January 8, 2013

"Gatsby, pale as death, with his hands plunged like weights in his coat pockets, was standing in a puddle of water glaring tragically into my eyes."

The most interesting thing about today's "Gatsby" sentence is the use of plunged for the action of the hands into the pockets, when the feet are in a puddle of water. A puddle isn't deep, and Gatsby is just standing in the puddle. He can't be plunged into a mere puddle, but then again, his pockets are not bodies of water, so the plunging into the pockets is metaphorical.

The puddle is shallow and the pockets are not deep water, and Gatsby's hands aren't really weights. They're just like weights. But if you were weighted and plunged into deep water, you'd be in great danger of dying, and, indeed, Gatsby is pale as death. Drowning could be called a tragedy, and Gatsby is glaring tragically into the narrator's eyes.

Maybe you think this sentence is overwritten. Pale as death is a cliché and it's sort of redundant with glaring tragically.  Adverb adversaries would say you don't need tragically when you've already got glaring. Verbosity prigs might say if the narrator is able to see that Gatsby is glaring, it's tedious to go to the trouble to tack on into my eyes. And into my eyes is kind of a slow way to coast to an ending when you're trying to be this dramatic, what with death and weights and tragically dragging us down.

But maybe if we could escape from this isolated sentence — which we can't, in the Gatsby project as arbitrarily defined by me — we would see reason behind the seemingly weak into my eyes. Gatsby is desperate for something that must come, very specifically, from the narrator. Save me!

AND: Did "a puddle of water glaring tragically into my eyes" bother you?


edutcher said...

Have to disagree that "Pale as death" is sort of redundant with "glaring tragically".

Death is not necessarily tragic. It can be triumphant.

As for plunged, little kids plunge into puddles all the time. I think plunge in this instance refers to despair or depression.

Ann Althouse said...

To plunge is to dive into. The image (to be adopted as metaphor) is of a body of water that one could become submerged in.

You can't actually plunge into a puddle. You might say plunge into a puddle as a comic exaggeration. And you could call a big lake a puddle to be funny.

Meade said...

"A puddle isn't deep[...]"

No, but Gatsby's pockets are.

Damon said...

"Maybe you think this sentence is overwritten."

Nope, the mood is set so well with a heaviness in the descriptions and helplessness in the "glaring tragically". Remove one word and it doesn't keep the theme it the mood - magnificent!

Sydney said...

The nearness of "plunged like weights into his coat pockets" to the word "water," creates an image in my mind of a ganster murder victim. You'll sleep with the fishes tonight, Gatsby.
The puddle somehow doesn't negate that for me. The anger in "tragic glaring" just reinforces it.

Michael said...

Meade wrote:"No, but Gatsby's pockets are."

Actually maybe not. Remember the problem with the messenger being tagged with the bogus bonds.

edutcher said...

Ann Althouse said...

To plunge is to dive into. The image (to be adopted as metaphor) is of a body of water that one could become submerged in.

No, a kid who jumps with both feet enthusiastically (usually in his galoshes) into a puddle, plunges into it.

You may be using the more-oft used sense, but I've seen the other.

Methadras said...

Who wants shallow, unplungable pockets?

Bob said...

Have you discussed the influence that Maxwell Perkins had on Fitzgerald, as well as that whole "lost generation" of writers?

Unknown said...

He's standing in a puddle with his hands in his pockets deforming his clothing. He's nat at all concerned with how he looks. He's pale and tragic. He's coming apart.

mccullough said...

Since he could be glaring at the sky or the earth or something else, the into my eyes is necessary. The tragically is weak, as is the pale "as death." Pale would have been enough.

The image is more tragic-comic. Gatsby's trying to drown himself by plunging his hands into his pockets while standing in a puddle.

Deborah M. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hunter said...

What's with "pale as death" anyway? I thought the grim reaper wore all black, traditionally.

Unless death means dead people. Dead people are pale of course.

Maybe it's something to do with catching one's death of cold.

Ought the sentence read, Gatsby was pale as his death?

Howard said...

AA:"Maybe you think this sentence is overwritten. Pale as death is a cliché and it's sort of redundant with glaring tragically."
The entire book is overwritten. However, he pulls it off. In that way, Fitzgerald inspired millions of college students to overwrite. This is similar to the horrible influence van Gogh had on art students.

