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Best Summary and Analysis: The Great Gatsby, Chapter 9

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

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Just as The Great Gatsby began with Nick’s father reminding him about his upbringing, so it ends with Gatsby’s father reminding us about the childhood of James Gatz (Gatsby's real birth name). As one of the few mourners at Gatsby’s very sparsely attended funeral, Mr. Gatz worships his son’s achievements in the way that no one whom Gatsby wanted to impress ever did.

The Great Gatsby Chapter 9 ends with one of the most famous last lines in all Western literature. Read on to see how Fitzgerald connects Gatsby’s story with the universal human hope for a better future.

 

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 9 Summary

The police investigation reduces what happened to the simplest possible terms: that Wilson was deranged by grief and killed Gatsby at random. Myrtle’s sister doesn’t tell the police about Myrtle having an affair.

Rumors again swirl around Gatsby, and uninvited people again come to his mansion to gawk at where the murder-suicide happened (just like when they came to gawk at his parties). Nick is the only person who is still interested in Gatsby as a human being, and becomes a kind of representative for him - both about the rumors, and also about the logistics of dealing with his body and effects.

Daisy and Tom have already left with no forwarding address by the time Nick tries to call them about Gatsby’s death.

 

Nick tries to find Wolfshiem, but can’t get in touch with him. Wolfshiem sends a perfunctory-sounding letter, but at least agrees to come to Gatsby’s funeral.

Nick answers the phone at Gatsby’s house, expecting it to be Daisy, but instead it is someone associated with Gatsby’s criminal enterprise. We get a quick idea that Gatsby was indeed doing something bigger than bootlegging - something to do with stolen or counterfeit bonds. The man hangs up without another word when Nick tells him that Gatsby is dead. 

Three days later, Nick gets a telegram from Henry C. Gatz - Gatsby’s father. He read about Gatsby’s death in a Chicago newspaper and is coming to the funeral from Minnesota.

When Mr. Gatz shows up, it’s clear that he is still pretty poor. He is in awe of what his son has been able to accomplish, and clearly loves him very much. Gatz is clearly all in on the idea of the American Dream, comparing Gatsby to a famous rags-to-riches railroad magnate. When Gatz asks Nick to identify himself, Nick calls himself Gatsby’s close friend.

That night, Ewing Klipspringer, the guy who crashed at Gatsby’s for most of the summer, calls. Nick assumes that he’ll be coming to the funeral, but Klipspringer is only calling to get back a pair of shoes he left behind.

 

The day of the funeral, Nick goes to see Meyer Wolfshiem in person. Wolfshiem’s secretary lies and says that Wolfshiem is Chicago, but when Nick mentions Gatsby’s name, he’s shown into Wolfshiem’s office.

Wolfshiem fills in some more details about Gatsby’s past. After Gatsby got out of the army, he met Wolfshiem at a pool hall and asked for a job. Wolfshiem saw the potential in Gatsby’s good looks and his “Oxford man” aspirations. Gatsby used these qualities to make connections in places where Wolfshiem himself couldn’t get in.

Wolfshiem explains that he can’t come to Gatsby’s funeral - he doesn’t want to be anywhere near a crime scene.

 

Back at the mansion, Mr. Gatz shows Nick a picture of the Gatsby’s mansion that Gatsby had sent back home. He also shows him a western that Gatsby had loved to read. The back page has a schedule Gatsby had written for himself to follow, and a list of self-improvement initiatives he had undertaken. 

No one seems to be coming to the funeral, and it starts to rain, so Nick, Mr. Gatz, and the minister drive to the cemetery. The man with the owl-eyed glasses (the one who had been marveling at Gatsby’s library of unread books in Chapter 3) suddenly shows up to mourn with them. Nick doesn’t know either his name or how he knew to be there.

 

Nick flashes back to a childhood memory of coming home from boarding school. He compares the Midwest that he (and Gatsby, Tom, and Daisy) come from to the East coast where they each made so many mistakes. Nick decides that he is fundamentally a Midwesterner and needs to go back. 

Nick goes to hash things out with Jordan. When she tells him that she’s engaged (which seems unlikely, since it’s only been one week since they broke up), he suddenly wants to get back together, but thinks better of it. She does tell Nick that she felt very hurt when he broke up with her, but she seems completely over it.

Jordan calls Nick out on his self-satisfaction with being scrupulously honest - was he dishonest with her about his feelings? 

Several months later, Nick sees Tom in Manhattan and refuses to shake hands with him. Nick asks Tom what Tom told Wilson in the garage the night Myrtle was killed. Tom fesses up that he told Wilson whose car ran over Myrtle (which answers the mystery of how Wilson was able to find Gatsby). Tom argues that telling Wilson the truth would have put Tom in danger, since Wilson had a gun.

Nick is horrified - after all, it wasn’t Gatsby who ran over Myrtle. It was Daisy. But he realizes that Tom is a spoiled child and tries to let his anger go.

 

Gatsby’s mansion goes to seed. Before he leaves New York for good, Nick scrapes an obscene word off its stairs, and then goes to the dock to think about the green light on Daisy’s dock and Gatsby’s hopes and dreams.

