Overview

The narrator, a young man by the name of Nick Carraway, returns from World War I in a state of restless excitement, invigorated by the battles and disappointed with life in the little Midwest town where he grew up. His family owns a successful wholesale hardware business, but Nick, longing for the grandeur and tumult of city life, moves to New York to become a bond man. He rents a cheap little house in West Egg, the less fashionable version of East Egg, Long Island, and lives there among the nouveau riche or new money. Shortly after arriving in New York, he visits his cousin Daisy Buchanan, who lives in East Egg with her husband Tom, a Yale alum with old money. Their first dinner together upon Nick’s arrival in New York is interrupted by a phone call from Tom’s mistress, Myrtle, which embarrasses Daisy and heightens tensions in their already strained marriage. It’s clear by the end of the first chapter that Daisy is a flighty, unhappy, and insincere person, and that her failing marriage will supply much of the drama in the novel.

Following this first dinner, Nick attends a series of parties with the Buchanans and their close friend, Jordan Baker, whom Nick casually dates throughout the summer. Their first stop is to a small party in the City where Nick meets Mrs. Myrtle Wilson and realizes that she’s a vain and superficial person (just before the party, Tom took her to Fifth Avenue and bought her a bunch of gifts, including a little dog; Daisy, of course, stayed home). This party seems both quick and interminable and sets the stage for the other parties in the novel, which grow bigger, grander, and more absurd with time. This is the Jazz Age, a period characterized by jazz music, sexual freedom, and excessive alcohol consumption, and a nationwide ban on liquor instituted during the Prohibition Era has made serving and bootlegging liquor all the more thrilling. Nick quickly gets swept up in the revelry and becomes fascinated with his neighbor, the titular Jay Gatsby, who hosts lavish parties at his estate in West Egg.

Over time, Nick learns that Gatsby isn’t who he claims to be and that his newfound wealth and status are a result of his dealings with the shady Mr. Wolfsheim, an underworld figure who has gotten Gatsby involved in the bootlegging business (and, it’s implied, in other illegal activities). What’s more, Gatsby is in love with Daisy and wants Nick to arrange a meeting between them at his little summer house. It’s Jordan Baker who fills Nick in on the affair, telling him about the young military officer (Jay Gatsby) who charmed Daisy with his good looks and white uniform when she was eighteen and still living at home with her parents. If not for the fact that he was poor and had no connections and no future that Daisy could see, the two of them might have gotten married. Instead, Daisy married Tom, and Gatsby went about amassing a fortune to try to win her back. His lavish parties are all part of an elaborate plan to seduce Daisy away from her husband and reignite their relationship. In the end, his plan almost succeeds.

Tom confronts Daisy and Gatsby about the affair on a broiling hot day when the five of them (Nick and Jordan included) drive into the City and spend the afternoon drinking in a hotel. In his characteristic fashion, Tom berates Daisy into admitting that she loved him, and then calls Gatsby a bootlegger and a fool, all the while laughing at his flashy pink suit. Daisy, shaken by this encounter and unsure what to do, accidentally hits Myrtle while driving home in Gatsby’s gorgeous yellow car (Myrtle, who had seen Tom driving Gatsby’s car on the way into the City, assumed that it was him driving and ran out to stop him as the car sped past her husband’s garage). Myrtle is killed on impact, and Gatsby, who was in the passenger’s seat at the time, takes the fall. That night, he stands under Daisy’s window, waiting for her to give him a sign, not realizing that while he’s waiting she’s sitting at her kitchen table, working through all her differences with Tom. Nick sees this through the window, but doesn’t tell Gatsby about it, and isn’t surprised when Gatsby is shot at his home by George Wilson, Myrtle’s husband, who got Gatsby’s name from Tom the day after the accident. It’s a tragic end to a long love story.

Nick stays in West Egg just long enough to arrange Gatsby’s funeral and invite his supposed “friends” to attend it. None of them come, but Nick does get to meet Gatsby’s father, Mr. Gatz, whom Nick describes as “a solemn old man” who thinks the world of his son. Mr. Gatz shows Nick a book where a young Gatsby (then called “Jimmy”) wrote out his daily schedule and his “resolves”: drink less, save money, and be nicer to his parents. Seeing this, Nick understands how a young Jimmy Gatz could be taken in by a dream of wealth and status. It was this desire that led him in his youth to row up beside a yacht and convince its owner, a man by the name of Dan Cody, to give him a job. Jay Gatsby was born then, well before he met Daisy, and was driven by his ambition until the day of his death. In the novel’s final passages, Nick ruminates on Gatsby’s life and his inability to shape his future, concluding, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Estimated reading time: 4-5 hours

Timeline

  • 1907: Jimmy Gatz meets Dan Cody and assumes the name Jay Gatsby.
  • October 1917: Gatsby meets Daisy; she’s eighteen.
  • 1918: Gatsby and Daisy almost marry, then break up.
  • June 1919: Daisy marries Tom Buchanan.
  • August 1919: Tom starts cheating on Daisy.
  • April 1920: Daisy’s daughter Pammy is born.
  • Autumn 1921: Nick comes back from the war.
  • Spring 1922: Nick moves to West Egg, Long Island to become a bond man.
  • Summer 1922: the main action of the novel takes place.
  • Autumn 1922: Nick returns to the Midwest.

The Great Gatsby Summary (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

In a sense, The Great Gatsby is a novel about identities, as each of its major characters struggles to find or create himself or herself as an independent figure in twentieth century American life. In these efforts the characters reveal themselves either as fully rounded, authentic individuals, or as hollow shells, devoid of personality and reality. Taken together, the group portrait Fitzgerald paints in his novel is a fitting representation of the false prosperity of post-World War I America and, more important, is perhaps the most perfectly constructed fiction of its time.

Nick Carraway, the narrator, comes from the Midwest to New York to work as a stockbroker. Taking a home in the Long Island community of West Egg, he makes the acquaintance of his rich neighbor Jay Gatsby, who is the subject of myriad rumors. Gatsby is reputed to have dubious connections, to have been a German spy during the war, and perhaps to have killed a man. While some of this is true (Gatsby has connections with the criminal world, and he served in the war, but was a hero for the Allies), the most salient fact is that Gatsby remains, after many years, in love with Daisy Buchanan, Nick’s cousin, who lives across the bay. Through Nick, Gatsby reestablishes a relationship with her and seeks to rekindle the long-dead flame. The attempt fails and, in the end, Gatsby is dead, Daisy left in her loveless marriage, and Nick wiser and less hopeful.

Much hope is lost as identity is gained or revealed, and Nick is honest in his chronicle of those events. Daisy and Tom Buchanan are like the Bourbons of French history, for they forget nothing and learn nothing. They enter the novel as self-centered, essentially uncaring persons, obsessed with their own concerns and indifferent to the feelings and the existence of other people. Tom is having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, wife of a garage owner on Long Island. Daisy rather easily decides to renew her connection with Gatsby, begun years ago while he was in army training on a military base in her home town in the South. When Myrtle Wilson’s death places their world in jeopardy, husband and wife quickly abandon their “loves” and retreat into the safety of money and privilege. The identities of the Buchanans are shaped, Fitzgerald clearly indicates, by social status, not personal worth.

Nick is a more difficult identity to define, and, much as the seed his name implies, he is constantly changing and emerging. Throughout the novel he is a figure in transition. During one critical passage—as he, Gatsby, and the Buchanans motor into town on the drive that will lead to Myrtle Wilson’s death—Nick suddenly realizes that it is his birthday, and that he has just turned thirty. “Before me stretched the portentous, menacing road of a new decade.” In a sense, there is no single narrator for this novel, for the Nick who begins the book is clearly not the same man who ends it after a summer of carnivals and carnage.

Yet Nick’s change is more than one of experience; it is one of understanding. At the novel’s beginning, fresh from the experience of the war, he says he is ready for the world to stand “at moral attention.” Clearly, this is not the sort of person who would accept, much less become a friend with, a questionable character such as Gatsby. However, by the end of the novel, Nick is able to tell Gatsby: “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.” Gatsby’s romanticism is, in the end, innocent, despite his criminal connections. Compared to the hypocrisy that the Buchanans and the various partygoers represent, Gatsby is admirable.

Gatsby is not Gatsby but Jimmy Gatz, a poor boy from the Midwest—like Nick Carraway—who happened upon a chance that took him away from his life and gave him the opportunity to move into a different world. That world included Daisy, whom Gatsby romanced while he was a military officer in training. Later, on Long Island, after he has re-created himself, Gatsby tries to win her, and all she represents, again. Gatsby fails, and Nick is the sole honest witness to Gatsby’s heroic effort.

In the end, identity is the central message of The Great Gatsby. Is Gatsby a war hero or a gangster? Is he Jimmy Gatz or Jay Gatsby? Is Daisy Buchanan a happily married woman or one enamored with a love from her past? Is Nick Carraway really the honest narrator or a special advocate for his friend, who might be either a romantic hero or a successful, but common, thug? The answer, Fitzgerald implies, lies in human memory. People are not what they are but what they think they used to be.

The Great Gatsby Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Young Nick Carraway decides to forsake the hardware business of his family in the Midwest in order to sell bonds in New York City. He takes a small house in West Egg on Long Island and there becomes involved in the lives of his neighbors. At a dinner party at the home of Tom Buchanan, he renews his acquaintance with Tom’s wife, Daisy, a distant cousin, and he meets an attractive young woman, Jordan Baker. Almost at once he learns that Tom and Daisy are not happily married. It appears that Daisy knows her husband is unfaithful.

Nick soon learns to despise the drive to the city through unkempt slums; particularly, he hates the ash heaps and the huge commercial signs. He is far more interested in the activities of his wealthy neighbors. Near his house lives Jay Gatsby, a mysterious man of great wealth. Gatsby entertains lavishly, but his past is unknown to his neighbors.

One day, Tom takes Nick to call on his mistress, a dowdy, plump, married woman named Myrtle Wilson, whose husband, George Wilson, operates a second-rate automobile repair shop. Myrtle, Tom, and Nick go to the apartment that Tom keeps, and there the three are joined by Myrtle’s sister Catherine and Mr. and Mrs. McKee. The party settles down to an afternoon of drinking, Nick unsuccessfully doing his best to escape.

A few days later, Nick attends another party, one given by Gatsby for a large number of people famous in speakeasy society. Food and liquor are dispensed lavishly. Most of the guests have never seen their host before. At the party, Nick meets Gatsby for the first time. Gatsby, in his early thirties, looks like a healthy young roughneck. He is offhand, casual, and eager to entertain his guests as extravagantly as possible. Frequently he is called away by long-distance telephone calls. Some of the guests laugh and say that he is trying to impress them with his importance.

That summer, Gatsby gives many parties. Nick goes to all of them, enjoying each time the society of people from all walks of life who appear to take advantage of Gatsby’s bounty. From time to time, Nick meets Jordan there and when he hears that she has cheated in an amateur golf match, his interest in her grows.

Gatsby takes Nick to lunch one day and introduces him to a man named Wolfshiem, who seems to be Gatsby’s business partner. Wolfshiem hints at some dubious business deals that betray Gatsby’s racketeering activities, and Nick begins to identify the sources of some of Gatsby’s wealth.

