What is the significance of the last paragraph of chapter six in The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald?

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Michael Otis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The arrival of a New York reporter, chasing down rumours about Jay Gatsby, provides the opportunity for Nick to give the true facts (which he learned much later) about the man: James Gatz, Nick relates, was born in impoverished circumstances in the Midwest, but his chance encounter with tycoon Dan Cody, for whom he became his man friday, stoked the fires of his titanic ambition to remake himself. This dream Jay Gatsby consummated in Daisy Buchanan’s revitalized love for him. But the rest of chapter six documents parvenu Gatsby's failure to break into her world of class and privilege. The chapter closes with a hubristic Gatsby telling Nick that he can replicate the past. And then comes the final paragraph:    

“Through all he said, even through his appalling sentimentality, I was reminded of something—an elusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words, that I had heard somewhere a long time ago. For a moment a phrase tried to take shape in my mouth and my lips parted like a dumb man’s, as though there was more struggling upon them than a wisp of startled air. But they made no sound, and what I had almost remembered was incommunicable forever”.

This paragraph is in fact the narrative centre of Nick Carraway's memoir. Up until this point, it is Gatsby - single-mindedly pursuing his past with Daisy - who dominates the narrative of the past with clear, articulate, and vivid recollections. In contrast, Nick ("...what I had almost remembered was incommunicable forever".) is almost silent. However, after this scene, a gradual reversal begins to take place; Nick's fluency about his past begins to develop. This inversion of memoir Fitzgerald signals in the first sentence of the very next chapter: "It was when curiosity about Gatsby was at its highest that the lights in his house failed to go on one Saturday night - and,  as obscurely as it had begun, his career as Trimalchio was over". In other words, at the very moment of his success, when he had succeeded in retrieving the past, Gatsby begins to fade from view until by the end of the novel he is dead and gone, his memoir lost. In the meantime, Nick emerges as the central figure of the narrative whose increasingly self-aware recollections both reveal and redeem the meaning of the strange phenomenon of Jay Gatsby.

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The Great Gatsby

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