Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis
In the wake of Myrtle’s murder, Nick is unable to sleep. Near dawn, he hears Gatsby pull up in a taxi and goes over to speak with him. After fumbling around, turning on lights and looking for cigarettes, the two sit smoking in the drawing-room, discussing what to do next. Nick suggests Gatsby get out of town, just for a week, just until the fuss dies down, but Gatsby won’t hear of it. He has to stay until Daisy makes a decision. Nick doesn’t have the heart to tell him that she already has, and that she didn’t pick him.
It’s during this conversation that Gatsby tells Nick about Dan Cody and his past. Nick told this story earlier to allay the reader’s concerns about Gatsby’s very shady business dealings, but Gatsby tells it to Nick now to bring him into his confidence and to finally, after years and years, make another friend. Gatsby also tells Nick about meeting Daisy in Louisville while he was still a young officer and about seducing her one night. “I can’t describe to you how surprised I was to find out I loved her,” he says, and explains how the rest of his life became centered around Daisy. While in the war, they wrote letters back and forth, and when he did well and came out of the fighting with the rank of a major, he tried his best to get back to her. Then, while Gatsby was still at Oxford, she met Tom and married him. This was a terrible blow. Gatsby returned to Louisville while she was still on her honeymoon in France, and then, finding himself broke and out of work, he went about trying to find his way back to her. This process took him years.
At dawn, a servant comes in to tell Gatsby he’s going to drain the swimming pool soon. It’s the end of summer, and there won’t be any more parties at the estate. Still, Gatsby doesn’t want to drain the pool just yet. He hasn’t used it and decides now that he wants to. Nick leaves him to his swim and heads into the City, promising to call at noon. He’s useless at work, incapable of concentrating, so when Jordan calls him up to say that she’s left Daisy’s and is heading out to Southampton, it doesn’t take much for them to snap at each other and end the affair once and for all. Nick tries calling Gatsby after that, to no answer. It’s just noon.
Fitzgerald again breaks from the chronological narrative in order to relate how George Wilson, grieving for Myrtle, gradually picked himself up and began searching for her killer. First he had to calm down, and that took several hours, just sitting on his couch and rocking back and forth while he cried. His neighbor, Michaelis, who’d witnessed the accident and ran the coffee shop next to Wilson’s garage, sat with him and tried to comfort him, asking him if he went to church and wanted to talk to someone. George, who didn’t attend church regularly, didn’t have one to turn to, but he did believe in God. He’d even told Myrtle once, “You may fool me, but you can’t fool God!” He’d been looking out the window at the time, staring out at the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, the oculist whose huge billboard stands over the Valley of Ashes. This equation of God and the Doctor’s eyes makes Michaelis uncomfortable, so the two men part. That’s when Wilson begins looking for Myrtle’s killer.
He starts out on foot. He walks from Port Roosevelt to Gad’s Hill, stopping briefly to buy a cup of coffee and a sandwich. His movements at this point are easy for the police to retrace, after, because he’s walking along the side of the road, looking like a crazy person. Then he falls off the map for three hours until he reappears at half-past two in West Egg, where he goes from door to door, looking for Gatsby’s house. It’s the chauffeur who hears the shots. Gatsby was swimming in the pool at the time and doesn’t appear to have had a chance to defend himself. When Nick gets back from work, the butler, the chauffeur, and the gardener help him haul the body out of the pool. Only then do they find Wilson’s body. Evidently he’d shot himself.
Doctor T. J. Eckleburg’s Eyes. Wilson cements the idea that the Doctor’s eyes are a symbol of God in this chapter by staring out the window at them and telling Myrtle, “You may fool me, but you can’t fool God!” It would seem, given Myrtle’s death, that God hasn’t turned his back on the Valley of Ashes, as earlier chapters suggest, but in reality Wilson is just a madman tricked by grief into believing that the eyes staring back at him are God’s, and that this in some way justifies the revenge he’s about to exact. If God has indeed abandoned humanity, then it follows that George Wilson’s decision to shoot Gatsby is a result of his realization that God will not punish his wife’s murderer. That’s why he has to do it himself.
Flowers. With Gatsby’s death, the floral symbolism suddenly takes on an insidious new layer, with roses in particular being described as “grotesque” in the moments before Gatsby’s death. Traditionally, roses have been associated with love and romance, their vibrant red colors symbolizing passion and desire. Here, the rose becomes grotesque precisely for those associations, because real love, as Gatsby realizes, isn’t possible in this novel and has only led to heartbreak and inevitably to death. Thus, the rose Gatsby sees becomes a mockery of love, and all flowers are figured as vehicles of desolation and decay.
Death. It becomes clear in this chapter that Fitzgerald has been telling us the story of Gatsby’s death all along and that he has been preparing us for it through the use of symbolism, imagery, and foreshadowing. This theme of death, for instance, has been woven throughout the novel, and it appears for the last time when Wilson materializes beside Gatsby’s pool. He’s described as one of the poor ghosts “breathing dreams like air” and as an “ashen, fantastic figure” intent on destroying Gatsby’s dreams. Wilson thus becomes a personification of Death itself that sucks the life out of Gatsby and his beautiful dream of the world.
Dreams and the American Dream. Near the end of the chapter, Nick relates how, in the hours before the murder, Gatsby must’ve given up on Daisy and finally admitted to himself that she was never going to call him. “I have an idea that Gatsby himself didn’t believe [it, the phone call] would come, and perhaps he no longer cared,” Nick says. If so, that would mean Gatsby had given up on his dreams, not just of winning Daisy back but also of being as rich, successful, and happy as he’d always wanted to be. In this way, Gatsby’s dream becomes tied up with the American Dream, and both die in this chapter even before Wilson pulls the trigger.