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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald Chapter IV Summary And Analysis
This chapter also opens with another small glimpse into a party at Gatsby’s house with the guests still gossiping about their host. Nick interrupts his description of the party to list some of the guests that came to Gatsby’s house during the summer. He had jotted down the names on a railroad time table. Many came from East Egg, including the Leeches, the Voltaire’s, the Blackbuck’s, the Dancies, Mr. Whitebait, the Fishguard’s, Maurice Flink, and the Hammerhead’s. Guests from West Egg included the Poles, the Catlip’s, and James B. (“Rot-gut”) Ferret. Other guests included Francis Bull and George Duckweed (theatrical people), Klipspringer (who came so often he was called the boarder), the Chromes, the Backhysson’s, S.W. Belcher, Miss Haag, P. Jewett, and Claudia Hip.
Nick turns from the long list to tell about the first time Gatsby comes to his home. He has arrived in his elegant automobile to take Nick into the city for lunch. During the drive, Gatsby asks Nick, “What’s your opinion of me anyhow?” and then launches into an explanation of his background. He first says he is the son of a wealthy family from the “middle-west”. He then adds he was educated at Oxford, inherited a great deal of money, and then “lived like a young rajah in all the capitals of Europe…collected jewels, hunting big game, painting a little…and trying to forget something very sad that had happened.” He then tells about joining the war in hopes of getting killed, but instead he receives decorations for his bravery from every Allied government. Nick’s first reaction to these tales is to laugh incredulously, but he is also fascinated with Gatsby’s story. Then his neighbor pulls out a war medal from Montenegro, and to Nick’s astonishment, it almost looks real. So does the picture of Gatsby supposedly taken in front of Oxford when he in school there. After showing these souvenirs to Nick, Gatsby tells his neighbor, “I’m going to make a big request of you today.” That is why he has told Nick about his background, for Gatsby does not want him to think he is “just some nobody.”
Nick then learns that Gatsby will not make his request personally. Instead, he has asked Jordan Baker to discuss the matter with Nick at tea. Nick’s reaction to this is to be annoyed, for he feels the request will be something fantastic, and he does not want to waste his date with Jordan discussing Gatsby. During the rest of the drive into New York, Gatsby sits silent and correct, except when he is stopped by a policeman for speeding. Gatsby pulls out a card from his wallet and shows it to the officer, who then replies, “Know you next time, Mr. Gatsby. Excuse me!” Nick’s sense of wonder expands, but he says little to Gatsby. Instead, he sits and observes the passing surroundings. He spies Mrs. Wilson at her husband’s gas pump in the Valley of Ashes. He sees a dead man in a hearse, followed by two carriages filled with mourners that have “tragic eyes.” He notices a limousine driven by a white chauffeur and carrying “three modish Negroes.” He stares at the city skyline rising ahead “in white heaps and sugar lumps all built with a wish out of non-olfactory money.” Then Nick reflects that anything can happen in New York, a city filled with mystery and beauty.
When Nick joins Gatsby for lunch, he finds him seated with Meyer Wolfsheim, a man in his fifties who wears human molars as cuff links. During their meal, Wolfsheim broods about Rosy Rosenthal’s murder at the Metropole years before; after lunch, Gatsby tells Nick that Wolfsheim is the man who fixed the World Series in 1917. Nick, with his proper Midwestern upbringing, is shocked about everything relating to this gentleman and curious about Gatsby’s relationship to him. When Gatsby goes to make a phone call, Nick quizzes Wolfsheim, who says he has known their host for several years. He then brags on Gatsby as “a fine man of breeding,” and a handsome and perfect gentleman who is “very careful about women.” When Gatsby returns, Wolfsheim takes his leave in order to let the two younger men discuss their sports and young ladies. Gatsby then apologizes for making Nick angry earlier in the car, and Nick explains that he does not like mysteries, and he does not like requests going through Jordan Baker. Gatsby responds by saying, ” Oh, it’s nothing underhand. Miss Baker’s a great sportswoman, you know, and she’d never do anything that wasn’t right,” humorous words spoken to a man who knows that Jordan is “incurably dishonest.” As the two of them leave the restaurant, Nick spies Tom Buchanan and goes up to him and introduces Gatsby, who suddenly has “a strained, unfamiliar look of embarrassment.” Gatsby then suddenly disappears without saying good-bye, and Nick goes to meet Jordan for tea.