What many forget, these particular styles, like their genius-like creators are one-offs that are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Anonymous said...

Did "a puddle of water glaring tragically into my eyes" bother you?


Also, I don't experience "pale as death" and "glaring tragically" as redundant so much as at odds with each other.

I'm not sure whether one can glare tragically, given the definition: "glare - stare in an angry or fierce way."

This is another classic, overwritten, iffy grammar, bad Fitzgerald sentence. If Fitzgerald's name were not attached to it, it would be marked for revision in a serious critique.

David said...

This passage isn't just about Gatsby. It's also about Nick. Nick is a brilliant narrator because he is so engaged and unreliable as an observer while the events unfold, and so desperately trying to step back and make sense of it.

The passage describes Nick's mood as well as Gatsby.

"So we beat on, boats against the current" describes Gatsby and Nick. Nick's been haunted. Anyone who plunges into Gatsby becomes haunted. Ghosts always pull us backward.

Anonymous said...

What many forget, these particular styles, like their genius-like creators are one-offs that are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Fitzgerald did have heirs. Salinger considered himself to be Fitzgerald's heir. Editors at the New Yorker accepted him as such and gave Salinger great leeway to follow his writerly bliss.

This led to the greatest train wreck in American literature: Salinger's long short story, "Hapworth 16, 1924," which was so reviled by critics that Salinger went into his famous seclusion and never emerged.

Hapworth can now be found easily on the internet. You have to read it to believe it.

Chip Ahoy said...

No! You cannot be saved because your premise is flawed. Every sentence cannot be lifted from Gatsby and enjoyed as a separate beautiful thing because they're not. They're boring. And that's why I fucking hated this book as a boy. Twice.

But let's not be cross. Here you go, I'll fix it.

The puddle hand standing tragically glaring into my eyes as it plunged in the water and mopped up the mess with his coat until pockets of pale death weighted on Gatsby.

There. Better.

David said...

But now you are a man Chip.

Plus it's a short book. There are so many longer books to hate.

Sigivald said...

How does one glare tragically?

Karen said...

I think the problem is "glaring". Surely, "gazing" would have been more fitting.

Karen said...

I think the problem is "glaring". Surely, "gazing" would have been more fitting.

Dante said...

glaring: "having a fixed look of hostility, fierceness, or anger"

glaring tragically?

I'm glaring at the tragedy of this sentence. Why is it that English types like the most inscrutable books, with scraps that can be understood?

It reminds me of club liberalism. No, you simply can't possibly understand all the nuance: you must first be ordained. Now that's a tragedy.

Sydney said...

Re: "Hapworth 16, 1924," just popped over to the Google and read over the first few paragraphs. I have to say, if my own son sent that to me, I would not, could not read it all.

jungatheart said...

"glaring: "having a fixed look of hostility, fierceness, or anger"

glaring tragically?"

He is enraged at the loss of Daisy, it is a tragedy to him, and the narrator sees him as a tragic figure. More accurately, I think the narrator takes into account the tragi-comic elements of Gatsby and his story.

Dante said...


Thanks for the context. I still can't imagine what tragic glaring would look like.

I know what glaring is.

I know what people look like who have had a tragedy: usually in despair.

But together? No clue.

traditionalguy said...

Gatsby glared because he was so angry by the discovery that his ideal woman was not what she had been once before in the magic days when she tried out loving him.

That is the human tragedy. He loved and lost big time. And his reason to live has died.

Is that all there is? Stay tuned.

chickelit said...

Necklines plunged in the roaring twenties. So did the stock market, followed by men in suits from tall buildings. No water was involved.

It's interesting to me (and perhaps only to me) that Fitzgerald used the verb "to plunge" in conjunction with weight, echoing the origins of the word: link.

Howard said...

The decorated WWI vet glares tragically as he admits to his fellow vet and only friend in the world that the love of his life, whom he took the fall for Myrtles death, has reverted to her republican chickenhawk husband.

Great literature is tough, you have to be an active participant. It's not like Hoovering up drivel from Rush or Sean.

Howard said...

What makes literature and painting so fascinating from this era is that it represents the spontaneous artistic response to the singularly most significant social, technical and political inflection point in all of history.

