"The Great Gatsby," Vocabulary from Chapters 4-5

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 Gatsby and Daisy.

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. hospitality
    kindness in welcoming guests or strangers
    But I can still read the grey names and they will give you a better impression than my generalities of those who accepted Gatsby's hospitality and paid him the subtle tribute of knowing nothing whatever about him.
  2. resourcefulness
    the quality of being able to cope with a difficult situation
    He was balancing himself on the dashboard of his car with that resourcefulness of movement that is so peculiarly American--that comes, I suppose, with the absence of lifting work or rigid sitting in youth and, even more, with the formless grace of our nervous, sporadic games.
    Gatsby has a resourcefulness of movement that allows him to balance on the dashboard of his car, migrate from North Dakota to New York, and transform himself from a poor soldier to a rich host. But he does not have the inner resourcefulness to pay his way through college with janitorial duties or to earn his money through legitimate, time-consuming work. A lucky meeting with Wolfsheim and a handsome face are the resources Gatsby mined to become wealthy.
  3. punctilious
    marked by precise accordance with details
    This quality was continually breaking through his punctilious manner in the shape of restlessness.
  4. proprietor
    someone who owns a business
    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.
  5. retribution
    a justly deserved penalty
    His right hand suddenly ordered divine retribution to stand by.
  6. sinister
    wicked, evil, or dishonorable
    And with this doubt his whole statement fell to pieces and I wondered if there wasn't something a little sinister about him after all.
  7. valor
    courage when facing danger
    "Major Jay Gatsby", I read, "For Valour Extraordinary".
    Gatsby's valorous actions in the war are most likely true; the fact that he carries the medal around to show it off makes the valor seem less true. During the war, Gatsby wanted to die, yet displayed valor that killed Germans, saved Allied lives, and earned him recognition; as a civilian, Gatsby gets his dream girl, but his valor (in taking the wheel too late, assuming the blame for Myrtle's death, and keeping a vigil under Daisy's window) is rewarded with abandonment and death.
  8. obscure
    difficult to find
    In a well-fanned Forty-second Street cellar I met Gatsby for lunch. Blinking away the brightness of the street outside my eyes picked him out obscurely in the anteroom, talking to another man.
  9. engrossed
    giving or marked by complete attention to
    They were so engrossed in each other that she didn't see me until I was five feet away.
  10. aspire
    have an ambitious plan or a lofty goal
    Then it had not been merely the stars to which he had aspired on that June night.
  11. dispense
    administer or bestow, as in small portions
    He had waited five years and bought a mansion where he dispensed starlight to casual moths so that he could "come over" some afternoon to a stranger's garden.
    Gatsby's parties did not have small portions (liquor was available from a bar and circulating trays; food was on buffet tables and served in two suppers). In the phrase "dispensed starlight to casual moths", Nick is emphasizing the deliberate, almost godly, way of Gatsby. The description also makes the guests seem less like ungrateful leeches and more like carefree insects that Gatsby wanted to temporarily capture and display to impress Daisy.
  12. suppressed
    held in check with difficulty
    He waited, looking at me with suppressed eagerness.
  13. tactless
    revealing lack of perceptiveness or judgment or finesse
    But, because the offer was obviously and tactlessly for a service to be rendered, I had no choice except to cut him off there.
    Although Gatsby was trying to be grateful to Nick for agreeing to help him, his focus on money is tactless because it would make Nick seem like he were pimping out his cousin Daisy. Also, if Nick had accepted the offer, he might've ended up like Young Parke, who got picked up by the police for using stolen or counterfeit bonds.
  14. defunct
    no longer in force or use; inactive
    His head leaned back so far that it rested against the face of a defunct mantelpiece clock and from this position his distraught eyes stared down at Daisy who was sitting frightened but graceful on the edge of a stiff chair.
  15. distraught
    deeply agitated especially from emotion
    His head leaned back so far that it rested against the face of a defunct mantelpiece clock and from this position his distraught eyes stared down at Daisy who was sitting frightened but graceful on the edge of a stiff chair.
  16. abortive
    failing to accomplish an intended result
    His eyes glanced momentarily at me and his lips parted with an abortive attempt at a laugh.
  17. conscientious
    characterized by extreme care and great effort
    Gatsby got himself into a shadow and while Daisy and I talked looked conscientiously from one to the other of us with tense unhappy eyes.
  18. incredulous
    not disposed or willing to believe; unbelieving
    "She's embarrassed?" he repeated incredulously.
  19. vestige
    an indication that something has been present
    They were sitting at either end of the couch looking at each other as if some question had been asked or was in the air, and every vestige of embarrassment was gone.
  20. confound
    be confusing or perplexing to
    But there was a change in Gatsby that was simply confounding.
  21. exultation
    a feeling of extreme joy
    He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation a new well-being radiated from him and filled the little room.
  22. astounding
    bewildering or striking dumb with wonder
    Sometimes, too, he stared around at his possessions in a dazed way as though in her actual and astounding presence none of it was any longer real.
  23. inconceivable
    totally unlikely
    He had been full of the idea so long, dreamed it right through to the end, waited with his teeth set, so to speak, at an inconceivable pitch of intensity.
  24. colossal
    so great in size or force or extent as to elicit awe
    Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever.
  25. diminished
    made to seem smaller or less, especially in worth
    His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.
  26. defiantly
    in a rebellious manner
    There was a small picture of Gatsby, also in yachting costume, on the bureau--Gatsby with his head thrown back defiantly--taken apparently when he was about eighteen.
  27. gleaming
    an appearance of reflected light
    He lit Daisy's cigarette from a trembling match, and sat down with her on a couch far across the room where there was no light save what the gleaming floor bounced in from the hall.
    The image of Gatsby and Daisy being seen only by light that is reflected from the gleaming floor can be interpreted several ways: 1) they chose the spot for a little privacy; 2) their relationship cannot, as with the legally married Daisy and Tom, be framed in "a cheerful square of light"; 3) Gatsby's love of Daisy is a reflection of his love of wealth and cannot withstand the glare of direct light.
  28. bewilderment
    confusion resulting from failure to understand
    As I went over to say goodbye I saw that the expression of bewilderment had come back into Gatsby's face, as though a faint doubt had occurred to him as to the quality of his present happiness.
  29. vitality
    the property of being able to survive and grow
    There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams--not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion.
  30. fluctuating
    having unpredictable ups and downs
    I think that voice held him most with its fluctuating, feverish warmth because it couldn't be over-dreamed--that voice was a deathless song.
    While Daisy's fluctuating voice is a deathless song that captivates Gatsby, her fluctuating nature, which contrasts with his devotion, makes his efforts to be with her seem pointless and eventually leads to his death.

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