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Most Important Quotes in The Great Gatsby, Analyzed

Posted by Dr. Anna Wulick | May 29, 2016 8:30:00 AM

Book Guides

 

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Need to solidify your Great Gatsby essay with some evidence from the text? Want a refresher on the novel's style and sound? Curious how to go from a piece of text to a close reading and an analysis? Then check out this article featuring key Great Gatsby quotes!

We've rounded up a collection of important quotes by and about the main characters, quotes on the novel's major themes and symbols, and quotes from each of The Great Gatsby's chapters. In turn, each of the Great Gatsby quotes is followed by some brief analysis and explanation of its significance. 

 

Article Roadmap

  1. Using the quotes
  2. Character quotes
    • Jay Gatsby
    • Nick Carraway
    • Daisy Buchanan
    • Tom Buchanan
    • Jordan Baker
    • Myrtle Wilson
    • George Wilson
  3. Theme quotes
    • Money and Materialism
    • The American Dream
    • Love and Relationships
  4. Symbol quotes
    • The green light
    • The eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckelburg
    • The valley of ashes
  5. Chapter quotes

 

Using These Great Gatsby Quotes

All of these are obviously presented outside of the full context of their chapters (if you’re hazy on the plot, be sure to check out our chapter summaries!). If you’re going to use any of these quotes in an essay, you need to understand where each quote fits into the book, who’s speaking, and why the line is important or significant.  Or to put it more bluntly, don’t just lift these for an essay without having read the book, or your essay won’t be very strong!

We do some initial analysis here for each quote to get you thinking, but remember to close-read and bring your own interpretations and ideas to the text. It may be that you disagree with some of our analysis!

 

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.

We will cover the characters in the following order, and also provide links to their character pages where you can check out their physical descriptions, backgrounds, action in the book, and common discussion topics.



Great Gatsby Character Quotes

Click on each character's name to read a detailed analysis!

 

Jay Gatsby

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Catchphrase: “old sport”

Gatsby adopts this catchphrase, which was used among wealthy people in England and America at the time, to help build up his image as a man from old money, which is related to his frequent insistence he is “an Oxford man.” Note that both Jordan Baker and Tom Buchanan are immediately skeptical of both Gatsby’s “old sport” phrase and his claim of being an Oxford man, indicating that despite Gatsby’s efforts, it is incredibly difficult to pass yourself off as “old money” when you aren’t.

 

He reached in his pocket and a piece of metal, slung on a ribbon, fell into my palm.

"That's the one from Montenegro."

To my astonishment, the thing had an authentic look.

Orderi di Danilo, ran the circular legend, Montenegro, Nicolas Rex.

"Turn it."

Major Jay Gatsby, I read, For Valour Extraordinary. (4.34-39)

In this moment, Nick begins to believe and appreciate Gatsby, and not just see him as a puffed-up fraud. The medal, to Nick, is hard proof that Gatsby did, in fact, have a successful career as an officer during the war and therefore that some of Gatsby’s other claims might be true.

For the reader, the medal serves as questionable evidence that Gatsby really is an “extraordinary” man – isn’t it a bit strange that Gatsby has to produce physical evidence to get Nick to buy his story? (Imagine how strange it would be to carry around a physical token to show to strangers to prove your biggest achievement.)

 

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)

In Chapter 5, the dream Gatsby has been working towards for years – to meet and impress Daisy with his fabulous wealth – finally begins to come to fruition. And so, for the first time, we see Gatsby’s genuine emotions, rather than his carefully-constructed persona. Nick finds these emotions almost as beautiful and transformative as Gatsby’s smile, though there’s also the sense that this love could quickly veer off the rails: Gatsby is running down “like an overwound clock.” In that sense, this moment gently foreshadows the escalating tensions that lead to the novel's tragic climax.

 

"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." (6.128-131)

This is probably Gatsby’s single most famous line. His insistence that he can repeat the past and recreate everything as it was in Louisville sums up his intense determination to win Daisy back at any cost. It also shows his naiveté and optimism, even delusion, about what is possible in his life – an attitude which are increasingly at odds with the cynical portrait of the world painted by Nick Carraway.

 

"Your wife doesn't love you," said Gatsby. "She's never loved you. She loves me." (7.238)

This is the moment Gatsby lays his cards out on the table, so to speak – he risks everything to try and win over Daisy. His insistence that Daisy never loved Tom also reveals how Gatsby refuses to acknowledge Daisy could have changed or loved anyone else since they were together in Louisville.

This declaration, along with his earlier insistence that he can “repeat the past,” creates an image of an overly optimistic, naïve person, despite his experiences in the war and as a bootlegger. Especially since Daisy can’t support this statement, saying that she loved both Tom and Gatsby, and Tom quickly seizes power over the situation by practically ordering Gatsby and Daisy to drive home together, Gatsby’s confident insistence that Daisy has only ever loved him feels desperate, even delusional.

 

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)

One of the most famous ending lines in modern literature, this quote is Nick’s final analysis of Gatsby – someone who believed in the “the green light, the orgastic future” that he could never really attain. Our last image of Gatsby is of a man who believed in a world (and a future) that was better than the one he found himself in – but you can read more about interpretations of the ending, both optimistic and pessimistic, in our guide to the end of the book.



Nick Carraway

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In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. "Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had." (1.1-2)

The first lines establish Nick as thoughtful, thorough, privileged, and judgmental. This line also sets the tone for the first few pages, where Nick tells us about his background and tries to encourage the reader to trust his judgment. While he comes off as thoughtful and observant, we also get the sense he is judgmental and a bit snobby.

To see more analysis of why the novel begins how it does, and what Nick's father's advice means for him as a character and as a narrator, read our article on the beginning of The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby.

 

When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction—Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. (1.4)

Another quote from the first few pages of the novel, this line sets up the novel’s big question: why does Nick become so close to Gatsby, given that Gatsby represents everything he hates? It also hints to the reader that Nick will come to care about Gatsby deeply while everyone else will earn his “unaffected scorn.” While this doesn’t give away the plot, it does help the reader be a bit suspicious of everyone but Gatsby going into the story.

 

Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known. (3.171)

This is likely the moment when you start to suspect Nick doesn’t always tell the truth – if everyone “suspects” themselves of one of the cardinal virtues (the implication being they aren’t actually virtuous), if Nick says he’s honest, perhaps he’s not? Furthermore, if someone has to claim that they are honest, that often suggests that they do things that aren’t exactly trustworthy.

 

Suddenly I wasn't thinking of Daisy and Gatsby any more but of this clean, hard, limited person who dealt in universal skepticism and who leaned back jauntily just within the circle of my arm. A phrase began to beat in my ears with a sort of heady excitement: "There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired." (4.164)

Nick’s interactions with Jordan are some of the only places where we get a sense of any vulnerability or emotion from Nick. In particular, Nick seems quite attracted to Jordan and being with her makes a phrase “beat” in his ears with “heady excitement.” If there are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired, it would appear Nick is happy to be the pursuer at this particular moment.

 

"They're a rotten crowd," I shouted across the lawn. "You're worth the whole damn bunch put together." (8.45)

This line, which comes after Myrtle’s death and Tom, Daisy, and Jordan’s cold reaction to it, establishes that Nick has firmly come down on Gatsby’s side in the conflict between the Buchanans and Gatsby. It also shows Nick’s disenchantment with the whole wealthy east coast crowd and also that, at this point, he is devoted to Gatsby and determined to protect his legacy. This hints to us that our once seemingly impartial narrator is now seeing Gatsby more generously than he sees others.

 

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. (9.153-4)

This is Nick’s conclusion to his story, which can be read as cynical, hopeful, or realistic, depending on how you interpret it. You can read in detail about these lines in our article about the novel’s ending.



Daisy Buchanan

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She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. 'All right,' I said, 'I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope she'll be a fool—that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool." (1.118)

This deeply pessimistic comment is from the first time we meet Daisy in Chapter 1. She has just finished telling Nick about how when she gave birth to her daughter, she woke up alone – Tom was “god knows where.” She asks for the baby’s sex and cries when she hears it’s a girl. So beneath her charming surface we can see Daisy is somewhat despondent about her role in the world and unhappily married to Tom. That said, right after this comment Nick describes her "smirking," which suggests that despite her pessimism, she doesn't seem eager to change her current state of affairs.

 

"Here, dearis." She groped around in a waste-basket she had with her on the bed and pulled out the string of pearls. "Take 'em downstairs and give 'em back to whoever they belong to. Tell 'em all Daisy's change' her mine. Say 'Daisy's change' her mine!'."

She began to cry—she cried and cried. I rushed out and found her mother's maid and we locked the door and got her into a cold bath. She wouldn't let go of the letter. She took it into the tub with her and squeezed it up into a wet ball, and only let me leave it in the soap dish when she saw that it was coming to pieces like snow.

But she didn't say another word. We gave her spirits of ammonia and put ice on her forehead and hooked her back into her dress and half an hour later when we walked out of the room the pearls were around her neck and the incident was over. Next day at five o'clock she married Tom Buchanan without so much as a shiver and started off on a three months' trip to the South Seas. (4.140-2)

In this flashback, narrated by Jordan, we learn all about Daisy’s past and how she came to marry Tom, despite still being in love with Jay Gatsby. In fact, she seems to care about him enough that after receiving a letter from him, she threatens to call off her marriage to Tom. However, despite this brief rebellion, she is quickly put back together by Jordan and her maid – the dress and the pearls represent Daisy fitting back into her prescribed social role. And indeed, the next day she marries Tom “without so much as a shiver,” showing her reluctance to question the place in society dictated by her family and social status.

 

"They're such beautiful shirts," she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. "It makes me sad because I've never seen such—such beautiful shirts before." (5.118)

During Daisy and Gatsby’s reunion, she is delighted by Gatsby’s mansion but falls to pieces after Gatsby giddily shows off his collection of shirts.

This scene is often confusing to students. Why does Daisy start crying at this particular display? The scene could speak to Daisy’s materialism: that she only emotionally breaks down at this conspicuous proof of Gatsby’s newfound wealth. But it also speaks to her strong feelings for Gatsby, and how touched she is at the lengths he went to to win her back.

 

“What’ll we do with ourselves this afternoon,” cried Daisy, “and the day after that, and the next thirty years?” (7.74)

In Chapter 7, as Daisy tries to work up the courage to tell Tom she wants to leave him, we get another instance of her struggling to find meaning and purpose in her life. Beneath Daisy’s cheerful exterior, there is a deep sadness, even nihilism, in her outlook (compare this to Jordan’s more optimistic response that life renews itself in autumn).

 

“Her voice is full of money,” he said suddenly.

That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money—that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it. . . . High in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl. . . . (7.105-6)

Gatsby explicitly ties Daisy and her magnetic voice to wealth. This particular line is really crucial, since it ties Gatsby’s love for Daisy to his pursuit of wealth and status. It also allows Daisy herself to become a stand-in for the idea of the American Dream. We'll discuss even more about the implications of Daisy's voice below.

 

"Oh, you want too much!" she cried to Gatsby. "I love you now—isn't that enough? I can't help what's past." She began to sob helplessly. "I did love him once—but I loved you too." (7.264)

During the climactic confrontation in New York City, Daisy can’t bring herself to admit she only loved Gatsby, because she did also love Tom at the beginning of their marriage. This moment is crushing for Gatsby, and some people who read the novel and end up disliking Daisy point to this moment as proof. "Why couldn’t she get up the courage to just leave that awful Tom?" they ask.

However, I would argue that Daisy’s problem isn’t that she loves too little, but that she loves too much. She fell in love with Gatsby and was heartbroken when he went to war, and again when he reached out to her right before she was set to marry Tom. And then she fell deeply in love with Tom in the early days of their marriage, only to discover his cheating ways and become incredibly despondent (see her earlier comment about women being “beautiful little fools”). So by now she’s been hurt by falling in love, twice, and is wary of risking another heartbreak.

Furthermore, we do see again her reluctance to part with her place in society. Being with Gatsby would mean giving up her status as old-money royalty and instead being the wife of a gangster. That’s a huge jump for someone like Daisy, who was essentially raised to stay within her class. So it's hard to blame her for not giving up her entire life (not to mention her daughter!) to be with Jay.

 


Tom Buchanan

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“[Tom], among various physical accomplishments, had been one of the most powerful ends that ever played football at New Haven—a national figure in a way, one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anti-climax.” (1.16)

Tom is established early on as restless and bored, with the threat of physical aggression lurking behind that restlessness. With his glory days on the Yale football team well behind him, he seems to constantly be searching for – and failing to find – the excitement of a college football game. Perhaps Tom, like Gatsby, is also trying, and failing, to repeat the past in his own way.

 

"Well, it's a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don't look out the white race will be—will be utterly submerged. It's all scientific stuff; it's been proved." (1.78)

In Chapter 1, we learn Tom has been reading “profound” books lately, including racist ones that claim the white race is superior to all others and has to maintain control over society. This speaks to Tom’s insecurity – even as someone born into incredible money and privilege, there’s a fear it could be taken away by social climbers. That insecurity only translates into even more overt shows of his power - flaunting his relationship with Myrtle, revealing Gatsby as a bootlegger, and manipulating George to kill Gatsby – thus completely freeing the Buchanans from any consequences from the murders.

 

"Don't believe everything you hear, Nick," he advised me. (1.143)

Early in the book, Tom advises Nick not to believe rumors and gossip, but specifically what Daisy has been telling him about their marriage.

Nick certainly is wary of most people he meets, and, indeed, he sees through Daisy in Chapter 1 when he observes she has no intentions of leaving Tom despite her complaints: “Their interest rather touched me and made them less remotely rich—nevertheless, I was confused and a little disgusted as I drove away. It seemed to me that the thing for Daisy to do was to rush out of the house, child in arms—but apparently there were no such intentions in her head” (1.150). But as the book goes on, Nick drops some of his earlier skepticism as he comes to learn more about Gatsby and his life story, coming to admire him despite his status as a bootlegger and criminal.

