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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald Chapter VI Summary And Analysis
The wild rumors about Gatsby still abound, and because of them a young reporter from New York shows up at Gatsby’s door to interview him. After reporting this incident at the beginning of the chapter, Nick begins to set the record straight about his neighbor. He again interrupts the real chronology of the story to explain Gatsby’s past. He was born as James Gatz, and his parents were “shiftless and unsuccessful” North Dakota farmers. The son never accepted them as his parents, but dreamed, even as a boy, of a better life for himself. At age sixteen, he set off to make his own way as a clam digger and salmon fisherman on the shore of Lake Superior. He knew women early and quickly grew contemptuous of them for their ignorant and hysterical behaviors. He went to St. Olaf Lutheran College, hoping to pay for an education by being a janitor, but he scorned the manual work and left after two weeks. Still dreaming of material greatness for himself, he drifted back to Lake Superior, searching for something to do with his life. One day as he loafed on the beach, he spied a large yacht drop anchor nearby. James Gatz rowed a borrowed boat out to the “Tuolomee,” which represented all of the beauty and glamour in the world to a young, idealistic boy. The seventeen year old pulled up beside the yacht and introduced himself to Dan Cody, the boat’s owner. He gave his name as Jay Gatsby, giving birth to a new person. Along with the new name came a new image of himself, and it was an image to which he would remain faithful.
Dan Cody, at the time, was fifty years old and worth millions due to his Montana copper mining venture. With vast wealth and no purpose, he became a drifter, drinker, and womanizer, sometimes prone to violence. But this older gentleman took an immediate liking to the young Gatsby and believed him to be quick and ambitious. As a result, Cody invited the youth to sail with him to the West Indies while serving in a vague capacity as steward, mate, skipper, and secretary. In essence, Gatsby became Cody’s assistant and protector, watching over him during his drunken outings and wild parties; in return, Cody trusted the young man more and more. The arrangement lasted five years and through three trips around the continent. It ended only because of Cody’s premature death, likely caused by his recent lover, Ella Kaye. She inherited millions from Cody, and Gatsby came away with $25,000, a strong belief in alcoholic temperance, and an amazing new history for himself.
Nick has not seen his neighbor in several weeks because Gatsby is devoting his time to Daisy, and Nick has been involved with Jordan. As a result, Nick decides to go over and check on Gatsby one Sunday afternoon. He has not been in Gatsby’s mansion for two minutes when a party of three horseback riders stops for a drink. One of the men is Tom Buchanan, and Gatsby is “profoundly” affected by his presence. After introductions are made, Gatsby tells Tom that he knows Daisy. This confession seems to calm his nerves, and he even asks the trio to stay for dinner. The offer is declined, but the female rider casually suggests, out of politeness rather than interest, that Gatsby come to supper with them. The socially unaware Gatsby does not realize that there is no sincerity in her offer, and he goes off to prepare himself for the dinner party. Tom remarks, “My God, I believe the man’s coming. Doesn’t he know she doesn’t want him?” The socially superior Tom immediately recognizes Gatsby’s lack of class and wonders how in the world Daisy knows him. When Gatsby returns downstairs, he discovers he has been left behind by the threesome.
Tom, who is perturbed over Daisy knowing Gatsby and running around alone too often, brings his wife to Gatsby’s next Saturday night gathering. It is the same kind of party with the same kind of people as always, but Nick notices that there is a “peculiar quality of oppressiveness” about his one. He tries to blame the air of unpleasantness on the repetitive nature of the parties, but he instinctively knows that is Daisy’s presence that is really causing the change. She tries to be excited about the party-goers and involved in the festivities, but everything about the party offends her. The women are inebriated and acting poorly, and Tom is chasing a girl that is “common but pretty.” Daisy is obviously “appalled by West Egg, this unprecedented place that Broadway had begotten on Long Island….appalled by its raw vigor….that herded its inhabitants along a short cut from nothing to nothing.” The only pleasures in the evening for Daisy are the time spent with Gatsby and observing a movie star, “a gorgeous, scarcely human orchid of a woman,” who sat under a white plum tree all evening being wooed by her director. Daisy’s fascination with this couple hints at her own “play-acting” in life.
As they are waiting for their car, Daisy and Tom argue about Gatsby. Tom accuses him of being a bootlegger and openly scoffs at the “menagerie” of people at the party. Daisy comes to Gatsby’s defense and falsely says that she finds most of the party-goers more interesting than their own friends. She also claims that the poorly behaved guests had not been invited and that the host is just too polite to object to their presence. She also tells Tom that Gatsby’s wealth comes from a chain of drug stores that he owns. Before she gets in the car with Tom, Daisy gives one more romantic glance back to Gatsby’s mansion and worries that some young girl may steal Gatsby’s heart and blot out five years of unwavering devotion to her.
Gatsby asks Nick to stay after the other guests have left. Nick immediately notices that his neighbor’s eyes look tired and that his face is drawn tight. He is the picture of misery. Gatsby tells Nick that Daisy did not enjoy the party, that she does not understand him, and that he feels far away from her. (Ironically, he felt very close to her when she was still only a dream represented by the green light.) What he wants is for Daisy to tell Tom that she never loved him and to free herself to marry Gatsby. He wants to erase the last five years and recreate everything with Daisy as before. Gatsby, however, is beginning to sense this may never happen. In his misery over that knowledge, he paces up and down “a desolate path of fruit rinds and discarded favors and crushed flowers.” Nick tries to warn his neighbor that it is difficult to repeat the past, but Gatsby fools himself into believing that through his wealth he can make everything right with Daisy.
