—another of the "American Adams" described by R. W. B. Lewis as our na-


tive hero.[8] The roll call of people "who came to Gatsby's house" that summer, for instance, reads a little like the first chapter of Matthew—a long list, ending with the formulaic phrase, "All these people came to Gatsby's house in the summer" (49). This ceremonial rendering casts Gatsby's house as a pilgrimage spot where the faithful come to worship an elusive god of wealth.

Over time as Nick becomes acquainted with his neighbor, the magnified image disintegrates and is replaced by a rather disappointingly amiable but ordinary man, who, Nick finds, has 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 road-house next door" (49). Like his house, Gatsby seems to be vacant, somehow. He, too, is mostly facade, impressively designed and properly functioning but oddly inhuman, impenetrable, and incapable of intimacy. He seems at times a property of the house rather than vice versa.

Eventually Nick learns the history of the building of Gatsby's mansion, partly from Jordan, a thirdhand source who is as willing to be a truth-teller as a liar, both of which she seems to do with perfect aplomb, thereby making it difficult to determine what status to assign her claims. Realizing that Gatsby built the house expressly so that he would be just across the bay from Daisy humanizes him for Nick. "He came alive to me," he recalls, "delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor" (60). The love motive gives Gatsby a soul, and the mystery becomes a romance. The house is not an inexplicable anomaly but a means to an end—a performance for Daisy's benefit, a gift, a self-exhibition for her viewing. Interestingly enough, the absurd disproportion of Gatsby's magnificent gesture does not disturb Nick; this extravagant romanticism is another deeply rooted American attitude. Gatsby assumes a place among a long line of passionate, fanatical heroes, his purposes a little lower than Captain Ahab's but understandable in terms just as cosmic. And Nick, like Ishmael with Ahab, participates vicariously in Gatsby's wild quest, watching from an inconspicuous vantage point, storing up the tale to tell.

When Nick returns home one night, after Gatsby's decision to arrange a tryst with Daisy, he turns the corner and is "afraid


for a moment that my house was on fire." It seems to him that the whole peninsula is ablaze, until he sees that the eerie luminosity is merely Gatsby's house with lights on in every room. Nick wonders if it is another wild party, but no sound comes from the house. Running into Gatsby on the lawn, Nick comments, "Your place looks like the World's Fair." Gatsby's answer is revealing: "'Does it?' He turned his eyes toward it absently. 'I have been glancing into some of the rooms'" (62). The disproportion between Nick's perception from the outside of the blazing light of the house and Gatsby's own obliviousness to its effect creates another incongruity. Gatsby apparently notices very little, except what relates directly to the object of his obsession. The light, like other forms of energy that seem to radiate from the house, does so without his apparent knowledge or understanding. Gatsby's effects far exceed his designs, which are unifocal and exclusive. This fact gives his intricate calculations an odd quality of innocence; he is a man not fully conscious, childlike in his desires and means. But a man who is a child is a frightening thing, unnatural, having more power than he can judiciously wield, and once again a certain ominous strain is played on the familiar American theme of dangerous innocence.

When Daisy comes for the appointed meeting with Gatsby, she greets Nick with characteristic superlatives that seem, like Gatsby's grand gestures, much form without substance: "Is this absolutely where you live, my dearest one?" (65). Like Gatsby, Daisy is a dangerous innocent. Her innocence is a habitual posture of such long standing that it almost completely conceals a shrewd, suppressed, and somewhat bitter adult. Leaving the two of them in his living room, Nick retreats discreetly to his backyard and contemplates Gatsby's house as he waits for a decent interval to give them the privacy they have wanted:

There was nothing to look at from under the tree except Gatsby's enormous house, so I stared at it, like Kant at his church steeple, for half an hour. A brewer had built it early in the "period" craze a decade before, and there was a story that he'd agreed to pay five years' taxes on all the neighboring cottages if the owners would have their roofs thatched with straw. Perhaps their refusal took the heart out of his plan to Found a Family—he went into an immedi-


ate decline. His children sold his house with the black wreath still on the door. Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry. (67)

