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“When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart”

Does "at a sort of moral attention" mean the same moral level or something else? What's the meaning of "riotous excursions"? I cannot find this phrase in a dictionary.

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You will not find such phrases in a dictionary, they are made by the author. –  asymptotically Aug 5 '12 at 12:44
    
Thanks for your comment.Then,what does it imply,could you give me an explaintion? –  withparadox2 Aug 5 '12 at 12:48
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2 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

“At a moral attention” is a military allusion, along with “in uniform”. To be “at attention” means to be in a formal military position. Its opposite is “at ease”. So, to be “at a moral attention” means to display a heightened moral behaviour or alertness, I would say.

“Riotous excursions” does not play on any idioms, by contrast. “Excursions”, here, are forays, or adventures, and “riotous” means wild and uncontrolled.

I’m not a great Gatsby fan, but you’ve selected a very elegant sentence here: two well crafted military allusions before the semicolon; and after it, the three adjective-noun pairs, “riotous excursions”, “privileged glimpses”, “human heart”, that come in an almost iambic rhythm.

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You're not a great Gatsby fan, or you're not a Great Gatsby fan? :) –  asymptotically Aug 5 '12 at 12:51
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I’m going to have to let you stew in that ambiguity I’m afraid ;-) –  Daniel Harbour Aug 5 '12 at 13:12
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When Gatsby came back from the war, his whole perception changed. His military training dominated his lifestyle and behavior because with it he felt at peace and was comforted by a familiar site. The reason he doesn't want to see "glimpses of the human heart" is because in the military they train you to kill your senses of morality or to simply become heartless and not experience emotion because in the battlefield there is no room for it.

Also because we associate the heart mostly with pain and love, the fact that when he comes back from the war and finds his only lover with another man causes him to feel pain and intense love (meaning he still loved her no matter what). He also means "riotous" in the sense that the situation is not under control or at least he doesn't have the mental aspect of his surroundings in check, because with military training comes order and balance.

This quote is set on experiencing the twin emotions of love and pain. A key phrase would be "enough is enough, I wish to have no more to do with this" because it is beyond his control. This is how I interpreted my all-time favorite Gatsby quote (of course not in complete full detail).

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I haven't read much of this novel,but here this quote should be a description about Nick,who is the first person in the novel.If there is anything wrong with my opinion,feel free to point it out. –  withparadox2 Aug 6 '12 at 9:54
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I can see you have put some thought into this answer, but the question specifically asked about "moral attention" and "riotous excursions" which you haven't really addressed here. –  KitFox Aug 6 '12 at 12:51
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