At the start of the GG characters lives, the world consisted of Victorian prudence, orientalist and impressionist realist painting, horse drawn carriages, the emperor cousin monarchs ruling Europe, the US still a second-rate power and Newtonian physics. By their early 20's and 30's, they weathered a horrific war slaughtering millions over a family squabble, the Commies took over Russia, labor unions gained power, cubist and abstract art was invented, relativity and quantum mechanics discovered, the aeroplane and automobile shrunk the landscape, organized crime ascended, sexual freedom flourished, and women realized real political power.

It reminds me how coddled and insulated we are, making it easy to be comfortable and smug as we luxuriate in the knowledge that we alone created all of this opulence. John Galt my a$$.

McTriumph said...

If one can plunge a knife into something, why can't someone plunge hands in to pockets? Yes, those pockets are deep, most likely a Books Brothers number 1 soft shouldered sack pattern, 3 button, 3 inch lapel with patch chest pocket and DEEP patch waist pockets. Totally lined linen or cashmere or a fine Irish tweed. The jacket might be from J.Press, in that case the construction would be the same, Press based their suit on the BB No. 1 sack pattern, tweed would have more pop though and the pockets would still be deep, for plunging.

Mid-Life Lawyer said...

He is unaware that he is standing in a puddle of water because he is so dejected. His hands are plunged into his coat pockets like weights. He is not holding them up as he is totally deflated and they are as deep as gravity can take them. Glaring tragically, pale as death, he is in shock about what he has witnessed or just been told. He is defeated. Dejected, deflated, defeated - The Great Gatsby ain't so great after all.

McTriumph said...

I'm buying all that except the part about the puddle. Gatsby knows he's standing in a puddle, but doesn't care because he's wearing an expensive pair of fine English "made to order" above the ankle lace up cap-toes or jodhpurs, they don't leak.

Unknown said...

The sentence is bitterly ironic, and darkly funny.

The "Great" Gatsby is "pale as death,"--Gatsby, old chum, you look like death. What's Gatsby afraid of? Nick has a theory, and he's enjoying Gatsby's predicament.

What's he afraid of? That makes him pale as death--a flowery girl?

Gatsby stand in front of Nick, humiliated and angry. He's glaring, terrified, almost broken, but committed. His hands are plunged like weights into his pockets, into some unknown commitment.

There he stands, angry, terrified,, humiliated, miserable, but committed--like the weights that anchor him to the pathetic puddle, ruining his expensive shoes.

What's he afraid of? Why would he humiliate himself so? Why would he let a pipsqueak like Nick ever so subtly laugh at him? What weighs him down? What tragedy does he sense?

Mid-Life Lawyer said...


Could be. I think he doesn't know where he is standing, but it could be that he doesn't realize that it's in a puddle because of the fancy English boots you described.

He was stopped in his tracks in what happened to be a puddle. If he had on my Nike Frees, he would probably have noticed after a bit.

McTriumph said...

But people that wear Nike Frees don't stand around. ;-)

Valentine Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Valentine Smith said...

Gatsby forsees his own death here, as evidenced by the reflective puddle. His weighted hands and presumably slumping shoulders signaling final surrender to a reality stripped of all artifice. The puddle, final resting place of forlorn drunks and hoboes, symbolizes Gatsby's coming ignominy. His fate is likened to drowning in mere inches of water, his weighted hands and deadened spirit powerless to elevate him from the mire. He dies n the same place he lived—the muck.

Yet, he musters up anger from his listlessness. He glares right into the eyes of our narrator perhaps seeing him for the first time as wholly other, certainly one spared the fate of Gatsby. Our narrator recognizes the tragic circumstance yet seems essentially indifferent to Gatsby's fate. The narrator's absence of immediacy, his use of the passive voice in "was standing" lacks the impact of "Gatsby stood" and suggests a memory that need be retrieved from his mental archives as if the event was one of many with similar emotional impact. If he is not indifferent, if instead he is simply distancing himself from the memory, we can only assume it was from guilt or failed love or some other albatross-like emotional weight.

If taken in the context of the sentences we've read, I get the sense that our narrator is unreliable, disguising his feelings in a palette of emotional images. We, of course, have no way of knowing from the heretofore small sampling, but dear readers, I for one, intend to read our guileful narrator with skeptical eyes.

Unknown said...

MAD MAGAZINE VERSION OF THE MOVIE: As Gatsby is being gunned down he exclaims ; "anything to get out of this script."