January 13, 2013

"I knew the other clerks and young bond-salesmen by their first names, and lunched with them in dark, crowded restaurants on little pig sausages and mashed potatoes and coffee."

It means something that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote "pig" instead of "pork." I think about how George Harrison sang about piggies, the bigger piggies, "in their starched white shirts... stirring up the dirt" as well as "the little piggies... crawling in the dirt." (He stirred up Charles Manson to deliver "a damned good whacking.")

Life was "getting worse" for the little piggies, while, by contrast, the bigger piggies "always had clean shirts." Now, I'm not going to veer off into the topic of The Great — big pig — Gatsby's shirts. You know if you've read "The Great Gatsby" or seen the movie that a huge to-do is made at one point about how many beautiful shirts Gatsby had.

But here in this Gatsby project, we look at one sentence in isolation. That way, everyone's on the same footing. You don't have the little readers and the bigger readers. Life isn't getting worse for some of us and just fine for others. We gather here, in the daily post, to consume one sentence, so let's lunch.

Let's know each other by first names. Here we are equals. We have all read the sentence, and we can all very well speak out about it. Here, we actively exclude extrinsic evidence. About the book, I mean. We're free to drag in anything else, such as The Beatles, as betamax3000 did so well in yesterday's Gatsby thread, the one about warm human magic.

So pig, then. Pig, not pork. Which makes us think that the clerks and bond-salesmen are little piggies. The men eating humble food — all the humbler for saying pig, not pork — in a dark, crowded place. A pigsty? Our narrator is crammed in close quarters with them as he chows down. He's on familiar terms with them: He calls them by their first names. He's a member of the herd of little piggies.

Did you notice the words are right there one after the other: little pig? As a competent and tolerant reader, you can tell it's the sausages and not the pigs that are supposed to be little, and as a picky reader, you might say it's bad writing to permit that ambiguity to survive the final draft. But maybe the writer wanted you to see little pig. And the bigger question is why insert the pig at all? We'd presume that sausages were pork. Obviously, Fitzgerald wants us to think about pigs and think about the men as pigs. He wasn't as blunt as Mr. Harrison, but he was calling these guys pigs.

Another reason to throw pig in there, permitting the ambiguity, is to call the sausages little without being too aggressively Freudian about saying little sausages and making us think too quickly — before we'd noticed all these other things — of pricks.

ADDED: Meade, helping me proofread, questioned "herd" as the proper collective term for pigs. I know there are some other options, but I like it because it evokes Jesus:
Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.” He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

40 comments:

Hagar said...

And what if "pig sausage" is just an Anglicism?

ricpic said...

The dark satanic mills got nothin' on the modern business office.

Surfed said...

Pig pricks are corkscrewed.

edutcher said...

Everybody crowded in like pigs in a blanket.

Maybe he had a thing for those Pillsbury Crescents.

Ann Althouse said...

"And what if "pig sausage" is just an Anglicism?"

1. Fitzgerald is American.

2. He didn't say bangers and mash.

Ann Althouse said...

I love the last 2 sentences in the Jesus story. The people all go down to meet him, then they tell him to go away.

What's going on there? He's a miracle man. They want to see that, but they really don't want this kind of thing to continue. Are they thinking: Yes, very impressive with the pigs and all, but the herders lost their pigs, and we don't trust you not to mess with our stuff.

traditionalguy said...

Being the only noble man in the novel, Jay was a lover of that gourmet treat called the Chicago Hot dog and therefore he despised these little brats in NYC gorging on their potatoes and coffee...mere proletariat food.

deborah said...

It comes across as a comparison to the monied class. The rich made it big in capitalism, the ones cramming together in the lunch house are grist for the money mill. Some may win, many will lose.

traditionalguy said...

Yes, Jesus was messing with everybody's stuff. He used a man with a legion of demons to prove the Messiah's authority over Satan.

That was not going to be allowed to stand for long by the ticktock men who had the traditions as authority.

Rob said...

Bond-salesmen as pigs gorging on swill may well be a metaphor about their place in the capitalist scheme, but it's also stark reality. Have you ever eaten with one?

Ann Althouse said...

"these little brats"

Are you talking to us Wisconsin folk?

Robert Cook said...

This is the first sentence you've quoted from GATSBY that is a good sentence.

Lydia said...