Later, Jordan tells Nick the strange story of Daisy’s wedding. Before the bridal dinner, Daisy, who seldom drank, became wildly intoxicated and kept reading a letter that she had just received and crying that she had changed her mind. After she became sober, however, she went through with her wedding to Tom without a murmur. The letter was from Jay Gatsby. At the time, Gatsby was poor and unknown; Tom was rich and influential. Gatsby is still in love with Daisy, however, and he wants Jordan and Nick to bring Daisy and him together again. It is arranged that Nick will invite Daisy to tea the same day he invites Gatsby. Gatsby awaits the invitation nervously.

On the eventful day, it rains. Determined that Nick’s house should be presentable, Gatsby sends a man to mow the wet grass; he also sends flowers for decoration. The tea is a strained affair at first, and both Gatsby and Daisy are shy and awkward in their reunion. Afterward, they go to Gatsby’s mansion, where he shows them his furniture, clothes, swimming pool, and gardens. Daisy promises to attend his next party. When Daisy disapproves of his guests, Gatsby stops entertaining. The house is shut up and the usual crowd turned away.

Gatsby eventually informs Nick of his origin. His true name is Gatz, and he was born in the Midwest. His parents were poor. When he was a boy, he became the protégé of a wealthy old gold miner and accompanied him on his travels until the old man died. He changed his name to Gatsby and daydreamed of acquiring wealth and position. In the war, he distinguished himself. After the war, he returned penniless to the States, too poor to marry Daisy, whom he had met during the war. Later, he became a partner in a drug business. He was lucky and accumulated money rapidly. He tells Nick that he acquired the money for his Long Island residence after three years of hard work.

The Buchanans give a quiet party for Jordan, Gatsby, and Nick. The group drives into the city and takes a room in a hotel. The day is hot, and the guests are uncomfortable. On the way, Tom, driving Gatsby’s new yellow car, stops at Wilson’s garage. Wilson complains because Tom did not help him in a projected car deal. He says he needs money because he is selling out and taking his wife, whom he knows to be unfaithful, away from the city.

At the hotel, Tom accuses Gatsby of trying to steal his wife and also of being dishonest. He seems to regard Gatsby’s low origin with more disfavor than his interest in Daisy. During the argument, Daisy sides with both men by turns. On the ride back to the suburbs, Gatsby drives his own car, accompanied by Daisy, who temporarily will not speak to her husband.

Following them, Nick, Jordan, and Tom stop to investigate an accident in front of Wilson’s garage. They discover an ambulance picking up the dead body of Myrtle, struck by a hit-and-run driver in a yellow car. They try in vain to help Wilson and then go on to Tom’s house, convinced that Gatsby had struck Myrtle.

Nick learns that night from Gatsby that Daisy was driving when the woman was hit. Gatsby, however, is willing to take the blame if the death should be traced to his car. He explains that a woman rushed out as though she wanted to speak to someone in the yellow car, and Daisy, an inexpert driver, ran her down and then collapsed. Gatsby drove on.

In the meantime, Wilson, having traced the yellow car to Gatsby, appears on the Gatsby estate. A few hours later, both he and Gatsby are discovered dead. He shot Gatsby and then killed himself. Nick tries to make Gatsby’s funeral respectable, but only one among all of Gatsby’s former guests attends along with Gatsby’s father, who thought his son had been a great man. None of Gatsby’s racketeering associates appear.

Shortly afterward, Nick learns of Tom’s part in Gatsby’s death. Wilson had visited Tom and, with the help of a revolver, forced him to reveal the name of the owner of the hit-and-run car. Nick vows that his friendship with Tom and Daisy is ended. He decides to return to his people in the Midwest.

The Great Gatsby Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Great Gatsby is Fitzgerald’s finest novel, an almost perfect artistic creation which is perhaps the single most American novel of its time. It should be seen as the ultimate vehicle for the themes that form the central concerns of Fitzgerald’s career, and indeed of so much of the United States’ national life: lost hope, the corruption of innocence by money, and the impossibility of recapturing the past. These elements are fused together by Fitzgerald’s eloquent yet careful prose in a novel that transcends its period and has become a touchstone of American literature.

Nick Carraway, the first-person narrator of the novel, lives on Long Island, New York, next door to the enormous mansion of a mysterious man named Gatsby, who throws gaudy, glittering parties. Wild, improbable rumors circulate about Gatsby, but when Nick meets him, he finds himself charmed and intrigued. He learns that Gatsby is in love with Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan, whom Gatsby met while stationed in her hometown in the South during World War I. Gatsby seeks to rekindle that earlier love in Daisy, now married to a coarse, brutal husband, Tom. The effort fails, and Gatsby becomes entangled in the lives of the Buchanans and is killed, shot by the confused and grieving husband of Tom’s mistress. Gatsby’s glowing dream ends in sordid confusion.

In this novel Fitzgerald relies on a narrative technique that he clearly learned from the works of the English writer Joseph Conrad: He gradually unveils Gatsby’s story as Nick pieces it together a bit at a time. Each chapter allows Nick, and the reader, more insight into Gatsby’s past and his true character. The facts are sifted from rumors and speculation until Jay Gatsby (born Gatz) is revealed as a flawed, but still great, hero.

Like so many of Fitzgerald’s heroes, Gatsby is a romantic, a man who began with a high, even exalted, vision of himself and his destiny. He aspires to greatness, which he associates with Daisy. If he can win her, then he will have somehow achieved his goal. Gatsby’s wealth, his mansion, his parties, his possessions, even his heroism in battle are but means to achieve his ultimate end. Gatsby is mistaken, however, in his belief that money can buy happiness or that he can recapture his past. His story is clearly a version of the traditional American myth, poor boy makes good, but is it a distorted version or an accurate one? Fitzgerald leaves this ambiguity unresolved, which adds to the power of his novel.

As a romantic, Jay Gatsby does not understand how money actually works in American life. He believes that if he is rich, then Daisy can be his. This is displayed most powerfully and poignantly in the scene where Gatsby shows Daisy and Nick the shirts he has tailored for him in London: He hauls them out in a rainbow of color and fabric, almost filling the room with the tangible yet useless symbols of his wealth. The shirts cause Daisy to cry, but they do not win her; they cannot let Gatsby realize his dream.

Gatsby has amassed his money by dealings with gangsters, yet he remains an innocent figure—he is a romantic, in other words. Ironically, Daisy Buchanan, his great love, is a much more realistic, hard-headed character. She understands money and what it means in American society, because it is her nature; she was born into it. Gatsby intuitively recognizes this, although he cannot fully accept it, when he remarks to Nick that Daisy’s voice “is full of money.” Even so, Gatsby will not admit this essential fact because it would destroy his conception of Daisy. In the end, this willful blindness helps lead to his destruction.

Actually, both Gatsby and Daisy are incapable of seeing the whole of reality, as he is a romantic and she, a cynic. This conflict is found in the other characters of the novel as well and is a key to The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald uses a variety of symbolic scenes and images to express the blindness that the characters impose upon themselves. Gatsby’s ostentatious material possessions are aspects of illusion. So is the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, the light that Gatsby gazes upon but cannot reach.

Other symbolic touches illuminate the book: the ash heaps which litter the landscape between Long Island and New York, for example, or the eyes of Doctor Ecleberg, found on a billboard dominating the valley of the ash heaps. The ash heaps are a reference to the vanity of life (and a nod at T. S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land, published in 1922), and the eyes a comment on the blindness of the book’s characters, who do not fully understand what they behold.

While such devices add to the depth of The Great Gatsby, its true power derives from it being a quintessentially American novel, full of American characters and American themes. Nick Carraway, the midwestern narrator, encounters the sophistication of the East: New York, gangsters, the promise and hollowness of wealth. Tom and Daisy Buchanan, insulated by their money, do what they want without consequence, showing no remorse for their actions and no concern for those they have harmed. Jay Gatsby, like the hero in a story by Horatio Alger, rises from being a penniless youth through ambition and good fortune, only to discover that his wealth cannot buy what he most desires—and is, in fact, the very agent of his destruction. They are all American characters in an American setting.

Fitzgerald’s skill as a novelist was at its peak with The Great Gatsby, and this is shown best in his command of the book’s structure. By using Nick Carraway as the first-person narrator, Fitzgerald establishes a central focus for the novel, a character who is partly involved with the plot but partly a commentator upon it. Nick is presented as an honest, reliable person, and his perceptions and judgments are accepted by the reader. Nick ties the novel together, and through him it makes sense. Most important, Nick’s solid, midwestern common sense validates Gatsby as a character despite Gatsby’s outrageous background and fabulous adventures. In the end, if Nick Carraway accepts Gatsby and approves of him—and he does—so does the reader.

Nick’s approval is what allows Gatsby to be called “great,” but his greatness has a curious, puzzling quality to it, as it cannot be easily or completely defined. Gatsby certainly lacks many of the qualities and fails many of the tests normally associated with greatness, but he redeems this by his exalted conception of himself. It is to this romantic image of Gatsby that both Nick and the reader respond.

The Great Gatsby Summary

In accordance with Fitzgerald's epic ambitions to write a novel that expressed the vital spirit of his country, The Great Gatsby attempts to...

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The Great Gatsby Chapter Summary and Analysis

The Great Gatsby Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis

In the opening passages of the novel, the narrator, Nick Carraway, relates a piece of advice that his father gave him in his “younger and more vulnerable years”: to remember whenever he feels like criticizing someone that “all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages [he’s] had.” That his own father would tell him to be less critical of others suggests that Nick is an inherently critical person and that his privilege and his wealth (his family owns a successful wholesale hardware business) have together made him myopic, insensitive to the struggles of others and unwilling to admit that his own point of view might be irreparably biased. Fitzgerald inserts this bit of advice at the beginning to color Nick’s narration, making it less reliable but at the same time far more personal. He introduces Nick as a flawed, intelligent, and often poetic character, and the reader, finding truth and beauty in his narrative voice, is inclined to read on in his story.

Nick takes us back to his early years, relating how he grew up in the Midwest, went to college at Yale, and later fought in the trenches during World War I before moving to West Egg, Long Island in the spring of 1922, when the main action of the novel begins. Nick was disenchanted with the Midwest, having just returned from his time in Europe, and moved to New York City to escape that “ragged edge of the universe” he used to call home. In his decision to move East and take up the bond business, one can see a certain stiffness and moral inflexibility, as if he has chosen to live his life according to certain standards and expects everyone else to do the same. His friends and neighbors can’t live up to this standard, and it’s with an evident distaste that he attends a dinner at his cousin Daisy’s estate in East Egg, which Nick describes as the more fashionable version of West Egg. Indeed, East Egg is the home of very storied families, and Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband, descends from one of these. Nick and Tom know each other from Yale, but Tom, with his money and his connections, was spared from going to war and stayed at home to drink and carouse while Nick was on the front lines. Nick disapproves of this, and their dinner quickly becomes uncomfortable.

