just a man

p. 53:

He’s just a man named Gatsby.

Jordan tells this untruth when Nick, fresh off the surprise of an unexpected introduction, demands to know who this mysterious host is.  Is Jordan lying?  She’s known Gatsby long enough and well enough that she knows “just a man” is an inadequate description.  Likely she doesn’t have anything to add to the fevered speculation that winds through his nightly bacchanalia, and she’d rather Nick want to talk about something else.

More about Gatsby’s extraordinary smile carries over to this page:  “It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”  I’m telling you, that’s not a natural smile, that smile has to be practiced with a focus on effect rather than on feeling.

This page has almost that all Fitzgerald ever gives us in terms of a physical description of Gatsby, “an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty.”  We don’t really know how tall he is, what color his eyes are, the shape of his nose or lips.  It’s an intentional cypher on which you can write your own imaginings.  And yet, the impression of Gatsby is enduring because of the description of his effect on those around him.

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