never quite the same

p. 67:

They were never quite the same ones in physical person but they were so identical one with another that it inevitably seemed they had been there before.

This is Fitzgerald’s description of the rotating retinue of “four girls” who always accompanied one of the revelers at Gatsby’s parties.  The narrator admits “I have forgotten their names . . . the melodious names of flowers and months or the sterner ones of the great American capitalists whose cousins, if pressed, they would confess themselves to be.”  The girls are objects of art, objects of desire, signifiers of sex and wealth.  A feminist critique of Gatsby would deplore the nameless characters and the “girl” terminology.

But Fitzgerald’s gift is observation, not social commentary – and observation stands up better over time than commentary ever could.  The objectification he describes continues today, with different meaning and different dynamics.  These days a man can travel like Robert Palmer only as satire; making a habit of it just looks silly.  So we read this novel of the past with the feelings and morals of the present, which only enriches our understanding of how these crowded parties were filled with empty people.

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