Nick thinks about what this island looked like to Dutch sailors who crossed the Atlantic, and thinks about how we live in the perpetual hope of a better future with a total disregard for the past.

 

body_graffiti-1.jpgDespite his lavish parties, despite all the outlandish rumors about him, Gatsby never really earned the respect of anyone except Nick.

 

Key Chapter 9 Quotes

I found myself on Gatsby's side, and alone. From the moment I telephoned news of the catastrophe to West Egg village, every surmise about him, and every practical question, was referred to me. At first I was surprised and confused; then, as he lay in his house and didn't move or breathe or speak hour upon hour it grew upon me that I was responsible, because no one else was interested--interested, I mean, with that intense personal interest to which every one has some vague right at the end. (9.3)

Just like during his life, after his death, rumors swirl around Gatsby. Usually, death makes people treat even the most ambiguous figures with the respect that’s supposedly owed to the dead. But Gatsby’s death only invites more speculation, gawking, and a circus-like atmosphere. Note that even here, Nick still does not acknowledge his feelings of friendship and admiration for Gatsby. Instead, he claims to be the point person for Gatsby is funeral because of a general sense that “everyone” deserves someone to take a personal interest. But of course, there is no such right, as evidenced by the fact that Nick is the only person who cares about Gatsby as a human being rather than a sideshow.

 

After a little while Mr. Gatz opened the door and came out, his mouth ajar, his face flushed slightly, his eyes leaking isolated and unpunctual tears. He had reached an age where death no longer has the quality of ghastly surprise, and when he looked around him now for the first time and saw the height and splendor of the hall and the great rooms opening out from it into other rooms his grief began to be mixed with an awed pride. (9.43)

Gatsby’s father is the only person who has the kind of response to this mansion that Gatsby could have hoped for. Everyone else has found it either gaudy, vulgar, or fake. Perhaps this shows that for all his attempts to cultivate himself, Gatsby could never escape the tastes and ambitions of a Midwestern farm boy.

 

After that I felt a certain shame for Gatsby--one gentleman to whom I telephoned implied that he had got what he deserved. However, that was my fault, for he was one of those who used to sneer most bitterly at Gatsby on the courage of Gatsby's liquor and I should have known better than to call him. (9.69)

Gatsby was unable to parlay his hospitality into any genuine connection with anyone besides Nick, who seems to have liked him despite the parties rather than because of them. This highlights a clash of values between the new, anything-goes East and the older, more traditionally correct West. The East is a place where someone could come to a party and then insult the host - and then imply that a murdered man had it coming! Compare this to the moment when Gatsby feels uneasy making a scene when having lunch with Tom and Daisy because "I can't say anything in his house, old sport." (7.102).

 

"When a man gets killed I never like to get mixed up in it in any way. I keep out. When I was a young man it was different--if a friend of mine died, no matter how, I stuck with them to the end. You may think that's sentimental but I mean it--to the bitter end….Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead," he suggested. "After that my own rule is to let everything alone." (9.95-99)

Wolfshiem’s refusal to come to Gatsby’s funeral is extremely self-serving. He is using this quasi-philosophical excuse in order to protect himself from being anywhere near a crime scene. However, in a novel which is at least partly concerned with how morality can be generated in a place devoid of religion, Wolfshiem’s explanation of his behavior confirms that the culmination of this kind of thinking is treating people as disposable.

It also plays into the novel’s overriding idea that the American Dream is based on a willful desire to forget and ignore the past, instead straining for a potentially more exciting or more lucrative future. Part of forgetting the past is forgetting the people that are no longer here, so for Wolfshiem, even a close relationship like the one he had with Gatsby has to immediately be pushed to the side once Gatsby is no longer alive.

 

I tried to think about Gatsby then for a moment but he was already too far away and I could only remember, without resentment, that Daisy hadn't sent a message or a flower. Dimly I heard someone murmur "Blessed are the dead that the rain falls on," and then the owl-eyed man said "Amen to that," in a brave voice. (9.116)

The theme of forgetting continues here. For Nick, Gatsby the man is already “too far away” to remember distinctly. Perhaps it is this kind of forgetting that allows Nick to think about Daisy without anger. On the one hand, in order to continue through life, you need to be able to separate yourself from the tragedies that have befallen. But on the other hand, this easy letting go of painful memories in the past leads to the kind of abandonment that follows Gatsby’s death.

 

When we pulled out into the winter night and the real snow, our snow, began to stretch out beside us and twinkle against the windows, and the dim lights of small Wisconsin stations moved by, a sharp wild brace came suddenly into the air. We drew in deep breaths of it as we walked back from dinner through the cold vestibules, unutterably aware of our identity with this country for one strange hour before we melted indistinguishably into it again.

That's my middle west--not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns but the thrilling, returning trains of my youth and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow. I am part of that, a little solemn with the feel of those long winters, a little complacent from growing up in the Carraway house in a city where dwellings are still called through decades by a family's name. I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all--Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life. (9.124-125)

All along, the novel has juxtaposed the values and attitudes of the rich to those of the lower classes. However here, in this chapter, as Nick is starting to pull away from New York, the contrast shifts to comparing the values of the Midwest to those of the East. Here, the dim lights, the realness, and the snow are natural foils for the bright lights and extremely hot weather associated in the novel with Long Island and the party scene.