Also in attendance at this dinner is Jordan Baker, a somewhat famous golfer, who is Daisy’s best friend and will soon be Nick’s casual love interest. Together, the three of them listen to a racist lecture from Tom, who praises the theories of race put forth in Lothrop Goddard’s The Rising Tide of Color, a work of pseudoscience arguing that those of Nordic or Aryan descent are inherently better or more deserving of their social status than people of color. Thankfully, this discussion is interrupted by an unexpected phone call from a woman who turns out to be Tom’s mistress, Myrtle Wilson, calling him to arrange a date. Jordan Baker, meanwhile, tells Nick all about the affair, rather indelicately suggesting that everybody already knows about it and that it’s an amusing but not altogether unusual wrinkle in the Buchanans’ marriage. Daisy, embarrassed by this sequence of events, confesses to Nick in private that her marriage has been a difficult one, full of ups and downs, and that Tom wasn’t even there for the birth of their daughter. Daisy expresses a general disaffectation with life, laughing, “Sophisticated—God, I’m sophisticated!” with evident scorn. Immediately after this statement, Nick sees through her elegant façade and realizes that Daisy is, like Tom, an essentially privileged person, and that she has become flighty, insincere, and arrogant over time. Nick thinks Daisy should leave Tom and take the child, but she has no intention of doing so at the moment.

That same night, Nick watches his neighbor, the titular Jay Gatsby, walk out on his lawn and stretch his arms toward a green light far over the water. He thinks of calling out to Gatsby, but in the end decides against it, not wanting to disturb him. 

Allusions

"Midas and Morgan and Mæcenas." King Midas, J. P. Morgan, and Gaius Cilnius Mæcenas, three wealthy men, two from antiquity and one from the late 19th and early 20th Century. King Midas was said to possess the ability to transform anything he touched into gold. J. P. Morgan, wealthy financier and founder of his namesake company, was a major figure in the financial industry and helped resolve the Panic of 1907. Gaius Cilnius Mæcenas, political advisor and culture minister to the Roman Emperor Octavian, was well-known for being a patron of the arts. All three men have been associated with wealth, power, and prestige, and alluding to them here suggests that Nick, who wants to "unlock" their secrets, is swayed by money as often as the people he criticizes.

The Rising Tide of Color by Lathrop Stoddard. A sociological work that uses pseudoscience to suggest that white people, especially those of Nordic descent, are genetically superior to all other races, who, Stoddard believes, threaten to overthrow the white majority and subvert the natural order. In his book, Stoddard attempted to use science to support the theory from eugenics that the various races should be separated in order to maintain social order. Tom’s appreciation of Stoddard’s theories reflects poorly on him and makes the other characters uncomfortable.

Characterization

Several descriptive tags are repeated throughout the text in reference to the main characters. In this first chapter, for instance, Tom is continually described as being physically restless and somewhat aggressive. His body is described as large, fit, and imposing, with “a great pack of muscle” that shows off his physique. Jordan, the sports star, is noted for her “jauntiness” and for the energy of her movements. In contrast, her expression often seems unhappy. Her face is described as both “wan” and “discontented,” a “bored haughty face” that appears arrogant and privileged, much like Tom’s does. Daisy is also described by her physical characteristics. Her voice is low and thrilling (as opposed to Tom’s “gruff, husky tenor” and its “paternal” tone), and her dresses are described as “rippling and fluttering,” emphasizing her flighty, indecisive nature. These subtle little characterizations prepare the reader for the more in-depth character development Fitzgerald does later in the novel.

Personification

When Fitzgerald uses personification, it’s most often in reference to buildings or decorations. Tom and Daisy’s house is “cheerful.” Their lawn “jumps” over sun-dials and brick walks. Nick’s bungalow, in contrast, has a “beard” of ivy and looks like an eyesore next to Gatsby’s perfectly manicured lawns. The personification makes the setting seem alive, as if it is itself a character in the novel.

Symbols

Books. Of all the recurring symbols in the novel, books prove to be one of the most important, second perhaps only to the green light Gatsby sees across the bay. Nick’s volumes about finance are the first to make their appearance and are a clear symbol of money and power. Tom’s allusion to The Rising Tide of Color complicates the symbol, suggesting that each book reflects on the character it belongs to, illuminating some of the most fundamental aspects of their personality (in Tom’s case, his racism and his self-aggrandizement).

Colors. Some colors recur throughout The Great Gatsby, in particular white, gray, and various shades of red. Traditionally, the color white symbolizes innocence and purity, as in the “beautiful white girlhood” Daisy and Jordan shared, but Fitzgerald subverts this idea, making white more often than not a symbol of impurity when it’s used to describe the superficial, hypocritical residents of East Egg. Daisy, for instance, lives in a red and white house whose “cheerful” appearance proves ironic when one considers that she’s unhappy with her marriage. Red, rose, and pink thus become symbols of fairy tales and of falsehoods, particularly when one wants to believe that someone or something is nicer than it really is. (Daisy, for instance, describes Nick as an “absolute rose,” which isn’t an accurate description of him at all.) Of the three most often seen colors in the novel, gray is the one that Fitzgerald uses in its most familiar sense, in reference to desolation or decay. Jordan, for instance, is described as having a wan, discontented face, with “gray sun-strained eyes” that make her seem bored and excessively critical. In this way, colors function as both symbols and tools for characterization. (We will discuss the green light from the end of the chapter when it reappears in Chapter V.)

Important Themes

The American Dream. The American Dream (specifically, the failure to realize it) is one of the most important themes in the novel. It’s established early in the first chapter when a stranger asks Nick for directions, making him “a guide, a pathfinder, an original settler,” like those brave pioneers who traveled West in hopes of building better lives for themselves. Immediately after this scene, Nick tells us that he read a series of finance books in the hopes of making his fortune. Fitzgerald uses the juxtaposition of these settlers and bankers to suggest that the American Dream of having land and making a home for yourself has been subsumed by the desire to make and amass money, and thereby to perpetuate a capitalist system.

Money. Money and wealth are key themes in the novel and function as identifiers of each character’s social status. Tom, for instance, descends from “old money” and carries himself like someone who is accustomed to privilege and prestige. In contrast, the residents of West Egg, including Gatsby, are members of the nouveau riche, a class of people who have only recently earned their money without having to rely on their family’s old money. East and West Egg themselves embody the divide between the old money and the new and represent the social stratification already present in New York City (and the nation as a whole) in that time period.

The Great Gatsby Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis

Nick begins this chapter with a long description of the landscape between West Egg and New York City, what Fitzgerald calls “a valley of ashes” because its desolate houses and prominent railroad tracks make it feel like a place people would only ever want to pass through, home to “ash-gray men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.” This valley of ashes stands in stark contrast to the comfort and the glamour of East and West Egg, which in its description appears vibrant, luxurious, and clean. Fitzgerald uses the juxtaposition of these two locations to suggest that the American Dream, so deftly alluded to in the previous chapter, may be hollow and unrealistic, a kind of fantasy that misleads men and settles them unhappily in this lifeless place. Fitzgerald’s valley of ashes thus becomes a symbol of the failures of the American Dream, just as Doctor T. J. Eckleburg’s eyes, peering out from a decrepit billboard, symbolize God, or, rather, a god whose once bright eyes, dimmed with age, “brood” over this valley of ashes. If there is a God, Fitzgerald suggests, then he has abandoned humanity and turned his back on the desolation Nick describes.

Nick and Tom pass through the valley of ashes on their way to a party in the City. Tom drives, but stops part way there at the garage belonging to George Wilson, Myrtle’s cuckold husband. Tom pretends to be inquiring about his business, like a friend, but Nick knows that Tom wants to see Myrtle. Sure enough, when she comes down, she sends George away to fetch a chair, and Tom whispers instructions for where she should meet him. As soon as she sneaks away, her true personality comes out, and Myrtle reveals herself to be vain, vivacious, and shallow, not unlike Tom. Her dress is tight and revealing, and on the way to the party Tom stops to buy her a magazine, cold cream, a bottle of perfume, and even a little dog. This pleases her, and she becomes self-satisfied and near insufferable as she telephones her sister and invites her to the party. It takes place in a top-floor apartment, where Nick gets drunk for the second time in his life and where Tom and Myrtle enjoy a little alone time before their guests arrive. Once the party gets into full swing, it feels like the Jazz Age: interminable and absurd, over-familiar and superficial, and completely unperturbed by the fact of Prohibition, which should in theory make the liquor they drink impossible to obtain, but in practice drives them to bootleggers and speakeasies that sell them illegal alcohol. Nick is so soaked in booze by the end of this party that he can barely get himself home.

A couple important things come to light at this party: that Myrtle and Tom were once happy in their marriages, that they “can’t stand” their respective spouses now, and that Tom must have a possessive kind of affection for Daisy, because when Myrtle says Daisy’s name repeatedly, despite Tom’s warning, he brutally breaks her nose; and yet the couple stays together. We’ll see what becomes of that later in the novel.

Allusions

John D. Rockefeller. An American industrialist well-known for his wealth and his philanthropy. His namesake plaza in New York City (home of the building colloquially known as “30 Rock”) is a good example of his status in the New York City financial industry and his fame in early 20th Century America. His name quickly became synonymous with wealth and prestige, and Nick’s remark about the old man who sells Myrtle her dog looking like Rockefeller is meant as a satire of the New York City elite.

Kaiser Wilhelm. Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last of the German Emperors, who ruled from 1888 until 1918, when the monarchy was abolished. Kaiser Wilhelm was the eldest grandson of Queen Victoria and was related to many members of the European royalty, which makes his participation in World War I especially strange, considering that he chose to go to war against his own family. Fitzgerald alludes to Kaiser Wilhelm to enhance the mystery surrounding Gatsby’s character.

Simon Called Peter by Robert Keable. A bestselling novel published in 1921 about a priest who has an affair with a woman in France and almost renounces his faith. Fitzgerald alludes to the novel to make fun of “popular” fiction and distance his literary work from books like Keable’s.

Town Tattle. A cheap gossip magazine from the 1920s, not unlike the National Enquirer of today. Myrtle’s decision to buy it along with a magazine about movies suggests that she’s not as high class as she wants to appear. There’s also a pile of Town Tattle issues on a table at the apartment, which suggests that Tom and Myrtle have had many parties there already.

Versailles. The Palace of Versailles, the traditional home of the French monarchy, built by Louis XIV and designed by architect Louis Le Vau. Today, Versailles is a tourist attraction and a museum of fine art, but under Louis XIV’s reign and up to the years of the French Revolution, Versailles was the seat of political power in France. It’s also world-renowned for its elaborate gardens, which Fitzgerald alludes to here in order to suggest that the guests at the party are rich and self-involved, prone to an unnecessary level of ostentation.

Character Development

Cars. Fitzgerald uses cars to characterize two of the men in this chapter: Tom and George Wilson. George, a mechanic and garage owner, spends his entire life buying, fixing, and selling cars, most of them rundown and not worth much. Tom, on the other hand, drives a nice car, owns another one he’s thinking of selling, and wouldn’t be caught dead working in such an old and unprosperous-looking garage. Fitzgerald uses their cars to emphasize the difference in social status between these two men.

Clothing. Once again, clothing and physical descriptions play a big part in character development. This time the descriptions are mostly of Myrtle, whom we meet for the first time in this chapter. She appears in three different outfits over the course of the chapter: a spotted blue dress, a brown muslin dress, and an afternoon dress made of cream-colored chiffon. These outfit transitions correspond to developments in her character: she goes from being a somewhat dowdy wife to a woman stepping out on her husband to a pampered and pompous mistress who appears by the end of the chapter to be a haughty, disdainful, and altogether unpleasant person. Later in the novel, we will see her in a different outfit, and she will again act like a different person.

