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Best Summary and Analysis: The Great Gatsby, Chapter 6

Posted by Dr. Anna Wulick | Apr 29, 2016 4:00:00 PM

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Chapter 6 of The Great Gasby is a major turning point in the novel: after the magical happiness of Gatsby and Daisy's reunion ins Chapter 5, we start too see the cracks that will unravel the whole story. Possibly because of this shift in tone from buildup to letdown, this chapter underwent substantial rewrites late in the editing process, meaning Fitzgerald worked really hard to get it just right because of how key this part of the book is.

So read on to see how it all starts to fall apart in our full The Great Gatsby Chapter 6 summary. Gatsby and Daisy each try to integrate into the other one’s life, and both attempts go terribly. Gatsby can’t hang with the upper crust because he doesn’t understand how to behave despite his years crewing a millionaire’s yacht, and Daisy is repulsed by the vulgar rabble at Gatsby’s latest party. Recipe for eventual disaster? Absolutely.

 

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 6 Summary

A reporter shows up to interview Gatsby. He is becoming well known enough (and there are enough rumors swirling around him) to become newsworthy. The rumors are now even crazier: that he is involved with a liquor pipeline to Canada, that his mansion is actually a boat.

 

The narrative suddenly shifts timeframes, and future book-writing Nick interrupts the story to give us some new background details about Gatsby. Jay Gatsby’s real name is James Gatz. His parents were failed farmers. He is an entirely self-made man, so ambitious and convinced of his own success that he transformed himself into his version of the perfect man: Jay Gatsby. Before any of his eventual social and financial success, he spent his nights fantasizing about his future.

James Gatz met Dan Cody, a copper and silver mine millionaire, on Cody’s yacht on Lake Superior. Cody seemed glamorous, and Cody liked Gatz enough to hire him as a kind of jack-of-all-trades for five years. They sailed around, indulged Cody’s alcoholism, and Gatz learned how to be Jay Gatsby. Cody tried to leave him money in his will, but an estranged wife claimed it instead. Nick tells us that Gatsby told him all of these details later, but he wants to dispel the crazy rumors.

 

The narrative flips back to the summer of 1922. After a few weeks of trying to make nice with Jordan’s aunt (who controls her money and directs her life), Nick returns to Gatsby’s house. 

Tom Buchanan and an East Egg couple who has met Gatsby before stop by while horseback riding. It’s unclear why – for a quick drink maybe? Tom has no idea who Gatsby is, but Gatsby goes out of his way to remind him that they met at a restaurant a few weeks ago (in Chapter 4), and to tell him that he knows Daisy. Gatsby invites them to stay for supper.

The lady of the couple disingenuously invites him over to her dinner party instead. Gatsby agrees. Nick follows the guests out and overhears Tom complaining that Gatsby has clearly misread the social cues – the woman wasn’t really inviting him for real, and in any case, Gatsby doesn’t have a horse to ride.

Tom also wonders how on earth Daisy could have met Gatsby. The three leave without Gatsby, despite the fact that he accepted the invitation to go with them.

The next Saturday, Tom comes with Daisy to Gatsby’s party. Nick notes that with them there, the party suddenly seems oppressive and unpleasant.

Gatsby takes them around and shows them the various celebrities and movie stars that are there. Tom and especially Daisy are somewhat star-struck, but it’s clear that to them this party is like a freak show – where they are coming to stare at the circus, and where they are above what they are looking at.

Gatsby and Daisy dance and talk. Tom makes see-through excuses to pursue other women at the party. Daisy is clearly miserable.

While Gatsby takes a phone call, Daisy and Nick sit at a table of drunk people squabbling about their drunkenness. Daisy is clearly grossed out by the party and the people there.

When the Buchanans are leaving, Tom guesses that Gatsby is a bootlegger, since where else could his money be coming from? Daisy tries to stick up for Gatsby, saying that most of the guests are just party crashers that he is too polite to turn away. Nick tells Tom that Gatsby’s money comes from a chain of drug stores. Daisy seems reluctant to go, worried that some magical party guest will sweep Gatsby off his feet while she’s not there.

Later that night, Gatsby worries that Daisy didn’t like the party. His worry makes him tell Nick his ultimate desire: Gatsby would like to recreate the past he and Daisy had together five years ago. Gatsby is an absolutist about Daisy: he wants her to say that she never loved Tom, to erase her emotional history with him (and with their daughter, probably!). Nick doesn't think that this is possible.

Gatsby tells Nicks about the magical past that he wants to recreate. It was encapsulated in the moment of Gatsby and Daisy’s first kiss. As soon as Gatsby kissed Daisy, all of his fantasies about himself and his future fixated solely on her.

Hearing this description of Gatsby’s love, Nick is close to remembering some related phrase or song, but he can’t quite reach the memory.

 

body_kiss.jpgThe intense, overly romantic way Gatsby describes his first kiss with Daisy is a solid clue into his over-idealization of her as almost a fairy tale figure of perfection. It’s totally fair to expect her to live up to that, right?