This capsule history of the house heightens the ludicrousness of the incongruities already observed. The house has its own peculiar history, quite apart from Gatsby's peculiarities. It has always been someone's attempt to create or recreate an artificial setting for a private fiction. Nick's comparison of the mansion to Kant's church suggests that the house will, through him, acquire yet another layer of significance as catalyst and symbol, a focal point of the story he has to tell that will become legend and outlive the house itself. Like Miss Rosa, who tells the story of Faulkner's Thomas Sutpen, Nick has appropriated Gatsby's house and made it into a story, in that way symbolically claiming it as an inheritance.

When Nick returns to Gatsby and Daisy in the living room, they insist on taking him with them to tour Gatsby's house. Gatsby looks over his house as if he had never quite seen it: "'My house looks well, doesn't it?'" he asks. "'See how the whole front of it catches the light.'" As he scrutinizes it, he observes, "'It took me just three years to earn the money that bought it.'" Nick, puzzled, asks, "'I thought you inherited your money"' (68). Gatsby doesn't miss a beat. He claims he did but lost most of it during the "big panic." The mystery of Gatsby's house now shifts ground; the question in Nick's mind is no longer one of ends but of means.

Like Tom's, Gatsby's interest in his own house, apart from its effect on Daisy, is in its public appearance and economic value rather than its livability. The house is a dream translated into effort, translated into money, translated into stone. Gatsby's roving eyes see the effect of that chain of causes, where others see through lenses of envy or desire an image of home life they want to believe is possible, thrilled with the "colossal vitality" of Gatsby's illusion. It is significant, too, that he takes such credit for and pride in a house he neither designed nor built but chose. It seems in every particular to express his own idiosyncratic exhibitionism, but it also clearly represents a kind of


ambition not peculiar to Gatsby, revealing him as a type rather than the anomaly he at first seems. The approach the three take to the house is carefully staged for visual effect:

Instead of taking the short cut along the Sound we went down the road and entered by the big postern. With enchanting murmurs Daisy admired this aspect or that of the feudal silhouette against the sky, admired the gardens, the sparkling odor of jonquils and the frothy odor of hawthorn and plum blossoms and the pale gold odor of kiss-me-at-the-gate. It was strange to reach the marble steps and find no stir of bright dresses in and out of the door, and hear no sound but bird voices in the trees. (69)

The theatrical effects are not lost on Daisy; they are, in fact, a perfect vehicle for her equally theatrical responses. The silence and the natural fragrances give the place a new aura of mystery, a different, and perhaps more believable, dimension. The distinctive odors of flowers in the gardens are suddenly perceptible, and what was simply a stage setting acquires at this viewing depth and subtlety. Nick is awed at this change in the house's aspect; the palpable emptiness of the house and garden strikes him as slightly ominous: "As we wandered through Marie Antoinette music-rooms and Restoration salons, I felt that there were guests concealed behind every couch and table, under orders to be breathlessly silent until we had passed through. As Gatsby closed the door of 'the Merton College Library' I could have sworn I heard the owl-eyed man break into ghostly laughter" (69).

Here, as elsewhere, the house appears as a haunted mansion and Gatsby's own life insufficiently real to offset the ghostliness. The house is a museum piece, a remnant of past styles of decoration and past styles of social intercourse; the term feudal suits the house's inappropriate and awkward splendor, which is lost on the American landscape without its retinue of peasantry to provide a setting for the jewel. But only Nick perceives the house this way. It is his consciousness of history and his sensitivity to implication that endow the house with resonance. Like the narrator who guides us through the House of the Seven Gables, he projects on the house his own consciousness, infusing it with sinister meaning that proceeds from his own inhibitions


and apprehensions. He is a prophet of sorts, reading signs and portents where his companions see only plaster and stone.