Or maybe "pig sausages" were simply what they were called around the time he wrote the book -- see this Jones' Dairy Farm Sausages 1905 print ad.

traditionalguy said...

Sorry beloved Wisconsin folks. That gratuitous brats reference was from my mind worn out from watching the Bird Bowl.

Our Falcon birds won the 1st half 20-0, then lost the 2nd half to the Seahawk birds and that brat eater Russell Wilson 28-7, except the Dirty Birds won the last 30 seconds 3-0.

But that meal of mashed potatoes and coffee does sound like pig slop unfit to eat with a gourmet Chicago hot dog.





EDH said...

The Bangers and the mash
The negatives for cash
You're either in the club, baby,
or you're not

Whatever turns you on
Whatever gets you off
Chief of police or
The vice-chancellor Lord
Lord and lady, blah, blah
The vicar or the judge
You're dancing to my little red book


Bangers 'n Mash

Because you bit me, bit me,bit me, ow
I've got the poison, poison
And I want more

If you are on the top
then it is a long drop
The pyramid is power
we're changing by the hour
If you are on the top
then it is a long drop
If you stare into the dark,
The black will stare our back
Back into your soul

The cheque, cheque, cheque
Came through
The cheque, cheque, cheque
Came through
The cheque, cheque, cheque

I'm taking you down
I'm taking you down
I'm taking you down
When I go down
I'm taking you down
I'm taking you down
I'm standing in the hall
I`m Kicking out the wall, yeah
Because you bit me, bit me,bit me, ow
I've got my poison
I've got my poison
I've got my poison, yeah
Yeah, I’ve got the poison

sydney said...

That ad from 1905 makes it sound like "little pig" sausages are made from little pigs. They're the pork equivalent of veal.

sydney said...

For so many of these sentences, I have to read them twice to get the proper associations. "crowded restaurants on little pig sausages" made my mind see restaurants sitting on sausages. It probably wouldn't be that way if I were reading them in context, but I think an English teacher would reprimand him if he submitted a sentence like that.

Pete said...

See, this is what your commenters on your "I was wrong" post are talking about. Instead of admitting the error with your pig herd usage, you're all, hey what about that Jesus fellow and demons and herds of pigs? Well, this is the Althouse blog, not the Bible. What's so hard about admitting your mistakes?

Wally Kalbacken said...

I reckon it's a "passel" of pigs.

The shirts thing was overdone in the 1970's version of the film as well as the most recent on with Leonardo-what's-his-name. It just rains shirts. Shirts 'til it hurts.

Basta! said...

Jesus asked the demon possessing man its name, and the demon answered: My name is Legion [Λεγιων], for we are many.

Legion was borrowed from the Latin into Greek, and it only ever meant a Roman legion. I just double-checked a classical and a Hellenistic Greek dictionary, and there's no instance of the Greeks using that word for anything else. The sense of "multitude" came much later. I don't have easy access to OED (hint), the earliest example I can find is from 1380. But in any case, "multitude" is a secondary meaning most likely derived from this very NT passage.

To return to the passage, the demon says he's a Roman legion, and begs Jesus to be expelled into a herd of pigs. And Jesus is accommodating, which seems a bit strange since it is after all a filthy spirit.

It turns out that the main emblem of the Roman Legio X Fretensis was the wild boar, and that this particular legion was involved in the suppression of the revolts that occurred after Rome directly took over Judaea in 6 AD, as well as being one of the central actors in the First Judaean War ca. 68-70. It was a legion that was around, and no doubt in people's faces.

Someone of that time, on hearing this story involving Legion, wouldn't think of multitudes of anything, since that meaning didn't exist then. More likely, they'd get an image of this piggy Roman legion with its wild pig emblem being driven into the sea to die there. Jesus kicks Rome's ass!

chickelit said...

Lydia put the PIG in the blanket at 5:44. So to speak.

Dante said...

I guess the obvious note is "You are what you eat." Like babies, which are made of milk.

deborah said...

"This is the first sentence you've quoted from GATSBY that is a good sentence."


A good sentence, a serviceable sentence, but not a great sentence.


deborah said...

@ chick scott fitzgerald: 'put the pig to bed' would have been better :)

deborah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Althouse said...