This leaves us with an image of Tom as cynical and suspicious in comparison to the optimistic Gatsby – but perhaps also more clear-eyed than Nick is by the end of the novel.

 

"And what's more, I love Daisy too. Once in a while I go off on a spree and make a fool of myself, but I always come back, and in my heart I love her all the time." (7.251-252)

After seeing Tom’s liaisons with Myrtle and his generally boorish behavior, this claim to loving Daisy comes off as fake at best and manipulative at worst (especially since a spree is a euphemism for an affair!).

We also see Tom grossly underreporting his bad behavior (we have seen one of his “sprees” and it involved violently breaking Myrtle’s nose after sleeping with her while Nick was in the next room) and either not realizing or ignoring how damaging his actions can be to others. He is explicit about his misbehavior and doesn’t seem sorry at all – he feels like his “sprees” don’t matter as long as he comes back to Daisy after they’re over.

In short, this quote captures how the reader comes to understand Tom late in the novel – as a selfish rich man who breaks things and leaves others to clean up his mess.

 

"I found out what your 'drug-stores' were." He turned to us and spoke rapidly. "He and this Wolfsheim bought up a lot of side-street drug-stores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter. That's one of his little stunts. I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him, and I wasn't far wrong." (7.284)

Again, Tom’s jealousy and anxiety about class are revealed. Though he immediately pegs Gatsby for a bootlegger rather than someone who inherited his money, Tom still makes a point of doing an investigation to figure out exactly where the money came from. This shows that he does feel a bit threatened by Gatsby, and wants to be sure he thoroughly knocks him down.

But at the same time, he’s the only one in the room who sees Gatsby for who he actually is. This is also a moment where you, as a reader, can really see how clouded Nick’s judgment of Gatsby has become.

 

"You two start on home, Daisy," said Tom. "In Mr. Gatsby's car."

She looked at Tom, alarmed now, but he insisted with magnanimous scorn.

"Go on. He won't annoy you. I think he realizes that his presumptuous little flirtation is over." (7.296-298)

A common question students have after reading Gatsby for the first time is this: why does Tom let Daisy and Gatsby ride back together? If he’s so protective and jealous of Daisy, wouldn’t he insist she come with him?

The answer is that he is demonstrating his power over both Daisy and Gatsby – he’s no longer scared that Daisy will leave him for Gatsby, and he’s basically rubbing that in Gatsby’s face. He’s saying that he doesn’t even fear leaving them alone together, because he knows that nothing Gatsby says or does would convince Daisy to leave him. It’s a subtle but crucial show of power – and of course ends up being a fatal choice.

 

“What if I did tell him? That fellow had it coming to him. He threw dust into your eyes just like he did in Daisy's but he was a tough one. He ran over Myrtle like you'd run over a dog and never even stopped his car." (9.143)

One of Tom’s last lines in the novel, he coldly tells Nick that Gatsby was fooling both him and Daisy. Of course, since we know that Gatsby didn't actually run over Daisy, we can read this line in one of three ways:

  • Maybe Daisy never actually admitted to Tom that she was the one driving the car that night, so he still has no idea that his wife killed his mistress.
  • Or maybe the way Tom has made peace with what happened is by convincing himself that even if Daisy was technically driving, Gatsby is to blame for Myrtle's death anyway.
  • Or maybe Tom is still scared of speaking the truth about Daisy's involvement to anyone, including Nick, on the off chance that the police will reopen the case with new evidence.


Jordan Baker

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“And I like large parties. They're so intimate. At small parties there isn't any privacy." (3.29)

This is an early example of Jordan’s unexpectedly clever observations – throughout the novel she reveals a quick wit and keen eye for detail in social situations. This comment also sets the stage for the novel’s chief affair between Daisy and Gatsby, and how at the small party in Chapter 7 their secrets come out to disastrous effect.

Compare Jordan’s comment to Daisy's general attitude of being too sucked into her own life to notice what’s going on around her.

 

"You're a rotten driver," I protested. "Either you ought to be more careful or you oughtn't to drive at all."

"I am careful."

"No, you're not."

"Well, other people are," she said lightly.

"What's that got to do with it?"

"They'll keep out of my way," she insisted. "It takes two to make an accident."

"Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself."

"I hope I never will," she answered. "I hate careless people. That's why I like you." (3.162-169)

Here we get a sense of what draws Jordan and Nick together – he’s attracted to her carefree, entitled attitude while she sees his cautiousness as a plus. After all, if it really does take two to make an accident, as long as she’s with a careful person, Jordan can do whatever she wants!

We also see Jordan as someone who carefully calculates risks – both in driving and in relationships. This is why she brings up her car accident analogy again at the end of the book when she and Nick break up – Nick was, in fact, a “bad driver” as well, and she was surprised that she read him wrong.

 

“It’s a great advantage not to drink among hard-drinking people.”  (4.144)

Another example of Jordan’s observant wit, this quote (about Daisy) is Jordan’s way of suggesting that perhaps Daisy’s reputation is not so squeaky-clean as everyone else believes. After all, if Daisy were the only sober one in a crowd of partiers, it would be easy for her to hide less-than-flattering aspects about herself.

 

Suddenly I wasn't thinking of Daisy and Gatsby any more but of this clean, hard, limited person who dealt in universal skepticism and who leaned back jauntily just within the circle of my arm. (4.164)

In this moment, Nick reveals what he finds attractive about Jordan – not just her appearance (though again, he describes her as pleasingly “jaunty” and “hard” here), but her attitude. She’s skeptical without being fully cynical, and remains upbeat and witty despite her slightly pessimistic outlook. At this point in the story, Midwestern Nick probably still finds this exciting and attractive, though of course by the end he realizes that her attitude makes it hard for her to truly empathize with others, like Myrtle.

 

"Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall." (7.75)

In contrast to Daisy (who says just before this, rather despairingly, “What will we do today, and then tomorrow, and for the next thirty years?” (7.74)), Jordan is open to and excited about the possibilities still available to her in her life. As we’ll discuss later, perhaps since she’s still unmarried her life still has a freedom Daisy’s does not, and the possibility to start over.

While she’s not exactly a starry-eyed optimist, she does show a resilience, and an ability to start things over and move on, that allows her to escape the tragedy at the end relatively unscathed. It also fits how Jordan doesn’t seem to let herself get too attached to people or places, which is why she’s surprised by how much she felt for Nick.

 

"You threw me over on the telephone. I don't give a damn about you now but it was a new experience for me and I felt a little dizzy for a while." (9.130)

Jordan doesn’t frequently showcase her emotions or show much vulnerability, so this moment is striking because we see that she did really care for Nick to at least some extent.Notice that she couches her confession with a pretty sassy remark (“I don’t give a damn about you now”) which feels hollow when you realize that being “thrown over” by Nick made her feel dizzy – sad, surprised, shaken – for a while.

 


Myrtle Wilson

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Mrs. Wilson had changed her costume some time before and was now attired in an elaborate afternoon dress of cream colored chiffon, which gave out a continual rustle as she swept about the room. With the influence of the dress her personality had also undergone a change. The intense vitality that had been so remarkable in the garage was converted into impressive hauteur. Her laughter, her gestures, her assertions became more violently affected moment by moment and as she expanded the room grew smaller around her until she seemed to be revolving on a noisy, creaking pivot through the smoky air. (2.56)

Here, we see Myrtle transformed from her more sensuous, physical persona into that of someone desperate to come off as richer than she actually is. Wielding power over her group of friends, she seems to revel in her own image.

Unlike Gatsby, who projects an elaborately rich and worldly character, Myrtle’s persona is much more simplistic and transparent. (Notably Tom, who immediately sees Gatsby as a fake, doesn’t seem to mind Myrtle’s pretensions – perhaps because they are of no consequence to him, or any kind of a threat to his lifestyle.)

 

"Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!" shouted Mrs. Wilson. "I'll say it whenever I want to! Daisy! Dai——"

Making a short deft movement Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand. (2.125-126)

Here we see Myrtle pushing her limits with Tom – and realizing that he is both violent and completely unwilling to be honest about his marriage.

While both characters are willful, impulsive, and driven by their desires, Tom is violently asserting here that his needs are more important than Myrtle’s. After all, to Tom, Myrtle is just another mistress, and just as disposable as all the rest.

Also, this injury foreshadows Myrtle’s death at the hands of Daisy, herself. While invoking Daisy’s name here causes Tom to hurt Myrtle, Myrtle’s actual encounter with Daisy later in the novel turns out to be deadly.

 

"Beat me!" he heard her cry. "Throw me down and beat me, you dirty little coward!" (7.314)

When George confronts his wife about her affair, Myrtle is furious and needles at her husband – already insecure since he’s been cheated on – by insinuating he’s weak and less of a man than Tom. Also, their fight centers around her body and its treatment, while Tom and Daisy fought earlier in the same chapter about their feelings.

In this moment, we see that despite how dangerous and damaging Myrtle’s relationship with Tom is, she seems to be asking George to treat her in the same way that Tom has been doing. Myrtle's disturbing acceptance of her role as a just a body - a piece of meat, basically - foreshadows the gruesome physicality of her death.

 

Michaelis and this man reached her first but when they had torn open her shirtwaist still damp with perspiration, they saw that her left breast was swinging loose like a flap and there was no need to listen for the heart beneath. The mouth was wide open and ripped at the corners as though she had choked a little in giving up the tremendous vitality she had stored so long. (7.317)

Even in death, Myrtle’s physicality and vitality are emphasized. In fact, the image is pretty overtly sexual – notice how it’s Myrtle’s breast that’s torn open and swinging loose, and her mouth ripped open at the corners. This echoes Nick’s view of Myrtle as a woman and mistress, nothing more – even in death she’s objectified.

This moment is also much more violent than her earlier broken nose. While that moment cemented Tom as abusive in the eyes of the reader, this one truly shows the damage that Tom and Daisy leave in their wake, and shapes the tragic tone of the rest of the novel.


 

George Wilson

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Generally he was one of these worn-out men: when he wasn't working he sat on a chair in the doorway and stared at the people and the cars that passed along the road. When any one spoke to him he invariably laughed in an agreeable, colorless way. He was his wife's man and not his own. (7.312)

After our first introduction to George, Nick emphasizes George’s meekness and deference to his wife, very bluntly commenting he is not his own man. Although this comment reveals a bit of Nick’s misogyny – his comment seems to think George being his “wife’s man” as opposed to his own is his primary source of weakness – it also continues to underscore George’s devotion to Myrtle.

George’s apparent weakness may make him an unlikely choice for Gatsby’s murderer, until you consider how much pent-up anxiety and anger he has about Myrtle, which culminates in his two final, violent acts: Gatsby’s murder and his own suicide.

His description also continues to ground him in the Valley of Ashes. Unlike all the other main characters, who move freely between Long Island and Manhattan (or, in Myrtle’s case, between Queens and Manhattan), George stays in Queens, contributing to his stuck, passive, image. This makes his final journey, on foot, to Long Island, feel especially eerie and desperate.

 

Some man was talking to him in a low voice and attempting from time to time to lay a hand on his shoulder, but Wilson neither heard nor saw. His eyes would drop slowly from the swinging light to the laden table by the wall and then jerk back to the light again and he gave out incessantly his high horrible call.

“O, my Ga-od! O, my Ga-od! Oh, Ga-od! Oh, my Ga-od!” (7.326-7)

George is completely devastated by the death of his wife, to the point of being inconsolable and unaware of reality. Although we hear he treated her roughly just before this, locking her up and insisting on moving her away from the city, he is completely devastated by her loss. This sharp break with his earlier passive persona prefigures his turn to violence at the end of the book.

 

“I spoke to her,” he muttered, after a long silence. “I told her she might fool me but she couldn’t fool God. I took her to the window—“ With an effort he got up and walked to the rear window and leaned with his face pressed against it, “—and I said ‘God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing. You may fool me but you can’t fool God!’ “

Standing behind him Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg which had just emerged pale and enormous from the dissolving night.

“God sees everything,” repeated Wilson.

“That’s an advertisement,” Michaelis assured him. Something made him turn away from the window and look back into the room. But Wilson stood there a long time, his face close to the window pane, nodding into the twilight. (8.102-105)

George is looking for comfort, salvation, and order where there is nothing but an advertisement. This speaks to the moral decay of New York City, the East Coast, and even America in general during the 1920s. It also speaks to how alone and powerless George is, and how violence becomes his only recourse to seek revenge.

In this moment, the reader is forced to wonder if there is any kind of morality the characters adhere to, or if the world really is cruel and utterly without justice – and with no God except the empty eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg.



Key Great Gatsby Theme Quotes

Click on the title of each theme for an article explaining how it fits into the novel, which character it's connected to, and how to write an essay about it.

 

Money and Materialism

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Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry "Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!"

 —THOMAS PARKE D'INVILLIERS

The epigraph of the novel immediately marks money and materialism as a key theme of the book – the listener is implored to “wear the gold hat” as a way to impress his lover. In other words, wealth is presented as the key to love – such an important key that the word “gold” is repeated twice. It’s not enough to “bounce high” for someone, to win them over with your charm. You need wealth, the more the better, to win over the object of your desire.

 

“They had spent a year in France, for no particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together.” (1.17)

Our introduction to Tom and Daisy immediately describes them as rich, bored, and privileged. Tom’s restlessness is likely one motivator for his affairs, while Daisy is weighed down by the knowledge of those affairs. This combination of restlessness and resentment puts them on the path to the tragedy at the end of the book.

 

“There was music from my neighbor's house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his two motor-boats slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. On week-ends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city, between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains. And on Mondays eight servants including an extra gardener toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden-shears, repairing the ravages of the night before….” (3.1 – 3.6)

The description of Gatsby’s parties at the beginning of Chapter 3 is long and incredibly detailed, and thus highlights the extraordinary extent of Gatsby’s wealth and materialism. In contrast to Tom and Daisy’s expensive but not overly gaudy mansion, and the small dinner party Nick attends there in Chapter 1, everything about Gatsby’s new wealth is over-the-top and showy, from the crates of oranges brought in and juiced one-by-one by a butler, the “corps” of caterers to the full orchestra. Everyone who comes to the parties is attracted by Gatsby’s money and wealth, making the culture of money-worship a society-wide trend in the novel, not just something our main characters fall victim to. After all, “People were not invited – they went there” (3.7). No one comes due to close personal friendship with Jay. Everyone is there for the spectacle alone.

 

He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher—shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange with monograms of Indian blue. Suddenly with a strained sound, Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily.

"They're such beautiful shirts," she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. "It makes me sad because I've never seen such—such beautiful shirts before." (5.117-118)

Gatsby, like a peacock showing off its many-colored tail, flaunts his wealth to Daisy by showing off his many-colored shirts. And, fascinatingly, this is the first moment of the day Daisy fully breaks down emotionally – not when she first sees Gatsby, not after their first long conversation, not even at the initial sight of the mansion – but at this extremely conspicuous display of wealth. This speaks to her materialism and how, in her world, a certain amount of wealth is a barrier to entry for a relationship (friendship or more).  

 

"She's got an indiscreet voice," I remarked. "It's full of——"

I hesitated.

"Her voice is full of money," he said suddenly.

That was it. I'd never understood before. It was full of money—that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it. . . . High in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl. . . . (7.103-106)

Daisy herself is explicitly connected with money here, which allows the reader to see Gatsby’s desire for her as desire for wealth, money, and status more generally. So while Daisy is materialistic and is drawn to Gatsby again due to his newly-acquired wealth, we see Gatsby is drawn to her as well due to the money and status she represents.  

 

I couldn't forgive him or like him but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. 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)

Here, in the aftermath of the novel’s carnage, Nick observes that while Myrtle, George, and Gatsby have all died, Tom and Daisy are not punished at all for their recklessness, they can simply retreat “back into their money or their vast carelessness… and let other people clean up the mess.” So money here is more than just status – it’s a shield against responsibility, which allows Tom and Daisy to behave recklessly while other characters suffer and die in pursuit of their dreams.

 

The American Dream

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But I didn't call to him for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone—he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward—and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. (1.152)

In our first glimpse of Jay Gatsby, we see him reaching towards something far off, something in sight but definitely out of reach. This famous image of the green light is often understood as part of The Great Gatsby’s meditation on The American Dream – the idea that people are always reaching towards something greater than themselves that is just out of reach. You can read more about this in our post all about the green light. The fact that this yearning image is our introduction to Gatsby foreshadows his unhappy end and also marks him as a dreamer, rather than people like Tom or Daisy who were born with money and don’t need to strive for anything so far off.

 

Over the great bridge, with the sunlight through the girders making a constant flicker upon the moving cars, with the city rising up across the river in white heaps and sugar lumps all built with a wish out of non-olfactory money. The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.

A dead man passed us in a hearse heaped with blooms, followed by two carriages with drawn blinds and by more cheerful carriages for friends. The friends looked out at us with the tragic eyes and short upper lips of south-eastern Europe, and I was glad that the sight of Gatsby's splendid car was included in their somber holiday. As we crossed Blackwell's Island a limousine passed us, driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish Negroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry.

"Anything can happen now that we've slid over this bridge," I thought; "anything at all. . . ."

Even Gatsby could happen, without any particular wonder. (4.55-8)

Early in the novel, we get this mostly optimistic illustration of the American Dream – we see people of different races and nationalities racing towards NYC, a city of unfathomable possibility. This moment has all the classic elements of the American Dream – economic possibility, racial and religious diversity, a carefree attitude. At this moment, it does feel like “anything can happen,” even a happy ending.

However, this rosy view eventually gets undermined by the tragic events later in the novel. And even at this point, Nick’s condescension towards the people in the other cars reinforces America’s racial hierarchy that disrupts the idea of the American Dream. There is even a little competition at play, a “haughty rivalry” at play between Gatsby’s car and the one bearing the “modish Negroes.” Nick “laughs aloud” at this moment, suggesting he thinks it’s amusing that the passengers in this other car see them as equals, or even rivals to be bested. In other words, he seems to firmly believe in the racial hierarchy Tom defends in Chapter 1, even if it doesn’t admit it honestly.

 

His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy's white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips' touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete. (6.134)

This moment explicitly ties Daisy to all of Gatsby’s larger dreams for a better life – to his American Dream. This sets the stage for the novel’s tragic ending, since Daisy cannot hold up under the weight of the dream Gatsby projects onto her. Instead, she stays with Tom Buchanan, despite her feelings for Gatsby. Thus when Gatsby fails to win over Daisy, he also fails to achieve his version of the American Dream. This is why so many people read the novel as a somber or pessimistic take on the American Dream, rather than an optimistic one.  

 

...as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby's house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.” (9.151-152)

The closing pages of the novel reflect at length on the American Dream, in an attitude that seems simultaneously mournful, appreciative, and pessimistic. It also ties back to our first glimpse of Gatsby, reaching out over the water towards the Buchanan’s green light. Nick notes that Gatsby’s dream was “already behind him” then, in other words, it was impossible to attain. But still, he finds something to admire in how Gatsby still hoped for a better life, and constantly reached out toward that brighter future.

For a full consideration of these last lines and what they could mean, see our analysis of the novel’s ending.

 

Love and Relationships

Daisy and Tom Marriage Quotes

Why they came east I don't know. They had spent a year in France, for no particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together. (1.17)

Nick introduces Tom and Daisy as restless, rich, and as a singular unit: they. Despite all of the revelations about the affairs and other unhappiness in their marriage, and the events of the novel,it’s important to note our first and last descriptions of Tom and Daisy describe them as a close, if bored, couple. In fact, Nick only doubles down on this observation later in Chapter 1.

 

Well, she was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. 'All right,' I said, 'I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope she'll be a fool—that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool."

"You see I think everything's terrible anyhow," she went on in a convinced way. "Everybody thinks so—the most advanced people. And I know. I've been everywhere and seen everything and done everything." Her eyes flashed around her in a defiant way, rather like Tom's, and she laughed with thrilling scorn. "Sophisticated—God, I'm sophisticated!"

"The instant her voice broke off, ceasing to compel my attention, my belief, I felt the basic insincerity of what she had said. It made me uneasy, as though the whole evening had been a trick of some sort to exact a contributory emotion from me. I waited, and sure enough, in a moment she looked at me with an absolute smirk on her lovely face as if she had asserted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged." (1.118-120)

In this passage, Daisy pulls Nick aside in Chapter 1 and claims, despite her outward happiness and luxurious lifestyle, she’s quite depressed by her current situation. At first, it seems Daisy is revealing the cracks in her marriage – Tom was “God knows here” at the birth of their daughter, Pammy – as well as a general malaise about society in general (“everything’s terrible anyhow”).

However, right after this confession, Nick doubts her sincerity. And indeed, she follows up her apparently serious complaint with “an absolute smirk.” What’s going on here?

Well, Nick goes on to observe that the smirk “asserted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged.” In other words, despite Daisy’s performance, she seems content to remain with Tom, part of the “secret society” of the ultra-rich.  

So the question is: can anyone – or anything – lift Daisy out of her complacency?

 

"I never loved him," she said, with perceptible reluctance.

"Not at Kapiolani?" demanded Tom suddenly.

"No."

From the ballroom beneath, muffled and suffocating chords were drifting up on hot waves of air.

"Not that day I carried you down from the Punch Bowl to keep your shoes dry?" There was a husky tenderness in his tone. ". . . Daisy?" (7.258-62)

Over the course of the novel, both Tom and Daisy enter or continue affairs, pulling away from each other instead of confronting the problems in their marriage.

However, Gatsby forces them to confront their feelings in the Plaza Hotel when he demands Daisy say she never loved Tom. Although she gets the words out, she immediately rescinds them – “I did love [Tom] once but I loved you too!” – after Tom questions her.

Here, Tom – usually presented as a swaggering, brutish, and unkind – breaks down, speaking with “husky tenderness” and recalling some of the few happy moments in his and Daisy’s marriage. This is a key moment because it shows despite the dysfunction of their marriage, Tom and Daisy seem to both seek solace in happy early memories. Between those few happy memories and the fact that they both come from the same social class, their marriage ends up weathering multiple affairs.

 

Daisy and Tom were sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table with a plate of cold fried chicken between them and two bottles of ale. He was talking intently across the table at her and in his earnestness his hand had fallen upon and covered her own. Once in a while she looked up at him and nodded in agreement.

They weren't happy, and neither of them had touched the chicken or the ale—and yet they weren't unhappy either. There was an unmistakable air of natural intimacy about the picture and anybody would have said that they were conspiring together. (7.409-10)

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)

By the end of the novel, after Daisy’s murder of Myrtle as well as Gatsby’s death, she and Tom are firmly back together, “conspiring” and “careless” once again, despite the deaths of their lovers.

As Nick notes, they “weren’t happy…and yet they weren’t unhappy either.” Their marriage is important to both of them, since it reassures their status as old money aristocracy and brings stability to their lives. So the novel ends with them once again described as a unit, a “they,” perhaps even more strongly bonded since they’ve survived not only another round of affairs but murder, as well.

 

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Myrtle and George Marriage Quotes

I heard footsteps on a stairs and in a moment the thickish figure of a woman blocked out the light from the office door. She was in the middle thirties, and faintly stout, but she carried her surplus flesh sensuously as some women can. Her face, above a spotted dress of dark blue crepe-de-chine, contained no facet or gleam of beauty but there was an immediately perceptible vitality about her as if the nerves of her body were continually smouldering. She smiled slowly and walking through her husband as if he were a ghost shook hands with Tom, looking him flush in the eye. Then she wet her lips and without turning around spoke to her husband in a soft, coarse voice:

"Get some chairs, why don't you, so somebody can sit down."

"Oh, sure," agreed Wilson hurriedly and went toward the little office, mingling immediately with the cement color of the walls. A white ashen dust veiled his dark suit and his pale hair as it veiled everything in the vicinity—except his wife, who moved close to Tom. (2.15-17)

As we discuss in our article on the symbolic valley of ashes, George is coated by the dust of despair and thus seems mired in the hopelessness and depression of that bleak place, while Myrtle is alluring and full of vitality. Her first action is to order her husband to get chairs, and the second is to move away from him, closer to Tom.

In contrast to Tom and Daisy, who are initially presented as a unit, our first introduction to George and Myrtle shows them fractured, with vastly different personalities and motivations. We get the sense right away that their marriage is in trouble, and conflict between the two is imminent.

 

"I married him because I thought he was a gentleman," she said finally. "I thought he knew something about breeding, but he wasn't fit to lick my shoe."

"You were crazy about him for a while," said Catherine.

"Crazy about him!" cried Myrtle incredulously. "Who said I was crazy about him? I never was any more crazy about him than I was about that man there." (2.112-4)

Here we get a bit of back-story about George and Myrtle’s marriage: like Daisy, Myrtle was crazy about her husband at first but the marriage has since soured. But while Daisy doesn’t have any real desire to leave Tom, here we see Myrtle eager to leave, and very dismissive of her husband. Myrtle seems to suggest that even having her husband wait on her is unacceptable – it’s clear she thinks she is finally headed for bigger and better things.

 

Generally he was one of these worn-out men: when he wasn't working he sat on a chair in the doorway and stared at the people and the cars that passed along the road. When any one spoke to him he invariably laughed in an agreeable, colorless way. He was his wife's man and not his own. (7.312)

Again, in contrast to the strangely unshakeable partnership of Tom and Daisy, the co-conspirators, Michaelis (briefly taking over narrator duties) observes that George “was his wife’s man,” “worn out.” Obviously, this situation gets turned on its head when George locks Myrtle up when he discovers the affair, but Michaelis’s observation speaks to instability in the Wilson’s marriage, in which each fights for control over the other. Rather than face the world as a unified front, the Wilsons each struggle for dominance within the marriage.

 

"Beat me!" he heard her cry. "Throw me down and beat me, you dirty little coward!"

A moment later she rushed out into the dusk, waving her hands and shouting; before he could move from his door the business was over. (7.314-5)

We don’t know what happened in the fight before this crucial moment, but we do know George locked Myrtle in a room once he figured out she was having an affair. So despite the outward appearance of being ruled by his wife, he does, in fact, have the ability to physically control her. However, he apparently doesn’t hit her, the way Tom does, and Myrtle taunts him for it – perhaps insinuating he’s less a man than Tom.

This outbreak of both physical violence (George locking up Myrtle) and emotional abuse (probably on both sides) fulfills the earlier sense of the marriage being headed for conflict.Still, it’s disturbing to witness the last few minutes of this fractured, unstable partnership.

 

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Daisy and Gatsby Relationship Quotes

"You must know Gatsby."

"Gatsby?" demanded Daisy. "What Gatsby?" (1.60-1)

In the first chapter, we get a few mentions and glimpses of Gatsby, but one of the most interesting is Daisy immediately perking up at his name. She obviously still remembers him and perhaps even thinks about him, but her surprise suggests that she thinks he’s long gone, buried deep in her past.