Withheld Information. Myrtle’s sister Catherine mentions to Nick that Gatsby might be the cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm, and that this may be where he gets his money. While untrue, this rumor is a byproduct of the mystery that surrounds Gatsby, which Fitzgerald will continue to build in subsequent chapters. By withholding information, Fitzgerald is able to increase interest in Jay Gatsby and draw the reader deeper into the story.

Symbols

Colors. Fitzgerald continues to build on the color gray as a symbol of desolation and of decay in this chapter, particularly in his description of the valley of ashes. Men there are gray. The houses are gray. The train tracks and the cars are all covered with an ashy gray dust, just as George Wilson’s clothes are when we see him at the garage. Gray thus becomes a symbol of death and lifelessness. Tom even goes so far as to say that George Wilson is “so dumb he doesn’t even know he’s alive.”

Doctor T. J. Eckleburg’s eyes. Doctor T. J. Eckleburg was an oculist who purchased a billboard in the valley of ashes. This billboard went forgotten and unnoticed for a long time, eventually fading to the point where the blue of the doctor’s eyes became less bright, but not less disarming. Fitzgerald uses the eyes as a symbol of God or of a god who stares solemnly out at his creation, watching in silence as civilization begins to decay. God, Fitzgerald suggests, has turned His back on humanity.

The Valley of Ashes. Fitzgerald describes the landscape between East Egg and New York City as a symbolic valley of ashes where civilization has begun to decay and men shamble around in gray clothes, gray cars, and gray houses covered with ashes. This is a potent symbol of desolation and decline, and it stands in stark contrast to the opulence of East and West Egg, which seem vibrant and hopeful by comparison. This is the place where people go when they have no more hope, and the valley thus becomes a symbol of the failure of the American Dream.

Important Theme

The American Dream. Fitzgerald continues to develop the theme of the American Dream, using the symbolic valley of ashes to show the readers what has happened to that dream in the modern era. Financial and social stratification, fueled by the rapid growth of industry in America, has left many of its citizens behind. Men like George Wilson, for instance, have no hope of bettering themselves, because the modern world leaves them no options to climb the social ladder. George Wilson owns a garage and nothing more. These men live in the ashes and nothing more. For many Americans, Fitzgerald argues, the American Dream will never be a reality. In later chapters, we’ll see how the desire to realize that dream affects the main characters.

The Great Gatsby Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis

Summer in West Egg is a series of parties for Nick, and perhaps the best of all is one Gatsby invites him to at the beginning of this chapter. Nick has been observing the parties for weeks by this time and knows something of what happens there: the driveway begins to fill with cars, invited and uninvited guests come and go and stay to all hours of the night, listening to music from the orchestra, drinking cocktails mixed with the juice of hundreds of lemons and oranges supplied by a fruiterer on a weekly basis; fights break out; relationships begin and end; guests swim and fall into the pool; these parties are, in short, raucous, and Nick is happy to receive a personal invitation from Gatsby himself, who sends a chauffeur to invite him one Saturday.

Nick arrives to find that none of the guests know where Gatsby is and furthermore that they’re affronted that he would ask. It’s immediately apparent that none of these people are there for Gatsby and that none of them can be considered his friends. Jordan Baker, who appears just as Nick moves toward the bar, has no clue as to Gatsby’s true whereabouts, but doesn’t seem to mind gossiping about him beside the pool with two girls dressed in yellow. One of them tells Nick and Jordan that Gatsby sent her a brand new dress after she tore her old one at another of his parties. No one has any idea who the man really is. Some say he was a German spy in the war. Others think he killed a man. Nick doesn’t know what to think about Gatsby, and this fuels the mystery that Fitzgerald has been building about Gatsby from the start.

After the first supper (there’s a second after midnight), Nick and Jordan attempt to find Gatsby and spend some time exploring his large stately mansion, meeting a man described simply as wearing owl-eyed spectacles and having been drunk for a full week. Owl Eyes points out with some surprise that the books in Gatsby’s library are real. He was expecting them to be fake, which is to say, he thinks Gatsby’s fake and this is all an elaborate façade constructed to hide his true self. Naturally, Nick and Jordan find this all rather absurd and, after shaking Owl Eyes’ hand, leave him to dry out in the library while they continue their search. Downstairs, dancing has started up again, and Nick sits at one of the tables to watch. He strikes up a conversation with another man at the table, bonding with him about fighting in World War I, before the man finally reveals that he’s Gatsby. Their exchange is awkward and unexpected and quickly gets interrupted by an important business call from Chicago. After Gatsby’s sudden departure, the orchestra begins to play a popular (fictional) jazz composition.

Not long after Gatsby leaves, his butler comes to say that he’d like to speak with Jordan. Nick, alone now, heads up to a ballroom above the terrace, where one of the girls in yellow is crying and playing the piano, devastated by a fight she had with her husband. Indeed, every woman there seems to be having a fight with her husband. Nick thinks it’s probably time to leave, and while he’s waiting for a servant to fetch his hat he sees Gatsby and Jordan, who are returning from their private conversation. Jordan refuses to tell Nick what they talked about, at least for the moment, and together they spend some time trying to extricate themselves from the party, which has resulted in a car accident that has trapped many cars in the driveway. It seems old Owl Eyes was in the car when it veered into a ditch, and the driver, too wasted to understand what’s happened, doesn’t realize that the steering wheel has broken off. It’s a strange end to an already over the top party.

Nick then makes a point of saying that life in West Egg isn’t just about parties. He also works and studies investments during the week, eats dinner at the Yale Club, and for a while can be seen around town with Jordan Baker. Unfortunately, Nick sours a little on Jordan because of a story he remembers hearing about her cheating in a golf tournament. This leads Nick to make the statement: “I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.” Nick is completely sincere. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, has already established that Nick can be a very critical and judgmental person, so he may not be the best judge of his own character.

Nick also reveals that there was a girl back home who was getting perhaps too attached, and that he made sure to break it off. He mentions this only in passing, so that it’s easy to miss it. This suggests that there are many aspects of his character that he would like to keep hidden.

Allusions

Belasco. David Belasco, namesake of the Belasco Theatre in New York City, was a theatrical producer, director, and playwright. His theatrical productions were well-known for their acute attention to detail, which included installing a functional laundromat in one production and adding scent to another. Owl Eyes refers to Gatsby as “a regular Belasco,” meaning that his entire house is a kind of set where he’s putting on a performance.

Castile. A powerful kingdom on the Iberian Peninsula in what’s now modern-day Spain. In the Middle Ages, Castile was a rich and imperious state, home to many great families and artists. Their clothing was particularly vibrant, which Fitzgerald alludes to when he says some ladies at the party were wearing “shawls beyond the dreams of Castile,” meaning that they’re even richer and more luxurious than those found in Castile.

Gilda Gray and the Ziegfeld Follies. Gilda Gray, a famous dancer and actress from the 1920s, well-known for the “shimmy,” which became popular during the Jazz Age. In 1922, she appeared in Florenz Ziegfield’s namesake “Follies,” a long-running series of theatrical Broadway productions that included dance, music, vaudeville, and dramatic and comedic performances. Ziegfield’s Follies were world-renowned, and appearing in them was a sign of enormous talent and skill. It’s no wonder that the guests at Gatsby’s party are excited by the prospect of meeting Gilda Gray’s understudy.

“Jazz History of the World” by Vladimir Tostoff. A fictional composition Fitzgerald made up for this novel. “Tostoff” may be a clever bit of word play on Fitzgerald’s part, indicating that he casually “tossed off” the fake name.

John Lawson Stoddard’s Lectures. Stoddard, an American writer, was famous for his “lectures,” or travelogues, in which he wrote about his adventures in various foreign countries. Volume One, which Owl Eyes pulls from the shelf, concerns Stoddard’s time in Norway, Switzerland, Athens, and Venice. Fitzgerald refers to it because it gives Gatsby’s private library both legitimacy and importance, suggesting that, even if Gatsby hasn’t read the books, he has the sense to buy them.

Foreshadowing

False appearances. Fitzgerald uses Owl Eyes’ expectation that the books in Gatsby’s library are fake to prime the reader for the revelation that Gatsby has been keeping secrets from people and might not be who he says he is. For more on Gatsby’s true identity, see Chapter VI.

Car crashes. This chapter marks the first car crash in the novel. It’s notable in that it becomes absurd, was caused by excessive alcohol consumption, and results in no serious injuries. For information about the second car crash, see Chapter VII.

Symbols

Books. Fitzgerald continues to develop books as a symbol in this chapter, once again using books as both tools of character development and symbols of one’s social status. Gatsby’s library, as Owl Eyes points out, is full of books that he expected to be fake, but which turned out to be as real as he is. Fitzgerald uses the owl-eyed man’s astonishment at this to suggest that Gatsby might be a fake and that, if so, he’s a very successful one.

Colors. In this chapter, the color yellow becomes more prominent, appearing in the dresses of the two women in yellow, in the paint of Gatsby’s station wagon, in the turkey skin and “yellow cocktail music” and skinny flutes of champagne that float around the party on ornate silver platters. It’s clear, from these descriptions, that yellow has been associated with opulence and money, the same way gold is associated with riches.

Eyes. In contrast to Doctor T. J. Eckleburg’s eyes, which gaze out over the valley of ashes like those of an all-knowing but altogether indifferent god, the owl eyes of the drunken party guest in this chapter are symbols of blindness or a failure to see the truth of what’s right in front of you. His expectation that the books will be made of cardboard and subsequent astonishment at finding them to be real indicates to the reader that things aren’t always as they appear, and that even God’s eyes can be blind to a person’s true intentions.

Important Theme

Performance. There are many performances in this chapter (the gypsy’s dance number, the orchestra’s jazz numbers, and the woman in yellow’s piano playing), but the most important performances are those from people pretending to be something they’re not. This could be said of all the guests at this party, who, in attempting to have fun and make connections, pretend to be happier and more successful than many of them actually are. Jordan Baker, for instance, cheated at a pro golf tournament once, but acts like a champion. Nick pretends not to think much of the parties he attends, but that’s all he can write about. And Gatsby, too, pretends to be someone greater and richer than he is. For more on Gatsby’s true identity, see Chapter VI.

The Great Gatsby Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis

Nick starts this chapter by listing all the guests who attended one particular party at Gatsby’s. It’s a fairly comprehensive list, divided into groups from East Egg and West Egg, and detailing where necessary what exactly made these guests important. One guest was notable for being brother to a man who strangled his wife. Another is well-known for staying so long at Gatsby’s parties as to be considered a “boarder.” None of these people, of course, know their host well enough to really be considered his friends, and Nick doesn’t seem to think highly of them. He lists them only to indicate to the reader that all Gatsby’s parties were attended by the rich and glamorous. This gives them a sheen of importance and, also, of superficiality.

