January 1, 2013

"Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York..."

"... every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves."

I warned you I was going to do this. Come on. Play along. (And, no, I wasn't thinking about Andy Kaufman when I dreamed this up. It was all a riff on that Baz Luhrmann trailer for the new "Great Gatsby" movie.)

So, now, let's talk about oranges and lemons. The phrase "oranges and lemons" appears twice in the sentence, unchanged, even as the oranges and lemons themselves are changed. That's the whole action of the sentence, the transformation of oranges and lemons in one form into oranges and lemons in another form. Here they are on Friday, in crates, and here they are on Monday in "a pyramid." That is, they have become, in that alluded-to time period  — the weekend — a pile of garbage. But the pile is called "a pyramid," A pyramid! We're called upon to think of the grand erections of pharaohs, in comparison to crates from the lowly little character with the silly-sounding occupation "fruiterer."

Are the crates even stacked up? There's the absurd and obviously false notion that the fruit has been improved by whatever it was that went on in that house over the weekend. That absurdity calls upon us to think about the people who arrived and left, the people who ate all that fruit. But of course, they didn't eat it. They drank it. The pulp was extracted for use in alcoholic mixtures, and if the fruit emerged from the weekend as "pulpless halves," then, we may infer, so did the people. We don't hesitate to keep calling them human, yet we see the inaptness of calling the mere rinds "lemons and oranges." Even if you could conceptualize the big pile of rinds as a pyramid, you'd easily perceive it as garbage. Since that perception is easy, we have energy left to think about what is more difficult. Who are these people?

60 comments:

MadisonMan said...

You could at least do the sentences in order, start to finish, so I could pretend to have read the book.

Pete said...

I agree with Althouse about the fine sentences of this novel. Right off the bat we have this, one of my favorites: "In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars."

Althouse's choice about the oranges and lemons is pretty good, too.

Ann Althouse said...

This wasn't a choice. It was truly random.

I specifically want to be out of order and non-selective.

As I said, what I love about this book is the way the sentences can be thoroughly enjoyed as separate units.

This relates to what I said (in the first post today) about how we live in days. It's my blogger nature, to love morsels.

Paco Wové said...

Oranges and lemons
Say the bells of St. Clement's.

You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin's.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.

When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.

I'm sure I don't know,
Says the great bell at Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.

Chop, chop, chop
The last man's dead!

Surfed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Surfed said...

Of more interest to me is the use of the term "station wagon". Per Wikipedia - Star (a division of Durant Motors) is credited as being the first car company to offer a factory-built station wagon beginning in 1923.

Station wagon always had a certain air of the commercial. Gatsby ferried some friends to his parties via luxury Rolls Royce. Others in a station wagon? Where were the fault lines for those friendships and acquaintances to be ferried in a commercial vehicle lie. Well, at least they were at the party. Me? I would have preferred one of the two speedboats aqua-planing over the cataracts...

Mitchell the Bat said...

I think there might be some people out there who sort of do the same thing with sacred texts but I could be wrong about that.

sydney said...

I wonder if Fitzgerald thought the sentence out that much, or if the pyramids were just an image he had in his head of a pile of garbage.

CWJ said...

Ann, this only works if you leave us something to work on. Your analysis is so thorough, what are we supposed to bring to the table? Its either fawn or quibble. Five cases equal one pyramid - a wonderful example of where the proper choice of noun conveys the thought without the need of modifiers. Pile or mound needs an adjective. Pyramid doesn't.

Now the quibble. I just don't see the image of improvement absurd or not. Repetitively processed yes - both fruit and guests.

Freeman Hunt said...

I like this new feature. I don't need anything to work on; I'd just like to read blog posts like this.

edutcher said...

Fruiterer?

I'll bet every body else just called them fruit men, which didn't have the connotation then it would now.

And the only way that citrus could have been improved is if it had been rubbed on the....

Never mind.

creeley23 said...

