Last Updated on June 24, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1727
In this ninth and final chapter, Nick, being perhaps Gatsby’s only friend, becomes the one who fields questions about him, manages his estate, and even arranges his funeral. His first call is to Daisy, thinking she’d like to know what happened, but it seems she and Tom have left town and might never come back. Wolfsheim, too, is unreachable by phone, and Nick goes to great lengths to track him down, first sending a letter along with Gatsby’s butler and then refusing to accept the transparent letter he writes in return about being too busy to come down but all too willing to help in other ways. So it seems Wolfsheim has washed his hands of the business. In the midst of all this, Nick receives a phone call from one of Gatsby’s old contacts, Slagle, who says that someone called “Young Parke” is in trouble. Then, just as soon Nick tells Slagle that Gatsby’s dead, Slagle hangs up, and Nick is left to wonder about Gatsby’s connections to the underworld.
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Soon after, a postcard arrives from Gatsby’s father, Mr. Gatz, who asks Nick to delay Gatsby’s funeral until he arrives. Mr. Gatz is a “solemn old man” who wears a cheap coat and thinks the world of his son. He’s somewhat in awe of the house, of its splendid hallways and vast rooms, and this helps to allay some of the grief of his son’s death. Nick asks him what he wants to do about the body, suggesting perhaps that he should take it west, but Mr. Gatz says no. His son would’ve wanted to be buried in the East. That same night, Nick receives a call from Gatsby’s “boarder,” Mr. Klipspringer, who is wondering if Nick could have a pair of his shoes sent along to the house he’s staying in out in Greenwich. Nick, having expected Klipspringer to act like a friend and come to Gatsby’s funeral, hangs up in disgust and doesn’t send him the shoes. He doesn’t want Mr. Gatz to be the only other person at the funeral, so he attempts once more to reach Wolfsheim, calling on him at a building belonging to “The Swastika Holding Company.” (Wolfsheim is, of course, Jewish.) Wolfsheim reminisces about first meeting Gatsby and using him to further his own business dealings, but in the end refuses the invitation to the funeral. “I can’t get mixed up in it,” he says. So that’s that.
Right before the funeral, Mr. Gatz shows Nick a photograph Gatsby had sent him of the estate in West Egg. It’s smudged all over, as if Mr. Gatz had been showing it off back home, boasting about his rich and successful son. He also shows Nick a copy of an old book in which Gatsby had written out his daily schedule: 6:00 AM, rise from bed. Practice elocution, 6:00 - 6:00 PM. He’d also written out his “resolves” in a list: no more smoking. Bath every other day. Be better to parents. It’s easy to see how a boy this regimented could’ve had success in the military and how he was able to then move up in the world. Nick is still thinking about this when the funeral begins and Owl Eyes joins them at the grave. He doesn’t know how Owl Eyes knew about the funeral. It’s a solemn little affair.
Nick again breaks from the chronological narrative to tell us what he loves about the Midwest, and to explain how, after Gatsby’s death, New York and the East Coast lost its allure. He sees West Egg as a kind of fantastic landscape where life is vivid, exciting, and fast, but also, like a painting by El Greco, grotesque and lustreless, full of cold, rich figures who seem to haunt the landscape the way Gatsby’s death haunts Nick. He leaves the East after Gatsby’s murder and never returns. But before he goes he has a chat with Jordan Baker. Their relationship has left a mark on him, and he’s still half in love with her. It seems they were both half in love and had been surprised and a little bit exhilarated by it. Now Jordan doesn’t care about Nick at all, and what’s more, she doesn’t think that he’s a very nice guy. “I thought you were rather an honest, straightforward person.” This recalls Nick’s earlier insistence that he is one of the few honest people he’s ever known. Compared to all the other characters in the novel, he certainly is. But that isn’t really a compliment.
Nick also mentions how, years later, he runs into Tom in the streets of Chicago and learns that he was the one who told Wilson about Gatsby and fingered him as the murderer. Even worse, Tom seems to feel no remorse about it at all. He even says, “That fellow had it coming to him,” which is just what you’d expect from someone like Tom.
