So my first impression, that he was a person of some undefined consequence, had gradually faded and he had become simply the proprietor of an elaborate roadhouse next door.
Here’s another fine example of Fitzgerald’s ability to compress a complicated series of human behavior into a seemingly innocent and simple sentence. Nick’s next door neighbor lives in a mansion so grand that it makes the surrounding houses look like serfs’ huts. Gatsby is famed for his extravagant parties and mysterious background, his reputation redolent with hints of bootlegging and murder.
But you can’t remain in awe of your immediate surroundings for very long. Humans have an enormous capacity to adapt to the most unnatural conditions. Living next to a man with extreme wealth and fascinating identity, Nick simply packs all strangeness away into a corner of his mind where a mansion becomes a roadhouse and a living cypher is just another neighbor.
Your first impression is so often right, you’ve got to learn how to listen to your instincts. You may lack the time, energy or desire to push your senses beyond the facade the world presents to you – but everything really worth finding out is on the other side.
Also on this page, Gatsby blurts out an uncomfortable question to Nick, “What’s your opinion of me anyhow?” Fitzgerald doesn’t answer in dialogue, but has his narrator describe, ‘A little overwhelmed I began the generalized evasions which that question deserves.‘ I love the meta-descriptive quality here: the question is so baldly inept that Nick can’t and won’t answer in detail, and the exchange itself is crucially irrelevant, so the narrator’s description of his answer is itself a generalization and evasion, which is the what the reader deserves, if only because the writer constructed this tiny trap. Gatsby seems like a simple story, but it’s these little land mines of writerly genius that make the work endure.