"The Great Gatsby," Vocabulary from Chapter 1 30 words

F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic "The Great Gatsby" is a glittering parade of parties and excess, but at its heart it is about identity and whether being wealthy in America can help you change who you really are. Learn this word list that focuses on Nick Carraway and his observations.

Here are links to all our word lists for the novel: Chapter 1, Chapters 2-3, Chapters 4-5, Chapters 6-7, Chapters 8-9
  1. reserved
    marked by self-restraint and reticence
    He didn't say any more but we've always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that.
  2. privy
    (followed by `to') informed about something secret or not generally known
    Nick is using "privy" as an adjective here but it can also be a noun meaning "a room or building equipped with one or more toilets." With that double meaning, Nick could be seen as making fun of both his own passive nature and the nature of the secrets that were shared with him.
    The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men.
  3. feign
    make a pretence of
    Nick admits to feigning actions and emotions in order to avoid listening to the seemingly fake revelations of others. Another reason he might not have wanted to hear these secrets is that doing so places him in the position of being responsible for someone else's happiness. Fitzgerald includes this admission here to set the readers up for the contrasts in Nick's relationship with Gatsby.
    Most of the confidences were unsought--frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon--for the intimate revelations of young men or at least the terms in which they express them are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions.
  4. levity
    a manner lacking seriousness
    Most of the confidences were unsought--frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon--for the intimate revelations of young men or at least the terms in which they express them are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions.
  5. tolerance
    willingness to recognize and respect the beliefs or practices of others
    And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit.
  6. scorn
    lack of respect accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike
    Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction--Gatsby who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn.
  7. elation
    a feeling of joy and pride
    No--Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.
  8. solemn
    characterized by a firm and humorless belief in the validity of your opinions
    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."
  9. reproach
    a mild rebuke or criticism
    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.
  10. supercilious
    having or showing arrogant superiority to and disdain of those one views as unworthy
    Now he was a sturdy, straw haired man of thirty with a rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner.
  11. fractiousness
    the trait of being prone to disobedience and lack of discipline
    His speaking voice, a gruff husky tenor, added to the impression of fractiousness he conveyed.
  12. wistfulness
    a sadly pensive longing
    The last three words were used in descriptions that show Nick's scornful attitude towards Tom Buchanan. Even in describing Tom's wistfulness, Nick adds the adjectives "harsh" and "defiant". By noting that Tom wanted his approval, Nick is suggesting that, back in college, he was the better man, and he is even more so now that is openly disapproving of Tom in his book.
    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 own.
  13. irrelevant
    having no bearing on or connection with the subject at issue
    (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.)
  14. imperceptible
    impossible or difficult to perceive by the mind or senses
    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.
  15. tribute
    something given or done as an expression of esteem
    Almost any exhibition of complete self sufficiency draws a stunned tribute from me.
  16. reciprocal
    concerning each of two or more persons or things; especially given or done in return
    Her grey sun-strained eyes looked back at me with polite reciprocal curiosity out of a wan, charming discontented face.
  17. compel
    force somebody to do something
    Before I could reply that he was my neighbor dinner was announced; wedging his tense arm imperatively under mine Tom Buchanan compelled me from the room as though he were moving a checker to another square.
  18. unobtrusive
    not obtrusive or undesirably noticeable
    Sometimes she and Miss Baker talked at once, unobtrusively and with a bantering inconsequence that was never quite chatter, that was as cool as their white dresses and their impersonal eyes in the absence of all desire.
  19. inconsequence
    having no important effects or influence
    Although details of Daisy and Jordan's "bantering inconsequence" are not given here, examples of it are seen throughout the dialogues that Fitzgerald intentionally creates as the writer and that Nick somehow remembers and repeats as the first-person narrator.
    Sometimes she and Miss Baker talked at once, unobtrusively and with a bantering inconsequence that was never quite chatter, that was as cool as their white dresses and their impersonal eyes in the absence of all desire.
  20. complacency
    the feeling you have when you are satisfied with yourself
    There was something pathetic in his concentration as if his complacency, more acute than of old, was not enough to him any more.
  21. extemporize
    perform without preparation
    She was only extemporizing but a stirring warmth flowed from her as if her heart was trying to come out to you concealed in one of those breathless, thrilling words.
  22. subdued
    in a softened tone
    A subdued impassioned murmur was audible in the room beyond and Miss Baker leaned forward, unashamed, trying to hear.
  23. hardy
    invulnerable to fear or intimidation
    I couldn't guess what Daisy and Tom were thinking but I doubt if even Miss Baker who seemed to have mastered a certain hardy skepticism was able utterly to put this fifth guest's shrill metallic urgency out of mind.
  24. intriguing
    capable of arousing interest or curiosity
    To a certain temperament the situation might have seemed intriguing--my own instinct was to telephone immediately for the police.
  25. turbulent
    characterized by unrest or disorder or insubordination
    I saw that turbulent emotions possessed her, so I asked what I thought would be some sedative questions about her little girl.
  26. sedative
    tending to soothe or tranquilize
    I saw that turbulent emotions possessed her, so I asked what I thought would be some sedative questions about her little girl.
  27. contemptuous
    expressing extreme contempt
    I knew now why her face was familiar--its pleasing contemptuous expression had looked out at me from many rotogravure pictures of the sporting life at Asheville and Hot Springs and Palm Beach.
  28. libel
    a false and malicious publication printed for the purpose of defaming a living person
    An overheard rumor is not libel; it could be slander, but the rumor is about an event that's supposed to be happy not hurtful. As a Yale graduate who used to write for the college's newspaper, Nick would know the different intents attached to rumor, libel and slander. But he deliberately exaggerates here to be funny and to emphasize that he is not ready for marriage.
    "That's right," corroborated Tom kindly. "We heard that you were engaged."
    "It's libel.
  29. peremptory
    offensively self-assured or given to exercising usually unwarranted power
    Something was making him nibble at the edge of stale ideas as if his sturdy physical egotism no longer nourished his peremptory heart.
  30. intimation
    an indirect suggestion
    Nick's descriptions show how observant he is--not only does he pick up on "intimations", he also sees things that are almost "imperceptible", hears murmurs that have been "subdued", and often tries to guess what others are thinking and feeling. These are good traits for a writer, but they could also intimate a lack of depth or originality within a character--which leads Nick to admire Gatsby.
    But I didn't call to him for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone--he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling.