"The Great Gatsby," Vocabulary from Chapter 2-3

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 parties.

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

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. apathetic
    marked by a lack of interest
    A reluctant elevator boy went for a box full of straw and some milk to which he added on his own initiative a tin of large hard dog biscuits--one of which decomposed apathetically in the saucer of milk all afternoon.
    "Decomposing apathetically" is not a phrase that would normally be associated with a party. But this image of the dog biscuit melting in milk could represent 1) what happens to Myrtle when she is surrounded by money; 2) the draining of George Wilson's life while Myrtle indulges with Tom's money; 3) the indifference of the rich to the hard lives and deaths of the poor.
  2. discreet
    unobtrusively perceptive and sympathetic
    When I came back they had disappeared so I sat down discreetly in the living room and read a chapter of "Simon Called Peter"--either it was terrible stuff or the whiskey distorted things because it didn't make any sense to me.
    Two other definitions of "discreet" are "marked by prudence or modesty and wise self-restraint" and "heedful of potential consequences"--these are also fitting descriptions of Nick's character, which contrasts with Tom's. But by sitting discreetly in the living room, Nick is enabling Tom's indiscretion; by staying, Nick is passively giving his approval of the affair.
  3. immoderate
    beyond reasonable limits
    But when I asked her she laughed immoderately, repeated my question aloud and told me she lived with a girl friend at a hotel.
    Although "immoderately" is used here to describe how Catherine laughed in response to Nick's question of whether she lived in the apartment with her sister Myrtle, it can describe how all the guests conducted themselves at this party. Even the discreet Nick got drunk for the second time in his life and somehow ended up standing beside the bed of Mr. McKee, who was clad only in his underwear.
  4. languid
    lacking spirit or liveliness
    His wife was shrill, languid, handsome and horrible.
  5. hauteur
    overbearing pride with a superior manner toward inferiors
    The intense vitality that had been so remarkable in the garage was converted into impressive hauteur.
  6. assertion
    a declaration that is made emphatically
    Her laughter, her gestures, her assertions became more violently affected moment by moment and as she expanded the room grew smaller around her until she seemed to be revolving on a noisy, creaking pivot through the smoky air.
  7. mincing
    affectedly dainty or refined
    "My dear," she told her sister in a high mincing shout, "most of these fellas will cheat you every time.
  8. strident
    unpleasantly loud and harsh
    I wanted to get out and walk eastward toward the park through the soft twilight but each time I tried to go I became entangled in some wild strident argument which pulled me back, as if with ropes, into my chair.
  9. impassioned
    characterized by intense emotion
    Some time toward midnight Tom Buchanan and Mrs. Wilson stood face to face discussing in impassioned voices whether Mrs. Wilson had any right to mention Daisy's name.
  10. deft
    skillful in physical movements; especially of the hands
    Making a short deft movement Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand.
  11. console
    give moral or emotional strength to
    When he had gone half way he turned around and stared at the scene--his wife and Catherine scolding and consoling as they stumbled here and there among the crowded furniture with articles of aid, and the despairing figure on the couch bleeding fluently and trying to spread a copy of "Town Tattle" over the tapestry scenes of Versailles.
  12. ravage
    a destructive action
    And on Mondays eight servants including an extra gardener toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden-shears, repairing the ravages of the night before.
  13. garnish
    decorate, as with parsley or other ornamental foods
    On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d'oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold.
  14. gaudy
    marked by conspicuous display
    The last swimmers have come in from the beach now and are dressing upstairs; the cars from New York are parked five deep in the drive, and already the halls and salons and verandas are gaudy with primary colors and hair shorn in strange new ways and shawls beyond the dreams of Castile.
  15. permeate
    spread or diffuse through
    The bar is in full swing and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside until the air is alive with chatter and laughter and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other's names.
  16. prodigality
    the trait of spending extravagantly
    Laughter is easier, minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word.
    Although "prodigality" is used here to describe how the guests are spilling out their laughter with each drink they pour down their throats, the guests did not actually spend any money at the party. Gatsby is using their prodigal natures (that come from being born into money) and his current ability to be prodigal in order to get closer to Daisy. Unlike his guests, he is not enjoying himself at his own expense.
  17. eddy
    a miniature whirlpool or whirlwind
    Dressed up in white flannels I went over to his lawn a little after seven and wandered around rather ill-at-ease among swirls and eddies of people I didn't know--though here and there was a face I had noticed on the commuting train.
  18. vehement
    marked by extreme intensity of emotions or convictions
    As soon as I arrived I made an attempt to find my host but the two or three people of whom I asked his whereabouts stared at me in such an amazed way and denied so vehemently any knowledge of his movements that I slunk off in the direction of the cocktail table--the only place in the garden where a single man could linger without looking purposeless and alone.
  19. cordial
    politely warm and friendly
    Welcome or not, I found it necessary to attach myself to someone before I should begin to address cordial remarks to the passers-by.
    Another meaning of "cordial" can be seen in the same chapter in this description: "a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another." This would be why Nick's remarks, cordial as they might be, but influenced by cordials, might not be so welcomed by him or others.
  20. homogeneity
    the quality of being similar or comparable
    Instead of rambling this party had preserved a dignified homogeneity, and assumed to itself the function of representing the staid nobility of the countryside--East Egg condescending to West Egg, and carefully on guard against its spectroscopic gayety.
  21. staid
    characterized by dignity and propriety
    Instead of rambling this party had preserved a dignified homogeneity, and assumed to itself the function of representing the staid nobility of the countryside--East Egg condescending to West Egg, and carefully on guard against its spectroscopic gayety.
  22. tortuous
    marked by repeated turns and bends
    There was dancing now on the canvas in the garden, old men pushing young girls backward in eternal graceless circles, superior couples holding each other tortuously, fashionably and keeping in the corners--and a great number of single girls dancing individualistically or relieving the orchestra for a moment of the burden of the banjo or the traps.
  23. vacuous
    devoid of intelligence
    A celebrated tenor had sung in Italian and a notorious contralto had sung in jazz and between the numbers people were doing "stunts" all over the garden, while happy vacuous bursts of laughter rose toward the summer sky.
  24. jovial
    full of or showing high-spirited merriment
    He smiled with jovial condescension and added "Some sensation!" whereupon everybody laughed.
  25. convivial
    occupied with or fond of the pleasures of good company
    When the "Jazz History of the World" was over girls were putting their heads on men's shoulders in a puppyish, convivial way, girls were swooning backward playfully into men's arms, even into groups knowing that some one would arrest their falls--but no one swooned backward on Gatsby and no French bob touched Gatsby's shoulder and no singing quartets were formed with Gatsby's head for one link.
  26. asunder
    into parts or pieces
    Even Jordan's party, the quartet from East Egg, were rent asunder by dissension.
  27. dissension
    a conflict of people's opinions, actions, or characters
    Even Jordan's party, the quartet from East Egg, were rent asunder by dissension.
  28. deplorable
    bad; unfortunate
    The hall was at present occupied by two deplorably sober men and their highly indignant wives.
  29. tumultuous
    characterized by unrest or disorder or insubordination
    Fifty feet from the door a dozen headlights illuminated a bizarre and tumultuous scene.
  30. discordant
    lacking in harmony
    However, as they had left their cars blocking the road a harsh discordant din from those in the rear had been audible for some time and added to the already violent confusion of the scene.
    Compare the discordant din and violent confusion at the end of this party to 1) the earlier orchestral music and hilarity; 2) the violence of Tom and wailing of Myrtle in the much smaller and unplanned party.

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