Fitzgerald writes good sentences and I enjoy reading him primarily on that basis.

However, this sentence is a great example of how that works against Fitzgerald, at least for this reader. Instead of keeping me in the flow, Fitzgerald's fanciness keeps bouncing me out of the reading experience.

I wonder first, "fruiterer ... what's that? Oh, I guess I guy who sells or supplies fruits. Funny I've never run across that word before. Maybe it's a turn of the century word." Looking it up, I discover it's chiefly a British word.

Then I'm bouncing along to the end and hit the "pyramid of pulpless halves," which is a marvelous turn of phrase of course -- it has the sort of rolling gravity and consonance of Dylan Thomas. I think about Dylan Thomas a while before returning to the meaning of the sentence and the story Fitzgerald is supposed to be telling.

So "pyramids," but unfortunately I'm still thinking round fruit and I imagine the fruit as a neatly stacked pyramid like cannonballs in a New England townsquare monument to the American Revolution. Then I start wondering who stacked all the oranges that neatly and why? But the pulpless halves remain, which don't sound like they would stack up neatly, and to tell the truth I never resolve the pyramid to a pile of garbage.

I put the question aside because there are a whole lot more sentences to read and I spent way too much time on this one, because it is not a Dylan Thomas poem, it's supposed to be a story. The question of the orange pulpless pyramid will continue to nag at me and distract me as more tiny mysteries build up and I wonder why reading Fitzgerald is so much like trying to walk across a slick hardwood floor which someone has strewn with marbles or maybe even smooth oranges and lemons.

Phil 3:14 said...

This is going to get old fast.

Ann Althouse said...

I googled "fruiterer" and found this Australian comic character Con the Fruiterer.

Ann Althouse said...

"So "pyramids," but unfortunately I'm still thinking round fruit and I imagine the fruit as a neatly stacked pyramid like cannonballs in a New England townsquare monument to the American Revolution."

Which ought to set up an elaborate reverie about the explanation of Ice 9 in "Cat's Cradle"!

The very thing that you object to is what I like.

Why does it matter whether you read the whole book? You're saying you'd prefer a good old page-turner. I wouldn't. I'm bored by these ambitions of progress.

Live for the day. Read for the sentence. We live in days. We read in sentences.

Phil 3:14 said...

A better use of fruit

Ann Althouse said...

“But what are years, what are months!... Why count the days, when even one day is enough for man to know all happiness.”

edutcher said...

In "The Virginian", it was the old tin cans on the outskirts of Medicine Bow.

creeley23 said...

Why does it matter whether you read the whole book? You're saying you'd prefer a good old page-turner. I wouldn't. I'm bored by these ambitions of progress.

Ann: Don't put words in my mouth. I said right at the top of my post:

"Fitzgerald writes good sentences and I enjoy reading him primarily on that basis."

Whatever your notions about reading may be, Fitzgerald was writing a novel and novels are stories that, except for the boring experimental stuff, involve progress.

Strangely enough, there are writers who can tell a good story and manage good literary sentences at the same time. Fitzgerald's friend and rival, Hemingway did so.

creeley23 said...

Thinking more about the pyramids, because I've forgotten entirely about Gatsby by now, I realize the problem is, since I've worked in restaurants, garbage doesn't arrange itself into anything like pyramids, but into shallow, irregular hills at best, so what real people do is throw orange pulpless halves into containers and they take the shape of the container, not pyramids.

Ann's theory that this is a literary device contrasting fruiterer with pharaoh is probably correct.

Even if you could conceptualize the big pile of rinds as a pyramid, you'd easily perceive it as garbage. Since that perception is easy, we have energy left to think about what is more difficult. Who are these people?

However, since I've chasing all sorts of false trails, the perception is not easy and I have no energy leftover for wondering, "Who are these people?"

Instead I'm wondering, "Who is this writer and why is he writing in such a clumsy way?"

Leslie Graves said...