 

Key Chapter 6 Quotes

The truth was that Jay Gatsby, of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God--a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that--and he must be about His Father's Business, the service of a vast, vulgar and meretricious beauty. (6.7)

Here is the clearest connection of Gatsby and the ideal of the independent, individualistic, self-made man – the ultimate symbol of the American Dream. It’s telling that in describing Gatsby this way, Nick also links him to other ideas of perfection.

  • First, he references Plato’s philosophical construct of the ideal form – a completely inaccessible perfect object that exists outside of our real existence.
  • Second, Nick references various Biblical luminaries like Adam and Jesus who are called “son of God” in the New Testament – again, linking Gatsby to mythic and larger than life beings who are far removed from lived experience. Gatsby’s self-mythologizing is in this way part of a grander tradition of myth-making.

Tom was evidently perturbed at Daisy's running around alone, for on the following Saturday night he came with her to Gatsby's party. Perhaps his presence gave the evening its peculiar quality of oppressiveness--it stands out in my memory from Gatsby's other parties that summer. There were the same people, or at least the same sort of people, the same profusion of champagne, the same many-colored, many-keyed commotion, but I felt an unpleasantness in the air, a pervading harshness that hadn't been there before. Or perhaps I had merely grown used to it, grown to accept West Egg as a world complete in itself, with its own standards and its own great figures, second to nothing because it had no consciousness of being so, and now I was looking at it again, through Daisy's eyes. It is invariably saddening to look through new eyes at things upon which you have expended your own powers of adjustment. (6.60)

What for Nick had been a center of excitement, celebrity, and luxury is now suddenly a depressing spectacle. It’s interesting that partly this is because Daisy and Tom are in some sense invaders – their presence disturbs the enclosed world of West Egg because it reminds Nick of West Egg’s lower social standing. It’s also key to see that having Tom and Daisy there makes Nick self-aware of the psychic work he has had to do to “adjust” to the vulgarity and different “standards” of behavior he’s been around. Remember that he entered the novel on a social footing similar to that of Tom and Daisy. Now he’s suddenly reminded that by hanging around with Gatsby, he has debased himself.

 

But the rest offended her--and inarguably, because it wasn't a gesture but an emotion. She was appalled by West Egg, this unprecedented "place" that Broadway had begotten upon a Long Island fishing village--appalled by its raw vigor that chafed under the old euphemisms and by the too obtrusive fate that herded its inhabitants along a short cut from nothing to nothing. She saw something awful in the very simplicity she failed to understand. (6.96)

Just as earlier we were treated to Jordan as a narrator stand-in, now we have a new set of eyes through which to view the story – Daisy’s. Her snobbery is deeply ingrained, and she doesn’t do anything to hide it or overcome it (unlike Nick, for example). Like Jordan, Daisy is judgmental and critical. Unlike Jordan, Daisy expresses this through “emotion” rather than cynical mockery. Either way, what Daisy doesn’t like is that the nouveau riche haven’t learned to hide their wealth under a veneer of gentility – full of the “raw vigor” that has very recently gotten them to this station in life, they are too obviously materialistic. Their “simplicity” is their single-minded devotion to money and status, which in her mind makes the journey from birth to death (“from nothing to nothing”) meaningless.

 

He wanted nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: "I never loved you." (6.125)

Hang on to this piece of information – it will be important later. This is really symptomatic of Gatsby’s absolutist feelings towards Daisy. It’s not enough for her to leave Tom. Instead, Gatsby expects Daisy to repudiate her entire relationship with Tom in order to show that she has always been just as monomaniacally obsessed with him as he has been with her. The problem is that this robs her of her humanity and personhood – she is not exactly like him, and it’s unhealthy that he demands for her to be an identical reflection of his mindset.

 

"I wouldn't ask too much of her," I ventured. "You can't repeat the past."

"Can't repeat the past?" he cried incredulously. "Why of course you can!"

He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.

"I'm going to fix everything just the way it was before," he said, nodding determinedly. "She'll see."

He talked a lot about the past and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was. . .  (6.128-132)

This is one of the most famous quotations from the novel. Gatsby’s blind faith in his ability to recreate some quasi-fictional past that he’s been dwelling on for five years is both a tribute to his romantic and idealistic nature (the thing that Nick eventually decides makes him “great”) and a clear indication that he just might be a completely delusional fantasist. So far in his life, everything that he’s fantasized about when he first imagined himself as Jay Gatsby has come true. But in that transformation, Gatsby now feels like he has lost a fundamental piece of himself – the thing he “wanted to recover.”

 

Through all he said, even through his appalling sentimentality, I was reminded of something--an elusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words, that I had heard somewhere a long time ago. For a moment a phrase tried to take shape in my mouth and my lips parted like a dumb man's, as though there was more struggling upon them than a wisp of startled air. But they made no sound and what I had almost remembered was uncommunicable forever. (6.135)

Just as Gatsby is searching for an unrecoverable piece of himself, so Nick also has a moment of wanting to connect with something that seems familiar but is out of reach. In a nice bit of subtle snobbery, Nick dismisses Gatsby’s description of his love for Daisy as treacly nonsense (“appalling sentimentality”), but finds his own attempt to remember a snippet of a love song or poem as a mystically tragic bit of disconnection. This gives us a quick glimpse into Nick the character - a pragmatic man who is quick to judge others (much quicker than his self-assessment as an objective observer would have us believe) and who is far more self-centered than he realizes.

