January 6, 2013

"After a little while Mr. Gatz opened the door and came out, his mouth ajar, his face flushed slightly, his eyes leaking isolated and unpunctual tears."

When is a door not a door?/When it's a jar. That was my favorite childhood riddle, evoked by today's Gatsby sentence. There's that door that Mr. Gatz opened, and yet it's his mouth, not the door, that's ajar.  

Gatz... it's a name like an expletive, an expletive seemingly concocted out the name Gatsby. Who is this debased alter ego of the main character? I can't say, because the Gatsby project is all about looking at one isolated sentence. Our sentence is isolated, like a tear leaking unpunctually from one of Gatz's eyes.

So here's Gatz, the man with a name like an expletive, not that anything's coming out of his open — ajar — mouth. We hear a lot about his face — it's flushed slightly — and that mouth is ajar, and then there are those crying eyes. But what a way to describe crying eyes: leaking isolated and unpunctual tears.

That the tears are isolated and unpunctual sheds — sheds! — light on the beginning of the sentence: After a little while. This sentence is all about delay. There's the little while before Gatz emerges, and there are the belated — unpunctual — tears. Gatz acts: He opens the door. But he doesn't do the action of crying. His eyes are the subject of the verb, but even his eyes don't cry. They leak. A strangely passive sort of crying. And those tears, they're not only failing to live up to the requirements of timeliness — being unpunctual — they are also isolated. Isolated... not merely minimal, but also lonely.

Isolated is a word that appears only one other time in "The Great Gatsby": "They were gone, without a word, snapped out, made accidental, isolated, like ghosts, even from our pity." Ah, but that's another sentence!

40 comments:

Tubby Z said...

Note to Meade:

Talk like great novels when you want to get laid.

St. George said...

Once again, F. Scott emerges on this blog. Like a train from a tunnel, he oozes forth so just like a biscuit factory whistle, leaking.

Here, by contrast, is good writing that also references crying:

(Love) is to be all made of sighs and tears. . . .
It is to be all made of fantasy,
All made of passion and all made of wishes,
All adoration, duty, and observance,
All humbleness, all patience and impatience,
All purity, all trial, all observance.

Unlike F. Scott, this writer needs no clumsy constructions or odd word choices, both of which are likely induced by an alcoholic stupor. This man uses repetition, sincerity, and words that survive centuries.

As You Like It, professor.

wyo sis said...

Taken as a whole and not analyzed closely the sentence sounds jerky and uncoordinated. Like Mr. Gatz probably was.

deborah said...

This is a sentence I stalled on. The word punctual seems off.

Unlike Creeley and St. George, the writing flows and works for me. It's the logic of the novel that breaks down for me. Especially that two people close to Daisy, her male cousin and a good female friend, think it's a good idea to go along with the not-too-bright Gatsby's meeting with Daisy.

edutcher said...

Tears are usually punctual and rarely isolated unless they're due to physiological, rather than emotional, conditions.

betamax3000 said...

Sounds like it might've been a good sentence before the awkward translation to English.

ricpic said...

Yoo Hoo, Mr. Boehner

Too late for crying
You unpunctual dolt;
Time to stop sighing,
Time to revolt!

deborah said...

Contest. The winning final line gets to choose the next Gatsby line. Really!

There was a man, St. John of Boehner,
Who unerringly acted as Bam Bam's retainer,
He did punctually cry,
And heave many a sigh,

Mitchell the Bat said...

Contrapuntal tears would have changed everything.

Zach said...

Interesting question: is Gatsby Jewish? Gatz certainly sounds Yiddish, and he's a protege of Meyer Wolfsheim, a Jewish mobster.

Although he and Daisy were in love, he was an unacceptable match for unspecified yet hugely significant reasons. Daisy ends up marrying Tom Buchanan, who could be identified as a WASP at 50 paces in a darkened room.

betamax3000 said...

After a little while Mr. Gatz opened the door and came out, his mouth ajar, his face flushed slightly, his eyes leaking isolated and unpunctual tears.

"What is it from which you are suffering, Mr. Gatz?" the man on the doorstep inquired. "Why is your face leaking isolated and unpunctual tears?"

Mr. Gatz let free a thin gasp of a thing, his mouth still ajar. Indeed, his mouth had not been un-ajar since opening the door,. More isolated tears ran down his cheek, joining the other isolated tears.

"There is a... gas leak," Mr. Gatz whispered, his face still flushed. "It makes my mouth ajar and causes tears to leak, isolated and unpunctual."

"That can be serious," the man on the doorstep replied with concern. "I shall not light a cigarette due to gas' flammable nature. Is it immediately dangerous?".

"The gas leak is isolated and unpunctual," Mr. Gatz said, more isolated tears lining his face. There were so many isolated tears, so many, each tear unaware of the tear right beside it, each tear carrying on stoically in its own isolated bubble of unpunctuality.

"Shall I call the fire department?"

"No.... It would be too late. They are....unpunctual."

ricpic said...

Last line, deborah:

"Can't we all get along?" his disclaimer.

deborah said...

Not bad, beta, not bad :)

kentuckyliz said...

Excellent, ricpic.

Isolated tears? Is that one at a time, from both sides together?

Or is it an isolated tear from one side, then the other? Is this even possible?

Punctual tears? Like crying on schedule is de rigeur?

Clumsy.

deborah said...

Spot on, ricpic.

Chip Ahoy said...

After a while that's some measure of time not an inch or a mile at last out comes Gatz taller in spats even though his name suddenly became shorter, his mouth a jar due to a glass jaw and his face went flush like a toilet woosh dribble dribble an automatic weapon in Barney Fife's hands except wet.

Fitz

mikee said...