What CWJ said: This sentence makes me wonder whether the guests, and not just the oranges and lemons, are being repetitively processed in some way during their time in the house.

The pyramid reference....slavery? Modest raw materials + slaves = pyramids?

Does that say something about the guests?

The pulplessness image is nagging at me because when I think of squeezing fruit for drinks, the pulp stays in the rind.

deborah said...

Riffing off Althouse, the pulpless fruit would represent the spent, dissipated guests, but even the spent fruit has more form, substance, and significance than them. Perhaps the fruiterer is the pharoh in this, for having supplied value through effort.

tiger said...

I shrug at your interest in the minutia of TGG but you might be interested in this:

In the past year there was a clip - at Fark, I think - about old mansions on Long Island that are falling apart/being demolished.

One was said to be the model for Gatsby's and it seems the narrator read some of the book while showing the manse and it appeared to match.

tiger said...

Did you know that when Hunter S. Thompson, one of the most over-rated writers out there, decided he want to be a writer typed out TGG in order to get something approaching the feeling of writing a novel?

Peter Hoh said...

Garbage?

Those pyramids of "pulpless halves" are potential compost.

And speaking of things arranged in their tossing, allow me to indulge in a little self-linking: floral compost arrangement.

deborah said...

Lovely Flickr account Peter. I'm a sucker for orange:

http://www.flickr.
com/photos/peterhoh
/2548085057/in/photostream/

Mid-Life Lawyer said...

When I consider pyramids, the strongest association I have is with the thousands who slaved building them over decades. In this case, I think of the guests at Gatsby's house as having built those pyramids of fruit for the pleasure of the Pharaoh, Gatsby.

David said...

I love the first paragraph of the chapter. It's all description but only three adjectives: "blue gardens;" "brisk yellow bug," and "extra gardener." The first two adjectives are strikingly fresh, the last almost invisible. Bad writers use adjectives and adverbs to describe. The great ones write like this.

And the description carries emotion, creates mystery. It's there for a crucial reason.

Fitzgerald was a natural, but even a natural had to have worked that paragraph hard to get it so good.

Lem said...

I'm familiar with a frutero with fake fruits when I was little and real fruits later on after living in the US.

Andrew Koenig said...

The phrase "oranges and lemons" makes me think of George Orwell.

Chip S. said...

"Piles" of pulpless halves would've been as alliterative as "pyramids", but "piles" wouldn't have established the same meter. Also, pyramids connote a massiveness that piles do not, and the point, I think, is to convey a sense of the massive quantity of alcohol consumed.

I'm intrigued by "fruiterer" being the word instead of "fruiter" or "fruit man" or "fruitist", but apparently that's not a word of Fitzgerald's invention.

CWJ said...

Well, I guess there was more room than I thought for comment on this sentence. I think going the pharaoh/slaves route is a bridge too far. I stick by my earlier interpretation that pyramid is nothing more than a way to evoke size without modifiers. The actual physics of fruit stacking is just too literal to consider.

OTOH, and here I'm straying from sentence to context, I note that the most "real" people in this description of Gatsby's parties are the servants, gardeners, drivers, and yes even the butler who presses the button hundreds of times. These are the only people that actually do anything in the description. The rest are just "men and girls" - existing not functioning.

P.S.@surfed, I always thought the original function of a "station wagon" was specifically what Fitzgerald describes. Don't necessarily see the socio-economic divide to which you alude. I think all Fitzgerald is trying to convey is great activity with the number of guests straining the transportation options available.

creeley23 said...

Ann: You would be mistaken if you believe that Fitzgerald didn't care about the story and its progress and that he didn't care whether his readers bothered to finish his books.

Fitzgerald was an enormously ambitious writer who was writing straight out of the modernist style. Like others of his era he had large ideas of remaking the novel, employing new language (including symbolist tricks like "pyramid of pulpless halves") and making grand statements about Western civilization and his own time, the Twenties.