"See, this is what your commenters on your "I was wrong" post are talking about. Instead of admitting the error with your pig herd usage, you're all, hey what about that Jesus fellow and demons and herds of pigs? Well, this is the Althouse blog, not the Bible. What's so hard about admitting your mistakes?"

No, you are wrong. I was aware of the issue while writing the original post, researched what the term should be, and made a decision, which I explained to Meade when he raised the same issue I'd already run through. Look at the alternative collective nouns. "Drove"? That wouldn't be understood.

Chip Ahoy said...

The other clerks knew young James Bond, by their names he had punched them in the dark, and smashed their pig potato faces and in the crowded little restaurant and stirred their coffee with sausages.

Jesus, looking down upon the man crouching like an animal at his feet, reached down and taking him by the hand stood him up and said to him: “Amos, you are not possessed of a devil; you have already heard the good news that you are a son of God. I command you to come out of this spell.” And when Amos heard Jesus speak these words, there occurred such a transformation in his intellect that he was immediately restored to his right mind and the normal control of his emotions. By this time a considerable crowd had assembled from the near-by village, and these people, augmented by the swine herders from the highland above them, were astonished to see the lunatic sitting with Jesus and his followers, in possession of his right mind and freely conversing with them.

Chip Ahoy said...

As the swine herders rushed into the village to spread the news of the taming of the lunatic, the dogs charged upon a small and untended herd of about thirty swine and drove most of them over a precipice into the sea. And it was this incidental occurrence, in connection with the presence of Jesus and the supposed miraculous curing of the lunatic, that gave rise to the legend that Jesus had cured Amos by casting a legion of devils out of him, and that these devils had entered into the herd of swine, causing them forthwith to rush headlong to their destruction in the sea below.

Chip Ahoy said...

Before the day was over, this episode was published abroad by the swine tenders, and the whole village believed it. Amos certainly did believe this story. He saw the swine tumbling over the brow of the hill shortly after his troubled mind had settled, and he always believed that they carried with them the evil spirits which had so long tormented him. And this had a good deal to do with the permanency of his cure. It is equally true that all of Jesus’ apostles believed that the episode of the swine was directly connected with the cure of Amos. Except Thomas.

Chip Ahoy said...

Jesus did not obtain the rest he was looking for. Most of that day he was thronged by people who came in response to word that Amos had been cured, and who were attracted by the story that the demons had gone out of the lunatic into the herd of swine. And so, after only one night of rest Jesus and his friends were awakened by a delegation of these swine-raising gentiles who had come to urge that he depart from their midst. Said their spokesman to Peter and Andrew: “Fishermen of Galilee, depart from us and take your prophet with you. We know he is a holy man, but the gods of our country do not know him, and we stand in danger of losing many swine. The fear of you has descended upon us, so that we pray you to go hence.” And when Jesus heard them, he said to Andrew, “Let us return to our place.”

Chip Ahoy said...

As they were about to depart, Amos sought Jesus to permit him to join them, but the Master would not consent. Said Jesus to Amos:
“Forget not that you are a son of God. Return to your own people and show them what great things God has done for you.”
And Amos went about telling everybody that Jesus had cast a legion of devils out of his troubled soul and that these evil spirits had entered into a herd of swine, driving them to quick destruction. And he did not stop until he had gone into all the cities of the Decapolis declaring what great things Jesus had done for him.

Alex Ignatiev said...

A group of pigs is a sounder IIRC.

Richard Dolan said...

" ... You might say it's bad writing to permit that ambiguity ..."

Why would you want to say that? Ambiguity isa wonderful technique in creative writing. Lawyers don't like it, but they have different objectives. The passage is both accurately descriptive, and funny, if you've been in one of the old-style lunch spots on a day when the market is up -- lots of young guys, would-be masters of the universe, crowding in, boisterous and eager to be noticed. Harry's at Hanover Square was like that on good days for the market, but usually a little later than lunch. The brokerage houses and trading desks downtown are still mostly staffed by younger guys who would fit right in to Gatsby's description here.

As for the Jesus-and-herd passage, basta!'s exegesis is interesting and informative. But the Gospel writers weren't focused on a Jewish audience so much as the Greek-speaking communities from which those writers came. The rejection of Jesus by the Jewish community despite his wondrous deeds was a key theme across the Godpels, and this episode fits that pattern.

kentuckyliz said...