This is in sharp contrast to the image we get of Gatsby himself at the end of the Chapter, reaching actively across the bay to Daisy’s house (1.152). While Daisy views Gatsby as a memory, Daisy is Gatsby’s past, present, and future. It’s clear even in Chapter 1 that Gatsby’s love for Daisy is much more intense than her love for him.

 

"Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay."

Then it had not been merely the stars to which he had aspired on that June night. He came alive to me, delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor. (4.151-2)

In Chapter 4, we learn Daisy and Gatsby’s story from Jordan: specifically, how they dated in Louisville but it ended when Gatsby went to the front. She also explains how Daisy threatened to call off her marriage to Tom after receiving a letter from Gatsby, but of course ended up marrying him anyway (4.140).

Here we also learn that Gatsby’s primary motivation is to get Daisy back, while Daisy is of course in the dark about all of this. This sets the stage for their affair being on unequal footing: while each has love and affection for the other, Gatsby has thought of little else but Daisy for five years while Daisy has created a whole other life for herself.

 

"We haven't met for many years," said Daisy, her voice as matter-of-fact as it could ever be.

"Five years next November." (5.69-70)

Daisy and Gatsby finally reunite in Chapter 5, the book’s mid-point. The entire chapter is obviously important for understanding the Daisy/Gatsby relationship, since we actually see them interact for the first time. But this initial dialogue is fascinating, because we see that Daisy's memories of Gatsby are more abstract and clouded, while Gatsby has been so obsessed with her he knows the exact month they parted and has clearly been counting down the days until their reunion.

 

They were sitting at either end of the couch looking at each other as if some question had been asked or was in the air, and every vestige of embarrassment was gone. Daisy's face was smeared with tears and when I came in she jumped up and began wiping at it with her handkerchief before a mirror. But there was a change in Gatsby that was simply confounding. He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation a new well-being radiated from him and filled the little room. (5.87)

After the initially awkward re-introduction, Nick leaves Daisy and Gatsby alone and comes back to find them talking candidly and emotionally. Gatsby has transformed – he is radiant and glowing. In contrast, we don’t see Daisy as radically transformed except for her tears. Although our narrator, Nick, pays much closer attention to Gatsby than Daisy, these different reactions suggest Gatsby is much more intensely invested in the relationship.

 

"They're such beautiful shirts," she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. "It makes me sad because I've never seen such—such beautiful shirts before." (5.118).

Gatsby gets the chance to show off his mansion and enormous wealthy to Daisy, and she breaks down after a very conspicuous display of Gatsby’s wealth, through his many-colored shirts.

In Daisy’s tears, you might sense a bit of guilt – that Gatsby attained so much just for her – or perhaps regret, that she might have been able to be with him had she had the strength to walk away from her marriage with Tom.

Still, unlike Gatsby, whose motivations are laid bare, it’s hard to know what Daisy is thinking and how invested she is in their relationship, despite how openly emotional she is during this reunion. Perhaps she’s just overcome with emotion due to reliving the emotions of their first encounters.

 

His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy's white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips' touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete. (6.134)

In flashback, we hear about Daisy and Gatsby’s first kiss, through Gatsby’s point of view. We see explicitly in this scene that, for Gatsby, Daisy has come to represent all of his larger hopes and dreams about wealth and a better life – she is literally the incarnation of his dreams. There is no analogous passage on Daisy’s behalf, because we actually don’t know that much of Daisy’s inner life, or certainly not much compared to Gatsby.

So we see, again, the relationship is very uneven – Gatsby has literally poured his heart and soul into it, while Daisy, though she obviously has love and affection for Gatsby, hasn’t idolized him in the same way. It becomes clear here that Daisy – who is human and fallible – can never live up to Gatsby’s huge projection of her.  

 

"Oh, you want too much!" she cried to Gatsby. "I love you now—isn't that enough? I can't help what's past." She began to sob helplessly. "I did love him once—but I loved you too."

Gatsby's eyes opened and closed.

"You loved me too?" he repeated. (7.264-66)

Here we finally get a glimpse at Daisy’s real feelings – she loved Gatsby, but also Tom, and to her those were equal loves. She hasn’t put that initial love with Gatsby on a pedestal the way Gatsby has. Gatsby’s obsession with her appears shockingly one-sided at this point, and it’s clear to the reader she will not leave Tom for him. You can also see why this confession is such a blow to Gatsby: he’s been dreaming about Daisy for years and sees her as his one true love, while she can’t even rank her love for Gatsby above her love for Tom.

 

"Was Daisy driving?"

"Yes," he said after a moment, "but of course I'll say I was." (7.397-8)

Despite Daisy’s rejection of Gatsby back at the Plaza Hotel, he refuses to believe that it was real and is sure that he can still get her back. His devotion is so intense he doesn’t think twice about covering for her and taking the blame for Myrtle’s death. In fact, his obsession is so strong he barely seems to register that there’s been a death, or to feel any guilt at all. This moment further underscores how much Daisy means to Gatsby, and how comparatively little he means to her.

 

She was the first "nice" girl he had ever known. In various unrevealed capacities he had come in contact with such people but always with indiscernible barbed wire between. He found her excitingly desirable. He went to her house, at first with other officers from Camp Taylor, then alone. It amazed him—he had never been in such a beautiful house before. But what gave it an air of breathless intensity was that Daisy lived there—it was as casual a thing to her as his tent out at camp was to him. There was a ripe mystery about it, a hint of bedrooms upstairs more beautiful and cool than other bedrooms, of gay and radiant activities taking place through its corridors and of romances that were not musty and laid away already in lavender but fresh and breathing and redolent of this year's shining motor cars and of dances whose flowers were scarcely withered. It excited him too that many men had already loved Daisy—it increased her value in his eyes. He felt their presence all about the house, pervading the air with the shades and echoes of still vibrant emotions. (8.10, emphasis added)

In Chapter 8, when we get the rest of Gatsby’s backstory, we learn more about what drew him to Daisy – her wealth, and specifically the world that opened up to Gatsby as he got to know her. Interestingly, we also learn that her “value increased” in Gatsby’s eyes when it became clear that many other men had also loved her. We see then how Daisy got all tied up in Gatsby’s ambitions for a better, wealthier life.

You also know, as a reader, that Daisy obviously is human and fallible and can never realistically live up to Gatsby’s inflated images of her and what she represents to him. So in these last pages, before Gatsby’s death as we learn the rest of Gatsby’s story, we sense that his obsessive longing for Daisy was as much about his longing for another, better life, than it was about a single woman.

 

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Tom and Myrtle Relationship Quotes

"I think it's cute," said Mrs. Wilson enthusiastically. "How much is it?"

"That dog?" He looked at it admiringly. "That dog will cost you ten dollars."

The airedale—undoubtedly there was an airedale concerned in it somewhere though its feet were startlingly white—changed hands and settled down into Mrs. Wilson's lap, where she fondled the weather-proof coat with rapture.

"Is it a boy or a girl?" she asked delicately.

"That dog? That dog's a boy."

"It's a bitch," said Tom decisively. "Here's your money. Go and buy ten more dogs with it." (2.38-43)

This passage is great because it neatly displays Tom and Myrtle’s different attitudes toward the affair. Myrtle thinks that Tom is spoiling her specifically, and that he cares about her more than he really does – after all, he stops to by her a dog just because she says it’s cute and insists she wants one on a whim.

But to Tom, the money isn’t a big deal. He casually throws away the 10 dollars, aware he’s being scammed but not caring, since he has so much money at his disposal. He also insists that he knows more than the dog seller and Myrtle, showing how he looks down at people below his own class – but Myrtle misses this because she’s infatuated with both the new puppy and Tom himself.

 

Myrtle pulled her chair close to mine, and suddenly her warm breath poured over me the story of her first meeting with Tom.

"It was on the two little seats facing each other that are always the last ones left on the train. I was going up to New York to see my sister and spend the night. He had on a dress suit and patent leather shoes and I couldn't keep my eyes off him but every time he looked at me I had to pretend to be looking at the advertisement over his head. When we came into the station he was next to me and his white shirt-front pressed against my arm—and so I told him I'd have to call a policeman, but he knew I lied. I was so excited that when I got into a taxi with him I didn't hardly know I wasn't getting into a subway train. All I kept thinking about, over and over, was 'You can't live forever, you can't live forever.' " (2.119-20)

Myrtle, twelve years into a marriage she’s unhappy in, sees her affair with Tom as a romantic escape. She tells the story of how she and Tom met like it’s the beginning of a love story. In reality, it’s pretty creepy – Tom sees a woman he finds attractive on a train and immediately goes and presses up to her like and convinces her to go sleep with him immediately. Not exactly the stuff of classic romance!

Combined with the fact Myrtle believes Daisy’s Catholicism (a lie) is what keeps her and Tom apart, you see that despite Myrtle’s pretensions of worldliness, she actually knows very little about Tom or the upper classes, and is a poor judge of character. She is an easy person for Tom to take advantage of.

 

Some time toward midnight Tom Buchanan and Mrs. Wilson stood face to face discussing in impassioned voices whether Mrs. Wilson had any right to mention Daisy's name.

"Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!" shouted Mrs. Wilson. "I'll say it whenever I want to! Daisy! Dai——"

Making a short deft movement Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand. (2.124-6)

In case the reader was still wondering that perhaps Myrtle’s take on the relationship had some basis in truth, this is a cold hard dose of reality. Tom’s vicious treatment of Myrtle reminds the reader of his brutality and the fact that, to him, Myrtle is just another affair, and he would never in a million years leave Daisy for her.

Despite the violence of this scene, the affair continues. Myrtle is either so desperate to escape her marriage or so self-deluded about what Tom thinks of her (or both) that she stays with Tom after this ugly scene.

 

There is no confusion like the confusion of a simple mind, and as we drove away Tom was feeling the hot whips of panic. His wife and his mistress, until an hour ago secure and inviolate, were slipping precipitately from his control. (7.164)

Chapter 2 gives us lots of insight into Myrtle’s character and how she sees her affair with Tom. But other than Tom’s physical attraction to Myrtle, we don’t get as clear of a view of his motivations until later on. In Chapter 7, Tom panics once he finds out George knows about his wife’s affair. We learn here that control is incredibly important to Tom – control of his wife, control of his mistress, and control of society more generally (see his rant in Chapter 1 about the “Rise of the Colored Empires”).

So just as he passionately rants and raves against the “colored races,” he also gets panicked and angry when he sees that he is losing control both over Myrtle and Daisy. This speaks to Tom’s entitlement – both as a wealthy person, as a man, and as a white person – and shows how his relationship with Myrtle is just another display of power. It has very little to do with his feelings for Myrtle herself. So as the relationship begins to slip from his fingers, he panics – not because he’s scared of losing Myrtle, but because he’s scared of losing a possession.

 

"And if you think I didn't have my share of suffering—look here, when I went to give up that flat and saw that damn box of dog biscuits sitting there on the sideboard I sat down and cried like a baby. By God it was awful——" (9.145)

Despite Tom’s abhorrent behavior throughout the novel, at the very end, Nick leaves us with an image of Tom confessing to crying over Myrtle. This complicates the reader’s desire to see Tom as a straightforward villain. This confession of emotion certainly doesn’t redeem Tom, but it does prevent you from seeing him as a complete monster.

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Nick and Jordan Relationship Quotes

I enjoyed looking at her. She was a slender, small-breasted girl, with an erect carriage which she accentuated by throwing her body backward at the shoulders like a young cadet. Her grey sun-strained eyes looked back at me with polite reciprocal curiosity out of a wan, charming discontented face. It occurred to me now that I had seen her, or a picture of her, somewhere before. (1.57)

As Nick eyes Jordan in Chapter 1, we see his immediate physical attraction to her, though it’s not as potent as Tom’s to Myrtle. And similarly to Gatsby’s attraction to Daisy being to her money and voice, Nick is pulled in by Jordan’s posture, her “wan, charming discontented face” – her attitude and status are more alluring than her looks alone. So Nick’s attraction to Jordan gives us a bit of insight both in how Tom sees Myrtle and how Gatsby sees Daisy.

 

"Good night, Mr. Carraway. See you anon."

"Of course you will," confirmed Daisy. "In fact I think I'll arrange a marriage. Come over often, Nick, and I'll sort of—oh—fling you together. You know—lock you up accidentally in linen closets and push you out to sea in a boat, and all that sort of thing——" (1.131-2)

Throughout the novel, we see Nick avoiding getting caught up in relationships – the woman he mentions back home, the woman he dates briefly in his office, Myrtle’s sister – though he doesn’t protest to being “flung together” with Jordan. Perhaps this is because Jordan would be a step up for Nick in terms of money and class, which speaks to Nick’s ambition and class-consciousness, despite the way he paints himself as an everyman. Furthermore, unlike these other women, Jordan isn’t clingy – she lets Nick come to her. Nick sees attracted to how detached and cool she is.

 

"You're a rotten driver," I protested. "Either you ought to be more careful or you oughtn't to drive at all."

"I am careful."

"No, you're not."

"Well, other people are," she said lightly.

"What's that got to do with it?"

"They'll keep out of my way," she insisted. "It takes two to make an accident."

"Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself."

"I hope I never will," she answered. "I hate careless people. That's why I like you."

Her grey, sun-strained eyes stared straight ahead, but she had deliberately shifted our relations, and for a moment I thought I loved her.  (3.162-70)

Here, Nick is attracted to Jordan’s blasé attitude and her confidence that others will avoid her careless behavior – an attitude she can afford because of her money. In other words, Nick seems fascinated by the world of the super-wealthy and the privilege it grants its members.

So just as Gatsby falls in love with Daisy and her wealthy status, Nick also seems attracted to Jordan for similar reasons. However, this conversation not only foreshadows the tragic car accident later in the novel, but it also hints at what Nick will come to find repulsive about Jordan: her callous disregard for everyone but herself.

