Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis
Daisy agrees to come to tea, curious as to why Nick told her not to bring Tom. Gatsby has had the grass cut and sent over a greenhouse worth of flowers, but very nearly went back home at the last second, convinced that she wouldn’t come. When her car pulls into the driveway, both men jump up, feeling harrowed by the ordeal of waiting. It’s raining outside, and Daisy’s hair is a little damp when Nick invites her inside. He’s surprised to find the living room empty. Gatsby had slipped out in a fit of anxiety and now knocks on the front door, dripping wet, and brushes past Nick on the way to talk to Daisy. This process of setting up the meeting and nearly calling it off and coming back in again has left Gatsby feeling tense and anxious, and this only feeds into Daisy’s surprise and confusion in seeing him again. It’s a painfully awkward encounter at first, while Daisy tries to figure out how she feels, but after Nick leaves things become easier, and Gatsby and Daisy are able to rekindle their love.
When Nick returns, it’s clear that Daisy has been crying (out of happiness and confusion, the reader assumes), but Gatsby is glowing, and it’s for this that Nick thinks that they have gotten over their embarrassment and come to some sort of an arrangement. When Gatsby takes her to his home, she’s amazed by its size and opulence and walks around in a state of bewildered pleasure, marveling at the beauty of the music room, the dressing room, the salon. Soon, this bewilderment makes her distraught, and after delighting in Gatsby’s gold hairbrush she weeps over his shirts. “They’re such beautiful shirts,” she sobs, overwhelmed by everything that he’s shown her. Her sadness suggests that she was never expecting to see Gatsby again and that if she had known that he’d be rich (richer even than Tom), she might’ve married him, after all.
During their tour, Nick spots a picture of Dan Cody, who Gatsby says was his dearest friend, until recently. Gatsby doesn’t elaborate, and soon asks his boarder, Klipspringer, to play the piano for them while they sit together on the couch. Nick notices then that Gatsby’s glow has begun to fade and that the nervousness has crept back in, even through his happiness. Before Nick leaves, he ruminates a moment on Gatsby’s plan and the five years it took him to reunite with Daisy. In that time, his dream of getting back together with Daisy took on a life of its own and began to embellish itself, growing larger, taking on new facets, and transforming Daisy from a girl to an ideal. His dream was almost impossible to obtain, and now that it has been achieved he must do the difficult work of sustaining it. This will not be as easy as he hopes.
“Ain’t We Got Fun” and “The Love Nest.” Popular songs from the 1920s. “Ain’t We Got Fun” is a foxtrot first performed in 1920 and has a jaunty tune characteristic of the Roaring Twenties, while “The Love Nest” is a song from the musical Mary composed by Lou Hirsch, one of the most famous composers of the time. Both are meant to evoke the style and energy of the Jazz Age.
Economics: An Introduction to the General Reader by Henry Clay. A textbook published in 1918 and written by Henry Clay (1883-1954, not to be confused with Henry Clay, the politician from Kentucky well-known for developing the “American System,” an economic plan he implemented in the mid-1810s). Its presence indicates that Nick has indeed been studying economics very hard, though it may seem like he spends all his time partying.
Immanuel Kant. A German philosopher perhaps best known for his work Critique of Pure Reason, in which he discusses the nature of a priori knowledge, which is obtained independent of experience, and a posteriori knowledge, which is obtained only through experience. Kant developed the habit of staring out of his window at the church steeple Nick mentions whenever he needed a break from work. In the 1780s, the steeple was obscured by trees in a neighbor’s garden, and Kant found himself restless and unable to work (the neighbor eventually trimmed his trees, but the anecdote continues to be passed down as an example of how great thinkers like Kant can be waylaid by simple things like trees). Nick draws this comparison to Kant both to suggest that he’s a great thinker (as is suggested by the quality of this book) and that he is, in some ways, drawing some comfort from the sight of Gatsby’s house. It and, by extension, Gatsby himself are perhaps the only things that make his life in New York bearable.
Marie Antoinette. Queen of France, married to King Louis XVI, the Sun King, and beheaded during the French Revolution in 1793 at the age of 37. Marie Antoinette was famous for being conceited and for having no regard whatsoever for the poor. She’s also well-known for her exquisite taste and is the namesake of the Marie Antoinette music room in Gatsby’s house, which is built in the style popular during her lifetime. In other words, this music room is a period piece.