Nick doesn’t really get to know Gatsby until he drives up one day and invites him to lunch out of the blue. Together, they drive into the City, discussing Gatsby’s past, and Nick realizes that Gatsby likely isn’t an Oxford man, as he often claims to be. At one point, Gatsby even makes the mistake of saying San Francisco is in the Midwest. This makes Nick suspicious of Gatsby, but no less interested and not unwilling to forgive him for lying, because the way he does it is so awkward and insecure that it seems he’s desperate for Nick to like him; and then of course there are some parts of his story that are true. He really does have a medal from Montenegro, where he fought in World War I, and he really did go to Oxford. He even has a picture to prove it. Having earned some of Nick’s trust, Gatsby asks him to speak with Jordan Barker, who will tell him something important; but Gatsby won’t say what that thing is or explain why he needs Jordan to tell Nick about it for him. So by the end of their drive Nick isn’t sure what to think or why Gatsby’s being so cryptic.

Only during lunch does Nick understand that Gatsby needs to lie about certain things in order to protect himself. He’s involved in the bootlegging business, just like everyone says, and has a “friend,” Mr. Wolfsheim, who is a prominent figure in the New York City underworld and who runs the business Gatsby profits from (it’s implied that Wolfsheim has also gotten Gatsby into other less savory businesses, but Fitzgerald does not go into detail about this). Gatsby brings Nick to lunch with Wolfsheim in order to earn Nick’s trust. He seems to think that, if he shows Nick a fraction of the truth, then he’ll be more inclined to help him later. He happens to have a favor he wants to ask, but he can’t do it until Nick trusts him, feels sorry for him, and hears the story that Jordan tells him later that afternoon. It’s sensitive in nature.

Fitzgerald dips into Jordan’s perspective to tell us the story of how Gatsby and Daisy first met. It was back in 1917, when Jordan was sixteen and Daisy was eighteen and Gatsby was just a young military officer in a clean white uniform. Jordan happened to walk by Daisy’s house one morning and saw them sitting in Daisy’s car, speaking very intimately. She wasn’t friends with Daisy then and didn’t know all the details of their affair, but did hear through the town’s rumor mill that Daisy wanted to go up to New York to say goodbye to Gatsby before he was shipped off to war, but her family wouldn’t let her. It seems that Gatsby wanted to marry her, but Daisy wouldn’t consent to it because he was poor and didn’t seem to have a future. Soon after, she got engaged to Tom and seemed to be happy. Then, the day of her bridal dinner, she received a letter from Gatsby and nearly called off her engagement; but the next day she married Tom, then left for a three-month vacation. When Daisy got back, Jordan says, she was crazy about her husband, and everything appeared to be well; then Tom started cheating on her, and their marriage began to sour. It wasn’t until Daisy heard Gatsby’s name at that first dinner that she realized Gatsby was in town. Jordan hadn’t made the connection.

When the narrative switches back to Nick’s perspective, it’s later that same day, and Nick and Jordan are still in New York. Jordan asks Nick for the favor Gatsby wants: to let him and Daisy meet at his house. Nick tacitly agrees and in the light of a street sign draws Jordan to him and kisses her. This is how the chapter ends.

Allusions

1919 World Series. This was the last World Series without a Commissioner of Baseball. It’s believed to have been “fixed” or rigged by a ring of gamblers who conspired with members of the Chicago White Sox to intentionally throw games. This scandal is commonly referred to as the Black Box Scandal. If Meyer Wolfsheim is really behind this scandal, as Gatsby claims, then he’s a very powerful and very dangerous person, and Gatsby would be wise to extricate himself from any and all of their business dealings. Fitzgerald uses the danger Gatsby faces to both call into question his life choices and elicit sympathy from the reader.

Hotel Metropole and Rosey Rosenthal. The Hotel Metropole on West 43rd Street, right by Times Square, where Herman Rosenthal, a small time bookmaker gunned down by members of the Lenox Avenue Gang in July of 1912. Rosenthal’s murder was widely believed to have been ordered by Lieutenant Charles Becker, one of three police officers in the case against Rosenthal. The subsequent trial, in which five men (including Becker) were convicted and executed, proved so complex that it stopped and then started up again two years later after police could investigate the crimes in greater detail. Wolfsheim indicates that he was in the Hotel Metropole at the time of the murder and that this makes it too painful for him to eat lunch there. This allusion cements the reader’s idea of him as an underworld figure and implies that the Metropole may have been a place frequented by crime lords like Wolfsheim.

“The Sheik of Araby.” A jazz standard composed in 1921 in response to Rudolph Valentino’s performance in the hit silent film The Sheik. Fitzgerald quotes a few lyrics from the song near the end of this chapter, when Nick and Jordan leave the Plaza and walk New York City’s streets. He uses the song to evoke the mood and feeling of the Jazz Age, but may also be using the lyrics “I’m the Sheik of Araby. / Your love belongs to me” to characterize Gatsby’s love of Daisy as possessive and a little unhealthy.

Von Hindenburg. Paul Von Hindenburg, second President of Germany, was Chief of the German General Staff from 1916 to 1919, at roughly the time when Gatsby met Daisy and left to fight in the war. One of the guests at Gatsby’s Sunday morning gatherings mentioned Von Hindenburg as a way of suggesting that Gatsby has unsavory connections to the Nazi regime. In Chapter II, a different guest made a similar suggestion by saying that Gatsby may have been a German spy. These allusions taken together underscore the pervasive fear and distrust of Germans in America at that time.

Character Development

In this chapter, we see how reckless decision making has led the main characters (Daisy and Tom in particular) to their current predicaments. Daisy made the snap decision to marry Tom after receiving Gatsby’s letter and nearly calling the wedding off. Tom begins having an affair almost immediately after returning from his wedding trip (and perhaps even before). Gatsby, meanwhile, has been doing business with Wolfsheim, which is perhaps the most dangerous decision of all. It seems every character in this book has made terrible life choices, including Nick, who, in moving to New York City, has exposed himself to a lifestyle that he professes to disdain.

Important Motif

Music. In addition to “The Sheik of Araby” and “Jazz History of the World,” there are many references to music in the novel, which describes names as “melodious,” car horns as “three-noted,” and Daisy’s voice as “full of money.” These sounds and musical notes enhance the lively mood of the party scenes and reinforce the fact that this novel is set during the Jazz Age.

Symbols

Cars. Once again, Fitzgerald characterizes people through the description of their cars. Gatsby has what Nick calls a “gorgeous yellow car” (yellow having been previously associated with wealth and luxury), whereas Daisy drove a white roadster when she was eighteen and started dating Gatsby. Their cars are symbols of their social status and reflect their personalities. That Daisy no longer drives a car of her own after marrying Tom emphasizes the fact that she isn’t a free woman and has to rely on men to drive her around (and even to arrange meetings). That Tom rips the front wheel off his car while driving around with a conquest of his equates him with the drunken party guest in Chapter II who crashes a car with Owl Eyes in it. This is, of course, not a very flattering comparison.

Flowers. Picking up on Daisy’s earlier description of Nick as “a rose, an absolute rose,” Fitzgerald uses flowers in this chapter both as symbols and as tools of characterization. A number of Gatsby’s party guests have “the melodious names of flowers.” When a hearse passes, it’s “heaped with blooms.” Daisy’s home in Louisville has the biggest lawn and, presumably, the most beautiful flowers. In this way, flowers become symbols of life and death.

The Great Gatsby Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis

Daisy agrees to come to tea, curious as to why Nick told her not to bring Tom. Gatsby has had the grass cut and sent over a greenhouse worth of flowers, but very nearly went back home at the last second, convinced that she wouldn’t come. When her car pulls into the driveway, both men jump up, feeling harrowed by the ordeal of waiting. It’s raining outside, and Daisy’s hair is a little damp when Nick invites her inside. He’s surprised to find the living room empty. Gatsby had slipped out in a fit of anxiety and now knocks on the front door, dripping wet, and brushes past Nick on the way to talk to Daisy. This process of setting up the meeting and nearly calling it off and coming back in again has left Gatsby feeling tense and anxious, and this only feeds into Daisy’s surprise and confusion in seeing him again. It’s a painfully awkward encounter at first, while Daisy tries to figure out how she feels, but after Nick leaves things become easier, and Gatsby and Daisy are able to rekindle their love.

When Nick returns, it’s clear that Daisy has been crying (out of happiness and confusion, the reader assumes), but Gatsby is glowing, and it’s for this that Nick thinks that they have gotten over their embarrassment and come to some sort of an arrangement. When Gatsby takes her to his home, she’s amazed by its size and opulence and walks around in a state of bewildered pleasure, marveling at the beauty of the music room, the dressing room, the salon. Soon, this bewilderment makes her distraught, and after delighting in Gatsby’s gold hairbrush she weeps over his shirts. “They’re such beautiful shirts,” she sobs, overwhelmed by everything that he’s shown her. Her sadness suggests that she was never expecting to see Gatsby again and that if she had known that he’d be rich (richer even than Tom), she might’ve married him, after all.

During their tour, Nick spots a picture of Dan Cody, who Gatsby says was his dearest friend, until recently. Gatsby doesn’t elaborate, and soon asks his boarder, Klipspringer, to play the piano for them while they sit together on the couch. Nick notices then that Gatsby’s glow has begun to fade and that the nervousness has crept back in, even through his happiness. Before Nick leaves, he ruminates a moment on Gatsby’s plan and the five years it took him to reunite with Daisy. In that time, his dream of getting back together with Daisy took on a life of its own and began to embellish itself, growing larger, taking on new facets, and transforming Daisy from a girl to an ideal. His dream was almost impossible to obtain, and now that it has been achieved he must do the difficult work of sustaining it. This will not be as easy as he hopes.

Allusions

“Ain’t We Got Fun” and “The Love Nest.” Popular songs from the 1920s. “Ain’t We Got Fun” is a foxtrot first performed in 1920 and has a jaunty tune characteristic of the Roaring Twenties, while “The Love Nest” is a song from the musical Mary composed by Lou Hirsch, one of the most famous composers of the time. Both are meant to evoke the style and energy of the Jazz Age.

Economics: An Introduction to the General Reader by Henry Clay. A textbook published in 1918 and written by Henry Clay (1883-1954, not to be confused with Henry Clay, the politician from Kentucky well-known for developing the “American System,” an economic plan he implemented in the mid-1810s). Its presence indicates that Nick has indeed been studying economics very hard, though it may seem like he spends all his time partying.

Immanuel Kant. A German philosopher perhaps best known for his work Critique of Pure Reason, in which he discusses the nature of a priori knowledge, which is obtained independent of experience, and a posteriori knowledge, which is obtained only through experience. Kant developed the habit of staring out of his window at the church steeple Nick mentions whenever he needed a break from work. In the 1780s, the steeple was obscured by trees in a neighbor’s garden, and Kant found himself restless and unable to work (the neighbor eventually trimmed his trees, but the anecdote continues to be passed down as an example of how great thinkers like Kant can be waylaid by simple things like trees). Nick draws this comparison to Kant both to suggest that he’s a great thinker (as is suggested by the quality of this book) and that he is, in some ways, drawing some comfort from the sight of Gatsby’s house. It and, by extension, Gatsby himself are perhaps the only things that make his life in New York bearable.

Marie Antoinette. Queen of France, married to King Louis XVI, the Sun King, and beheaded during the French Revolution in 1793 at the age of 37. Marie Antoinette was famous for being conceited and for having no regard whatsoever for the poor. She’s also well-known for her exquisite taste and is the namesake of the Marie Antoinette music room in Gatsby’s house, which is built in the style popular during her lifetime. In other words, this music room is a period piece.