 

It was dark now, and as we dipped under a little bridge I put my arm around Jordan's golden shoulder and drew her toward me and asked her to dinner. Suddenly I wasn't thinking of Daisy and Gatsby any more but of this clean, hard, limited person who dealt in universal skepticism and who leaned back jauntily just within the circle of my arm. A phrase began to beat in my ears with a sort of heady excitement: "There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired." (4.164)

Nick, again with Jordan, seems exhilarated to be with someone who is a step above him in terms of social class, exhilarated to be a “pursuing” person, rather than just busy or tired. Seeing the usually level-headed Nick this enthralled gives us some insight into Gatsby’s infatuation with Daisy, and also allows us to glimpse Nick-the-person, rather than Nick-the-narrator.

And again, we get a sense of what attracts him to Jordan – her clean, hard, limited self, her skepticism, and jaunty attitude. It’s interesting to see these qualities become repulsive to Nick just a few chapters later.

 

Just before noon the phone woke me and I started up with sweat breaking out on my forehead. It was Jordan Baker; she often called me up at this hour because the uncertainty of her own movements between hotels and clubs and private houses made her hard to find in any other way. Usually her voice came over the wire as something fresh and cool as if a divot from a green golf links had come sailing in at the office window but this morning it seemed harsh and dry.

"I've left Daisy's house," she said. "I'm at Hempstead and I'm going down to Southampton this afternoon."

Probably it had been tactful to leave Daisy's house, but the act annoyed me and her next remark made me rigid.

"You weren't so nice to me last night."

"How could it have mattered then?" (8.49-53)

Later in the novel, after Myrtle’s tragic death, Jordan’s casual, devil-may-care attitude is no longer cute – in fact, Nick finds it disgusting. How can Jordan care so little about the fact that someone died, and instead be most concerned with Nick acting cold and distant right after the accident?

In this brief phone conversation, we thus see Nick’s infatuation with Jordan ending, replaced with the realization that Jordan’s casual attitude is indicative of everything Nick hates about the rich, old money group. So by extension, Nick’s relationship with Jordan represents how his feelings about the wealthy have evolved – at first he was drawn in by their cool, detached attitudes, but eventually found himself repulsed by their carelessness and cruelty.

 

She was dressed to play golf and I remember thinking she looked like a good illustration, her chin raised a little, jauntily, her hair the color of an autumn leaf, her face the same brown tint as the fingerless glove on her knee. When I had finished she told me without comment that she was engaged to another man. I doubted that though there were several she could have married at a nod of her head but I pretended to be surprised. For just a minute I wondered if I wasn't making a mistake, then I thought it all over again quickly and got up to say goodbye.

"Nevertheless you did throw me over," said Jordan suddenly. "You threw me over on the telephone. I don't give a damn about you now but it was a new experience for me and I felt a little dizzy for a while."

We shook hands.

"Oh, and do you remember—" she added, "——a conversation we had once about driving a car?"

"Why—not exactly."

"You said a bad driver was only safe until she met another bad driver? Well, I met another bad driver, didn't I? I mean it was careless of me to make such a wrong guess. I thought you were rather an honest, straightforward person. I thought it was your secret pride."

"I'm thirty," I said. "I'm five years too old to lie to myself and call it honor." (9.129-135)

In their official break-up, Jordan calls out Nick for claiming to be honest and straightforward but in fact being prone to lying himself. So even as Nick is disappointed in Jordan’s behavior, Jordan is disappointed to find just another “bad driver” in Nick, and both seem to mutually agree they would never work as a couple. It’s interesting to see Nick called out for dishonest behavior for once. For all of his judging of others, he’s clearly not a paragon of virtue, and Jordan clearly recognizes that.

This break-up is also interesting because it’s the only time we see a relationship end because the two members choose to walk away from each other – all the other failed relationships (Daisy/Gatsby, Tom/Myrtle, Myrtle/George) ended because one or both members died. So perhaps there is a safe way out of a bad relationship in Gatsby – to walk away early, even if it’s difficult and you’re still “half in love” with the other person (9.136).

If only Gatsby could have realized the same thing.

 

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Key Great Gatsby Symbol Quotes

Click on each symbol to see how it relates to the novel's characters and themes and to get ideas for essay topics!

 

The Green Light

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...a figure had emerged from the shadow of my neighbor's mansion and was standing with his hands in his pockets regarding the silver pepper of the stars. Something in his leisurely movements and the secure position of his feet upon the lawn suggested that it was Mr. Gatsby himself, come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens.

...he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward—and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness. (1.151-152)

One thing in particular is interesting about the introduction of the green light: it’s very mysterious. Nick seems not to be quite sure where the light is, or what its function might be:

  • Although physically bounded by the width of the bay, the light is described as impossibly small (“minute” means “tiny enough to be almost insignificant”) and confusingly distant.
  • Even though we find out later that the light never turns off, here Nick only seems to be able to see the light when Gatsby is reaching out towards it. As soon as Gatsby disappears, Nick is in “darkness.”
  • This vagueness and mystery is a good way for the novel to underscore the fact that this light is a symbol - it stands not just for the physical object that it describes, but for an idea within the book. What’s the idea? I’ll talk all about it in the next section of this article.

 

"If it wasn't for the mist we could see your home across the bay," said Gatsby. "You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock."

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. (5.117-118)

This appearance of the green light is just as vitally important as the first one, mostly because the way the light is presented now is totally different than when we first saw it. Instead of the “enchanted” magical object we first saw, now the light has had its “colossal significance,” or its symbolic meaning, removed from it. This is because Gatsby is now actually standing there and touching Daisy herself, so he no longer needs to stretch his arms out towards the light or worry that it’s shrouded in mist. 

However, this separation of the green light from its symbolic meaning is somehow sad and troubling. Gatsby seemingly ignores Daisy putting her arm through his because he is “absorbed” in the thought that the green light is now just a regular thing. Nick’s observation that Gatsby’s “enchanted objects” are down one sounds like a lament - how many enchanted objects are there in anyone’s life?

 

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

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. (9.152-154)

Now the light has totally ceased being an observable object. Nick is not in Long Island any more, Gatsby is dead, Daisy is gone for good, and the only way the green light exists is in Nick’s memories and philosophical observations. This means that the light is now just a symbol and nothing else.

But it is not the same deeply personal symbol it was in the first chapter. Check out the way Nick transitions from describing the green light as something “Gatsby believed in” to using it as something that motivates “us.” Gatsby is no longer the only one reaching for this symbol - we all, universally, “stretch out our arms” toward it, hoping to reach it tomorrow or the next day.

You can read more in-depth analysis of the end of the novel in our article on the last paragraphs and last line of the novel.

 


The Eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckelburg

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But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic - their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground… I followed [Tom] over a low white-washed railroad fence and we walked back a hundred yards along the road under Doctor Eckleburg's persistent stare... "Terrible place, isn't it," said Tom, exchanging a frown with Doctor Eckleburg. (2.1-20)

Just like the quasi-mysterious and unreal-sounding green light in Chapter 1, the eyes of Doctor Eckleburg are presented in a confusing and seemingly surreal way:

  • Instead of simply saying that there is a giant billboard, Nick first spends several sentences describing seemingly living giant eyes that are hovering in mid-air.

  • Unlike the very gray, drab, and monochrome surroundings, the eyes are blue and yellow. In a novel that is methodically color-coded, this brightness is a little surreal and connects the eyes to other blue and yellow objects. 

  • Moreover, the description has elements of horror. The “gigantic” eyes are disembodied, with “no face” and a “nonexistent nose.”

  • Adding to this creepy feel is the fact that even after we learn that the eyes are actually part of an advertisement, they are given agency and emotions. They don’t simply exist in space, but “look out” and “persistently stare,” the miserable landscape causes them to “brood,” and they are even able to “exchange a frown” with Tom despite the fact that they have no mouth.

It’s clear from this personification of an inanimate object that these eyes stand for something else - a huge, displeased watcher.

 

We were all irritable now with the fading ale and, aware of it, we drove for a while in silence. Then as Doctor T. J. Eckleburg's faded eyes came into sight down the road, I remembered Gatsby's caution about gasoline….That locality was always vaguely disquieting, even in the broad glare of afternoon, and now I turned my head as though I had been warned of something behind. Over the ashheaps the giant eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg kept their vigil but I perceived, after a moment, that other eyes were regarding us with peculiar intensity from less than twenty feet away.

In one of the windows over the garage the curtains had been moved aside a little and Myrtle Wilson was peering down at the car. (7.136-163)

This time, the eyes are a warning to Nick that something is wrong. He thinks the problem is that the car is low on gas, but as we learn, the real problem at the garage is that George Wilson has found out that Myrtle is having an affair. 

Of course, Nick is quickly distracted from the billboard’s “vigil” by the fact that Myrtle is staring at the car from the room where George has imprisoned her. She is holding her own “vigil” of sorts, staring out the window at what she thinks is the yellow car of Tom, her would-be savior, and also giving Jordan a death stare under the misguided impression that Jordan is Daisy. 

The word “vigil” is important here. It refers to staying awake for a religious purpose, or to keep watch over a stressful and significant time. Here, though, both of those meanings don’t quite apply, and the word is used sarcastically.

The billboard eyes can’t interact with the characters, but they do point to - or stand in for - a potential higher authority whose “brooding” and “caution” could also be accompanied by judgment. Their useless vigil is echoed by Myrtle’s mistaken one - she is vigilant enough to spot Tom driving, but she is wrong to put her trust in him. Later, this trust in Tom and the yellow car is what gets her killed.

 

"Have you got a church you go to sometimes, George? Maybe even if you haven't been there for a long time? Maybe I could call up the church and get a priest to come over and he could talk to you, see?"

"Don't belong to any." ...

Wilson's glazed eyes turned out to the ashheaps, where small grey clouds took on fantastic shape and scurried here and there in the faint dawn wind.

"I spoke to her," he muttered, after a long silence. "I told her she might fool me but she couldn't fool God. I took her to the window—" With an effort he got up and walked to the rear window and leaned with his face pressed against it, "—and I said 'God knows what you've been doing, everything you've been doing. You may fool me but you can't fool God!' "

Standing behind him Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg which had just emerged pale and enormous from the dissolving night.

"God sees everything," repeated Wilson.

"That's an advertisement," Michaelis assured him. Something made him turn away from the window and look back into the room. But Wilson stood there a long time, his face close to the window pane, nodding into the twilight. (8.72-105)

Here, finally, the true meaning of the odd billboard that everyone finds so disquieting is revealed.

To the unhinged George Wilson, first totally distraught over Myrtle’s affair and then driven past his breaking point by her death, the billboard’s eyes are a watchful God. Wilson doesn’t go to church, and thus doesn’t have access to the moral instruction that will help him control his darker impulses. Still, it seems that Wilson wants God, or at least a God-like influence, in his life - based on him trying to convert the watching eyes of the billboard into a God that will make Myrtle feel bad about “everything [she’s] been doing.” 

In the way George stares “into the twilight” by himself, there is an echo of what we’ve often seen Gatsby doing - staring at the green light on Daisy’s dock. Both men want something unreachable, and both imbue ordinary objects with overwhelming amounts of meaning.

So in the same way Myrtle couldn't see the truth above, this lack of a larger moral compass here guides George (or at least leave him vulnerable) to committing the murder/suicide. Even when characters reach out for a guiding truth in their lives, not only are they denied one, but they are also led instead toward tragedy.

 


The Valley of Ashes

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About half way between West Egg and New York the motor-road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile, so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is a valley of ashes - a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air. Occasionally a line of grey cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-grey men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud which screens their obscure operations from your sight…

The valley of ashes is bounded on one side by a small foul river, and when the drawbridge is up to let barges through, the passengers on waiting trains can stare at the dismal scene for as long as half an hour. There is always a halt there of at least a minute and it was because of this that I first met Tom Buchanan's mistress. (2.1-3)

After telling us about the “fine health to be pulled down out of the young breath-giving air” (1.12) ofWest Egg in Chapter 1, Nick shows us just how the glittering wealth of the nouveau riche who live there is accumulated. Much of it comes from industry: factories that pollute the area around them into a “grotesque” and “ghastly” version of a beautiful countryside.

Instead of the bucolic, green image of a regular farm, here we have a “fantastic farm” (fantastic here means “something out of the realm of fantasy”) that grows ash instead of wheat and where pollution makes the water “foul” and the air “powdery.”

This imagery of growth serves two purposes. 

  • First, it’s disturbing, as it’s clearly meant to be. The beauty of the natural world has been transformed into a horrible hellscape of gray ashes. Not only that, but it is turning regular humans into “ash-grey men” who “swarm” like insects around the factories and cargo trains (that’s the “line of grey cars”). These are the people who do not get to enjoy either the luxury of life out on Long Island, or the faster-paced anonymous fun that Nick finds himself enjoying in Manhattan. In the novel’s world of haves and have-nots, these are the have-nots.
  • Second, the passage shows how disconnected the rich are from the source of their wealth. Nick is annoyed when he is a train passenger who has to wait for the drawbridge to lead barges through. But the barges are carrying the building products of the factories. Nick is a bond trader, and bonds are basically loans people give to companies (companies sell bond shares, use that money to grow, and then have to pay back that money to the people who bought the bonds). In the 1920s, the bond market was fueling the construction of skyscrapers, particularly in New York. In other words, the same construction boom that is making Queens into a valley of ashes is also buoying up the new moneyed class that populates West Egg.