Fitzgerald clicked for me when I realized he was a brilliant stylist and deeply flawed writer at the same time. He was often trying too hard to say things beyond his abilities, but he was still a beautiful writer to be appreciated on his own terms.

wyo sis said...

"Pyramid of pulpless halves" is beautiful alliteration and I think that's all it is. Delving into the shape of the pyramid and the fact of the pulp vs juice is needlessly complicated. The image is of something worthwhile being reduced by the weekend's activities into garbage. Used up and thrown out.

deborah said...

"...and the point, I think, is to convey a sense of the massive quantity of alcohol consumed."


When I first read the quote, I thought of orange juice for breakfast, not alcohol. But they both would be correct. Lemons for cooking and alcohol. Now is it three crates of oranges and two of lemon? What I think of as a crate would not make that massive of a pile; I think it's more about structure.

deborah said...

Oops, never mind Chip. I see what you mean.

Wyo is probably right, though, along with Chip and Creeley. Pyramid sounded cooler and it was really just about the sheer excess.

Ann Althouse said...

"Whatever your notions about reading may be, Fitzgerald was writing a novel and novels are stories that, except for the boring experimental stuff, involve progress."

But in choosing how I will engage with a work of art, I am not bound by the artists intent and I am free to involve myself in any subpart of what the work of art involves.

Live freely in reading.

Chip S. said...

This is a cool project, Althouse.

Ann Althouse said...

"The pulplessness image is nagging at me because when I think of squeezing fruit for drinks, the pulp stays in the rind."

I know. I noticed that too. I was trying to picture the drinks. Screwdrivers and spiked lemonade?

Googling for drinks from the 1920s, I found this for something called The Bronx:

2 oz gin
1/2 oz dry vermouth
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1 oz fresh orange juice

And here's Red Death:
1 oz. vodka; 3/4 oz. each of amaretto, triple sec, Southern Comfort, & sloe gin; splash of orange juice; dash of lime juice. Shake with ice & pour into a tall glass.

Here's a sidecar:
Shake well with cracked ice:
1 1/4 oz cognac
1/2 oz Cointreau
3/4 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Strain into chilled, sugar-rimmed cocktail glass

And a French 75:
Shake well with cracked ice:
1 1/2 oz London dry gin
1/2 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
Strain into highball glass full of cracked ice and top off with chilled champagne.

Recipes are cut and pasted from here:
ahttp://www.askmen.com/fine_living/wine_dine_archive_300/323_drinks-by-decarde-the-1920s.html

and

http://unusualhistoricals.blogspot.com/2009/03/food-drink-cocktails-of-1920s.html

deborah said...

I once knew a guy who said that Ulysses (Joyce) could be read in random order.

Chip S. said...

spiked lemonade?

Tom Collins seems like a better suspect.

creeley23 said...

But in choosing how I will engage with a work of art, I am not bound by the artists intent and I am free to involve myself in any subpart of what the work of art involves.

Ann: Again, I didn't say you should be.

Furthermore I did make it clear that I approach Fitzgerald in a manner similar to yours.

With Fitzgerald I give up on the normal expectation that he will manage the mid-level mechanics of his craft. I don't expect his metaphors to work well or his characters or plot to make sense. I don't care much about his message -- and boy does he try for message in Gatsby and Tender. I accept that his ideas are muddled and sophomoric.

I give up on all those things because I understand, like you, Fitzgerald writes good, even great, sentences and I'm there for those flashes.

creeley23 said...

Another thing: Fitzgerald can be one cock-eyed, funny writer. It shows up more in his stories, which IMO work better top-to-bottom than his novels since he is not trying so hard to Say Something.

Many of the stories are indeed page-turners -- they appeared in the "slicks," the commercial magazines of his time, that paid well and had large audiences, which have almost entirely disappeared today.

The stories provide an interesting context to the novels. They helped me tune into Fitzgerald so I could go back to the novels.