 

body_puzzle-7.jpgJust what is Nick’s missing “fragment”? Is there an emotional part of him that is fundamentally lacking?

 

Chapter 6 Analysis

Let's work to connect this chapter to the larger strands of meaning in the novel as a whole.

 

Overarching Themes

The American Dream. It’s not a coincidence that in the same chapter where we learn about James Gatz’s rebirth as Jay Gatsby, we see several other versions of the same kind of ambition that propelled him:

  • A reporter on the make follows a hunch that Gatsby might turn out to be a story.
  • Nick spends weeks courting the aunt that controls Jordan’s life and money.
  • And in the deep background of the party, a movie star’s producer tries to take their relationship from a professional to a personal level.
Everyone in the world of the novel is out to climb higher, to get more, to reach further. Plus, we see the people at the very top of the social hierarchy (Tom and Daisy) repeatedly look down their noses at this social climbing and generally act petty and miserable - which creates that sense that even for those at the top, happiness and fulfillment are elusive.

 

Motifs: Alcohol. Despite his idolizing of Dan Cody, Gatsby learns from his mentor’s alcoholism to stay away from drinking – this is why, to this day, he doesn’t participate in his own parties. For him, alcohol is a tool for making money and displaying his wealth and standing.

 

Society and Class. A very awkward encounter between a couple of West Egg, Tom, and Gatsby highlights the disparity between West Egg money and East Egg money. To Nick, the East Eggers are fundamentally different and mostly terrible:

  • For fun, they ride horses, while Gatsby’s main vehicle is a car.
  • They issue invitations that they hope will get declined, while Gatsby not only welcomes them into his home, but allows people to crash his parties and stay in his house indefinitely.
  • They accept hospitality without so much as a thank you, while Gatsby feels such a sense of gratitude that his thanks are overwhelming (for example, when he offers to go into business with Nick when Nick agreed to ask Daisy to tea).

This also demonstrates the fundamental inability to read people and situations correctly that plagues Gatsby throughout the novel - he can never quite learn how to behave and react correctly.

 

Immutability of Identity. However far Gatsby has come from the 17-year-old James Gatz, his only way of hanging on to a coherent sense of self has been to fixate on his love for Daisy. Now that he has reached the pinnacle of realizing all his fantasies, Gatsby wants to recapture that past self – the one Daisy was in love with.

 

Love, Desire, Relationships. No real life relationship could ever live up to Gatsby’s unrealistic, stylized, ultra-romantic, and absolutist conception of love in general, and his love of Daisy, in particular. Not only that, but he demands nothing less of Daisy as well. His condition for her to be with him is to entirely disavow Tom and any feelings she may have ever had for him. It’s this aspect of their affair that is used to defend Daisy from the generally negative attitude most readers have towards her character.

 

Daisy Buchanan's Motivations. Daisy’s reaction to Gatsby’s party is fascinating - especially if we think that Gatsby has been trying to be the “gold-hatted bouncing lover” for her. She is appalled by the empty, meaningless circus of luxury, snobbishly disgusted by the vulgarity of the people, and worried that Gatsby could be attracted to someone else there. Daisy enjoyed being alone in his mansion with him, but the more he displays what he has attained, the more she is repelled. The gold-hatted routine simply won’t work with her when the Gatsby she fell in love with was an idealistic dreamer who was overwhelmed by simply kissing her - not the seen-it-all keeper of a menagerie of celebrities and weirdos.

 

body_circus.jpgListen, you either love the circus, or you hate the circus - but the circus is what you’re getting with Gatsby.

 

Crucial Character Beats

  • We find out Gatsby’s real origin story! He was born James Gatz and created a whole new persona for the future successful version of himself. When he was 17, Gatsby met a millionaire named Dan Cody, who taught him how to actually be Jay Gatsby.
  • Tom and Gatsby exchange words for the first time (they met once for a hot second in Chapter 3, but didn’t speak)! They meet by coincidence when Tom’s friends bring him to Gatsby’s house in the middle of a horseback ride.
  • Tom and Daisy come to one of Gatsby’s parties, where Daisy is disgusted by the vulgar excess and Tom goes off to womanize.
  • Gatsby and Nick discuss the possibility of recreating the past, which Gatsby is apparently trying to do in order to be with Daisy. Gatsby thinks that reliving the past is definitely a completely real thing that normal people are able to do.

 

What’s Next?

Compare the description of this downer of a party with the much more fun-sounding one in Chapter 3, and think about what changes when the party is seen through Daisy’s eyes rather than Nick and Jordan’s.

Check out the novel’s timeline to get the hang of what happens when in this chapter’s flashback.

Evaluate the Tom and Gatsby face to face matchup by contrasting these two seemingly opposite characters.

Move on to the summary of Chapter 7, or revisit the summary of Chapter 5.

 

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Dr. Anna Wulick
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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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