 

"Oh, sure," agreed Wilson hurriedly and went toward the little office, mingling immediately with the cement color of the walls. A white ashen dust veiled his dark suit and his pale hair as it veiled everything in the vicinity—except his wife, who moved close to Tom. (2.17) 

In the valley, there is such a thick coating gray dust that it looks like everything is made out of this ashy substance. It’s important to note that from a general description of people as “ash-grey men” we now see that ashy description applied specifically to George Wilson. He is covered in a “veil” of desolation, sadness, hopelessness, and everything else associated with the ash.

Also, we see that Myrtle Wilson is the only thing that isn’t covered by ash. She visually stands out from her surroundings since she doesn’t blend into the “cement color” around her. This makes sense since she is an ambitious character who is eager to escape her life. Notice that she literally steps towards Tom, allying herself with a rich man who is only passing through the ash heaps on his way from somewhere better to somewhere better.

 

"I'm going to make a big request of you today," he said, pocketing his souvenirs with satisfaction, "so I thought you ought to know something about me. I didn't want you to think I was just some nobody.”...

Then the valley of ashes opened out on both sides of us, and I had a glimpse of Mrs. Wilson straining at the garage pump with panting vitality as we went by.

With fenders spread like wings we scattered light through half Astoria—only half, for as we twisted among the pillars of the elevated I heard the familiar "jug—jug—spat!" of a motor cycle, and a frantic policeman rode alongside.

"All right, old sport," called Gatsby. We slowed down. Taking a white card from his wallet he waved it before the man's eyes.

"Right you are," agreed the policeman, tipping his cap. "Know you next time, Mr. Gatsby. Excuse me!"

"What was that?" I inquired. "The picture of Oxford?"

"I was able to do the commissioner a favor once, and he sends me a Christmas card every year." (4.43-54)

While West and East Egg are the settings for the ridiculously extravagance of both the old and new money crowd, and Manhattan the setting for business and organized crime, the valley of ashes tends to be where the novel situates the grubby and underhanded manipulations that show the darker side of the surrounding glamor.

Check out just how many unethical things are going on here:

  • Gatsby wants Nick to set him up with Daisy so they can have an affair.
  • Mrs. Wilson’s “panting vitality” reminds us of her thoroughly unpleasant relationship with Tom.
  • A policeman lets Gatsby off the hook for speeding because of Gatsby’s connections.
  • Nick jokes about Gatsby’s shady-sounding story about being an Oxford man.
  • Gatsby hints at doing something probably illegal for the police commissioner (possibly supplying him with alcohol?) that makes the commissioner be permanently in his pocket.

 

Wilson's glazed eyes turned out to the ashheaps, where small grey clouds took on fantastic shape and scurried here and there in the faint dawn wind. (8.101)

This brief mention of the ashheaps sets up the chapter’s shocking conclusion, once againpositioning Wilson as a man who is coming out of the gray world of ashy pollution and factory dust. Notice how the word “fantastic” comes back. The twisted, macabre world of the valley of ashes is spreading. No longer just on the buildings, roads, and people, it is what Wilson’s sky is now made out of as well. At the same time, in combination with Wilson’s “glazed” eyes, the word “fantastic” seems to point to his deteriorating mental state.

 

No telephone message arrived but the butler went without his sleep and waited for it until four o'clock—until long after there was any one to give it to if it came. I have an idea that Gatsby himself didn't believe it would come and perhaps he no longer cared. If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about . . . like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees. (8.110)

The final reference to the ashheaps is at the moment of the murder-suicide, as George skulks towards Gatsby floating in his pool. Again, the ashy world is “fantastic” - a word that smacks of scary fairy tales and ghost stories, particularly when combined with the eerie description of Wilson as a “gliding figure” and the oddly shapeless and out of focus (“amorphous”) trees.

It’s significant that what threatens the fancy world of the Eggs is the creeping encroachment of the ash that they so look down on and are so disgusted by.

 

Key Quotes From Each Great Gatsby Chapter

Click on the chapter number to read a summary, important character beats, and the themes and symbols the chapter connects with!

 

Chapter 1 Quotes

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In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had." (1.1-2)

The opening lines of the book color how we understand Nick’s description of everything that happens in the novel. Nick wants to present himself as a wise, objective, nonjudgmental observer, but in the course of the novel, as we learn more and more about him, we realize that he is snobby and prejudiced. In fact, it is probably because he knows this about himself that he is so eager to start the story he is telling with a long explanation of what makes him the best possible narrator.

 

Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men. (1.4)

This is how Nick sums up Gatsby before we have even met him, before we’ve heard anything about his life. As you read the book, think about how this information informs the way you’re responding to Gatsby’s actions. How much of what we see about Gatsby is colored by Nick’s predetermined conviction that Gatsby is a victim whose “dreams” were “preyed on”? It often feels like Nick is relying on the reader’s implicit trust of the narrator to spin Gatsby, make him come across as very sympathetic, and gloss over his flaws.

 

"Well, it's a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don't look out the white race will be—will be utterly submerged. It's all scientific stuff; it's been proved."

"Well, these books are all scientific," insisted Tom, glancing at her impatiently. "This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It's up to us who are the dominant race to watch out or these other races will have control of things." (1.78-80)

Tom says this at dinner about a book he’s really into. Tom is introduced as a bully and a bigot from the very beginning, and his casual racism here is a good indicator of his callous disregard for human life. We will see that his affinity for being “dominant” comes into play whenever he interacts with other people. At the same time, however, Tom tends to surround himself with those who are weaker and less powerful - probably the better to lord his physical, economic, and class power over them.

 

“I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope she'll be a fool—that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” (1.118)

Daisy tells Nick that these are the first words she said after giving birth to her daughter.

This funny and depressing take on what it takes to succeed as a woman in Daisy’s world is a good lens into why she acts the way she does. Because she has never had to struggle for anything, because of her material wealth and the fact that she has no ambitions or goals, her life feels empty and meaningless to her. In a way, this wish for her daughter to be a “fool” is coming from a good place. Based on her own experiences, she assumes that a woman who is too stupid to realize that her life is pointless will be happier than one (like Daisy herself) who is restless and filled with existential ennui (which is a fancy way of describing being bored of one’s existence).

 

But I didn't call to him for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone—he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward—and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. (1.152)

The first time Nick sees him, Gatsby is making this half-prayerful gesture to the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. This is our first glimpse of his obsession and his quest for the unobtainable.Gatsby makes this reaching movement several times throughout the book, each time because something he has strived for is just out of his grasp.

 

Chapter 2 Quotes

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About half way between West Egg and New York the motor-road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile, so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is a valley of ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air. (2.1)

Every time anyone goes from Long Island to Manhattan or back, they go through this depressing industrial area in the middle of Queens. The factories located here pollute the air and land around them - their detritus is what makes the “ash” dust that covers everything and everyone. This is theplace where those who cannot succeed in the rat race end up, hopeless and lacking any way to escape. Check out our focused article for a much more in-depth analysis of what the crucial symbol of “the valley of ashes” stands for in this novel.

 

The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic—their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground. (2.2)

There is no God in the novel. None of the characters seems to be religious, no one wonders about the moral or ethical implications of any actions, and in the end, there are no punishments doled out to the bad or rewards given to the good. This lack of religious feeling is partly what makes Tom’s lie to Myrtle about Daisy being a Catholic particularly egregious. This lack of even a basic moral framework is underscored by the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg, a giant billboard that is as close as this world gets to having a watchful authoritative presence. 

 

Mrs. Wilson had changed her costume some time before and was now attired in an elaborate afternoon dress of cream colored chiffon, which gave out a continual rustle as she swept about the room. With the influence of the dress her personality had also undergone a change. The intense vitality that had been so remarkable in the garage was converted into impressive hauteur. Her laughter, her gestures, her assertions became more violently affected moment by moment and as she expanded the room grew smaller around her until she seemed to be revolving on a noisy, creaking pivot through the smoky air. (2.56)

This chapter is our main exposure to Myrtle Wilson, Tom’s mistress. Here, we see the main points of her personality - or at least the way that she comes across to Nick. First, it’s interesting to note that aside from Tom, whose hulkish physique Nick really pays a lot of attention to, Myrtle is the only character whose physicality is dwelt on at length. We hear a lot about her body and the way she moves in space - here, we not only get her “sweeping” across the room, “expanding,” and “revolving,” but also the sense that her “gestures” are somehow “violent.” It makes sense that for Nick, who is into the cool and detached Jordan, Myrtle’s overenthusiastic affect is a little off-putting. But remember this focus on Myrtle’s body when you read Chapter 7, where this body will be exposed in a shocking way.

 

Some time toward midnight Tom Buchanan and Mrs. Wilson stood face to face discussing in impassioned voices whether Mrs. Wilson had any right to mention Daisy's name.

"Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!" shouted Mrs. Wilson. "I'll say it whenever I want to! Daisy! Dai——"

Making a short deft movement Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand. (2.124-126)

This bit of violence succinctly encapsulates Tom’s brutality, how little he thinks of Myrtle, and it also speaks volumes about their vastly unequal and disturbing relationship. Two things to think about:

  1. Why doesn’t Tom want Myrtle to mention Daisy? It could be a way of maintaining discretion - to keep secret her identity in order to hide the affair. But, considering everyone in town apparently knows about Myrtle, this doesn’t seem to be the reason. More likely is the fact that Tom does actually hold Daisy in much higher regard than Myrtle, and he refuses to let the lower class woman “degrade” his high-class wife by talking about her freely. This is yet again an example of his extreme snobbery.

  2. Tom is a person who uses his body to get what he wants. Sometimes this is within socially acceptable boundaries - for example, on the football field at Yale - and sometimes it is to browbeat everyone around him into compliance. It’s also interesting that both Tom and Myrtle are such physically present characters in the novel - in this moment, Myrtle is the only character that actually stands up to Tom. In a way, they are a perfect match.

 

Chapter 3 Quotes

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I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby's house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited—they went there. They got into automobiles which bore them out to Long Island and somehow they ended up at Gatsby's door. Once there they were introduced by somebody who knew Gatsby and after that they conducted themselves according to the rules of behavior associated with amusement parks. Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all, came for the party with a simplicity of heart that was its own ticket of admission. (3.7)

Gatsby’s parties are the epitome of anonymous, meaningless excess – so much so that people treat his house as a kind of public, or at least commercial, space rather than a private home. This is connected to the vulgarity of new money – you can’t imagine Tom and Daisy throwing a party like this. Or Nick for that matter. The random and meaningless indulgence of his parties further highlights Gatsby's isolation from true friends. As Jordan says later, large parties are great because they provide privacy/intimacy, so Gatsby stands alone in a sea of strangers having their own intimate moments.

 

A stout, middle-aged man with enormous owl-eyed spectacles was sitting somewhat drunk on the edge of a great table, staring with unsteady concentration at the shelves of books. …He waved his hand toward the book-shelves.

"About that. As a matter of fact you needn't bother to ascertain. I ascertained. They're real…."Absolutely real—have pages and everything. I thought they'd be a nice durable cardboard. Matter of fact, they're absolutely real. Pages and—Here! Lemme show you."

Taking our skepticism for granted, he rushed to the bookcases and returned with Volume One of the "Stoddard Lectures."

"See!" he cried triumphantly. "It's a bona fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me. This fella's a regular Belasco. It's a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop too—didn't cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?" (3.41-50)

Belasco was a renowned theatrical producer, so comparing Gatsby to him here is a way of describing the library as a stage set for a play – in other words, as a magnificent and convincing fake. This sea of unread books is either yet more tremendous waste of resources, or a kind of miniature example of the fact that a person’s core identity remains the same no matter how many layers of disguise are placed on top.

Gatsby has the money to buy these books, but he lacks the interest, depth, time, or ambition to read and understand them, which is similar to how he regards his quest to get Daisy.

 

He smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced—or seemed to face—the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey. Precisely at that point it vanished—and I was looking at an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. Some time before he introduced himself I'd got a strong impression that he was picking his words with care. (3.76)

Lots of Gatsby’s appeal lies in his ability to instantly connect with the person he is speaking to, to make that person feel important and valued. This is probably what makes him a great front man for Wolfsheim’s bootlegging enterprise, and connects him with Daisy, who also has a preternaturally appealing quality – her voice

 

Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply—I was casually sorry, and then I forgot. (3.161)

The offhanded misogyny of this remark that Nick makes about Jordan is telling in a novel where women are generally treated as objects at worst or lesser beings at best. Even our narrator, ostensibly a tolerant and nonjudgmental observer, here reveals a core of patriarchal assumptions that run deep.

 

Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known. (3.171)

There are layers of meaning and humor here.

First, the humor:

  • While in Christian tradition there is the concept of cardinal virtues, honesty is not one of them. So here, since the phrase “cardinal sin” is the more familiar concept, there is a small joke that Nick’s honesty is actually a negative quality, a burden.

  • Nick is telling us about his scrupulous honesty a second after he’s revealed that he’s been writing love letters to a girl back home every week despite wanting to end their relationship, and despite dating a girl at his office, and then dating Jordan in the meantime. So honesty to Nick doesn’t really mean what it might to most people.

Second, the meaning:

What does it mean to have our narrator tell us in one breath that he is honest to a fault, and that he doesn’t think that most other people are honest? This sounds like a humblebrag kind of observation. But also, we need to question Nick’s ability to understand/empathize with other people if he thinks he is on such a removed plane of existence from them. And of course since he just showed us that he is not actually all that honest only a paragraph ago, we need to realize that his narration is probably not completely factual/accurate/truthful. Plus, this observation comes at the end of the third chapter, after we've met all the major players finally - so it's like the board has been set, and now we finally have enough information to distrust our narrator.

