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Best Summary and Analysis: The Great Gatsby, Chapter 5

Posted by Dr. Anna Wulick | Apr 29, 2016 3:00:00 PM

Book Guides

 

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Because The Great Gatsby is nine chapters long, getting to Chapter 5 means that we’ve arrived in the exact middle of the story. Thus, it makes sense that this chapter takes a single event - Daisy and Gatsby’s perfectly romantic reunion - and uses it to both tie together everything that has been set up so far, and also to create such a delicate balance of safety and happiness that it’s clear that everything will soon crumble.

But before the bubble of love pops, enjoy the world’s most magical, most carefully planned “accidental” date.

 

Quick Note on Our Citations

Our citation format in this guide is (chapter.paragraph). We're using this system since there are many editions of Gatsby, so using page numbers would only work for students with our copy of the book. To find a quotation we cite via chapter and paragraph in your book, you can either eyeball it (Paragraph 1-50: beginning of chapter; 50-100: middle of chapter; 100-on: end of chapter), or use the search function if you're using an online or eReader version of the text.

 

The Great Gatsby: Chapter 5 Summary

Nick comes home to find all the lights on in Gatsby’s mansion. Gatsby wants to hang out, but clearly only because he wants to know what Nick has decided about asking Daisy for tea. Nick is happy to do it, and they plan for a day after Gatsby has had a chance to get Nick’s lawn cut.

Gatsby then makes a totally out of place proposal to do some bond business with Nick (whose job is selling bonds, and who doesn’t seem particularly good at it or invested in it). Nick is uncomfortable about the quid pro quo (that’s Latin for “something for something” - in other words, a transaction) feeling of the deal and declines.

The next day, Nick invites Daisy to tea, and cautions her not to bring Tom.

Gatsby sends someone to mow the lawn, orders a huge number of flowers, isn’t thrilled with Nick’s sad tea and cakes selection, and worries that the day will be ruined because it’s raining. He then freaks out at the last second that Daisy isn’t coming, but just then she pulls up in her car.

Gatsby and Daisy meet in Nick’s living room in the most awkward, strained, and tense scene imaginable. It’s unclear whether either one is happy to see the other. They are unable to speak two words. 

When Nick tries to leave them alone, Gatsby panics and tries to leave also. Nick calms him down, and then stands outside in the rain for an hour to give Gatsby and Daisy some privacy. When he returns, the two are totally different – no longer embarrassed, much calmer, and Gatsby is actually glowing. 

Gatsby suddenly brags that it only took him three years to earn the money to buy his mansion. Nick calls him out on this since earlier Gatsby had said he had inherited his wealth. Gatsby quickly says that the inheritance was lost in the financial panic of 1914 and that he’s been in several businesses since then.

Daisy then exclaims that she loves Gatsby’s giant mansion (she can see it out of Nick’s window). They go over to Gatsby’s, and he shows them around the now empty house, never taking his eyes off Daisy and her reaction to his things.

Gatsby is completely overwhelmed by Daisy’s presence. He is overcome with feelings that he can’t even put into words.

Gatsby opens a cabinet and starts pulling out piles of shirts and throwing them onto a table. Every kind of shirt color and pattern imaginable stack higher and higher on this table until Daisy puts her head into the shirts and starts to cry about their beauty.

It starts raining again, and Gatsby shows Daisy that her house is directly across the bay from his. 

Nick sees a photograph of Dan Cody, who Gatsby says used to be his best friend until he died.

Gatsby shows Daisy a bunch of newspaper clippings about her that he’s been collecting (she would have been featured in the gossip pages that described fancy parties and rich people’s society). He gets a phone call about Detroit but hangs up quickly. This is the first time that he hasn’t excused himself to take a call in the novel.

Nick tries to leave again, but is again roped into staying. Gatsby asks Ewing Klipspringer, a guest who apparently is just always at the house, to play the piano for them. He plays a comical love song.

Nick finally says goodbye and leaves. As he does, he sees Daisy whisper in Gatsby’s ear, and imagines that her siren-like voice holds him in thrall.

 

body_shirts.jpgDaisy’s constant shirt-inspired weeping has now gotten her banned from Brooks Brothers.

 

Key Chapter 5 Quotes

"You're selling bonds, aren't you, old sport?"..."Well, this would interest you. It wouldn't take up much of your time and you might pick up a nice bit of money. It happens to be a rather confidential sort of thing."

I realize now that under different circumstances that conversation might have been one of the crises of my life. But, because the offer was obviously and tactlessly for a service to be rendered, I had no choice except to cut him off there. (5.22-25)

Nick recognizes that what he quickly dismissed in the moment could easily have been the moral quandary that altered his whole future. It seems that Nick thinks this was his chance to enter the world of crime – if we assume that what Gatsby was proposing is some kind of insider trading or similarly illegal speculative activity – and be thus trapped on the East Coast rather than retreating to the Midwest.

It’s striking that Nick recognizes that his ultimate weakness – the thing that can actually tempt him – is money. In this way, he is different from Gatsby, whose temptation is love, and Tom, whose temptation is sex – and of course, he is also different because he resists the temptation rather than going all-in. Although Nick’s refusal could be spun as a sign of his honesty, it instead underscores how much he adheres to rules of politeness. After all, he only rejects the idea because he feels he “had no choice” about the proposal because it was “tactless.” Who knows what shenanigans Nick would have been on board with if only Gatsby were a little smoother in his approach?