On Nick’s last night in West Egg, with his trunk packed and his car sold, he walks out onto the lawn, staring out across the water and thinking about the green light. Gatsby believed in it, he says, perhaps too much, and though it drove him ceaselessly toward the future, in the end, he wasn’t able to achieve his dream. Still, Nick says, we continue to reach for it. “So we beat on,” he says, “boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
El Greco. The nickname of Doménikos Theotokópoulos, a Greek and Spanish painter from the Spanish Renaissance perhaps best known for his works The Burial of the Count of Orgaz and View of Toledo. His paintings have a dark, haunting quality that Nick alludes to when he discusses how West Egg and New York were ruined for him after Gatsby’s death.
James J. Hill. A Canadian-American railroad tycoon and executive, the CEO of a family of lines led by Great Northern Railway. His nickname was “The Empire Builder,” which is now the name of the train route operated by Amtrak that runs from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest. Mr. Gatz alludes to him to suggest that Gatsby could have been as rich and powerful as James J. Hill, if he’d lived long enough. This is the last of many such allusions to wealthy entrepreneurs in this novel, all of which when taken together can be seen as prototypes for the man Gatsby wanted to be.
Hop-along Cassidy by Clarence E. Mulford. One in a series of popular cowboy books all centered around the title character. Gatsby writes his schedule out in the back of the book, where he also lists his “resolves.” It’s very telling that the young Jimmy Gatz wrote all of this in a dimestore cowboy novel. It’s proof that he was an adventurous, ambitious young man determined to make his own way, and that he believed in the traditional gender roles espoused by Hop-along Cassidy, who had a weakness for damsels in distress, just as Gatsby does.
The Green Light. This light, an established symbol of the American Dream, shines again at the very end of this novel, as Nick stands on Gatsby’s lawn and considers his friend’s shattered dreams. He says, “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes from us,” as if simply by reaching for something more we get further and further away from it. This longing to live better lives and become better (or greater) people drives us all, and there’s nothing we can do to stop this. That’s why the light is fixed in the distance while we’re borne back into the past.
Home. Given that Gatsby ran away from his parents as a teenager and bought his house with money earned from bootlegging, the traditional idea of “home” doesn’t apply in this novel. Most of the main characters are itinerant in the sense that they decide first where they want to make their home and then go there, leaving everyone behind and remaking their lives anew. Nick does it. Gatsby does it. Even Tom and Daisy, who have already had to leave Chicago because of one scandal, leave East Egg in a hurry, packing their things the day after Myrtle’s death. Everyone is in a constant state of motion, and no one, not even Gatsby’s party guests, appears to have a home. Like Klipspringer, they all go wherever is most convenient. Only Gatsby, who has spent his entire life trying to get to West Egg, decides to stay, risking retribution for Myrtle’s death, in the hopes that Daisy will choose him over Tom. West Egg isn’t really his home, but it is where he ends up, and, in this novel, that’s enough.
Honesty. Fitzgerald again raises the question of truth when Jordan tells Nick that she thought he was an “honest, straightforward person.” At this point in the narrative, the reader already knows, from Nick’s previous statement about being one of the few honest people he has ever met, that he isn’t the most reliable narrator and that he may also be a liar, though of a different kind. Nick is a character who likes to hold himself above others and judge them based on his own personal standards, but this doesn’t necessarily make him honest. One might even make the argument that there are no honest characters in this novel.
Safety. In addition to accusing Nick of being a less than honest person, Jordan also reminds him that he once said “a bad driver [is] only safe until she [meets] another bad driver.” This statement refers in part to Daisy and the car accident but also to Nick and Jordan, who are, emotionally speaking, bad drivers, incapable of maintaining control over their own feelings. Thus, safety, which has previously been discussed in terms of one’s wealth and privilege, here becomes a question of one’s ability to remain safe or avoid accidents. Neither Nick nor Jordan can avoid accidents. And, indeed, no one in this novel can.