My favorite childhood joke:

A man and an alligator walk into a bar. The bartender asks, "What'll you two have?" The man says, "Give me a beer and give the alligator whatever he wants, on me."

The alligator says, "I'll take his arm."

Comedy gold, I tells ya, comedy GOLD!

mikee said...

My favorite childhood joke:

A man and an alligator walk into a bar. The bartender asks, "What'll you two have?" The man says, "Give me a beer and give the alligator whatever he wants, on me."

The alligator says, "I'll take his arm."

Comedy gold, I tells ya, comedy GOLD!

sydney said...

That sentence actually flows better for me than most of them have. I think of the "unpunctual" as "belated," and "isolated tears" as tears that are falling isolated from the usual facial contortions associated with crying. The way tears fall when the crier is trying very hard not to cry. Mr. Gatz is crying against his will, and caring in a way that is too late to matter.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Sometimes when you look at things much to closely, like examining your gigantic clogged pores in a magnifying mirror, you lose the perspective of the entirety.

Self absorption is rarely attractive.

betamax3000 said...

"Gatsby's dog Xavier slumbered on the antiquity of the Persian rug, blissfully unaware and redolent, his lower regions leaking isolated and unpunctual emissions of a gaseous nature.

Mr. Gatz's face flushed slightly, his mouth ajar, and left the sitting room."

-- how Fitzgerald would handle farts, if any being in Gatsby's world actually farted.

betamax3000 said...

You can just tell that in Hemingway's literary world people farted - the men, at least.

Fitzgerald's world, not so much.

Paddy O said...

Eyes leaking making him sound entirely mechanical.

Reminds me of something like this.

Balfegor said...

When you pull these sentences out individually, it becomes clear that Fitzgerald's authorial voice is awfully precious. Pretentious. Reading along in high school, I suppose my eyes just skipped right over sentences like these, but really, "isolated and unpunctual tears?" Heavens!

EDH said...

When is a mouth not "ajar"?

When it's agape.

Leslie Graves said...

"Isolated and unpunctual tears" reminds me of those last recalcitrant drops of rain on a windshield that don't come in the mass of other raindrops and don't cohere with what the windshield wipers are doing.

So that to me sounds like what happens after you've cried a lot.

Rob said...

Everything in the sentence is unpunctual. The door opens, but it's his mouth that's ajar. His face flushes, but it's his eyes that leak. Each time the related word is a phrase late. A phrase late, but not a dollar short.

Rob said...

As an unpunctual follow-up to my previous comment, one might say that in this sentence we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Mid-Life Lawyer said...

Isolated from its paragraph, this sentence seems to suffer more from the lack of context than the others. Primarily in that it is probably clunkier on its own than in the flow of the paragraph.

ajar, isolated, unpunctual...I expect he used the words to add an awkwardness to Gatz and the scene. And it does.

I'm not sure if Gatz is finishing up a good cry or, most likely, once out of the view of the presumed others in the room he has exited, unable to hold back any longer. Whatever he has witnessed or heard is beyond his ability to process.

I picture him as a short, pudgy man with a bald head and holding a hat in both hands while looking down at the floor.

I wonder how wrong I am about all that.

betamax3000 said...

Re: "we beat on, boats against the current..."

I like to move the comma:

"We beat on boats, against the current..."

In this instance the current represents the people who do not wish for their boats to be beat upon. The boat beaters know that, if you strike the boat repeatedly in the proper place, the boat will sink.

The Boat Beaters are nautical anarchists.

traditionalguy said...

I love words. Ergo: I love LaAlthouse. You are spoiling us.

Isn't Gatch the cuckolded husband who was run over by everybody in the book yet still loved his dead wife?

No time to look it up now,I have to go watch the NFL until midnight.

Basta! said...

Though the meaning that these are tardy tears, late in relation to the unnamed incident that provoked them, is likely primary, my first reading took "unpunctual" in the sense that the term is applied in grammar, that is, as the durative aspect of verbs. I.e. in "as he left the room, he was crying", the second verb is durative. Accordingly, I thought the point [hah] of the rather odd expression was that the tears were on-going.

I say Hah because punctual can also mean "in or of the nature of a point", so that one might additionally understand the tears as smeared, having lost their pointy teardrop shape.

Is Fitzgerald a writer who plays with multiple meanings of single words? I was so young when I read him, and he left so little impression on me then.

Indigo Red said...

Had a car once that insisted the door was, in fact, a jar.

Helenhightops said...

Ann and Meade, this is also a pun. The opening of the tear duct is the puncta.

Helenhightops said...

Maybe the best line about tears I can recall is from James Agee's "A Death in the Family", when the uncle, Andrew, is crying after his brother-in-law's funeral, and "The tears itched on his cheeks." It's perfect. Men have dry skin, and the tears do move around if they don't wipe them off because they don't want people to see, and they itch.

AlanKH said...

When I had to read Gatsby in high school, it bored the hell out of me, and thus I forgot most of the plot by test time. Is Gatsby one of those novels where you have to be an adult to appreciate?

BarryD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BarryD said...

This reminds me of a moving company where I used to live, Agape Movers.

Now of course, this referred to a New Testament Greek word. But, as read in English, it would describe movers who opened the door, took one look at the stuff you had in your house, and stood frozen with their mouths open in disgust.

Of course, that's what I immediately pictured.

tim in vermont said...

"Is Gatsby one of those novels where you have to be an adult to appreciate?"

Uhh.. no. But an appreciation of the possibilities of the English language would help.

Gee, too bad that a sentence chosen at random does not compare favorably with somebody's favorite passage from a person considered the foundational great writer of English.

Yeesh! If you don't like the Gatsby threads, don't read them.

AlanKH said...

Who says I don't like Gatsby threads? I simply asked a question and qualified it with my teenage experience.