After a tour of "period bedrooms swathed in rose and lavender silk and vivid with new flowers," luxurious dressing rooms and pool rooms and elaborate bathrooms, passing by a nameless tenant doing his exercises, the three come to Gatsby's own apartment: "a bedroom and a bath, and an Adam study." Nick observes that Gatsby's bedroom was "the simplest room of all—except where the dresser was garnished with a toilet set of pure dull gold" (69–70). The simplicity of Gatsby's own living quarters in the midst of the magnificent house is both ironic and poignant. In his "Adam study," aptly named, he suddenly appears almost Thoreauvian in his isolation, solitude, and unpretension. At the heart of all this magnificent falsehood lies something very simple and true: Gatsby leads an unpretentious, almost austere private life, driven by one single-minded desire, unworldly in his apparent indifference to all his material wealth.

Gatsby's only concern is Daisy. Both he and the house are transformed by the alchemy of her presence, animated and given value entirely by her appreciation. Nick observes, "He hadn't once ceased looking at Daisy, and I think he revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes. Sometimes, too, he stared around at his possessions in a dazed way, as though in her actual and astounding presence none of it was any longer real. Once he nearly toppled down a flight of stairs" (69).

The eyes that see the house provide its character. Later, when Tom appears at one of Gatsby's parties, Nick remarks that the house seems "peculiarly oppressive" under Tom's gaze. The whole matter of assigning value is of course complicated by the fact that Nick's values, despite disclaimers meant to suggest that he is a merely neutral and transparent recorder of events, heavily overlay his own observations of the house; the further we proceed in the story, the more the house is described in terms of Nick's own morally weighted speculations.

The conclusion of the house tour brings us to a moment of quiet climax. Gatsby shows Daisy how if he stands on the dock, he can see her house across the bay. Artlessly, he confides, "You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your


dock" (70). Suddenly he is uncharacteristically oblivious to Daisy's reaction to this bit of sentiment, and we see him for just a moment absorbed in some interior reflection, on which Nick speculates: "Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one" (71).

At this point the diminution of Gatsby's great dream begins. Romance dissipates like a bubble on contact. Like the blurred picture in Myrtle's apartment, the descent into reality here is a comic diminishment: the beacon of romance and promise is a mere green dock light. At this moment we begin to contemplate the dark side of American romanticism: that the ideal will not withstand the pressure of experience. And for Gatsby, oriented entirely toward creating the fantasy, the touch of reality leaves him not only disappointed but baffled because he cannot adjust his behavior to its mundane irregularities; he does not know quite what to do next. Gatsby's mansion, like Gatsby's self, is the realization of a patently adolescent dream, and having the means to embody that dream and insulate himself in it, he has remained perennially adolescent, created for himself a private world in which he can do that. But it is a posture that cannot be maintained indefinitely.

Nick's reflections in chapter 6 about Gatsby's creation of his own fictitious identity parallel the history of the house provided in the previous chapter:

I suppose he'd had the name ready for a long time. . . . His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people—his imagination had never really accepted them as parents at all. The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God—a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that—and he must be about his Father's business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end. (75)


This passage exposes and critiques several aspects of what can readily be identified as a composite of those characteristics commonly called the "American character"—an idea of self drawn from a religious model and based on the belief in an Emersonian and Platonic idealism and the autonomy of the self, the complex assimilation of religious doctrine to pragmatic capitalism that makes acquisition a virtue paid for by a certain suppression of awareness that can be accomplished only by fostering perpetual innocence, a posture increasingly difficult to maintain as the demands of adult life make it increasingly inappropriate and ineffectual. The necessary fate of the American romantic is to die young or end in abject failure because he has hitched his wagon to an impossible dream. We do not, as a people, admire compromise, though it may be the only virtue that ensures survival. Indeed, survival itself on such terms seems a dubious and guilty business; the hero had better die before he has to grow up. Otherwise he will have to choose whether to be alive or to be heroic because, in these terms, the two are incompatible. Nick's account here of Gatsby's construction of his own image betrays Nick's romantic bent as well. Rather than exposing Gatsby as a sham, the account conveys a certain admiration of Gatsby's successful fictionalization of his own life—a writerly admiration for imaginative shaping of the material—and indeed elevates that fiction to the status of a great myth.

