In this passage, Nick, the narrator, sees the exhibition of wealth at his neighbour’s house intensify. He has not personally met the elusive Gatsby previously, having only seen him reaching out to the green light on Daisy’s dock, but he can see the spectacle of Gatsby’s mansion, inflated here in preparation for a party. Fitzgerald uses lavish images and detailed description to introduce to the reader the extravagance of Gatsby’s parties, which are representative of the excessive indulgence of the high society of the time.
The chapter begins, “There was music in my neighbour’s house through the summer nights”, which immediately informs the reader that parties were a regular occurrence, alluding to the indulgence of the host. It is clear that Gatsby’s parties involve drinking on a grand scale, so they were in themselves unlawful at this time of prohibition. The “five crates of oranges and lemons” that arrived every Friday are like Gatsby’s guests who left after expending all energy through partying; “every Monday… [they]… left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves.
The masses of “oranges and lemons” and constant references to “gins and liquors” and “cocktails [that] permeate the garden” provide an explanation for the chaotic and destructive behaviour and later in the chapter the inebriation of the guests is revealed. The extravagance relating to alcohol consumption is great; there is even a bar with a “real brass rail … set up. ” Drink figures again later in a metaphorical manner; “laughter is easier minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word. ” This emphasises the reliance these people had on alcohol and the frivolity of the situation.
Fitzgerald describes the bar as being in “full swing” and Fitzgerald personifies the air saying it is “alive” with the onomatopoeic “chatter and laughter… ” A major characteristic of the affluent in the 1920s was their carelessness, a trait of a number of people in the novel, including the Buchannans and Jordan Baker as well as the party guests. The language used in the passage highlights this attribute for example, “the casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names.
The guests who “came and went” all have an air of anonymity; Fitzgerald presents them as faceless. Fitzgerald writes, “In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. ” Fitzgerald compares Gatsby’s guests – the high society of New York and the surrounding area who exploit Gatsby’s great generosity – to “moths”, in this simile, which presents the guests as selfish, hedonistic people, mindlessly drawn to the splendour of the parties, as moths are to light.
There is also a self-destructive implication in comparing the guests to moths who fly into flames to their death. The use of the onomatopoeic word, “whisperings” assists in the building up of atmosphere in the scene, conjuring thoughts of illicit conversations, thus adding to the mystery surrounding Gatsby. That the guests mingle among the “champagne and the stars”, adds to the glamour and luxury of the scene; the materialistic culture where overindulgence was common practice is portrayed here.
Fitzgerald asserts the lack of respect the guests have for Gatsby and his property in saying, “… on Mondays eight servants, including an extra gardener, toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden-shears, repairing the ravages of the night before. ” The long sentence with the repeated use of the word “and”, and the use of metonyms, emphasises the extent of the damage caused. In addition, Fitzgerald’s diction alludes to the destructive behaviour of the guests with the use of the word “ravages”.
At the beginning of Chapter II, Fitzgerald introduced the reader to the “valley of ashes”, inhabited by the despondent Wilsons, where predominantly the landscape was grey. He referred to the “grey cars” and the “ash grey men”, evoking very negative responses and hinting at the misery of the residents. By contrast, the vibrant colour used throughout this passage represents the decadence of the elite, illustrating the scene of affluence, from the “blue gardens” and “enough coloured lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby’s garden” to the “gaudy primary colours”.
There is a somewhat magical sense to the affair, even the hors-d’oeuvres are “glistening” and the salads are of “harlequin designs”. Similarly, the “turkeys bewitched to a dark gold” imply great wealth and maintain the aura of mystery surrounding Gatsby; every component is ostentatious and extravagant. Throughout the passage, Fitzgerald insinuates there is something sinister or immoral about Gatsby’s guests; by comparing Gatsby’s car, which ferries them to and from the parties, to a parasitic “brisk yellow bug”, he instils a negative view in the reader.
After writing of the food and drink at the parties, the pace quickens when Fitzgerald resumes the present tense, giving a sense of immediacy. The description remains visual with the brilliant colours and description of the lights that “grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun”. This image implies a sudden change as the day ends and the guests lurch into party mode, with an additional connotation of reckless, drunken behaviour.
The light is then described as “constantly changing”, which parallels the action of the guests whose groups “change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath”. The atmosphere approaches a climax in the final paragraph where there is a sense of urgency when “suddenly one of these gypsies, in trembling opal… dances out alone on the canvas platform” under a “momentary hush”. Finally, there is a “burst of chatter” as rumours circulate that she may be a celebrity before Fitzgerald simply states that, the “party has begun. “