 

Chapter 4 Quotes

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"I'm going to make a big request of you today," he said, pocketing his souvenirs with satisfaction, "so I thought you ought to know something about me. I didn't want you to think I was just some nobody. You see, I usually find myself among strangers because I drift here and there trying to forget the sad thing that happened to me." (4.43)

The more Gatsby seems to reveal about himself, the more he deepens the mystery – it’s amazing how clichéd and yet how intriguing the “sad thing” he mentions immediately is. It’s also interesting that Gatsby uses his origin story as a transaction – he’s not sharing his past with Nick to form a connection, but as advance payment for a favor. At the same time, there’s a lot of humor in this scene. Imagine any time you told anyone something about yourself, you then had to whip out some physical object to prove it was true!

 

A dead man passed us in a hearse heaped with blooms, followed by two carriages with drawn blinds and by more cheerful carriages for friends. The friends looked out at us with the tragic eyes and short upper lips of south-eastern Europe, and I was glad that the sight of Gatsby's splendid car was included in their somber holiday. As we crossed Blackwell's Island a limousine passed us, driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish Negroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry.

"Anything can happen now that we've slid over this bridge," I thought; "anything at all. . . ."

Even Gatsby could happen, without any particular wonder. (4.56-58)

In a novel so concerned with fitting in, with rising through social ranks, and with having the correct origins, it’s always interesting to see where those who fall outside this ranking system are mentioned. Just he earlier described loving the anonymity of Manhattan, here Nick finds himself enjoying a similar melting-pot quality as he sees an indistinctly ethnic funeral procession (“south-eastern Europe” most likely means the people are Greek) and a car with both black and white people in it.

What is now racist terminology is here used pejoratively, but not necessarily with the same kind of blind hatred that Tom demonstrates. Instead, Nick can see that within the black community there are also social ranks and delineations – he distinguishes between the way the five black men in the car are dressed, and notes that they feel ready to challenge him and Gatsby in some car-related way. Do they want to race? To compare clothing? It’s unclear, but it adds to the sense of possibility that the drive to Manhattan always represents in the book.

 

"Meyer Wolfshiem? No, he's a gambler." Gatsby hesitated, then added coolly: "He's the man who fixed the World's Series back in 1919."

"Fixed the World's Series?" I repeated.

The idea staggered me. I remembered of course that the World's Series had been fixed in 1919 but if I had thought of it at all I would have thought of it as a thing that merely happened, the end of some inevitable chain. It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people—with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.

"How did he happen to do that?" I asked after a minute.

"He just saw the opportunity."

"Why isn't he in jail?"

"They can't get him, old sport. He's a smart man."

(4.113-119)

Nick’s amazement at the idea of one man being behind an enormous event like the fixed World Series is telling. For one thing, the powerful gangster as a prototype of pulling-himself-up-by-his-bootstraps, self-starting man, which the American Dream holds up as a paragon of achievement, mocks this individualist ideal. It also connects Gatsby to the world of crime, swindling, and the underhanded methods necessary to effect enormous change. In a smaller, less criminal way, watching Wolfshiem maneuver has clearly rubbed off on Gatsby and his convolutedly large-scale scheme to get Daisy’s attention by buying an enormous mansion nearby.

 

Suddenly I wasn't thinking of Daisy and Gatsby any more but of this clean, hard, limited person who dealt in universal skepticism and who leaned back jauntily just within the circle of my arm. A phrase began to beat in my ears with a sort of heady excitement: "There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired." (4.164)

Nick thinks this about Jordan while they are kissing. Two things to ponder:

  • Which one does he think he is: the pursued or the pursuing? The busy or the tired? Perhaps we are meant to match these adjectives up to the two people involved in the main love story, in which case Gatsby is both the pursuing and the busy, while Daisy is the pursued and the tired.
  • If Tom, Daisy, and Gatsby are locked into a romantic triangle (or square, if we include Myrtle), then Jordan and Nick are vying for the position of narrator. Nick presents himself as the objective, nonjudgmental observer – the confidant of everyone he meets. So it’s interesting that here we get his perspective on Jordan’s narrative style – “universal skepticism” –  right after she gets to take over telling the story for a huge chunk of the chapter. Which is the better approach, we are being asked, the overly credulous or the jaded and disbelieving? Are we more likely to believe Jordan when she says something positive about someone since she is so quick to find fault? For example, it seems important that she be the one to state that Daisy hasn’t had any affairs, not Nick.

 

Chapter 5 Quotes

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"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?

 

Chapter 6 Quotes

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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 ofGatsby’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.

 

Chapter 7 Quotes

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Then she remembered the heat and sat down guiltily on the couch just as a freshly laundered nurse leading a little girl came into the room.

"Bles-sed pre-cious," she crooned, holding out her arms. "Come to your own mother that loves you."

The child, relinquished by the nurse, rushed across the room and rooted shyly into her mother's dress.

"The Bles-sed pre-cious! Did mother get powder on your old yellowy hair? Stand up now, and say How-de-do."

Gatsby and I in turn leaned down and took the small reluctant hand. Afterward he kept looking at the child with surprise. I don't think he had ever really believed in its existence before. (7.48-52)

This is our first and only chance to see Daisy performing motherhood. And "performing" is the right word, since everything about Daisy's actions here rings a little false and her cutesy sing song a little bit like an act. The presence of the nurse makes it clear that, like many upper-class women of the time, Daisy does not actually do any child rearing.

At the same time, this is the exact moment when Gatsby is delusional dreams start breaking down. The shock and surprise that he experiences when he realizes that Daisy really does have a daughter with Tom show how little he has thought about the fact the Daisy has had a life of her own outside of him for the last five years. The existence of the child is proof of Daisy's separate life, and Gatsby simply cannot handle then she is not exactly as he has pictured her to be.

Finally, here we can see how Pammy is being bred for her life as a future “beautiful little fool”, as Daisy put it. As Daisy’s makeup rubs onto Pammy's hair,  Daisy prompts her reluctant daughter to be friendly to two strange men.

 

"What'll we do with ourselves this afternoon," cried Daisy, "and the day after that, and the next thirty years?"

"Don't be morbid," Jordan said. "Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall."(7.74-75)

Comparing and contrasting Daisy and Jordan) is one of the most common assignments that you will get when studying this novel. This very famous quotation is a great place to start.

Daisy's attempt at a joke reveals her fundamental boredom and restlessness.  Despite the fact that she has social standing, wealth, and whatever material possessions she could want, she is not happy in her endlessly monotonous and repetitive life. This existential ennui goes a long way to helping explain why she seizes on Gatsby as an escape from routine.

On the other hand, Jordan is a pragmatic and realistic person, who grabs opportunities and who sees possibilities and even repetitive cyclical moments of change. For example here, although fall and winter are most often linked to sleep and death, whereas it is spring that is usually seen as the season of rebirth, for Jordan any change brings with it the chance for reinvention and new beginnings.

 

"She's got an indiscreet voice," I remarked. "It's full of——"

I hesitated.

"Her voice is full of money," he said suddenly.

That was it. I'd never understood before. It was full of money—that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it. . . . High in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl. . . . (7.103-106)

Here we are getting to the root of what it is really that attracts Gatsby so much to Daisy.

Nick notes that the way Daisy speaks to Gatsby is enough to reveal their relationship to Tom.  Once again we see the powerful attraction of Daisy's voice. For Nick, this voice is full of “indiscretion,” an interesting word that at the same time brings to mind the revelation of secrets and the disclosure of illicit sexual activity. Nick has used this word in this connotation before - when describing Myrtle in Chapter 2 he uses the word “discreet” several times to explain the precautions she takes to hide her affair with Tom.

But for Gatsby, Daisy's voice does not hold this sexy allure, as much as it does the promise of wealth, which has been his overriding ambition and goal for most of his life. To him, her voice marks her as a prize to be collected. This impression is further underscored by the fairy tale imagery that follows the connection of Daisy's voice to money. Much like princesses who is the end of fairy tales are given as a reward to plucky heroes, so too Daisy is Gatsby's  winnings, an indication that he has succeeded.

 

"You think I'm pretty dumb, don't you?" he suggested. "Perhaps I am, but I have a—almost a second sight, sometimes, that tells me what to do. Maybe you don't believe that, but science——" (7.123)

Nick never sees Tom as anything other than a villain; however, it is interesting that only Tom immediately sees Gatsby for the fraud that he turns out to be. Almost from the get-go, Tom calls it that Gatsby's money comes from bootlegging or some other criminal activity. It is almost as though Tom's life of lies gives him special insight into detecting the lies of others.

 

The relentless beating heat was beginning to confuse me and I had a bad moment there before I realized that so far his suspicions hadn't alighted on Tom. He had discovered that Myrtle had some sort of life apart from him in another world and the shock had made him physically sick. I stared at him and then at Tom, who had made a parallel discovery less than an hour before—and it occurred to me that there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well. Wilson was so sick that he looked guilty, unforgivably guilty—as if he had just got some poor girl with child. (7.160)

You will also often be asked to compare Tom and Wilson, two characters who share some plot details in common.This passage, which explicitly contrasts these two men's reactions to finding out their wives are having affairs, is a great place to start.

  • Tom’s response to Daisy and Gatsby’s relationship is to immediately do everything to display his power. He forces a trip to Manhattan, demands that Gatsby explain himself, systematically dismantles the careful image and mythology that Gatsby has created, and finally makes Gatsby drive Daisy home to demonstrate how little he has to fear from them being alone together.
  • Wilson also tries to display power. But he is so unused to wielding it that his best effort is to lock Myrtle up and then to listen to her emasculating insults and provocations. Moreover, rather than relaxing under this power trip, Wilson becomes physically ill, feeling guilty both about his part in driving his wife away and about manhandling her into submission.
  • Finally, it is interesting that Nick renders these reactions as health-related. Whose response does Nick view as “sick” and whose as “well”? It is tempting to connect Wilson’s bodily response to the word “sick,” but the ambiguity is purposeful. Is it sicker in this situation to take a power-hungry delight in eviscerating a rival, Tom-style, or to be overcome on a psychosomatic level, like Wilson?

 

"Self control!" repeated Tom incredulously. "I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife. Well, if that's the idea you can count me out. . . . Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions and next they'll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white."

Flushed with his impassioned gibberish he saw himself standing alone on the last barrier of civilization.

"We're all white here," murmured Jordan.

"I know I'm not very popular. I don't give big parties. I suppose you've got to make your house into a pigsty in order to have any friends—in the modern world."

Angry as I was, as we all were, I was tempted to laugh whenever he opened his mouth. The transition from libertine to prig was so complete. (7.229-233)

Nick is happy whenever he gets to demonstrate how undereducated and dumb Tom actually is. Here, Tom’s anger at Daisy and Gatsby is somehow transformed into a self-pitying and faux righteous rant about miscegenation, loose morals, and the decay of stalwart institutions. We see the connection between Jordan and Nick when both of them puncture Tom’s pompous balloon: Jordan points out that race isn’t really at issue at the moment, and Nick laughs at the hypocrisy of a womanizer like Tom suddenly lamenting his wife’s lack of prim propriety.

 

"She never loved you, do you hear?" he cried. "She only married you because I was poor and she was tired of waiting for me. It was a terrible mistake, but in her heart she never loved any one except me!" (7.241)

Gatsby throws caution to the wind and reveals the story that he has been telling himself about Daisy all this time. In his mind, Daisy has been pining for him as much as he has been longing for her, and he has been able to explain her marriage to himself simply by eliding any notion that she might have her own hopes, dreams, ambitions, and motivations. Gatsby has been propelled for the last five years by the idea that he has access to what is in Daisy's heart. However, we can see that a dream built on this kind of shifting sand is at best wishful thinking and at worst willful self-delusion.

 

"Daisy, that's all over now," he said earnestly. "It doesn't matter any more. Just tell him the truth—that you never loved him—and it's all wiped out forever." ...

She hesitated. Her eyes fell on Jordan and me with a sort of appeal, as though she realized at last what she was doing—and as though she had never, all along, intended doing anything at all. But it was done now. It was too late….

"Oh, you want too much!" she cried to Gatsby. "I love you now—isn't that enough? I can't help what's past." She began to sob helplessly. "I did love him once—but I loved you too."

Gatsby's eyes opened and closed.

"You loved me too?" he repeated. (7.254-266)

Gatsby wants nothing less than that Daisy erase the last five years of her life. He is unwilling to accept the idea that Daisy has had feelings for someone other than him, that she has had a history that does not involve him, and that she has not spent every single second of every day wondering when he would come back into her life. His absolutism is a form of emotional blackmail.

For all Daisy's evident weaknesses, it is a testament to her psychological strength that she is simply unwilling to recreate herself, her memories, and her emotions in Gatsby's image.She could easily at this point say that she has never loved Tom, but this would not be true, and she does not want to give up her independence of mind. Unlike Gatsby, who against all evidence to the contrary believes that you can repeat the past, Daisy wants to know that there is a future. She wants Gatsby to be the solution to her worries about each successive future day, rather than an imprecation about the choices she has made to get to this point.

At the same time, it's key to note Nick’s realization that Daisy “had never intended on doing anything at all.”  Daisy has never planned to leave Tom. We've known this ever since the first time we saw them at the end of Chapter 1, when he realized that they were cemented together in their dysfunction.

 

It passed, and he began to talk excitedly to Daisy, denying everything, defending his name against accusations that had not been made. But with every word she was drawing further and further into herself, so he gave that up and only the dead dream fought on as the afternoon slipped away, trying to touch what was no longer tangible, struggling unhappily, undespairingly, toward that lost voice across the room. (7.292)

The appearance of Daisy's daughter and Daisy’s declaration that at some point in her life she loved Tom have both helped to crush Gatsby's obsession with his dream. In just the same way, Tom's explanations about who Gatsby really is and what is behind his facade have broken Daisy's infatuation. Take note of the language here – as Daisy is withdrawing from Gatsby, we come back to the image of Gatsby with his arms outstretched, trying to grab something that is just out of reach. In this case it's not just Daisy herself, but also his dream of being with her inside his perfect memory.

