Sunday, 23 November 2008
06:16:38 PM (GMT)
My family have been prominent, well-to-do people in this Middle Western city for
three generations. The Carraways are something of a clan, and we have a tradition
that we’re descended from the Dukes of Buccleuch, but the actual founder of my line
was my grandfather’s brother, who came here in fifty-one, sent a substitute to the
Civil War, and started the wholesale hardware business that my father carries on
I never saw this great-uncle, but I’m supposed to look like him—with special
reference to the rather hard-boiled painting that hangs in father’s office I
graduated from New Haven in 1915, just a quarter of a century after my father, and a
little later I participated in that delayed Teutonic migration known as the Great
War. I enjoyed the counter-raid so thoroughly that I came back restless. Instead of
being the warm centre of the world, the Middle West now seemed like the ragged edge
of the universe—so I decided to go East and learn the bond business. Everybody I
knew was in the bond business, so I supposed it could support one more single man.
All my aunts and uncles talked it over as if they were choosing a prep school for me,
and finally said, “Why—ye—es,” with very grave, hesitant faces. Father agreed
to finance me for a year, and after various delays I came East, permanently, I
thought, in the spring of twenty-two.
The practical thing was to find rooms in the city, but it was a warm season, and I
had just left a country of wide lawns and friendly trees, so when a young man at the
office suggested that we take a house together in a commuting town, it sounded like a
great idea. He found the house, a weather-beaten cardboard bungalow at eighty a
month, but at the last minute the firm ordered him to Washington, and I went out to
the country alone. I had a dog—at least I had him for a few days until he ran
away—and an old Dodge and a Finnish woman, who made my bed and cooked breakfast and
muttered Finnish wisdom to herself over the electric stove.
It was lonely for a day or so until one morning some man, more recently arrived than
I, stopped me on the road.
“How do you get to West Egg village?” he asked helplessly.
I told him. And as I walked on I was lonely no longer. I was a guide, a pathfinder,
an original settler. He had casually conferred on me the freedom of the
And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as
things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning
over again with the summer.
There was so much to read, for one thing, and so much fine health to be pulled down
out of the young breath-giving air. I bought a dozen volumes on banking and credit
and investment securities, and they stood on my shelf in red and gold like new money
from the mint, promising to unfold the shining secrets that only Midas and Morgan and
Maecenas knew. And I had the high intention of reading many other books besides. I
was rather literary in college—one year I wrote a series of very solemn and obvious
editorials for the “Yale News.”—and now I was going to bring back all such
things into my life and become again that most limited of all specialists, the
“well-rounded man.” This isn’t just an epigram—life is much more successfully
looked at from a single window, after all.
It was a matter of chance that I should have rented a house in one of the strangest
communities in North America. It was on that slender riotous island which extends
itself due east of New York—and where there are, among other natural curiosities,
two unusual formations of land. Twenty miles from the city a pair of enormous eggs,
identical in contour and separated only by a courtesy bay, jut out into the most
domesticated body of salt water in the Western hemisphere, the great wet barnyard of
Long Island Sound. they are not perfect ovals—like the egg in the Columbus story,
they are both crushed flat at the contact end—but their physical resemblance must
be a source of perpetual confusion to the gulls that fly overhead. to the wingless a
more arresting phenomenon is their dissimilarity in every particular except shape and
I lived at West Egg, the—well, the less fashionable of the two, though this is a
most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast
between them. my house was at the very tip of the egg, only fifty yards from the
Sound, and squeezed between two huge places that rented for twelve or fifteen
thousand a season. the one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard—it was
a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side,
spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool, and more than
forty acres of lawn and garden. it was Gatsby’s mansion. Or, rather, as I didn’t
know Mr. Gatsby, it was a mansion inhabited by a gentleman of that name. My own house
was an eyesore, but it was a small eyesore, and it had been overlooked, so I had a
view of the water, a partial view of my neighbor’s lawn, and the consoling
proximity of millionaires—all for eighty dollars a month.
Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the
water, and the history of the summer really begins on the evening I drove over there
to have dinner with the Tom Buchanans. Daisy was my second cousin once removed, and
I’d known Tom in college. And just after the war I spent two days with them in
Her husband, among various physical accomplishments, had been one of the most
powerful ends that ever played football at New Haven—a national figure in a way,
one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that
everything afterward savors of anti-climax. His family were enormously wealthy—even
in college his freedom with money was a matter for reproach—but now he’d left
Chicago and come East in a fashion that rather took your breath away: for instance,
he’d brought down a string of polo ponies from Lake Forest. it was hard to realize
that a man in my own generation was wealthy enough to do that.
Why they came East I don’t know. They had spent a year in France for no particular
reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and
were rich together. This was a permanent move, said Daisy over the telephone, but I
didn’t believe it—I had no sight into Daisy’s heart, but I felt that Tom would
drift on forever seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some
irrecoverable football game.