Restoration. The English Restoration, which took place in 1660 when King Charles II reinstituted the Irish, Scottish, and English monarchies after the War of the Three Kingdoms. This period lasted for approximately twenty-five to thirty years, until the end of Charles II’s reign, and gave its name to the Restoration style of architecture, which emulates the designs popular in the time period.

Foreshadowing

In the beginning of this chapter, Gatsby mentions that he hasn’t used his pool all summer and would like to go for a swim. This foreshadows a scene later in the book where Gatsby makes use of his pool, but not in the way one might expect. For more on that, see Chapter VIII.

Important Motif

Music. Fitzgerald continues to use musical imagery to describe people and their voices. This motif is epitomized in the description of Daisy’s voice, which was first described as thrilling and is now a “deathless song” that lures Gatsby in and enchants him with its promises of a better life. It’s important to note, however, that while Daisy’s voice may be a deathless song, Gatsby’s isn’t, and this difference between both their timelessness and beauty suggests that Gatsby will not meet the same end as Daisy. For more on that, see Chapter VIII.

Repetition

In this chapter, several words are repeated on the tour of Gatsby’s house, including “colossal,” “ghostly,” and “embarrassment.” Respectively, these mean grand and larger than life; pale and disembodied; and ashamed or uncomfortable. Collectively, these repeated words contribute to an atmosphere at once imposing and unsettling and suggest that Gatsby’s dream of seducing Daisy and taking her away from Tom will end badly.

Important Symbol

The Green Light. As mentioned before, the green light on Daisy’s dock becomes a symbol of hope and desire, of the longing to achieve a bright and dreamt-of future. It’s also, by its very nature, a distant and unattainable hope, a kind of light that can only be seen at night, when the dock is lit, and can only take on its particular shape and brightness when one is clear across the bay, staring at it as if from another life. Nick notes with some sadness that, once Daisy was near to Gatsby again, that light lost its magic. “It had seemed very near to her,” he says, “almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon.” In that sense, the green light is also a powerful symbol of Gatsby’s love.

Important Themes

Dreams. Fitzgerald builds on the theme of the American Dream by folding it into Gatsby’s own dreams, making the desire to make a name for one’s self and become rich, as in the American Dream, equivalent to Gatsby’s desire to reunite with Daisy. He was willing to do anything to attain this dream, including getting involved with Wolfsheim, and spent years trying to achieve it; it’s only natural, then, that things don’t work out exactly as he planned. Nick says that there must have been some “moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams,” meaning that he’d built her and his dream up to the point where nothing could possibly live up to it. Like the American Dream as a whole, it has been corrupted by money and power to a point where it is no longer real or viable.

Life and Death. Fitzgerald has been flirting with the themes of life and death since Chapter II, when the drunk party guest crashed the car with Owl Eyes in it. In this chapter, those themes are emphasized by the description of Daisy’s voice as a “deathless song.” This effectively equates Daisy with a deathless or charmed existence and suggests that Gatsby, who becomes enchanted with this voice, doesn’t have the same luxury. When Nick thinks he hears Owl Eyes’ “ghostly” laughter during the tour, it’s as if Gatsby’s house has become one giant, empty tomb.

Light and Dark. Related to the themes of life and death are the themes of light and dark. Daisy, who has long been associated with the color white and with gaiety, here transmutes into Gatsby’s dream, in the process becoming “deck[ed] out with every bright feather” that floated Gatsby’s way while he was building the dream. In the beginning of the chapter, when Gatsby leaves all the lights on at his house, it’s as if he’s trying to invite Daisy to visit, using his house as a beacon, in the same way that the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock draws Gatsby to it. This is the same green light Nick saw Gatsby reaching toward at the end of the first chapter, and it becomes a symbol of hope and the future.

Time. Fitzgerald has been subtly hinting that time is as important to the narrative as dreams, but this chapter brings time to the forefront, manifesting it in the literal clock that Gatsby nearly knocks off the mantle when he hits it with his head. It has been five years almost exactly since he and Daisy last saw each other, and in all that time Gatsby has never forgotten her or even allowed himself to love someone else. Time thus becomes both a curse (in that it seems interminable) and a gift (in that it gives Gatsby time to amass his fortune).

The Great Gatsby Chapter 6 Summary and Analysis

Nick breaks from the chronological narrative here to provide a long account of Gatsby’s youth. He was born Jimmy Gatz to “shiftless and unsuccessful farm people.” He never accepted that this was his lot in life and was determined to better himself, and so when Dan Cody, a wealthy yacht owner, dropped anchor in Lake Superior, Jimmy rowed up beside the yacht to warn him of foul weather coming. This was enough to impress Cody and secure Jimmy, who’d changed his name to Gatsby on the spot, a position as Cody’s right-hand man, a kind of personal valet in a blue coat and a pair of white duck trousers. Before that, Nick tells us, Gatsby had himself been something of a drifter, working as a clam-digger, cadding around with women, and once, briefly, attending St. Olaf college in Minnesota, where he was disappointed with the amount of attention he garnered from the college and the students. Jimmy Gatz, it seemed, believed that he deserved better and was equivalent to the son of a god. Indeed, Nick says, Jay Gatsby the social climber and self-made man seems to have sprung from Gatsby’s Platonic conception of himself, meaning that he differentiated between his “real” self (represented by his legal name) and his “ideal” self, in the way that Plato, that famed ancient Greek philosopher, differentiated between the real world and the ideal world. Gatsby was whoever he wanted to be.

When Nick returns to the main narrative, it’s to say that for some weeks after the reporter first appeared he distanced himself from Gatsby’s affairs and saw very little of him, partly because he wasn’t invited over to Gatsby’s and partly because he was himself busy with Jordan Baker, whom he was dating semi-seriously. Finally one Sunday morning he pays an unexpected visit to Gatsby and is surprised to see Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s Tom, riding up on a fine horse along with his friends the Sloanes. This is Tom and Gatsby’s first true meeting, and it’s tense with all that goes unsaid. It’s clear that Tom doesn’t remember their brief introduction after the lunch with Wolfsheim, and Gatsby uses this ignorance against him, saying rather aggressively that he “knows” Tom’s wife, the implication being that he knows Daisy in the Biblical sense. Daisy and Gatsby have at this point been seeing each other in secret for two weeks, and only Tom, in his supreme arrogance, seems oblivious to their relationship. In fact, he’s rather dismissive of it and says, “Is that so?” when Gatsby says he knows Daisy. This social slight increases the narrative tension for the reader, who wonders how and when the truth will come out, but gives Gatsby the time he needs to get himself under control. What follows is a very awkward scene where the Sloanes invite Gatsby to ride with them to their house, but he doesn’t have a horse, and as soon as they step inside to talk, Tom, who hangs back with Nick, says they don’t really want him to come because they have a dinner party that night and he won’t know anyone they invited. Sure enough, the Sloanes leave without him.

Tom, perturbed by this encounter, accompanies Daisy to Gatsby’s party that Saturday. This is the first party Daisy attends at his house, which is surprising, given how popular they are, and she looks on it with both excitement and disdain, meeting all the famous guests, then slipping out to sit with Gatsby on Nick’s front steps. Afterward, when Daisy realizes that Tom has taken up with some girl, she passive-aggressively offers him her little gold pencil so he can write her number down. It’s clear then that Daisy hasn’t been having a good time and that she and Tom both regard the party and its guests with some reproach. Tom begins inquiring whether or not Gatsby’s a bootlegger, and Daisy briefly sings a sad, emotional song before snapping that the girl Tom’s interested in wasn’t even invited. The party devolves from there. Tom and Daisy go home, and Gatsby asks Nick to wait until the party’s over. “She didn’t like it,” he tells Nick, and this frustrates him, because they used to be so in sync. He would like her to tell Tom that she never loved him so that the two of them can run away and start over, but this doesn’t happen. Nick says, “You can’t relive the past,” and Gatsby balks; but in the end Nick is right. Gatsby’s idea of himself forever changed the night he first kissed Daisy. He stopped being “the son of a God,” as he liked to think of himself. He was just mortal and fell in love with the wrong woman.

Allusions

Madame de Maintenon. Françoise d'Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon, the second wife of Louis XIV and, technically, the Queen of France. The marriage was never publicly acknowledged, however, and she didn’t have any official authority in the court. Her influence and power over the king was wielded behind the scenes, where she was known to hold sway over members of the court. Fitzgerald alludes to her to suggest that Ella Kaye, the newspaper woman, had a similar level of influence over Dan Cody, and that their relationship was complicated but largely secret.

Plato. An ancient Greek philosopher best known for his texts the Republic and the Symposium. He argued that there’s a difference between the “real” world and the “ideal” world, particularly with regard to justice and the law. According to him, we’re able to make the ideal world we want to live in, just as Gatsby made himself into the person he wanted to be. This is what Nick means when he says Gatsby is a product of his “Platonic conception of himself.” He’s his own ideal.

“Three O’Clock in the Morning.” A popular waltz from the 1920s. It was composed by Julián Robledo and has become a major jazz standard, with later versions recorded by jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk.

Motifs

Flowers. Flowers are brought to the forefront as both a symbol and a motif in this chapter, which sees a “gray, florid man” (Dan Cody) sail around on a yacht and an “orchid of a woman” kiss her director underneath a white plum tree on Gatsby’s estate. This builds on Daisy’s earlier description of Nick as a “rose,” which suggests that the flower motif is used to highlight ostentation in certain characters.

Music. Music again appears most often in reference to Daisy, whose voice “plays murmurous tricks in her throat” and sings “in a husky, rhythmic whisper, bringing out meaning in each word that it had never had before and would never have again.” Music can thus be seen as both a fleeting and emotionally charged medium that the reader can use to track Daisy’s psychological state.

Setting

St. Olaf College. A small Lutheran college in Northfield, Minnesota. Gatsby (briefly) attends St. Olaf, intending to work his way through as a janitor. Two weeks into the semester, he gets tired of it and goes back to Lake Superior, where he bums around, unsure what to do, until he meets Dan Cody.

Symbols

Colors. Yellow and white again play a large role in this chapter, with Daisy’s “gold pencil” symbolizing her wealth and status and the “white plum tree” symbolizing the innocence and the sexuality of the lovers sitting underneath it. Then, too, there’s the color green, which Daisy subverts in this chapter by saying, half in jest, that she’ll hand out “green cards” to the men whom she’ll allow to kiss her. In this, the green card seems to mean “go” or “yes,” whereas the green light symbolizes hope and the future. By combining the two, we see that the color green is one that pushes the characters toward their desires, whether it be to kiss someone at a party or reunite with a lost love.

Flowers. Fitzgerald continues to use flowers as symbols of life and death in this chapter. When Gatsby kisses Daisy for the first time, she “blossom[s] for him like a flower.” This symbolizes both her vitality and their sexual relationship, which begins that night. Similarly, the “orchid of a woman” Daisy sees at Gatsby’s party is very clearly having an affair with her director, and their sexual attraction is symbolized by the “orchid” and by the blooms of the white plum tree under which they sit.