As they have tea in the Plaza Hotel, Jordan begins telling Nick a story about Daisy when they were both young girls back in Louisville in 1917. Daisy, at age 18, was the richest and most popular girl in town. One spring day Jordan spied her sitting in her white roadster with a handsome lieutenant, whom Daisy introduced as Jay Gatsby. Jordan thought little about the meeting except to feel pangs of jealousy over the romantic way the soldier looked at Daisy. Soon, however, rumors circulated about Daisy trying to run away to say good-bye to a soldier who was going overseas, but her family stopped her. Daisy seemed to brood for a few months, but by autumn she appeared as happy as ever. In winter, she became engaged to Tom Buchanan, a very wealthy young man from Chicago. But the night before her June wedding, Daisy got drunk and told Jordan she had changed her mind about the marriage. As Daisy cried, Jordan noticed a crumpled letter in her hand, and Daisy refused to let go of it. By the next day, the episode had passed, and Daisy married Tom Buchanan and soon began their lengthy travels. Almost immediately, Tom started to see other women, and Daisy’ misery began.
As Jordan and Nick leave the Plaza Hotel, they hear children in the park singing “The Sheik of Araby,” an appropriate song that seems to foreshadow Gatsby’s sneaking into Daisy’s life, just as the Sheik of Araby was sneaking into a tent. With this song in the background, Jordan tells Nick the most astonishing news of all. “Gatsby bought the house so Daisy would be just across the bay.” Then Jordan reveals Gatsby’s request, which Nick had expected to be something fantastic. “He wants to know if you’ll invite Daisy to your house some afternoon and then let him come over.” He wants to see Daisy, and he wants Daisy to see his house; but Daisy is not to know ahead of time that Gatsby will be there, for he is afraid she might choose not to come. Nick is totally amazed at the modesty of Gatsby’s small request. After five years and the purchase of a grand mansion, all he wants is to “come over some afternoon to a stranger’s garden.” The mystery fades, and the real Gatsby comes alive to Nick; his neighbor is a man with a noble dream, and he is “delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor.”
Nick begins this chapter with another reference to a party at Gatsby’s with the young ladies still speculating about the past of their mysterious host. This brief introduction to Chapter IV serves two purposes. It reminds the reader that no one seems to know much about Gatsby; but by the end of the chapter, Nick will have gathered much information that helps him to understand and appreciate his neighbor. The brief party description also serves as an introduction for Nick to tell about his list of party-guests. During his summer in New York, he kept track of many of the names of the people who attended Gatsby’s gatherings. Most of the names, such as Leech, Blackbuck, Dancies, Whitebait, Hammerhead, Ferret, Bull, Smirkes, Belcher, and Hip, are to poke fun at the society of the roaring 20’s. But Nick’s description of some of their activities is not funny. Mr. Civet drowned in Maine, the Blackbucks flipped up their noses at the world like goats, Snell was drunk for three days before going to the penitentiary, Muldoon’s brother strangled his wife, and Palmetto jumped in front of the subway to kill himself. Such events paint a pathetic picture of the Jazz Age Society. Appropriately, Nick has written the names and events on a fading train schedule dated July 5, 1922. This “roaring” generation comes after July 4th, after the great American Declaration, after the holiday, but they are nothing to celebrate; they are a sad and corrupt group that is temporary and disintegrating from within, just like the railroad time table on which Nick has written their names and just like the vehicles they drive and wreck.
Throughout the novel Nick pays particular attention to the automobile as part of the action of the plot (remember Mr. Wilson owns an automobile repair shop and a car accident is the ending to the first party that Nick attends at Gatsby’s house). More importantly, the automobile is used as a symbol of the materialism of the age. In Chapter II, Nick states that Gatsby drives a Rolls-Royce, the most pretentious of all cars. In this chapter, Nick has an opportunity to ride with Gatsby in his vehicle, for they are going into New York City for lunch. Because cars will remain important to the action of the story , as well as to the central theme of the devastation of materialism, Nick describes Gatsby’s ostentatious automobile in detail.
It was a rich cream color bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hatboxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of windshields.
As Nick admires the car, Gatsby says, “It’s pretty isn’t it, old sport.” He then asks Nick to climb inside to the handsome green leather interior. On the way into New York, Nick describes two other vehicles. The first is a hearse carrying a dead man and the second is a limousine, driven by a white chauffeur and carrying “three modish Negroes,” who regard the Rolls-Royce in haughty rivalry. Nick mentions both of these to show that anything can and does happen in New York. Although at a distance it looks like a fairy tale city “made of white heaps and sugar lumps,” New York is the center of money where wealth corrupts, as depicted by Meyer Wolfsheim, whom Nick is soon to meet. New York is a place that also produces ostentatious wealth (symbolized by the Rolls-Royce and the limousine) and death (symbolized by the hearse) with the resulting reality of the Valley of Ashes, which is in contrast to the white sugar lumps of New York.