 

"Beat me!" he heard her cry. "Throw me down and beat me, you dirty little coward!" (7.314)

Myrtle fights by provoking and taunting. Here, she is pointing out Wilson’s weak and timid nature by egging him on to treat her the way that Tom did when he punched her earlier in the novel.

However, before we draw whatever conclusions we can about Myrtle from this exclamation, it’s worthwhile to think about the context of this remark.

  • First, we are getting this speech third-hand. This is Nick telling us what Michaelis described overhearing, so Myrtle’s words have gone through a double male filter.
  • Second, Myrtle’s words stand in isolation. We have no idea what Wilson has been saying to her to provoke this attack. What we do know is that however “powerless” Wilson might be, he still has power enough to imprison his wife in their house and to unilaterally uproot and move her several states away against her will. Neither Nick nor Michaelis remarks on whether either of these exercises of unilateral power over Myrtle is appropriate or fair - it is simply expected that this is what a husband can do to a wife.

So what do we make of the fact that Myrtle was trying to verbally emasculate her husband? Maybe yelling at him is her only recourse in a life where she has no actual ability to control her life or bodily integrity.

 

The "death car" as the newspapers called it, didn't stop; it came out of the gathering darkness, wavered tragically for a moment and then disappeared around the next bend. Michaelis wasn't even sure of its color—he told the first policeman that it was light green. The other car, the one going toward New York, came to rest a hundred yards beyond, and its driver hurried back to where Myrtle Wilson, her life violently extinguished, knelt in the road and mingled her thick, dark blood with the dust.

Michaelis and this man reached her first but when they had torn open her shirtwaist still damp with perspiration, they saw that her left breast was swinging loose like a flap and there was no need to listen for the heart beneath. The mouth was wide open and ripped at the corners as though she had choked a little in giving up the tremendous vitality she had stored so long. (7.316-317)

The stark contrast here between the oddly ghostly nature of the car that hits Myrtle and the visceral, gruesome, explicit imagery of what happens to her body after it is hit is very striking. The car almost doesn’t seem real – it comes out of the darkness like an avenging spirit and disappears, Michaelis cannot tell what color it is. Meanwhile, Myrtle’s corpse is described in detail and is palpably physical and present.

This treatment of Myrtle’s body might be one place to go when you are asked to compare Daisy and Myrtle in class. Daisy’s body is never even described, beyond a gentle indication that she prefers white dresses that are flouncy and loose. On the other hand, every time that we see Myrtle in the novel, her body is physically assaulted or appropriated. Tom initially picks her up by pressing his body inappropriately into hers on the train station platform. Before her party, Tom has sex with her while Nick (a man who is a stranger to Myrtle) waits in the next room, and then Tom ends the night by punching her in the face. Finally, she is restrained by her husband inside her house and then run over.

 

Daisy and Tom were sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table with a plate of cold fried chicken between them and two bottles of ale. He was talking intently across the table at her and in his earnestness his hand had fallen upon and covered her own. Once in a while she looked up at him and nodded in agreement.

They weren't happy, and neither of them had touched the chicken or the ale—and yet they weren't unhappy either. There was an unmistakable air of natural intimacy about the picture and anybody would have said that they were conspiring together. (7.409-410)

And so, the promise that Daisy and Tom are a dysfunctional couple that somehow makes it work (Nick saw this at the end of Chapter 1) is fulfilled. For careful readers of the novel, this conclusion should have been clear from the get-go. Daisy complains about Tom, and Tom serially cheats on Daisy, but at the end of the day, they are unwilling to forgo the privileges their life entitles them to.

This moment of truth has stripped Daisy and Tom down to the basics. They are in the least showy room of their mansion, sitting with simple and unpretentious food, and they have been stripped of their veneer. Their honesty makes what they are doing - conspiring to get away with murder, basically - completely transparent. And it is the fact that they can tolerate this level of honesty in each other besides each being kind of a terrible person that keeps them together.

Compare their readiness to forgive each other anything - even murder! - with Gatsby’s insistence that it’s his way or no way.

 

Chapter 8 Quotes

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She was the first "nice" girl he had ever known. In various unrevealed capacities he had come in contact with such people but always with indiscernible barbed wire between. He found her excitingly desirable. He went to her house, at first with other officers from Camp Taylor, then alone. It amazed him—he had never been in such a beautiful house before. But what gave it an air of breathless intensity was that Daisy lived there—it was as casual a thing to her as his tent out at camp was to him. There was a ripe mystery about it, a hint of bedrooms upstairs more beautiful and cool than other bedrooms, of gay and radiant activities taking place through its corridors and of romances that were not musty and laid away already in lavender but fresh and breathing and redolent of this year's shining motor cars and of dances whose flowers were scarcely withered. It excited him too that many men had already loved Daisy—it increased her value in his eyes. He felt their presence all about the house, pervading the air with the shades and echoes of still vibrant emotions. (8.10)

The reason the word “nice” is in quotation marks is that Gatsby does not mean that Daisy is the first pleasant or amiable girl that he has met. Instead, the word “nice” here means refined, having elegant and elevated taste, picky and fastidious. In other words, from the very beginning what Gatsby most values about Daisy is that she belongs to that set of society that he is desperately trying to get into: the wealthy, upper echelon. Just like when he noted the Daisy’s voice has money in it, here Gatsby almost cannot separate Daisy herself from the beautiful house that he falls in love with.

Notice also how much he values quantity of any kind – it’s wonderful that the house has many bedrooms and corridors, and it’s also wonderful that many men want Daisy. Either way, it’s the quantity itself that “increases value.” It’s almost like Gatsby’s love is operating in a market economy – the more demand there is for a particular good, the higher the worth of that good. Of course, thinking in this way makes it easy to understand why Gatsby is able to discard Daisy’s humanity and inner life when he idealizes her.

 

For Daisy was young and her artificial world was redolent of orchids and pleasant, cheerful snobbery and orchestras which set the rhythm of the year, summing up the sadness and suggestiveness of life in new tunes. All night the saxophones wailed the hopeless comment of the "Beale Street Blues" while a hundred pairs of golden and silver slippers shuffled the shining dust. At the grey tea hour there were always rooms that throbbed incessantly with this low sweet fever, while fresh faces drifted here and there like rose petals blown by the sad horns around the floor.

Through this twilight universe Daisy began to move again with the season; suddenly she was again keeping half a dozen dates a day with half a dozen men and drowsing asleep at dawn with the beads and chiffon of an evening dress tangled among dying orchids on the floor beside her bed. And all the time something within her was crying for a decision. She wanted her life shaped now, immediately - and the decision must be made by some force - of love, of money, of unquestionable practicality - that was close at hand. (8.18-19)

This description of Daisy’s life apart from Gatsby clarifies why she picks Tom in the end and goes back to her hopeless ennui and passive boredom: this is what she has grown up doing and is used to. Daisy’s life seems fancy. After all, there are orchids and orchestras and golden shoes.

But already, even for the young people of high society, death and decay loom large. In this passage for example, not only is the orchestra’s rhythm full of sadness, but the orchids are dying, and the people themselves look like flowers past their prime. In the midst of this stagnation, Daisy longs for stability, financial security, and routine. Tom offered that then, and he continues to offer it now.

 

"Of course she might have loved him, just for a minute, when they were first married—and loved me more even then, do you see?"

Suddenly he came out with a curious remark:

"In any case," he said, "it was just personal."

What could you make of that, except to suspect some intensity in his conception of the affair that couldn't be measured? (8.24-27)

Even though he can now no longer be an absolutist about Daisy’s love, Gatsby is still trying to think about her feelings on his own terms. After admitting that the fact that many men loved Daisy before him is a positive, Gatsby is willing to admit that maybe Daisy had feelings for Tom after all, just as long as her love for Gatsby was supreme.

Gatsby is ambiguous admission that “it was just personal” carries several potential meanings:

  • Nick assumes that the word “it” refers to Gatsby’s love, which Gatsby is describing as “personal” as a way of emphasizing how deep and inexplicable his feelings for Daisy are.
  • But of course, the word “it” could just as easily be referring to Daisy’s decision to marry Tom. In this case, what is “personal” are Daisy’s reasons (the desire for status and money), which are hers alone, and have no bearing on the love that she and Gatsby feel for each other.

 

He stretched out his hand desperately as if to snatch only a wisp of air, to save a fragment of the spot that she had made lovely for him. But it was all going by too fast now for his blurred eyes and he knew that he had lost that part of it, the freshest and the best, forever. (8.30)

Once again Gatsby is trying to reach something that is just out of grasp, a gestural motif that recurs frequently in this novel. Here already, even as a young man, he is trying to grab hold of an ephemeral memory.

 

"They're a rotten crowd," I shouted across the lawn. "You're worth the whole damn bunch put together."

I've always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end. First he nodded politely, and then his face broke into that radiant and understanding smile, as if we'd been in ecstatic cahoots on that fact all the time. His gorgeous pink rag of a suit made a bright spot of color against the white steps and I thought of the night when I first came to his ancestral home three months before. The lawn and drive had been crowded with the faces of those who guessed at his corruption—and he had stood on those steps, concealing his incorruptible dream, as he waved them goodbye. (8.45-46)

It’s interesting that here Nick suddenly tells us that he disapproves of Gatsby. One way to interpret this is that during that fateful summer, Nick did indeed disapprove of what he saw, but has since come to admire and respect Gatsby, and it is that respect and admiration that come through in the way he tells the story most of the time.

It’s also telling that Nick sees the comment he makes to Gatsby as a compliment. At best, it is a backhanded one – he is saying that Gatsby is better than a rotten crowd, but that is a bar set very low (if you think about it, it’s like saying “you’re so much smarter than that chipmunk!” and calling that high praise). Nick’s description of Gatsby’s outfit as both “gorgeous” and a “rag” underscores this sense of condescension. The reason Nick thinks that he is praising Gatsby by saying this is that suddenly, in this moment, Nick is able to look past his deeply and sincerely held snobbery, and to admit that Jordan, Tom, and Daisy are all horrible people despite being upper crust.

Still, backhanded as it is, this compliment also meant to genuinely make Gatsby feel a bit better. Since Gatsby cares so, so much about entering the old money world, it makes Nick glad to be able to tell Gatsby that he is so much better than the crowd he's desperate to join.

 

Usually her voice came over the wire as something fresh and cool as if a divot from a green golf links had come sailing in at the office window but this morning it seemed harsh and dry.

"I've left Daisy's house," she said. "I'm at Hempstead and I'm going down to Southampton this afternoon."

Probably it had been tactful to leave Daisy's house, but the act annoyed me and her next remark made me rigid.

"You weren't so nice to me last night."

"How could it have mattered then?" (8.49-53)

Jordan’s pragmatic opportunism, which has so far been a positive foil to Daisy’s listless inactivity, is suddenly revealed to be an amoral and self-involved way of going through life. Instead of being affected one way or another by Myrtle’s horrible death, Jordan’s takeaway from the previous day is that Nick simply wasn’t as attentive to her as she would like.

Nick is staggered by the revelation that the cool aloofness that he liked so much throughout the summer - possibly because it was a nice contrast to the girl back home that Nick thought was overly attached to their non-engagement - is not actually an act. Jordan really doesn’t care about other people, and she really can just shrug off seeing Myrtle’s mutilated corpse and focus on whether Nick was treating her right. Nick, who has been trying to assimilate this kind of thinking all summer long, finds himself shocked back into his Middle West morality here.

 

"I spoke to her," he muttered, after a long silence. "I told her she might fool me but she couldn't fool God. I took her to the window—" With an effort he got up and walked to the rear window and leaned with his face pressed against it, "—and I said 'God knows what you've been doing, everything you've been doing. You may fool me but you can't fool God!' "

Standing behind him Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg which had just emerged pale and enormous from the dissolving night.

"God sees everything," repeated Wilson.

"That's an advertisement," Michaelis assured him. Something made him turn away from the window and look back into the room. But Wilson stood there a long time, his face close to the window pane, nodding into the twilight. (8.102-105)

Clearly Wilson has been psychologically shaken first by Myrtle’s affair and then by her death - he is seeing the giant eyes of the optometrist billboard as a stand-in for God. But this delusion underlines the absence of any higher power in the novel. In the lawless, materialistic East, there is no moral center which could rein in people’s darker, immoral impulses. The motif of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg’s eyes runs through the novel, as Nick notes them watching whatever goes on in the ashheaps. Here, that motif comes to a crescendo. Arguably, when Michaelis dispels Wilson’s delusion about the eyes, he takes away the final barrier to Wilson’s unhinged revenge plot. If there is no moral authority watching, anything goes.

 

No telephone message arrived but the butler went without his sleep and waited for it until four o'clock—until long after there was any one to give it to if it came. I have an idea that Gatsby himself didn't believe it would come and perhaps he no longer cared. If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about . . . like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees. (8.110)

Nick tries to imagine what it might be like to be Gatsby, but a Gatsby without the activating dream that has spurred him throughout his life. For Nick, this would be the loss of the aesthetic sense - an inability to perceive beauty in roses or sunlight. The idea of fall as a new, but horrifying, world of ghosts and unreal material contrasts nicely with Jordan’s earlier idea that fall brings with it rebirth.

 

Chapter 9 Quotes

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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 aclash 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.

 

What’s Next?

Writing an essay about The Great Gatsby? We've got articles to help you compare and contrast the most common character pairings, show you how to do an in-depth character analysis, help you write about a theme, and teach you how to best analyze a symbol.

Digging into the plot? Check out our summary of the novel, explore the meaning of the title, get a sense of how the novel's beginning sets up the story, and why the last line of the novel has become one of the most famous in Western literature.

 

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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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