In a subsequent encounter, Nick attempts, however, to temper Gatsby's inevitable disillusionment by injecting a small note of realism:

"I wouldn't ask too much of her," I ventured. "You can't repeat the past."

"Can't repeat the past?" he cried incredulously. "Why of course you can!"

He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand. (84)

Like Ahab's, Gatsby's monomania grows into megalomania. An assumption of omnipotence is necessary to sustain his illusions. Admission of limitation would be admission of defeat. He must, in fact, defy time—the absolute conundrum that condemns the


ideal of eternal youth and innocence. As at so many other points, we have here another episode in the allegory of American experience and the American experiment, whose nobility is proportionate to its pathetic impracticality and visionary myopia.

Gatsby's attainment of his goal brings his fantastic effort to a speedy end. The anticlimax moves rapidly. Suddenly "the lights in his house failed to go on one Saturday night—and, as obscurely as it had begun, his career as Trimalchio was over" (86). The house has served its purpose and is no longer useful because it has never been turned to any purpose other than to impress Daisy. As she begins actually to visit Gatsby in the afternoons he fires his servants; he is reduced to intrigue and caution to avoid gossip. His insularity, once a kind of purity of devotion, is now a strategy of self-protection. He dismantles the whole show, just as he erected it, for her. As Nick puts it, "So the whole caravansary had fallen in like a card house at the disapproval in her eyes" (86). The card house is a perfect image: a fragile structure that delights precisely by its delicate balance and utter pointlessness except to prove that it can stand for a moment in unlikely poise before falling.

Naturally, Daisy cannot measure up to Gatsby's dream. She never aspired to the power with which he has invested her. The excess of his adoration dooms Gatsby's love affair to failure. Daisy in person is a reality, not a fiction he can control by the power of his imperial imagination. His treatment of her as the princess of his private fairy tale incapacitates him for an authentic adult relationship. Like his house, Daisy is real to him only as a figment conjured in the universe of his own mind.

The inevitable showdown between Gatsby and Tom is more than a necessary element in a melodramatic formula plot. The two men are equal and opposite quantities in this allegory of American life and character. In comparison to Gatsby's magnificence, glamour, and extravagance of imagination, Tom appears to be stunted, dense, and pedestrian. Yet it is Tom who is capable not only of survival but of making the compromises necessary to make and keep a home and family—admittedly on questionable terms, but keep them, all the same. The incompatibilities and conflicts that strain his relationship with Daisy are of human dimensions and effect perhaps a necessary tension that at


least holds out the possibility of tempering both people in their masculine and feminine excesses to some kind of livable balance.

The confrontation takes place on "neutral turf" because Gatsby, lunching uncomfortably at Tom and Daisy's, confides to Nick, "I can't say anything in this house, old sport" (91). Each of the men is overwhelmed by the power signified in the other's property. Tom artlessly reveals his bitter sense of inferiority by attacking what he finds most impossible to compete with in Gatsby's conspicuous worldly success: "I know I'm not very popular. I don't give big parties. I suppose you've got to make your house into a pigsty in order to have any friends—in the modern world" (99).

Tom, like Gatsby, sees a house as a medium of exchange. Gatsby represents, moreover, something about the "modern world" that Tom finds enormously threatening because it unsettles his notion of himself as a member of an empowered and privileged class whose entitlement is a heritage. When we first meet Tom he is attempting in rather simplistic fashion to explain the theories of a book he has been reading, The Rise of the Colored Empires , deriving from it a position that "Nordic" races need to defend themselves against displacement by inferior peoples. Gatsby, as an upstart, an intruder from outside the ranks of northeastern aristocracy, represents just the kind of intrusion and illegitimate empowerment that Tom finds repugnant and fearful. He is an old colonial in the modern world and as ludicrous in his unexamined traditionalism as Gatsby is in his high romanticism. What they share is a myth of the power of property and masculine privilege. Daisy, the object of the contest, serves mainly as pretext to the ideological battle being played out in the context of romantic farce.