 

He had passed visibly through two states and was entering upon a third. After his embarrassment and his unreasoning joy he was consumed with wonder at her presence. He had been full of the idea so long, dreamed it right through to the end, waited with his teeth set, so to speak, at an inconceivable pitch of intensity. Now, in the reaction, he was running down like an overwound clock. (5.114)

On the one hand, the depth of Gatsby’s feelings for Daisy is romantic. He’s living the hyperbole of every love sonnet and torch song ever written. After all, this is the first time we see Gatsby lose control of himself and his extremely careful self-presentation. But on the other hand, does he actually know anything about Daisy as a human being? Notice that it’s “the idea” that he’s consumed with, not so much the reality. The word “wonder” makes it sound like he’s having a religious experience in Daisy’s presence. The pedestal that he has put her on is so incredibly high there’s nothing for her to do but prove disappointing.

 

Daisy put her arm through his abruptly but he seemed absorbed in what he had just said. Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one. (5.121)

Almost immediately when he’s finally got her, Daisy starts to fade from an ideal object of desire into a real life human being. It doesn’t even matter how potentially wonderful a person she may be – she could never live up to the idea of an “enchanted object” since she is neither magical nor a thing. There is also a question here of “what’s next?” for Gatsby. If you have only one goal in life, and you end up reaching that goal, what is your life’s purpose now?

 

body_lovesculpture.jpgIs Gatsby more in love with the idea of love than with the actual human being he obsesses over? 

 

The Great Gatsby Chapter 5 Analysis

Now let's consider how this chapter plays into the book as a whole.

 

Overarching Themes

Love, Desire, and Relationships. After an earlier chapter of Tom and Myrtle together, we get a chapter of Daisy and Gatsby together. At first glance, the pairs are diametric opposites. Tom and Myrtle are crass and vulgar, constantly chattering about nothing, driven by materialism and physical desire, without a drop of love or romance between them. On the other hand, Gatsby and Daisy are modest and embarrassed, almost speechless, overwhelmed by feelings, and have a physical comfort with each other that Tom doesn’t inspire either in Daisy or in Myrtle (both of whom he physically hurts in varying degrees). Gatsby’s love for Daisy has an otherworldly quality that is several times described in either mythic or religious terms. But already the chapter anticipates that elevating the relationship to such heights makes a fall almost inevitable.

 

Morality and Ethics. Nick is tempted by what he later comes to realize is the moral quandary of his life. Twice, Gatsby offers to do some kind of business with him. There are two ethical challenges in this offer.

  • First, Gatsby is suggesting that Nick needs to be paid for services rendered – that asking Daisy to tea and letting Gatsby see her at Nick’s house is a transaction that needs to be reimbursed somehow. This casts an oddly pimp-and-prostitute vibe on what Nick is being asked to do, which would dispel some of the fairytale romance that Gatsby is ostensibly going for.
  • Second, since it comes on the heels of their encounter with Mr. Wolfshiem, Gatsby’s business proposition is most likely illegal (Insider trading? Speculation? Printing fake bonds? There are several possibilities.). It connects Nick to the lawless criminality that in this novel is associated with the new “Wild East.”

 

Symbolism: Gatsby's Shirts. Gatsby showers Daisy with his array of exquisite shirts in a display that is at the same time self-congratulation and also a submissive plea. On the one hand, this odd moment is like a male bird’s complicated mating dance – the shirts are the peacock’s plumage. These shirts are a visual representation of how far Gatsby has come – he can literally cover Daisy with his riches. But on the hand, the desperate way he shows them off ties into Nick’s observation that “think he revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes” (5.111). He wants her approval and is putting all of himself out there for her to pronounce judgment on.

 

Motifs: Weather. For the first time, the novel dwells at length on an extreme weather event. The intermittent downpour sometimes limits and sometimes facilitates Daisy and Gatsby’s afternoon together. The rain allows for moments of physical comedy. For example, Gatsby’s plan to “accidentally” drop by Nick’s house during tea with Daisy falls apart when he makes his appearance soaking wet (meaning that he obviously wasn’t simply trying to visit Nick – who would do that in that kind of weather?).

The rain also creates physical and emotional boundaries, allowing Daisy and Gatsby to stay in their private world. Literally, this happens when they can’t tour the mansion’s grounds and have to stay in his house. But more importantly, this happens when the rain creates a mist that hides Daisy’s house across the bay from view. She doesn’t have to think about her marriage or her daughter – she can exist with Gatsby surrounded by magical-sounding “pink and golden billow of foamy clouds” (5.134).

 

body_cloud.jpgAs soon as one magical light experience (the green dock light) goes stale, Gatsby replaces it with another (sunlit rain clouds). Maybe he just needs a lamp.

 

Crucial Character Beats

  • Nick agrees to invite Daisy over for tea and an “accidental” meeting with Gatsby. He is able to resist the offer to do business with Gatsby.
  • Daisy and Gatsby finally meet! It’s awkward and horrible at first, but after an hour alone together both of them seem very happy. Then, the trio goes to tour Gatsby’s mansion. Gatsby is overwhelmed by Daisy’s presence and is almost manic. He throws piles and piles of his shirts in front of her until she cries at how beautiful they are.
  • Nick keeps trying to leave Gatsby and Daisy alone, but keeps being roped back into their company. Compare this to the way he was trying to get away from Tom and Myrtle in Chapter 2 and also forced to stick around.
  • Daisy and Gatsby are left alone together, clearly full of feelings for each other, and in their own little world.

     

What’s Next?

Laugh at a drenched, umbrella-less Gatsby in the most recent movie adaptation - it’s one of the few physical comedy bits in the novel, and that movie gets it just right.

Explore the chapter’s other key symbol: the green light on Daisy’s dock.

Review the chapter’s main motifs: the rainy weather, and the conspicuous lack of alcohol.

Move on to the summary of Chapter 6, or revisit the summary of Chapter 4.

 

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Dr. Anna Wulick
About the Author

Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.



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