In "The Great Gatsby", what does "the automatic quality of Gatsby's answer" reveal about his relationship to time?
Here is the exchange you are referring to, which happens in Chapter 5:
"We haven't met for many years," said Daisy, her voice as matter-of-fact as it could ever be.
"Five years next November."
The automatic quality of Gatsby's answer set us all back at least another minute. I had them both on their feet with the desperate suggestion that they help me make tea in the kitchen when the demoniac Finn brought it in on a tray.
This tells us a few things. One is that Gatsby is acutely conscious of time. He obviously has kept a close accounting of what time has passed since he last met Daisy. This focus, combined with the knowledge readers already have that Gatsby came to Long Island in search of Daisy, proves that Gatsby has only been marking time since he spilt with Daisy. He has been living, he has just passed through, eager for the day he would see Daisy again.
This exchange also tells us that Daisy and Nick are not previously aware of the depth of Gatsby's attention. The second half of that sentence - "set us back" - tells readers that Nick and Daisy are startled by the information. Uncomfortable. It takes a minute for them to digest the knowledge that Gatsby has marked time based on Daisy being in his life or not.