At the beginning of Chapter One, Nick reflects,
I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart
But, after seeing "two old friends whom I scarcely knew at all, Nick finds himself taking just such an excursion as he passes through the Valley of Ashes where he views "grotesque gardens" and is jolted by the images of an industrial wasteland and an abandoned billboard of an oculist, Dr. T.J. Ecklebrug, who eyes are “dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain,” brooding “over the solemn dumping ground"--eyes not unlike those of George Wilson who lives in this area. It is there at Wilson's garage that Tom stops on the pretense of purchasing a car from Wilson; his real motive is to alert Mrytle that he is headed to New York City. Later, Tom finds himself on the train, and Mrytle Wilson, Tom's mistress, is seated discreetly in another car.
Once at the hotel, Nick becomes both an observer of the action, and a minor participant, deciding he is both “within and without” that hotel room, “simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life"--this is why his perspective is one that is a bit confused. In addition, while Mrytle is dressed fashionably, and converts to "impressive hauteur," complaining that the help at the hotel is shiftless yet, when asked about her husband, Mrs. Wilson's answer is "violent and obscene."Tom, then, mocks her social status telling Mr. McKee that Mrytle can give him a letter of introduction. Incongruously, she explains that she married Wilson because she thought he was a gentleman:
"I thought he knew something about breeding but he wasn't fit to lick my shoe."
It is shortly after this statement that Mrytle initiates an argument with Tom as she says Daisy's name and Tom breaks her nose. The room is filled with confusion; there are bloody towels, "Town Tattle" is spread over "the tapestry scenes of Versailles." Nick then finds himself in McKee's room standing beside his bed while McKee sits up between the sheets "clad in his underwear." Shortly after this, Nick finds himself inebriated in the cold lower level of Pennsylvania Station, where he later realizes that things have not been what they have seemed.