Restoration. The English Restoration, which took place in 1660 when King Charles II reinstituted the Irish, Scottish, and English monarchies after the War of the Three Kingdoms. This period lasted for approximately twenty-five to thirty years, until the end of Charles II’s reign, and gave its name to the Restoration style of architecture, which emulates the designs popular in the time period.
In the beginning of this chapter, Gatsby mentions that he hasn’t used his pool all summer and would like to go for a swim. This foreshadows a scene later in the book where Gatsby makes use of his pool, but not in the way one might expect. For more on that, see Chapter VIII.
Music. Fitzgerald continues to use musical imagery to describe people and their voices. This motif is epitomized in the description of Daisy’s voice, which was first described as thrilling and is now a “deathless song” that lures Gatsby in and enchants him with its promises of a better life. It’s important to note, however, that while Daisy’s voice may be a deathless song, Gatsby’s isn’t, and this difference between both their timelessness and beauty suggests that Gatsby will not meet the same end as Daisy. For more on that, see Chapter VIII.
In this chapter, several words are repeated on the tour of Gatsby’s house, including “colossal,” “ghostly,” and “embarrassment.” Respectively, these mean grand and larger than life; pale and disembodied; and ashamed or uncomfortable. Collectively, these repeated words contribute to an atmosphere at once imposing and unsettling and suggest that Gatsby’s dream of seducing Daisy and taking her away from Tom will end badly.
The Green Light. As mentioned before, the green light on Daisy’s dock becomes a symbol of hope and desire, of the longing to achieve a bright and dreamt-of future. It’s also, by its very nature, a distant and unattainable hope, a kind of light that can only be seen at night, when the dock is lit, and can only take on its particular shape and brightness when one is clear across the bay, staring at it as if from another life. Nick notes with some sadness that, once Daisy was near to Gatsby again, that light lost its magic. “It had seemed very near to her,” he says, “almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon.” In that sense, the green light is also a powerful symbol of Gatsby’s love.
Dreams. Fitzgerald builds on the theme of the American Dream by folding it into Gatsby’s own dreams, making the desire to make a name for one’s self and become rich, as in the American Dream, equivalent to Gatsby’s desire to reunite with Daisy. He was willing to do anything to attain this dream, including getting involved with Wolfsheim, and spent years trying to achieve it; it’s only natural, then, that things don’t work out exactly as he planned. Nick says that there must have been some “moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams,” meaning that he’d built her and his dream up to the point where nothing could possibly live up to it. Like the American Dream as a whole, it has been corrupted by money and power to a point where it is no longer real or viable.
Life and Death. Fitzgerald has been flirting with the themes of life and death since Chapter II, when the drunk party guest crashed the car with Owl Eyes in it. In this chapter, those themes are emphasized by the description of Daisy’s voice as a “deathless song.” This effectively equates Daisy with a deathless or charmed existence and suggests that Gatsby, who becomes enchanted with this voice, doesn’t have the same luxury. When Nick thinks he hears Owl Eyes’ “ghostly” laughter during the tour, it’s as if Gatsby’s house has become one giant, empty tomb.
Light and Dark. Related to the themes of life and death are the themes of light and dark. Daisy, who has long been associated with the color white and with gaiety, here transmutes into Gatsby’s dream, in the process becoming “deck[ed] out with every bright feather” that floated Gatsby’s way while he was building the dream. In the beginning of the chapter, when Gatsby leaves all the lights on at his house, it’s as if he’s trying to invite Daisy to visit, using his house as a beacon, in the same way that the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock draws Gatsby to it. This is the same green light Nick saw Gatsby reaching toward at the end of the first chapter, and it becomes a symbol of hope and the future.
Time. Fitzgerald has been subtly hinting that time is as important to the narrative as dreams, but this chapter brings time to the forefront, manifesting it in the literal clock that Gatsby nearly knocks off the mantle when he hits it with his head. It has been five years almost exactly since he and Daisy last saw each other, and in all that time Gatsby has never forgotten her or even allowed himself to love someone else. Time thus becomes both a curse (in that it seems interminable) and a gift (in that it gives Gatsby time to amass his fortune).