The Great Gatsby Questions and Answers
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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In Chapter 5 of The Great Gatsby, why does Daisy "cry stormily" over Gatsby's shirts?

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Bruce Bergman eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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To add a more conjectural interpretation to mwestwood's excellent and incisive reading of this scene, we might suggest that Daisy is a romantic almost as much as she is a materialist. It is true that her materialism and lack of inner-resources ultimately stand above her desire for romantic love, yet the fact that Daisy carries on a dalliance with Gatsby might be taken as a mark of her innocent yearning for ideal love. 

Gatsby and Daisy fell in love before Gatsby went away to war and before Daisy was courted by Tom. Their story was interrupted - sundered - by material considerations. Gatsby was not wealthy enough for Daisy. But they loved each other. 

When Daisy is confronted with proof that Gatsby now has achieved wealth beyond the basic standard she might have held as a young woman, she is also confronted with the idea that she could have had it all. She could have married the person she loved (Gatsby) and been wealthy too. 

"[He] began throwing them, one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel.… While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher—shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange, with monograms of Indian blue. Suddenly … [Daisy] began to cry stormily."

The notion that both Gatsby and Daisy are pursuing a belated reconciliation as a way to recover an ideal romance is at the heart of their affair. This idea is also at the heart of Gatsby's character. He is the dreamer who believes beyond logic that he can repeat the past and - not only repeat it - make it better the second time around. 

Daisy is not so sure. Her awareness of what she has lost in choosing Tom instead of Gatsby is poignantly conveyed by her response to the heaps of shirts in Gatsby's house.

“They’re such beautiful shirts,” she sobbed.… “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such—such beautiful shirts before.”

In Daisy's mind, there is no way to undo what has been done. We can see this idea put to the test when Gatsby demands that Daisy say she never loved Tom. Daisy cannot bring herself to say this. She cannot bring herself to erase the importance of her past, however much she might desire a bright and romantic future with Gatsby. 

No one, it would seem, is as capable as Gatsby in regard to insistent belief and purposeful faith in consummating a dream. Thus we might say that Daisy cries over the shirts because she realizes what she has lost - a chance at true romance. The dream, for Daisy, is now a strained with the melancholy of "what if." She carries on with Gatsby, but there is no way to recover those years that were lost and the innocence that was lost with them.

She cries perhaps because she knows there is no way to go back and choose Gatsby first instead of Tom. 

The self-pity of such a reaction to a pile of shirts is well-aligned with Daisy's penchant for dramatics and her urge to be seen, adored and desired. Her egoism and materialism are both focused in this scene quite nicely. Clothes, a quintessential emblem of superficiality and surfaces, bring Daisy to a peak of emotion, all pointed inward toward an idea that she could have had more than what she ended up with.

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mwestwood, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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When Daisy and Gatsby tour his house, dressed in the colors of wealth, silver and gold, they wander through "Marie Antoinette music rooms" and "Restoration salons." With a voice that "sounds like money," Daisy, who accepted the marriage proposal of Tom Buchanan, who offered her an extravagant necklace, is the "material girl" of the Jazz Age.  With maudlin sentimentality, Daisy buries her face in the many-colored shirts and begins "to cry stormily."

"They're such beautiful shirts," she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. "It makes me sad because I've never seen such--such beautiful shirts before."

Again, Daisy is impressed with Gatsby's wealth just as she was impressed with Tom's necklace.  Later, in her shallow dreaminess, Daisy wants to capture a pink cloud and put Gatsby into it and "push you around." Daisy's behavior in this chapter exemplifies her shallowness in being overcome by that with does not merit such emotion, and, further, it foreshadows the love of materialism that will restrain her from admitting her crime and preventing Gatsby from being implicated in the tragic death of Myrtle Wilson.

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After the initially awkward meeting in Nick's cottage, Gatsby and Daisy's reunion picks up momentum and the two characters fall into a familiar rhythm. Gatsby soon insists on leading Nick and Daisy on a tour of his home and grounds. Daisy is excited upon seeing the grandness of the home, but she expresses sadness that Jay lives alone.

The tour takes them through "Marie Antoinette music rooms and restoration salons" as well as "the Merton College library". Fitzgerald's description of the private areas of Gatsby's mansion highlight their opulence. "We went up-stairs, through period bedrooms swathed in rose and lavender silk and vivid with new flowers, through dressing-rooms and poolrooms, and bathrooms with sunken baths." Fitzgerald presents the reality of these moments in a dream-like scene before the the characters enter Gatsby's bedroom ("the simplest room of all') where Jay shows off his collection of shirts:

  • "He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel, which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher — shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange, and monograms of Indian blue."

The scene abruptly ends as Daisy begins to cry and exclaims that she is sad because she has never seen such beautiful shirts before. Her reaction is the culmination of a stressful and emotional day. Daisy is forced to confront her reality and take stock in her situation and choices. She is stuck in a loveless marriage to an imbecile who treats her poorly. Tom is selfish and cruel. He cheats on Daisy openly, drinks heavily, and misses the birth of his daughter. She knows that she chose Tom because of his immense wealth, and in some ways, she pays daily and dearly for that choice. Gatsby's shirts, his home, and their meeting at Nick's brings the realization that she could have had more. She could have been loved, cherished, and adored. She could have lived a life of privilege and of passion.

Jay Gatsby had the opportunity to plan every detail for his meeting with Daisy. She was blindsided at every new turn of the day. Her tears are tears of sadness and loss, but they are also tears of catharsis. Daisy is overwhelmed by all she's had to process in chapter five. She does express happiness for Gatsby's successes, but she is consumed by self-pity when faced with the course her life may have taken had she chosen love over wealth.