Daisy returns in Gatsby's car while Tom follows with Nick and Jordan. Symbolically, she chooses Gatsby as a companion in adventure, but their destination is the home she shares with Tom and a return for her to the secure, if difficult, realities of domestic life. Gatsby's last act of devotion is to protect her chivalrously from the consequences of her own recklessness by assuming blame for the accident, though she was driving. Back at the Buchanans' house, late at night, both Gatsby and Nick linger in the dark yard, watching the theater of domestic life before


them in the lighted windows of the Buchanan house. Nick tiptoes up the verandah steps and watches through an aperture in the curtains Tom and Daisy at the kitchen table earnestly engaged in discussion. What is actually going on between them is left to speculation, but a wife and husband face to face across their own kitchen table is a scene that suggests engagement, stability, relationship. There is no fantasy here. Tom deals in concretes—problems and solutions. He and Daisy need each other, flawed as they are in their respective excesses.

Gatsby, however, is sufficient unto himself, despite his grand passion. He is powerful and actual only in the private world of his own imagination. He needs Daisy as an icon, not as a woman. Nick finds him in the yard: "He put his hands in his coat pockets and turned back eagerly to his scrutiny of the house, as though my presence marred the sacredness of the vigil. So I walked away and left him standing there in the moonlight—watching over nothing" (111). This is as cynical as Nick has allowed himself to be about Gatsby's obsession. Its hollowness has been fully revealed, and for Gatsby not to acknowledge defeat makes him a fool. Gatsby's situation here, out in the dark, gazing on Tom and Daisy's house as so often before, but this time at close range, is an ironic recapitulation of the opening scene where he stands, arms outstretched toward the green light on their dock, in an act of worship. But the power of his imagination to body forth his dreams fails in battle with the hard, unromantic realities of Tom and Daisy's necessary, if disillusioned, partnership. Their house is a barrier Gatsby cannot penetrate, but, indeed, he diverts defeat by making it a shrine and attempting to restore her to the status of sacred object. Only the devotion is bought now at the price of profound denial, and what was romantic fiction becomes sordid falsehood.

Home once again in West Egg, Nick visits Gatsby in his house, to find it, like its master, reduced, diminished, and squalid with defeat:

His house had never seemed so enormous to me as it did that night when we hunted through the great rooms for cigarettes. We pushed aside curtains that were like pavilions, and felt over innumerable feet of dark wall for electric light switches—once I tumbled with a sort of splash upon the keys of a ghostly piano. There was an inexplicable amount of dust everywhere, and the rooms


were musty, as though they hadn't been aired for many days. I found the humidor on an unfamiliar table, with two stale, dry cigarettes inside. Throwing open the French windows of the drawing-room, we sat smoking out into the darkness. (112)

Gatsby's house is a ruin, a hollow shell with apparently random objects floating around in it like debris after a flood. Bereft of its purpose, the house is an enormous, awkward, embarrassing incongruity. Sitting on the porch, Gatsby fills in for Nick the long story of Daisy and his house, now something like a personal creation myth. He had visited her as an officer in a house more beautiful than any he had ever seen that "was as casual a thing to her as his tent out at camp was to him."

There was a ripe mystery about it, a hint of bedrooms upstairs more beautiful and cool than other bedrooms, of gay and radiant activities taking place through its corridors, and of romances that were not musty and laid away already in lavender, but fresh and breathing and redolent of this year's shining motor-cars and of dances whose flowers were scarcely withered. . . . But he knew that he was in Daisy's house by a colossal accident. However glorious might be his future as Jay Gatsby, he was at present a penniless young man without a past, and at any moment the invisible cloak of his uniform might slip from his shoulders. (113)

He felt, thereafter, "married to her." And his long period of constructing his image and his house in pious imitation of that house he mostly imagined, for a woman he mostly imagined, was based on a bond forged in a moment of magical vision into which he had never since bothered to inquire. From this passage it becomes clear why it seemed to Gatsby that the only way to win Daisy was to build a house. He had always understood her as the animating spirit of a house that was itself in some sense the object of his passion. He wanted to build a grander house than the one she had inhabited and to attract her there like a fly into a more luminous web.