Important Theme

Life and Death. Fitzgerald builds on the themes of life and death at the very end of this chapter when he calls Daisy’s breath “perishable.” Throughout this chapter and in particular in the backstory, Gatsby has been referred to as a kind of god or immortal, a self-made man with delusions of grandeur that earn him the moniker “great.” His greatness is his ability to make himself into whatever he wants to be, but this ability is undermined by his love of Daisy, whom he hesitates to even kiss because he knows that her “perishable” breath will make it impossible for him to continue as a “God.” He becomes a mortal in his mind the moment he kisses Daisy. You could even say that she kills him.

The Great Gatsby Chapter 7 Summary and Analysis

By the beginning of this chapter, Gatsby has stopped throwing his big parties, in part because Daisy doesn’t approve of them and in part because Wolfsheim, his business partner, wants to do a favor for a family of former hotel owners, who come to replace Gatsby’s former servants. Daisy has been coming over almost every afternoon, and Nick isn’t surprised that they haven’t been in touch with him much lately. When Gatsby does finally call, it’s out of the blue and only because Daisy has asked him to invite Nick to lunch at her house the next day. Nick is right to suspect that this will not end well. It’s searingly hot when he arrives at the Buchanans’ house, and Jordan, Tom, and Daisy have been drinking, waiting from him and Gatsby to arrive. When they enter the salon, both Jordan and Daisy say, “We can’t move.” It’s the heat.

In the other room, Tom is yelling at George Wilson, refusing to sell him the car they discussed in Chapter II. Daisy and Jordan have both assumed that it’s Tom’s mistress on the phone, but Nick assures them that it isn’t. This telephone exchange leaves Tom feeling upset and brutish, and he flings open the door of the salon with fury before stalking in and out. In the wake of her husband’s display of irritation, Daisy must soothe Gatsby, telling him she loves him with a kiss before introducing him to her daughter. Nick notes that Gatsby seems surprised by the child’s existence and that he doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge that Daisy and Tom were ever so in love as to produce a child. He doesn’t want to acknowledge that they’re married at all. Once Tom returns, the two lovers don’t know how to carry themselves in order to hide the affair, and Daisy nervously suggests that they go into the City, making the mistake of saying that Gatsby looks cool. “You always look so cool,” she says, meaning that he doesn’t seem to be sweating, meaning that she loves him. It’s this intimate remark that finally clues Tom into what has been happening behind his back. He doesn’t take it well.

Outside, Tom insists on driving Gatsby’s “circus wagon” of a car. This distasteful suggestion is an attempt on Tom’s part to assert dominance, and it’s clear, when he orders Daisy to get into the car, that he’s trying to replace Gatsby in her mind and keep Daisy all to himself. However, Daisy refuses to go with him, and Tom ends up driving Nick and Jordan in Gatsby’s car while Gatsby drives Daisy in Tom’s car. Gatsby’s unfortunate lie about there not being much gas in the car leads Nick to insist upon stopping at Wilson’s garage, where Wilson, looking sick and upset, tells Tom that he’d like to buy his car so he can make a little money off it and move out West with his wife. He’s aware that she’s having an affair but doesn’t yet suspect Tom, and it’s this uncomfortable realization that leads Tom to agree to selling the car. It’s unclear where this would leave Tom and Myrtle. Myrtle herself, watching this exchange from an upstairs window, doesn’t hear what they say, but fixes her eyes jealously on Jordan Baker, whom she mistakes for Tom’s wife. This will lead to trouble.

Once in the City, they aren’t sure what to do. Jordan suggests going to the movies, and Daisy wants to rent five bathrooms and take five baths, but after a long argument the group decides on what may well be the hottest option: renting a single, stifling room and drinking mint juleps in the afternoon heat. This makes all of them cranky, and soon after they arrive Tom harps on Gatsby’s overuse of the term “old sport,” which he finds rather absurd. In fact, he finds almost everything about Gatsby absurd, including his pink suit. Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” starts to play, inspiring Daisy to tell the story of how a man fainted at her wedding, which took place in Louisville in mid-June, when the heat was near unbearable. Following this, Tom questions whether or not Gatsby went to Oxford (he really did, thanks to a special program available to officers after the war), makes a racist comment about miscegenation, and finally confronts the two lovers about the affair. Gatsby tells Tom that Daisy never loved him, which is revealed, in the course of their argument, to not be entirely true. She says he’s revolting, but she did love him at the same time that she loved Gatsby. She does admit that much. Hearing this, Gatsby deflates and is then forced to defend himself against Tom’s accusations that he’s a bootlegger (and worse). He very nearly manages to berate Daisy into staying with him, but Daisy, shaken by the argument and afraid of what she’s done, isn’t sure what to do. She and Gatsby leave in Gatsby’s car, and the afternoon is ruined.

In the final sections of the chapter, Nick relates how, on the long drive back to East Egg, Daisy killed Myrtle in a hit and run. It seems Wilson had been keeping Myrtle locked up in the house, waiting until he could sell Tom’s car and pay for their move West, but Myrtle happened to fight her way out at the exact moment that Gatsby’s car sped past. Myrtle, having seen Tom driving Gatsby’s car, thought it was his and ran out into the street to stop him. Daisy, drunk and a little shaken by what happened at the hotel, swerved and hit her, and together she and Gatsby left the crime scene in the hopes of not getting caught. Soon after, Tom, Nick, and Jordan, driving in Tom’s car, pull up to the scene, not realizing at first that Myrtle has been killed. Once a man in the crowd identifies the car as yellow, not green, and this leads Wilson to accuse Tom of the murder. He tells Wilson and the police that it wasn’t his car, but doesn’t say who it belonged to (it’s unclear why the police don’t ask).

Somehow, Tom, Nick, and Jordan manage to extricate themselves from the crime scene, then drive back to East Egg. Daisy’s already home, and the lights are on at her house. Seeing this, Tom apologizes to Nick, saying he should’ve dropped him in West Egg and offering to call him a cab. Jordan wants him to come inside and get some supper, but Nick refuses, and this more or less ends their relationship. After a moment, Nick begins to walk down the drive to the gate, but runs into Gatsby, who has been waiting on the lawn, watching for a sign or message from Daisy. It turns out she was the one driving when Myrtle was hit, but Gatsby intends to take the fall for her, of course. He’s watching over her now just in case Tom confronts her about the car crash or what happened at the hotel. Unbeknownst to him, she isn’t in her room, as he thinks, but rather sitting in the kitchen, eating cold chicken and discussing her options with Tom. Nick sees this through a window and understands that they are reuniting against Gatsby, but in the end decides not to tell Gatsby about this. He goes home, leaving Gatsby alone in the dark.

Allusions

Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March.” One of the best-known pieces from the suite of incidental music Mendelssohn composed for a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s one of the most popular pieces Mendelssohn composed and is still played at weddings today (typically on an organ). It’s used in this chapter to remind Daisy of her own wedding and reinforce the fact that she and Tom do in fact have a complicated relationship that can’t be so easily set aside for Gatsby.

Trimalchio. One of the many characters in Petronius’ Satyricon, the great Roman satire. Trimalchio appears only in the section called “The Banquet with Trimalchio” and comes across as a crude, arrogant man who was once a slave and clawed his way to the top through dangerous means. Fitzgerald is drawing this comparison to suggest that Gatsby is himself arrogant and unaccustomed to his new social status and also that his character is in some ways a satire of upper class ideals.

Structure

Notice how Fitzgerald breaks from the chronological narrative to present a fact-based account not unlike a police report in which he draws on evidence Nick learned from the police’s official inquest to describe the events leading up to the car crash. This jarring shift in tone and break in the timeline of the novel are meant to represent the traumatic break the car crash inflicts on the main characters. This is an example of form meeting function.

Important Symbol

Cars. Since the beginning, cars have been a symbol of one’s social status and wealth. In Chapter III, however, the car’s symbolism started to change, taking on dangerous and deadly overtones in the scene where the drunk party guest crashes the car with Owl Eyes in the passenger’s seat. The hit and run in this chapter completes the shift and turns the car into a symbol of death.

Important Themes

Dreams. In this chapter, dreams begin to lose their lustre and become more down-to-earth. Daisy calls her daughter Pammy a “dream,” implying that she’s both a beautiful girl and the real physical manifestation of Daisy’s dream of a happy married life. Daisy wanted to be wealthy and taken care of, just as Gatsby wanted to be wealthy and take care of her, but neither of these dreams are realized as they would hope. In contrast, Jordan Baker, whom Nick describes as “too wise for dreams,” doesn’t have such grand ideas of the future, and this makes her something of an innocuous character, with no threat of her either dying or falling in love within the course of the novel.

Safety. There are many different kinds of safety present in this novel: the financial security that comes from being wealthy; the physical safety of having someone watching out for you; and the deep psychological security that comes of being privileged, well-regarded, and well-loved. Daisy, by the end of this chapter, has all three, having been protected by Gatsby, provided for financially by Tom, and loved by the both of them. This is exactly the kind of security that makes Daisy’s voice a “deathless song.” She’s impervious to death because others are shielding her from it.

The Great Gatsby Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis

In the wake of Myrtle’s murder, Nick is unable to sleep. Near dawn, he hears Gatsby pull up in a taxi and goes over to speak with him. After fumbling around, turning on lights and looking for cigarettes, the two sit smoking in the drawing-room, discussing what to do next. Nick suggests Gatsby get out of town, just for a week, just until the fuss dies down, but Gatsby won’t hear of it. He has to stay until Daisy makes a decision. Nick doesn’t have the heart to tell him that she already has, and that she didn’t pick him.

It’s during this conversation that Gatsby tells Nick about Dan Cody and his past. Nick told this story earlier to allay the reader’s concerns about Gatsby’s very shady business dealings, but Gatsby tells it to Nick now to bring him into his confidence and to finally, after years and years, make another friend. Gatsby also tells Nick about meeting Daisy in Louisville while he was still a young officer and about seducing her one night. “I can’t describe to you how surprised I was to find out I loved her,” he says, and explains how the rest of his life became centered around Daisy. While in the war, they wrote letters back and forth, and when he did well and came out of the fighting with the rank of a major, he tried his best to get back to her. Then, while Gatsby was still at Oxford, she met Tom and married him. This was a terrible blow. Gatsby returned to Louisville while she was still on her honeymoon in France, and then, finding himself broke and out of work, he went about trying to find his way back to her. This process took him years.

At dawn, a servant comes in to tell Gatsby he’s going to drain the swimming pool soon. It’s the end of summer, and there won’t be any more parties at the estate. Still, Gatsby doesn’t want to drain the pool just yet. He hasn’t used it and decides now that he wants to. Nick leaves him to his swim and heads into the City, promising to call at noon. He’s useless at work, incapable of concentrating, so when Jordan calls him up to say that she’s left Daisy’s and is heading out to Southampton, it doesn’t take much for them to snap at each other and end the affair once and for all. Nick tries calling Gatsby after that, to no answer. It’s just noon.

Fitzgerald again breaks from the chronological narrative in order to relate how George Wilson, grieving for Myrtle, gradually picked himself up and began searching for her killer. First he had to calm down, and that took several hours, just sitting on his couch and rocking back and forth while he cried. His neighbor, Michaelis, who’d witnessed the accident and ran the coffee shop next to Wilson’s garage, sat with him and tried to comfort him, asking him if he went to church and wanted to talk to someone. George, who didn’t attend church regularly, didn’t have one to turn to, but he did believe in God. He’d even told Myrtle once, “You may fool me, but you can’t fool God!” He’d been looking out the window at the time, staring out at the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, the oculist whose huge billboard stands over the Valley of Ashes. This equation of God and the Doctor’s eyes makes Michaelis uncomfortable, so the two men part. That’s when Wilson begins looking for Myrtle’s killer.