Bangers n mash
Bangers n mash
Me mother used to make
Oy!

I can hear my dad singing that and dancing a little jig.

traditionalguy said...

It may all come down to the difference between East Eggers eating the West Eggers. That is, the old lazy pigs in West Egg are eaten by new pigs moved into East Egg.

That is the secret of The Great Gatsby Diet.

This just in: The the Crawley family will keep Downton Abbey from creditors because the maid Daisy maid remembered posting Lavinia's letter to her rich Uncle the night she died thereby causing him to write a letter to Matthew that he knew that Matthew was willing to marry Lavinia who was dying of Flu and still wanted him to keep the inheritance fortune without feeling dishonor. Lady Mary will now not shoot him.

Oh, never mind.

McTriumph said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MisterBuddwing said...


Just saw a trailer for Baz Luhrman's adaptation of "Gatsby."

Oi. And to think there were critics who thought the Robert Redford-Mia Farrow movie was an overproduced mess.

Pete said...

"No, you are wrong. I was aware of the issue while writing the original post, researched what the term should be, and made a decision, which I explained to Meade when he raised the same issue I'd already run through. Look at the alternative collective nouns. "Drove"? That wouldn't be understood."

Then I was wrong. My apologies.

betamax3000 said...

So: the frequencies of the previous Fitzgerald sentence drew my antennae to the White Album, and then, right there in the very next sentence: "Little Pig Sausages." Obvious. Secret Message, loud and clear. But then Ann connected the White Album dots right out of the gate -- Yellow Submarine-colored crayon, one line (there are at least two yellows in the Beatles Color Crayons Box, Yellow Submarine Yellow and Mean Mr. Mustard Yellow: even if the actual hues were the same you would still probably draw different conclusions with each). Anyway, secret messages should be somewhat secret-ish, so I knew today's true meaning was somewhere deeper...

On to the potatoes: perhaps the potato in Lady Chatterly could feed Lady Madonna's hungry children, but that leads in a direction I really don't think anyone wants to go. The Drooping Potato fits better with John Lennon on the "Two Virgins" album cover, but -- again -- too obvious: sometimes a drooping potato is just a drooping potato, even next to a naked Yoko Ono.

Eggs. Ahhhh.... Eggs. We are the Egg Men, They are the Egg Men. Each of us an egg, similar in design, equal, but an egg unto our own, alone in our shell. Unless/until the eggs are scrambled: once scrambled we cannot unscramble, and even a first name is rendered meaningless. And -- while Gatsby might've known the people's first names -- they didn't even truly know his last: I think all of this points to Fitzgerald being a chicken-came-first kind of guy.

A quick side note: I could never picture George Harrison being an Egg Man: Lennon, yes, McCartney, sure, Ringo like a glove (hell, he even played with drumsticks: drumsticks < chicken < egg). They are the Egg Men, but George is not: he is alien, an outsider. If Gatsby, alone in his mansion, chose instead to lick his psychic wounds with Eastern Religion he probably would've been a lot like the late-era / pre-death George. Without the song royalties.

betamax3000 said...

Of course, not everything is the White Album. No, really.

For instance, upon first reading of the Fitzgerald "fur collar" sentence an album cover popped into mind. Not for the music in any manner (haven't seen the album itself in many years, and not sure I can remember more than a song or two, now), but for the picture: Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend". Working from memory, the album cover is a photograph of a young Tuesday Weld with a fur collar pulled warm around her face, and - click -- that was now Daisy. Or, more likely, what I'd rather Daisy to be, because now I was associating the feelings the photograph evoked in me onto the sentence. I like the position of this Daisy's needle on the candid / posed, innocent / aware dial a bit better.

This is a not-too-roundabout way of bringing me to today's sentence: what first came to mind was Edward Hopper. With the sentence divorced from context my mind filled in the visual, and the visual sure looked a lot like "Nighthawks". More people, different time of day, but still: that.

So I looked up Hopper on Wikipedia, and came across his picture "New York Restaurant". To me it practically yells "Gatsby". I won't bother to try to describe why -- I think it's a see-it-or-you-don't (i.e. maybe-just-me) thing. Still: the woman in the red hat at the table with her back to us is wearing a fur collar...

New York Restaurant: 1922
The Great Gatsby: 1925


Frequencies.