In chapter 7 of The Great Gatsby, why does Fitzgerald emphasize the heat?

In chapter 7, Fitzgerald chooses to emphasize the heat as a way of symbolizing (and even foreshadowing) the rising tensions within the novel.

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Fitzgerald uses weather to reflect the characters and the plot. The physical heat of the weather forebodes the heated argument that kills Gatsby’s dream, destroys Wilson’s sanity, takes Myrtle’s life, and reunites Daisy and Tom.

Various scenes in the beginning of the chapter relate to the heat. Nick describes the day as “broiling,” and the conductor says it all, “Hot! Hot! Is it hot enough for you?” Everyone on the train is uncomfortably perspiring and miserable.

Fitzgerald uses this scene as a precursor to the coming misery. Tom is shocked when he realizes that Daisy has feelings for Gatsby, and “trembling with his effort at self-control,” declares that they’ll all go out. When they stop for gas, it’s clear that Wilson is ill. He has just discovered that Myrtle has a lover, and he’s locked her up to prevent her from running away. Nick remarks about the “relentless beating heat” and recognizes that Wilson and Tom are alike in that they both have discovered their wives love someone else. The extreme heat parallels their reactions of anger and illness.

As they argue about where to go, Nick thinks about the sweat that tortures his back and his underwear “climbing like a damp snake around my legs.” Both the heat and the events of the day make him uncomfortable. Even the hotel room they rent is “stifling,” and not even opening the windows helps to cool off its occupants.

But while the chapter begins with a plethora of references to the heat, Fitzgerald does not find it necessary now to mention it. Instead, he bombards the reader with one shocking revelation after another. Tom immediately confronts Gatsby about his past and about his intentions with Daisy, which upsets her. Tensions increase as Gatsby wants Daisy to disavow any love for Tom, which she cannot do. Once Tom reveals the truth about Gatsby’s past, he has no argument of defense, “so he gave that up and only the dead dream fought on.” The chapter continues with the hit and run, Wilson’s devastation, Tom and Daisy’s conspiring, and Gatsby’s ruin. The characters experience a range of negative emotions throughout.

The heat has served its purpose of foreboding the terrible events of the day and night, and echoing the characters’ frames of mind.

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Fitzgerald uses the weather to deepen the mood throughout the novel;  the unsettled, rainy and misty day that marks Daisy and Gatsby's reunion and the sodden, unrelenting rain on the day of Gatsby's mostly unattended funeral are two strong examples.

In chapter seven, Fitzgerald uses heat to help readers feel the ratcheting up of the tension that will ultimately explode in the showdown between Gatsby and Tom in the hotel room.  Nick seems almost delirious from the effect of the heat; when he arrives at the Buchanan's house that afternoon, he imagines hearing their butler say into the telephone:

"The master's body! I'm sorry, madame, but we can't furnish it—it's far too hot to touch this noon!"

But as Nick enters, he notes that the "room, shadowed well with awnings, was dark and cool."  Daisy and Jordan are dressed in white, enjoying the "singing breezes of the fan."  Nick has just come from the intense heat of the commuter train where he noticed a woman perspiring and imagined the "straw seats of the car" hovering "on the edge of combustion."  The comfort and ease that the rich, Daisy and Jordan, enjoy contrasts with what the less-moneyed have to endure.  In chapter eight, Nick will describe Gatsby's idealization of Daisy as "gleaming life silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor."

In chapter seven, then, the Buchanans are forced to temporarily endure the metaphorical heat that comes with their tampering with the lives of others—like Gatsby and the Wilsons. Ultimately, however, they can retreat into their cool lives, unscathed by the events of the hottest day of the year.

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The heat is also used to present contradictions.  The love that Gatsby is offering Daisy is a love of feeling and passion.  Gatsby is a character who feels deeply, as does Nick.  However, Daisy chooses a life with Tom that is lacking in active emotion.  It is cold, unfeeling, and uninspiring.  The descriptions of Daisy and Jordan in this chapter are that they appear 'cool'.  At the end of the novel, Daisy and Tom are enjoying cold fried chicken and bottles of ale.  These contrasting visions help to reinforce Fitzgerald's portrayal of the wealthy class.  He shows them to be without morals and without compassion.  That is why the 'cool' images are associated with that group.

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The conditions of the heat and the effect on the train passengers are meant to foreshadow the coming events in the hotel room. Typically, intense heat causes emotions, such as anger and passion, to boil over. The passengers on the train have varying emotional reactions to the heat. Some are irritable, while one woman seems stunned and helpless. This foreshadows Tom and Gatsby's showdown, as well as Daisy's reaction to it.

The unbearable heat on the train causes tempers to flair and passions to rise, and this will be true later in the day, as well. Heat is often used to symbolize intense emotion, such as passion.

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