January 15, 2013

"He lit Daisy’s cigarette from a trembling match, and sat down with her on a couch far across the room..."

"... where there was no light save what the gleaming floor bounced in from the hall."

Today's sentence, in the Gatsby project, where we read one sentence from "The Great Gatsby" each day.

What jumps out — bounces out — at me here is the dual light action: the lighting of the cigarette and the light bouncing in from the hall. The sources of light: 1. a trembling match, and 2. a gleaming floor. Both light sources go with -ing words. The light that has to do with a person doing something is trembling, and the light whose action has no human agent gleams and bounces. There's a big contrast between the emotional content of the 2 lights, the one — trembling — in the dark, in the intimate relationship between the man's hand and the woman's mouth, and the other — bouncing — off the floor from a shiny, bright place.

I've called attention to the light action that is human and that is not, but in this... light!, it's important to see what is not said. We don't get "trembling hand." We get "trembling match." The man is there in the "He" — "He lit" — but there's something cagey or removed about saying it's the match that's trembling. A trembling hand is only implied. That makes the lights more inanimate, but it also heightens the picture of light. We see the burning match, not the hand. And that puts the man-woman intimacy more deeply in the dark. They get as deep into the dark room and away from the light as they can. Good reason to tremble.


traditionalguy said...

The moment of truth for Jay. He trembles in the dark awaiting some sign of love from Daisy. Meanwhile the bright light of truth can only bounce in from another room where it shines.

Gatsby is a hero. But he has chosen whom to love poorly.

chickelit said...

It's been a while since I read that book. Did Daisy inhale or exhale?

Chip S. said...

Don Draper knew that a Zippo wouldn't tremble.

wyo sis said...

The light is trying to save him.

Terry said...

A better use of unsteady light as a metaphor:

I tell you that I see her still
At the dark entrance of the hall.
One gas lamp burning near her shoulder
Shone also from her other side
Where hung the long inaccurate glass
Whose pictures were as troubled water.
An immense shadow had its hand
Between us on the floor, and seemed
To hump the knuckles nervously,
A giant crab readying to walk,
Or a blanket moving in its sleep.

From "I Only Am Escaped Alone to Tell Thee", Howard Nemrov

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Maybe his hand is steady and the flame trembles from her breath.

edutcher said...

I wasn't aware matches trembled, but, yes, light bounces.

He's trying to get her to come over to the Dark Side.

Howard said...


You are right and wrong. Daisy, along with her rich and careless peers, clearly represent the Dark Side.

Lucifer (Daisy) is the bringer of the light (Gatsby).

Gatsby trembles in obeisance before the devil in a dark corner where the light is soon to go out forever, like the flame of a match after its' duty is complete....

betamax3000 said...

Fitz is telling us that Gatsby is losing his nerve: no, he will not be able to administer the spanking that Daisy so richly deserves.

Mid-Life Lawyer said...

He once enjoyed the literary exercise, then the sophisticated crowd moved in, paring their adolescent sexual references, and their attempts to cleverly out do one another bored him and he moved on to other adventures.

edutcher said...

Howard, not having read it in 50 years and doing it out of context, I can only call 'em as I see 'em.

Take your word for it.