And so it happened that on a warm windy evening I drove over to East Egg to see two
old friends whom I scarcely knew at all. Their house was even more elaborate than I
expected, a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay.
The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile,
jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens—finally when it reached
the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its
run. The front was broken by a line of French windows, glowing now with reflected
gold and wide open to the warm windy afternoon, and Tom Buchanan in riding clothes
was standing with his legs apart on the front porch.
He had changed since his New Haven years. Now he was a sturdy straw-haired man of
thirty with a rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner. Two shining arrogant eyes
had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning
aggressively forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide
the enormous power of that body—he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he
strained the top lacing, and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his
shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage—a
His speaking voice, a gruff husky tenor, added to the impression of fractiousness he
conveyed. There was a touch of paternal contempt in it, even toward people he
liked—and there were men at New Haven who had hated his guts.
“Now, don’t think my opinion on these matters is final,” he seemed to say,
“just because I’m stronger and more of a man than you are.” We were in the same
senior society, and while we were never intimate I always had the impression that he
approved of me and wanted me to like him with some harsh, defiant wistfulness of his
We talked for a few minutes on the sunny porch.
“I’ve got a nice place here,” he said, his eyes flashing about restlessly.
Turning me around by one arm, he moved a broad flat hand along the front vista,
including in its sweep a sunken Italian garden, a half acre of deep, pungent roses,
and a snub-nosed motor-boat that bumped the tide offshore.
“It belonged to Demaine, the oil man.” He turned me around again, politely and
abruptly. “We’ll go inside.”
We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound
into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming
white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the
house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other
like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and
then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the
The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two
young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in
white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown
back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments
listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the
wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind
died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women
ballooned slowly to the floor.
The younger of the two was a stranger to me. She was extended full length at her end
of the divan, completely motionless, and with her chin raised a little, as if she
were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall. If she saw me out of
the corner of her eyes she gave no hint of it—indeed, I was almost surprised into
murmuring an apology for having disturbed her by coming in.
The other girl, Daisy, made an attempt to rise—she leaned slightly forward with a
conscientious expression—then she laughed, an absurd, charming little laugh, and I
laughed too and came forward into the room.
“I’m p-paralyzed with happiness.” She laughed again, as if she said something
very witty, and held my hand for a moment, looking up into my face, promising that
there was no one in the world she so much wanted to see. That was a way she had. She
hinted in a murmur that the surname of the balancing girl was Baker. (I’ve heard it
said that Daisy’s murmur was only to make people lean toward her; an irrelevant
criticism that made it no less charming.)
At any rate, Miss Baker’s lips fluttered, she nodded at me almost imperceptibly,
and then quickly tipped her head back again—the object she was balancing had
obviously tottered a little and given her something of a fright. Again a sort of
apology arose to my lips. Almost any exhibition of complete self-sufficiency draws a
stunned tribute from me.
I looked back at my cousin, who began to ask me questions in her low, thrilling
voice. It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech
is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again. Her face was sad and
lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there
was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to
forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered “Listen,” a promise that she had done
gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things
hovering in the next hour.
I told her how I had stopped off in Chicago for a day on my way East, and how a dozen
people had sent their love through me.
“Do they miss me?” she cried ecstatically.
“The whole town is desolate. All the cars have the left rear wheel painted black as
a mourning wreath, and there’s a persistent wail all night along the north
“How gorgeous! Let’s go back, Tom. To-morrow!” Then she added irrelevantly:
“You ought to see the baby.”
“I’d like to.”
“She’s asleep. She’s three years old. Haven’t you ever seen her?”
“Well, you ought to see her. She’s——”
Tom Buchanan, who had been hovering restlessly about the room, stopped and rested his
hand on my shoulder.
“What you doing, Nick?”
“I’m a bond man.”
I told him.
“Never heard of them,” he remarked decisively.
This annoyed me.
“You will,” I answered shortly. “You will if you stay in the East.”
“Oh, I’ll stay in the East, don’t you worry,” he said, glancing at Daisy and
then back at me, as if he were alert for something more. “I’d be a God damned
fool to live anywhere else.”
At this point Miss Baker said: “Absolutely!” with such suddenness that I
started—it was the first word she uttered since I came into the room. Evidently it
surprised her as much as it did me, for she yawned and with a series of rapid, deft
movements stood up into the room.
“I’m stiff,” she complained, “I’ve been lying on that sofa for as long as I
“Don’t look at me,” Daisy retorted, “I’ve been trying to get you to New
York all afternoon.”
“No, thanks,” said Miss Baker to the four cocktails just in from the pantry,
“I’m absolutely in training.”
Her host looked at her incredulously.
“You are!” He took down his drink as if it were a drop in the bottom of a glass.
“How you ever get anything done is beyond me.”
Last edited: 23 November 2008