 

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy--they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made. . . . (9.146)

Nick’s summary judgment of Tom and Daisy seems harsh but fair. They are people who do not have to answer for their actions and are free to ignore the consequences of what they do. This is one of the ways in which their marriage, dysfunctional as it is, works well. They both understand that they just don’t need to worry about anything that happens in the same way that everyone else does. It is interesting to consider how this cycle will perpetuate itself with Pammy, their daughter.

 

On the last night, with my trunk packed and my car sold to the grocer, I went over and looked at that huge incoherent failure of a house once more. On the white steps an obscene word, scrawled by some boy with a piece of brick, stood out clearly in the moonlight and I erased it, drawing my shoe raspingly along the stone. Then I wandered down to the beach and sprawled out on the sand. (9.150)

It’s fitting that Nick feels responsible for erasing the bad word. His whole project in this book has been to protect Gatsby's reputation and to establish his legacy. Otherwise, without someone to notice and remark on Gatsby’s achievement, nothing would remain to indicate that this man had managed to elevate himself from a Midwestern farm to glittering luxury.

 

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning----

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. (9.153-154)

Check out our very in-depth analysis of this extremely famous last sentence, last paragraphs, and last section of the book.

 

body_canoe.jpgThink about the amount of effort involved in this process of constantly sailing against the current. Maybe this is the fundamental mismatch between Gatsby and Daisy. She is a creature of passivity, and he is a swan - gliding gracefully above the water, while paddling furiously just below it to stay afloat.

 

The Great Gatsby Chapter 9 Analysis

Let's now consider how the novel's key themes are addressed in this chapter.

 

Themes and Symbols

The American Dream. Gatsby’s dreams might be over, and Nick might be so disillusioned that he goes back home, but the American Dream persists unabated. On the one hand, the boys who cluster around Gatsby’s mansion are a new generation who are starting to buy into the cult of celebrity and the greedy ambition that propels many of the novel’s characters. On the other hand, Jordan’s ability to wave off the past without a second thought seems to be spreading - Wolfshiem and even Nick himself talk about quickly forgetting Gatsby.

 

Mutability of Identity. Conversely, the inability to escape the past also plays a part in this chapter, as we learn that for Nick, this has been a story of Midwesterners trying to go east and failing. Most importantly, the last line of the novel says that despite the fact that we struggle to move upstream, the current of our past is always working against our forward progress.

Plot-wise, too, the last chapter is full of callbacks to the past. We meet up with characters who we thought were gone for good (Tom and Jordan), we get yet one more digressive explanation of Gatsby’s youth from Wolfshiem, and of course Gatsby’s actual past shows up in the figure of his father, Henry Gatz. Mr. Gatz is floored by what his son has made of himself. Very importantly, he is the only person who has the reaction that Gatsby would have wanted to his mansion, and he is the one who comes with a relic of Gatsby’s youthful dreams (the schedule and list of self-improvement resolutions).

 

Symbols: The Eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg. The return of the man with owl eye glasses links this chapter to the novel’s obsession with eyes and seeing. Like Tom, Owl-Eyes immediately saw through Gatsby at the party - but crucially, Owl-Eyes perceived Gatsby’s false front as an example of a genius bit of theater rather than a lie. Like the giant billboard of disembodied eyes that haunts the ashheaps, Owl-Eyes seems to be able to see more than the average - but, importantly, he is actually able to render a judgment since he is sentient. At Gatsby’s funeral, this clear vision is clouded, as Owl-Eyes is constantly wiping fog off his glasses. And the fact that the man comes to mourn Gatsby seems to indicate that his judgment is a merciful, excusing one.

 

body_owlglasses.jpgDo the glasses make him wise like an owl? Predatory? All-seeing? Or does the fact that they are glasses mean that he doesn’t actually have any wisdom or clear sight?

 

Crucial Character Beats

  • Nick tries to find anyone at all to come to Gatsby’s funeral, but fails. Not even Wolfshiem will come.

  • Daisy and Tom have left town for good, with no forwarding address.

  • Henry Gatz, Gatsby’s father, hears about Gatsby’s death and come to the funeral from Minnesota. He is in awe of his son’s accomplishments.

  • No one except the owl-eyed glasses man that Nick had met at one of Gatsby’s parties comes to the funeral.

  • Nick reconnects briefly with Jordan, who tell him that she is engaged.

  • Nick runs into Tom, who admits telling Wilson that it was Gatsby’s car that hit Myrtle.

  • Nick decides to go back to the Midwest.

 

What’s Next?

Solve the final pieces of the puzzle of Gatsby’s past with the novel’s timeline.

Consider the way this last chapter discusses the existence of the American Dream. Is the kind of hope and optimism that this ideal promotes worthwhile, or does it result in self-delusions and disappointment?

Imagine the rest of Nick’s life by analyzing his character, motivations, and attitudes. Has this whole novel in reality been a coming-of-age story about him?

Revisit the summary of Chapter 8 or wrap back around to see how the novel began.

 

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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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