Gatsby has a “big” favor to ask of Nick, so he feels he should tell his neighbor something about himself, and the story is as extravagant as Gatsby’s car. He says he is from the Midwest (like Nick himself) and then adds specifically from San Francisco (far from Nick’s middle west both geographically and spiritually). He says he is the son of a wealthy family that has passed away, leaving him a large inheritance. He also claims he was educated at Oxford, for “it is a family tradition.” After college, he chooses to live the life of luxury in Europe, collecting rubies and hunting big game, with no real purpose. Then he enlists in World War I, where Gatsby hopes to be killed, but instead becomes a decorated war hero. Since the war, he has drifted here and there, trying to forget a very sad thing that has happened to him. To Nick, this story is so obviously exaggerated and told in such poor taste that it is comical.
Even though Nick finds Gatsby’s manufactured history to be a fascinating and incredible story, Gatsby himself is not as bizarre as Meyer Wolfsheim, Gatsby’s business partner who joins them for lunch. He is “a small flat-nosed Jew” with a large head, tiny eyes, and large nostrils and obviously a member of the underworld, who like Gatsby is nervous and suspicious by nature and in perpetual motion. During lunch Wolfsheim tells about the night he was with his friend Rosy Rosenthal who was “shot three times in his full belly” at The Metropole, which is located across the street from where they are having lunch. Nick then learns that this astonishing man also fixed the 1917 World Series, an action which staggered Nick’s moral Midwestern mind, and he says, “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 up a safe.” Appropriately Wolfsheim proudly wears cuff links made from human molars, symbolizing the corrupt nature of the wealthy who will do anything to obtain and maintain their materialistic goals. Gatsby’s association with this incredible man sheds light on how he has likely amassed his fortune.
Nick leaves this luncheon with the West Eggers (the new money) to have tea with an East Egger (the old money), but the only differences between them are in appearance and background. Both East Egg and West Egg are characterized by materialism and purposelessness, as revealed in Jordan’s upcoming story. Over tea she tells Nick new information about Gatsby. He has been in love with Daisy Fay (her maiden name appropriately means fairy) since 1917, when he was a young lieutenant stationed near Louisville. Daisy, the most wealthy and popular girl in town with her fancy white roadster, was very attracted to this handsome, young soldier, and even tried to run away with him during the war. Her “monied” family would have no part of an unknown Gatsby, who offered no riches or stability, and made certain that Daisy soon forgot the soldier and became engaged to Tom Buchanan, who, being from a similar background to herself, could offer wealth and stability (and ironically one affair after another). Daisy (having no moral character or backbone) flits into Tom’s arms, ignoring her true emotions. On the night before her marriage to Tom, however, an inebriated Daisy was obviously thinking about Jay Gatsby and clutching a tear-stained letter from him in her hand. In spite of her real feelings, she marries Tom the next day and begins her purposeless travels through California, France, and Chicago, tolerating her husband’s affairs and indulging herself. When she hears the name of Gatsby mentioned again five years later, she tells Jordan “in the strangest voice that it must be the man she used to know.”
Gatsby has also never forgotten Daisy. She is the “sad event” in his life, the unfulfilled dream. It is for her that he has amassed his wealth, driven his fancy car, and purchased his fantastic mansion (so he could be just across a small bay from her — but it is a huge gulf that separates the background of East Eggers and West Eggers). Then Jordan explains that Gatsby’s “huge” favor is for Nick to invite Daisy over one afternoon and let him drop in as well. He wants Daisy to see his wealth — his gaudy mansion and his flashy car. He wants her to think he is successful, even if the riches are immorally obtained. But he cannot buy his background, so he has had to manufacture it and pretend to be something he can never be.
Jordan’s revelation about Gatsby totally changes Nick’s opinion of him. At the beginning of this chapter, Nick’s sense of wonder about his neighbor and belief that he was a man of consequence have faded into his being “simply the proprietor of an elaborate roadhouse next door.” When Gatsby manufactures the story of his past on the drive to New York, Nick begins to wonder “if there wasn’t something a little sinister about him after all,” but the story is so far fetched that Nick has to laugh it off with new fascination. Then at lunch Nick is made aware of Gatsby’s “underworld” connections, and the proper Midwesterner is appalled. But when Nick realizes that Gatsby has done everything, obtained his riches, bought his mansion, driven his car, in order to catch Daisy’s attention, the man was “delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor” to an elevated plain of pure motive, the endless pursuit of a dream. Nick, with his moral Midwestern mind, can only admire such incredible purpose and drive. Unfortunately, Nick knows that his cousin, the purposeless, drifting Daisy, is not worthy of such devotion.
At the end of the chapter, Nick’s morals and motives also become a little less pure. He agrees to Gatsby’s subterfuge and plans to arrange a meeting of his neighbor and Daisy, without any knowledge on Daisy’s part. It is almost as if he supports Jordan’s idea that “Daisy ought to have something in her life,” even if it is totally immoral. It is also obvious that Nick is attracted to Jordan for all the wrong reasons. He knows that she is incurably dishonest, limited, and skeptical (in complete contrast to Nick himself) and still he pursues an affair with her, a product of New York and the times.