For really strange/funny/sad reading, try "The Pat Hobby Stories."

Paddy O said...

They're not the same coming and going.

Chip S. said...

I wonder if FSF even briefly considered the phrase "a Taj Mahal of garbage"?

I certainly hope not.

Christy said...

Is this what lit majors refer to as lyrical writing?

I hear every word in my head when reading novels and this flows beautifully. I don't care about the logistics of stacking rinds into pyramids. But do those of you who do care read differently?

wyo sis said...

Isolating a sentence and indulging in speculation about it is something some people like to do for mental exercise. Some writers write sentences that lend themselves to this kind of dissection. I've always wondered if they really meant their words to be diagnosed or if it's just a happy accident. Is art always intended to be seen in certain ways, or do we like it more because the artist left so much for us to speculate about?

creeley23 said...

I'd call the sentence we've been examining more modernist than lyrical for its compression and symbolism, but when it comes to lyrical writing Fitzgerald is about unmatched among American novelists and this is what drives people mad for Fitzgerald.

Here's the end of Gatsby. You can die and go to heaven on this.

Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning ——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Smilin' Jack said...

It's not about oranges and lemons, it's about five crates of oranges and lemons, it's not about a fruiterer, it's about a fruiterer in New York, it's not about piles, it's about pyramids. The point is to establish the grand scale--it's not the Gatsby, it's the Great Gatsby, get it?

Chip S. said...

How about a variant of this game where we rewrite the sentence in the style of another writer?

Tom Wolfe: Every Friday five--yes, five!! count 'em!--crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York (the only city in American where produce vendors are called that)- every Monday these same oranges and lemons--THE VERY SAME ONES-- left his back door in a ziggurat of zombie husks.

creeley23 said...

Chip S: Nice shot!

Chip's version solves the problem in Fitzgerald's version -- by all the wacky caps, language, emphasis and punctuation I know not to take "ziggurat" literally.

Whereas Fitzgerald doesn't give me any clue I shouldn't bother trying to visualize "pyramids of pulpless halves." I assume, going in, that he is presenting a precise, punchy image for me to get.

Peter Hoh said...

Deborah, glad you like my poppies. Most years, they are blooming in full over Memorial Day weekend, which I find quite fitting.

sydney said...

When I went to the link and read the whole paragraph the pyramids made more sense. It fits in with all the excess.

Kirk Parker said...

creeley23,

"However, this sentence is a great example of how that works against Fitzgerald, at least for this reader. Instead of keeping me in the flow, Fitzgerald's fanciness keeps bouncing me out of the reading experience."

That's because Fitzgerald never signed up for Vonnegut's Iowa Writer's Workshop seminar: "Use words I know."

creeley23 said...

Kirk Parker: Cheap shot!

I've gone on about Fitzgerald because I did settle on loving him as a writer, but I sure wish somebody had explained what a peculiar writer he was so I could have gotten on the same page with him earlier than I did.

I still say that that this "Every Friday..." sentence is classic bad Fitzgerald.

creeley23 said...

For my money the only American writer who could match Fitzgerald for lyricism was James Agee. He is mostly remembered as a screenwriter for "The African Queen" and "Night of the Hunter," and as a film critic. However, his novel, "A Death in the Family" is a forgotten American masterpiece.

Agee and Fitzgerald both drank too much and died too soon -- 45 and 44 respectively.

Selah.

William said...

"A pyramid of pulpless halves" is both grand and grandiose, and that's the nature of Gatsby and his parties.

Chip S. said...

I read somewhere that FSF and Hemingway had a big argument about the right way to build a fruit pyramid. Fitzgerald, of course, wanted 'em halved. Hemingway preferred to tap them and squeeze the juice while keeping the rind intact.

Maxwell Perkins called it the "to halve or halve not" debate.

Kirk Parker said...

creeley23,

Not a cheap shot; rather it was a "humor joke".

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