Download The Great Gatsby Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis

Nick starts this chapter by listing all the guests who attended one particular party at Gatsby’s. It’s a fairly comprehensive list, divided into groups from East Egg and West Egg, and detailing where necessary what exactly made these guests important. One guest was notable for being brother to a man who strangled his wife. Another is well-known for staying so long at Gatsby’s parties as to be considered a “boarder.” None of these people, of course, know their host well enough to really be considered his friends, and Nick doesn’t seem to think highly of them. He lists them only to indicate to the reader that all Gatsby’s parties were attended by the rich and glamorous. This gives them a sheen of importance and, also, of superficiality.

Nick doesn’t really get to know Gatsby until he drives up one day and invites him to lunch out of the blue. Together, they drive into the City, discussing Gatsby’s past, and Nick realizes that Gatsby likely isn’t an Oxford man, as he often claims to be. At one point, Gatsby even makes the mistake of saying San Francisco is in the Midwest. This makes Nick suspicious of Gatsby, but no less interested and not unwilling to forgive him for lying, because the way he does it is so awkward and insecure that it seems he’s desperate for Nick to like him; and then of course there are some parts of his story that are true. He really does have a medal from Montenegro, where he fought in World War I, and he really did go to Oxford. He even has a picture to prove it. Having earned some of Nick’s trust, Gatsby asks him to speak with Jordan Barker, who will tell him something important; but Gatsby won’t say what that thing is or explain why he needs Jordan to tell Nick about it for him. So by the end of their drive Nick isn’t sure what to think or why Gatsby’s being so cryptic.

Only during lunch does Nick understand that Gatsby needs to lie about certain things in order to protect himself. He’s involved in the bootlegging business, just like everyone says, and has a “friend,” Mr. Wolfsheim, who is a prominent figure in the New York City underworld and who runs the business Gatsby profits from (it’s implied that Wolfsheim has also gotten Gatsby into other less savory businesses, but Fitzgerald does not go into detail about this). Gatsby brings Nick to lunch with Wolfsheim in order to earn Nick’s trust. He seems to think that, if he shows Nick a fraction of the truth, then he’ll be more inclined to help him later. He happens to have a favor he wants to ask, but he can’t do it until Nick trusts him, feels sorry for him, and hears the story that Jordan tells him later that afternoon. It’s sensitive in nature.

Fitzgerald dips into Jordan’s perspective to tell us the story of how Gatsby and Daisy first met. It was back in 1917, when Jordan was sixteen and Daisy was eighteen and Gatsby was just a young military officer in a clean white uniform. Jordan happened to walk by Daisy’s house one morning and saw them sitting in Daisy’s car, speaking very intimately. She wasn’t friends with Daisy then and didn’t know all the details of their affair, but did hear through the town’s rumor mill that Daisy wanted to go up to New York to say goodbye to Gatsby before he was shipped off to war, but her family wouldn’t let her. It seems that Gatsby wanted to marry her, but Daisy wouldn’t consent to it because he was poor and didn’t seem to have a future. Soon after, she got engaged to Tom and seemed to be happy. Then, the day of her bridal dinner, she received a letter from Gatsby and nearly called off her engagement; but the next day she married Tom, then left for a three-month vacation. When Daisy got back, Jordan says, she was crazy about her husband, and everything appeared to be well; then Tom started cheating on her, and their marriage began to sour. It wasn’t until Daisy heard Gatsby’s name at that first dinner that she realized Gatsby was in town. Jordan hadn’t made the...

(The entire section is 1,661 words.)