He starts out on foot. He walks from Port Roosevelt to Gad’s Hill, stopping briefly to buy a cup of coffee and a sandwich. His movements at this point are easy for the police to retrace, after, because he’s walking along the side of the road, looking like a crazy person. Then he falls off the map for three hours until he reappears at half-past two in West Egg, where he goes from door to door, looking for Gatsby’s house. It’s the chauffeur who hears the shots. Gatsby was swimming in the pool at the time and doesn’t appear to have had a chance to defend himself. When Nick gets back from work, the butler, the chauffeur, and the gardener help him haul the body out of the pool. Only then do they find Wilson’s body. Evidently he’d shot himself.

Symbols

Doctor T. J. Eckleburg’s Eyes. Wilson cements the idea that the Doctor’s eyes are a symbol of God in this chapter by staring out the window at them and telling Myrtle, “You may fool me, but you can’t fool God!” It would seem, given Myrtle’s death, that God hasn’t turned his back on the Valley of Ashes, as earlier chapters suggest, but in reality Wilson is just a madman tricked by grief into believing that the eyes staring back at him are God’s, and that this in some way justifies the revenge he’s about to exact. If God has indeed abandoned humanity, then it follows that George Wilson’s decision to shoot Gatsby is a result of his realization that God will not punish his wife’s murderer. That’s why he has to do it himself.

Flowers. With Gatsby’s death, the floral symbolism suddenly takes on an insidious new layer, with roses in particular being described as “grotesque” in the moments before Gatsby’s death. Traditionally, roses have been associated with love and romance, their vibrant red colors symbolizing passion and desire. Here, the rose becomes grotesque precisely for those associations, because real love, as Gatsby realizes, isn’t possible in this novel and has only led to heartbreak and inevitably to death. Thus, the rose Gatsby sees becomes a mockery of love, and all flowers are figured as vehicles of desolation and decay.

Themes

Death. It becomes clear in this chapter that Fitzgerald has been telling us the story of Gatsby’s death all along and that he has been preparing us for it through the use of symbolism, imagery, and foreshadowing. This theme of death, for instance, has been woven throughout the novel, and it appears for the last time when Wilson materializes beside Gatsby’s pool. He’s described as one of the poor ghosts “breathing dreams like air” and as an “ashen, fantastic figure” intent on destroying Gatsby’s dreams. Wilson thus becomes a personification of Death itself that sucks the life out of Gatsby and his beautiful dream of the world.

Dreams and the American Dream. Near the end of the chapter, Nick relates how, in the hours before the murder, Gatsby must’ve given up on Daisy and finally admitted to himself that she was never going to call him. “I have an idea that Gatsby himself didn’t believe [it, the phone call] would come, and perhaps he no longer cared,” Nick says. If so, that would mean Gatsby had given up on his dreams, not just of winning Daisy back but also of being as rich, successful, and happy as he’d always wanted to be. In this way, Gatsby’s dream becomes tied up with the American Dream, and both die in this chapter even before Wilson pulls the trigger.

The Great Gatsby Chapter 9 Summary and Analysis

In this ninth and final chapter, Nick, being perhaps Gatsby’s only friend, becomes the one who fields questions about him, manages his estate, and even arranges his funeral. His first call is to Daisy, thinking she’d like to know what happened, but it seems she and Tom have left town and might never come back. Wolfsheim, too, is unreachable by phone, and Nick goes to great lengths to track him down, first sending a letter along with Gatsby’s butler and then refusing to accept the transparent letter he writes in return about being too busy to come down but all too willing to help in other ways. So it seems Wolfsheim has washed his hands of the business. In the midst of all this, Nick receives a phone call from one of Gatsby’s old contacts, Slagle, who says that someone called “Young Parke” is in trouble. Then, just as soon Nick tells Slagle that Gatsby’s dead, Slagle hangs up, and Nick is left to wonder about Gatsby’s connections to the underworld.

Soon after, a postcard arrives from Gatsby’s father, Mr. Gatz, who asks Nick to delay Gatsby’s funeral until he arrives. Mr. Gatz is a “solemn old man” who wears a cheap coat and thinks the world of his son. He’s somewhat in awe of the house, of its splendid hallways and vast rooms, and this helps to allay some of the grief of his son’s death. Nick asks him what he wants to do about the body, suggesting perhaps that he should take it west, but Mr. Gatz says no. His son would’ve wanted to be buried in the East. That same night, Nick receives a call from Gatsby’s “boarder,” Mr. Klipspringer, who is wondering if Nick could have a pair of his shoes sent along to the house he’s staying in out in Greenwich. Nick, having expected Klipspringer to act like a friend and come to Gatsby’s funeral, hangs up in disgust and doesn’t send him the shoes. He doesn’t want Mr. Gatz to be the only other person at the funeral, so he attempts once more to reach Wolfsheim, calling on him at a building belonging to “The Swastika Holding Company.” (Wolfsheim is, of course, Jewish.) Wolfsheim reminisces about first meeting Gatsby and using him to further his own business dealings, but in the end refuses the invitation to the funeral. “I can’t get mixed up in it,” he says. So that’s that.

Right before the funeral, Mr. Gatz shows Nick a photograph Gatsby had sent him of the estate in West Egg. It’s smudged all over, as if Mr. Gatz had been showing it off back home, boasting about his rich and successful son. He also shows Nick a copy of an old book in which Gatsby had written out his daily schedule: 6:00 AM, rise from bed. Practice elocution, 6:00 - 6:00 PM. He’d also written out his “resolves” in a list: no more smoking. Bath every other day. Be better to parents. It’s easy to see how a boy this regimented could’ve had success in the military and how he was able to then move up in the world. Nick is still thinking about this when the funeral begins and Owl Eyes joins them at the grave. He doesn’t know how Owl Eyes knew about the funeral. It’s a solemn little affair.

Nick again breaks from the chronological narrative to tell us what he loves about the Midwest, and to explain how, after Gatsby’s death, New York and the East Coast lost its allure. He sees West Egg as a kind of fantastic landscape where life is vivid, exciting, and fast, but also, like a painting by El Greco, grotesque and lustreless, full of cold, rich figures who seem to haunt the landscape the way Gatsby’s death haunts Nick. He leaves the East after Gatsby’s murder and never returns. But before he goes he has a chat with Jordan Baker. Their relationship has left a mark on him, and he’s still half in love with her. It seems they were both half in love and had been surprised and a little bit exhilarated by it. Now Jordan doesn’t care about Nick at all, and what’s more, she doesn’t think that he’s a very nice guy. “I thought you were rather an honest, straightforward person.” This recalls Nick’s earlier insistence that he is one of the few honest people he’s ever known. Compared to all the other characters in the novel, he certainly is. But that isn’t really a compliment.

Nick also mentions how, years later, he runs into Tom in the streets of Chicago and learns that he was the one who told Wilson about Gatsby and fingered him as the murderer. Even worse, Tom seems to feel no remorse about it at all. He even says, “That fellow had it coming to him,” which is just what you’d expect from someone like Tom.

On Nick’s last night in West Egg, with his trunk packed and his car sold, he walks out onto the lawn, staring out across the water and thinking about the green light. Gatsby believed in it, he says, perhaps too much, and though it drove him ceaselessly toward the future, in the end, he wasn’t able to achieve his dream. Still, Nick says, we continue to reach for it. “So we beat on,” he says, “boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Allusions

El Greco. The nickname of Doménikos Theotokópoulos, a Greek and Spanish painter from the Spanish Renaissance perhaps best known for his works The Burial of the Count of Orgaz and View of Toledo. His paintings have a dark, haunting quality that Nick alludes to when he discusses how West Egg and New York were ruined for him after Gatsby’s death.

James J. Hill. A Canadian-American railroad tycoon and executive, the CEO of a family of lines led by Great Northern Railway. His nickname was “The Empire Builder,” which is now the name of the train route operated by Amtrak that runs from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest. Mr. Gatz alludes to him to suggest that Gatsby could have been as rich and powerful as James J. Hill, if he’d lived long enough. This is the last of many such allusions to wealthy entrepreneurs in this novel, all of which when taken together can be seen as prototypes for the man Gatsby wanted to be.

Hop-along Cassidy by Clarence E. Mulford. One in a series of popular cowboy books all centered around the title character. Gatsby writes his schedule out in the back of the book, where he also lists his “resolves.” It’s very telling that the young Jimmy Gatz wrote all of this in a dimestore cowboy novel. It’s proof that he was an adventurous, ambitious young man determined to make his own way, and that he believed in the traditional gender roles espoused by Hop-along Cassidy, who had a weakness for damsels in distress, just as Gatsby does.

Important Symbol

The Green Light. This light, an established symbol of the American Dream, shines again at the very end of this novel, as Nick stands on Gatsby’s lawn and considers his friend’s shattered dreams. He says, “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes from us,” as if simply by reaching for something more we get further and further away from it. This longing to live better lives and become better (or greater) people drives us all, and there’s nothing we can do to stop this. That’s why the light is fixed in the distance while we’re borne back into the past.

Themes

Home. Given that Gatsby ran away from his parents as a teenager and bought his house with money earned from bootlegging, the traditional idea of “home” doesn’t apply in this novel. Most of the main characters are itinerant in the sense that they decide first where they want to make their home and then go there, leaving everyone behind and remaking their lives anew. Nick does it. Gatsby does it. Even Tom and Daisy, who have already had to leave Chicago because of one scandal, leave East Egg in a hurry, packing their things the day after Myrtle’s death. Everyone is in a constant state of motion, and no one, not even Gatsby’s party guests, appears to have a home. Like Klipspringer, they all go wherever is most convenient. Only Gatsby, who has spent his entire life trying to get to West Egg, decides to stay, risking retribution for Myrtle’s death, in the hopes that Daisy will choose him over Tom. West Egg isn’t really his home, but it is where he ends up, and, in this novel, that’s enough.

Honesty. Fitzgerald again raises the question of truth when Jordan tells Nick that she thought he was an “honest, straightforward person.” At this point in the narrative, the reader already knows, from Nick’s previous statement about being one of the few honest people he has ever met, that he isn’t the most reliable narrator and that he may also be a liar, though of a different kind. Nick is a character who likes to hold himself above others and judge them based on his own personal standards, but this doesn’t necessarily make him honest. One might even make the argument that there are no honest characters in this novel.

Safety. In addition to accusing Nick of being a less than honest person, Jordan also reminds him that he once said “a bad driver [is] only safe until she [meets] another bad driver.” This statement refers in part to Daisy and the car accident but also to Nick and Jordan, who are, emotionally speaking, bad drivers, incapable of maintaining control over their own feelings. Thus, safety, which has previously been discussed in terms of one’s wealth and privilege, here becomes a question of one’s ability to remain safe or avoid accidents. Neither Nick nor Jordan can avoid accidents. And, indeed, no one in this novel can.