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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 entire section is 1,581 words.)