Chapter 6 Summary and Analysis
Nick breaks from the chronological narrative here to provide a long account of Gatsby’s youth. He was born Jimmy Gatz to “shiftless and unsuccessful farm people.” He never accepted that this was his lot in life and was determined to better himself, and so when Dan Cody, a wealthy yacht owner, dropped anchor in Lake Superior, Jimmy rowed up beside the yacht to warn him of foul weather coming. This was enough to impress Cody and secure Jimmy, who’d changed his name to Gatsby on the spot, a position as Cody’s right-hand man, a kind of personal valet in a blue coat and a pair of white duck trousers. Before that, Nick tells us, Gatsby had himself been something of a drifter, working as a clam-digger, cadding around with women, and once, briefly, attending St. Olaf college in Minnesota, where he was disappointed with the amount of attention he garnered from the college and the students. Jimmy Gatz, it seemed, believed that he deserved better and was equivalent to the son of a god. Indeed, Nick says, Jay Gatsby the social climber and self-made man seems to have sprung from Gatsby’s Platonic conception of himself, meaning that he differentiated between his “real” self (represented by his legal name) and his “ideal” self, in the way that Plato, that famed ancient Greek philosopher, differentiated between the real world and the ideal world. Gatsby was whoever he wanted to be.
When Nick returns to the main narrative, it’s to say that for some weeks after the reporter first appeared he distanced himself from Gatsby’s affairs and saw very little of him, partly because he wasn’t invited over to Gatsby’s and partly because he was himself busy with Jordan Baker, whom he was dating semi-seriously. Finally one Sunday morning he pays an unexpected visit to Gatsby and is surprised to see Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s Tom, riding up on a fine horse along with his friends the Sloanes. This is Tom and Gatsby’s first true meeting, and it’s tense with all that goes unsaid. It’s clear that Tom doesn’t remember their brief introduction after the lunch with Wolfsheim, and Gatsby uses this ignorance against him, saying rather aggressively that he “knows” Tom’s wife, the implication being that he knows Daisy in the Biblical sense. Daisy and Gatsby have at this point been seeing each other in secret for two weeks, and only Tom, in his supreme arrogance, seems oblivious to their relationship. In fact, he’s rather dismissive of it and says, “Is that so?” when Gatsby says he knows Daisy. This social slight increases the narrative tension for the reader, who wonders how and when the truth will come out, but gives Gatsby the time he needs to get himself under control. What follows is a very awkward scene where the Sloanes invite Gatsby to ride with them to their house, but he doesn’t have a horse, and as soon as they step inside to talk, Tom, who hangs back with Nick, says they don’t really want him to come because they have a dinner party that night and he won’t know anyone they invited. Sure enough, the Sloanes leave without him.
Tom, perturbed by this encounter, accompanies Daisy to Gatsby’s party that Saturday. This is the first party Daisy attends at his house, which is surprising, given how popular they are, and she looks on it with both excitement and disdain, meeting all the famous guests, then slipping out to sit with Gatsby on Nick’s front steps. Afterward, when Daisy realizes that Tom has taken up with some girl, she passive-aggressively offers him her little gold pencil so he can write her number down. It’s clear then that Daisy hasn’t been having a good time and that she and Tom both regard the party and its guests with some reproach. Tom begins inquiring whether or not Gatsby’s a bootlegger, and Daisy briefly sings a sad, emotional song before snapping that the girl Tom’s interested in wasn’t even invited. The party devolves from there. Tom and Daisy go home, and Gatsby asks Nick to wait until the party’s over. “She didn’t like it,” he tells Nick, and this frustrates him, because they used to be so in sync. He would like her to tell Tom that she never loved him so that the two of them can run away and start over, but this doesn’t happen. Nick says, “You can’t relive the past,” and Gatsby balks; but in the end Nick is right. Gatsby’s idea of himself forever changed the night he first kissed Daisy. He stopped being “the son of a God,” as he liked to think of himself. He was just mortal and fell in love with the wrong woman.
Madame de Maintenon. Françoise d'Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon, the second wife of Louis XIV and, technically, the Queen of France. The marriage was never publicly acknowledged, however, and she didn’t have any official authority in the court. Her influence and power over the king was wielded behind the scenes, where she was known to hold sway over members of the court. Fitzgerald alludes to her to suggest that Ella Kaye, the newspaper woman, had a similar level of influence over Dan Cody, and that their relationship was complicated but largely secret.
Plato. An ancient Greek philosopher best known for his texts the Republic and the Symposium. He argued that there’s a difference between the “real” world and the “ideal” world, particularly with regard to justice and the law. According to him, we’re able to make the ideal world we want to live in, just as Gatsby made himself into the person he wanted to be. This is what Nick means when he says Gatsby is a product of his “Platonic conception of himself.” He’s his own ideal.
“Three O’Clock in the Morning.” A popular waltz from the 1920s. It was composed by Julián Robledo and has become a major jazz standard, with later versions recorded by jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk.
Flowers. Flowers are brought to the forefront as both a symbol and a motif in this chapter, which sees a “gray, florid man” (Dan Cody) sail around on a yacht and an “orchid of a woman” kiss her director underneath a white plum tree on Gatsby’s estate. This builds on Daisy’s earlier description of Nick as a “rose,” which suggests that the flower motif is used to highlight ostentation in certain characters.
Music. Music again appears most often in reference to Daisy, whose voice “plays murmurous tricks in her throat” and sings “in a husky, rhythmic whisper, bringing out meaning in each word that it had never had before and would never have again.” Music can thus be seen as both a fleeting and emotionally charged medium that the reader can use to track Daisy’s psychological state.
St. Olaf College. A small Lutheran college in Northfield, Minnesota. Gatsby (briefly) attends St. Olaf, intending to work his way through as a janitor. Two weeks into the semester, he gets tired of it and goes back to Lake Superior, where he bums around, unsure what to do, until he meets Dan Cody.
Colors. Yellow and white again play a large role in this chapter, with Daisy’s “gold pencil” symbolizing her wealth and status and the “white plum tree” symbolizing the innocence and the sexuality of the lovers sitting underneath it. Then, too, there’s the color green, which Daisy subverts in this chapter by saying, half in jest, that she’ll hand out “green cards” to the men whom she’ll allow to kiss her. In this, the green card seems to mean “go” or “yes,” whereas the green light symbolizes hope and the future. By combining the two, we see that the color green is one that pushes the characters toward their desires, whether it be to kiss someone at a party or reunite with a lost love.
Flowers. Fitzgerald continues to use flowers as symbols of life and death in this chapter. When Gatsby kisses Daisy for the first time, she “blossom[s] for him like a flower.” This symbolizes both her vitality and their sexual relationship, which begins that night. Similarly, the “orchid of a woman” Daisy sees at Gatsby’s party is very clearly having an affair with her director, and their sexual attraction is symbolized by the “orchid” and by the blooms of the white plum tree under which they sit.
Life and Death. Fitzgerald builds on the themes of life and death at the very end of this chapter when he calls Daisy’s breath “perishable.” Throughout this chapter and in particular in the backstory, Gatsby has been referred to as a kind of god or immortal, a self-made man with delusions of grandeur that earn him the moniker “great.” His greatness is his ability to make himself into whatever he wants to be, but this ability is undermined by his love of Daisy, whom he hesitates to even kiss because he knows that her “perishable” breath will make it impossible for him to continue as a “God.” He becomes a mortal in his mind the moment he kisses Daisy. You could even say that she kills him.