After Gatsby's death, Nick meets Gatsby's father, an insouciant old midwestern farmer whose admiration for his son betrays a profound ignorance of him. The elder Gatsby pulls a picture from his wallet in the midst of their conversation: "It was a photograph of the house, cracked in the corners and dirty with many


hands. He pointed out every detail to me eagerly. 'Look there!' and then sought admiration from my eyes. He had shown it so often that I think it was more real to him now than the house itself" (131). Like his son, the old man has sustained himself on an illusion for which reality offers no substitute—an image of an image of an image. He adds that Gatsby had, two years previously, bought him the house he lives in now. Gatsby's father was the one person besides Daisy to whom Gatsby needed to prove his worth. Typically, he chose to do so by means of a house, another Pyrrhic victory that won him gratitude and admiration but no real familial love or intimacy.

At the end of his tale, Nick grows expansive when reflecting on his own role in a drama he begins to recognize as cultural allegory. He reminisces about returning home to the Midwest from his Eastern prep school:

I am part of that, a little solemn with the feel of those long winters, a little complacent from growing up in the Carraway house in a city where dwellings are still called through decades by a family's name. I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all—Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life. (134)

Westerners here are defined as people who know themselves and are known by their families and the houses they live in—rooted and grounded by brick and wood and stone in the land they have claimed and farmed and populated with rectilinear streets and wide-verandahed homes. The assumptions that define a life like that are not transferable to this place on the edge of the urban wasteland—the stabilities do not hold; the virtues give no assurance of reward.

Nick takes one last look at Gatsby's house before leaving for good and sees that the grass on that lawn has grown as long as his own. It is already a scene of decay and desolation—fodder for legend-makers, gossipmongers, and storytellers. He sees a taxi drive past and point, and he muses, "Perhaps it was he who drove Daisy and Gatsby over to East Egg the night of the accident, and perhaps he made a story about it all his own" (136). The house has become the material of legend—not the legends


of Gatsby's own fashioning but those of any curious passerby. And the grass, the line of demarcation that separated Gatsby's manicured property from Nick's, has lapsed into similar unkemptness. The house has begun its descent into the landscape.

Nick takes a moment to wander into Gatsby's yard and contemplate once more "that huge incoherent failure of a house." Then he wanders down to the shore and lies on the sand, where his perspective broadens to the cosmic:

As the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes—a fresh green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby's house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder. (137)

That "great failure of a house" comes finally to symbolize a whole way of life, a misguided cultural quest, imitative and invasive and irreverent, imposed without discretion or discernment on a land indiscriminately appropriated and exploited. The house once again provides a point of reference from which to contemplate the cosmos and the long stretch of history whose culmination seems to have been an abandoned, pretentious, and useless building on the site of a ruined wilderness.

The narrative has come full circle. Nick is alone, as he was at the beginning, on the edge of things, in transition, uprooted, belonging nowhere in particular, and therefore in a position to assume the privileged stance of prophet. He is as prototypical a figure as Gatsby himself, like Ishmael and Huck Finn a wanderer who survives to tell the tale and who can tell it only because it is about a life he has consented not to live, choosing rather to be the only kind of prophet we credit, a "son of man" who, though the foxes have their holes and the birds their nests, has "nowhere to lay his head"—a man who will consort with "publicans and sinners" but remains pure in his detachment, mobile, unworldly, unhoused, and therefore free.




8— The Great Gatsby: Awakening from the American Dream

Preferred Citation: Chandler, Marilyn R. Dwelling in the Text: Houses in American Fiction. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991.