In this very important chapter, Nick once again interrupts the chronology of the story to give flashbacks about Gatsby’s past. It is a very effective means of narration, for the reader can compare the present day Gatsby to a younger version and understand how the past and present fit together. The illusion surrounding Gatsby in the present is a direct result of the harsh reality of his past. His real history is very different that the made-up story of his history presented by Gatsby in Chapter 4. Gatsby’s negation of the illusion surrounding his past foreshadows the negation of Gatsby’s entire dream and, thus, the end of the man himself, who cannot exist in the real world without the dream.
The news reporter that knocks at Gatsby’s door at the beginning sets the mood for the entire chapter. He is seeking a real story to print about Gatsby in the newspaper, and the reader is about to learn Gatsby’s real history as a young boy. The important thing about Gatsby’s youth is to understand that at age seventeen, he is already unable to cope with the reality of his world and has created dreams and illusions to make life tolerable for himself. When he spies Cody’s yacht, he believes that he can change his fortune forever. He rows out to Cody, with dreams of fortune and fame. Not much has changed in Gatsby’s essential being since that time. He is still characterized by the same naive sense of wonder about life that allows him to have unbelievable faith in fulfilling his dream. That blind faith is both a strength and weakness for him.
It is important to note how completely Gatsby has cut himself off from his history. He changes his name, disclaims his parents, and leaves his hometown in North Dakota forever. He makes himself into a man without roots, with no anchor of reality. As a result, it is easy for him to live in his dream world placated by wealth and illusion. Ironically, his dream has taken him from the West (the new frontier that typically offers opportunity) to the East (with its staid society that is filled with tradition and history).
Dan Cody, the man who makes Gatsby’s dream grow, is a total contrast to Gatsby. He is the personification of the disgusting behavior of the newly rich. His life is characterized by drifting on his yacht, bouts of loud and heavy drinking, wantonly entertaining woman, and general moral degradation. His wealth means nothing, for he has no purpose in life. Gatsby, on the other hand, is driven by purpose, by his dreams of Daisy. As a result he roots himself across the bay from her, lives a quiet and sober (rarely taking a drink) personal life, and has no interest in any woman other than the one he dreams about. Despite their great differences, Gatsby explains in Chapter 4 that Dan Cody was his best friend (and probably the only friend).
Gatsby is also contrasted to Tom Buchanan in this chapter. Tom stops with his riding party at Gatsby’s mansion to have a drink. Gatsby, although nervous around Tom, is polite and hospitable and tries to make the intruders feel comfortable. Tom, although ignorant of Daisy’s affair with Gatsby at this point, is still extremely rude to his host. He believes this West Egger to be of a lower class, dismisses his presence as unimportant, and ignores his conversation. Tom is horrified that Gatsby plans to join them for dinner and perturbed that his wife seems to know this character.
Tom soon shows up at Gatsby’s again — this time for one of Gatsby’s famous parties and with his wife Daisy. He is uncomfortable from the moment of his entry. His arrogant eyes survey the crowd and establish that he does not know a soul in the “menagerie” of party-goers. Tom is aloof and miserable amongst these West Eggers. He is successful, however, in finding a woman to pursue, but is still anxious to leave. When he finally persuades Daisy to depart, he openly laughs at Gatsby in front of Daisy, questioning the source of his wealth. Tom says he plans to find out who Gatsby really is and what he does, an ironic foreshadowing of the fact that soon Tom discovers that what Gatsby does is to have an affair with his wife Daisy.
Another contrast in this chapter is the difference in this party and the first one that Nick attended at Gatsby’s. Unlike the sense of overall gaiety at the first gathering, there is a quality of oppressiveness, an air of unpleasantness and harshness, about this one. Nick attributes the difference to Tom’s brooding presence and also to the fact that Daisy is observing and judging the gathering. Gatsby is aware of her reactions to the party and moans to Nick that she did not like it at all. In truth, the difference now is that Gatsby’s dream is beginning to shatter. The real Daisy does not fit properly into Gatsby’s world or the society of West Egg. He was really much happier when Daisy was the perfect dream across the bay. As long as Gatsby dreamed about her, he had perfect (although deluded) vision and pure purpose. Now the dream is being destroyed by the reality.
The chapter is also filled with ironies. Tom chases another woman at the party, and yet is upset that Daisy runs around by herself too much and has become acquainted with Gatsby in the process. He also harshly criticizes the guests and behavior at Gatsby’s party, neither of which is as bizarre as the guests and behavior at the previous party at Myrtle’s apartment. Daisy, who seems no longer concerned about Tom’s infidelity and who offers him a pencil to write down the addresses of the women that he meets at the party, is worried about Gatsby finding an “authentically radiant young girl,” as if Daisy recognizes that she herself is not authentic. Gatsby senses that Daisy does not like the party, but the parties and the whole illusion of his life has been created for Daisy. The final irony is Gatsby’s belief that he can recapture the past, that he can “fix” everything with Daisy through his wealth. As he talks, however, he paces amid the discarded fruit rinds and crushed flowers from the party, proof that the past is history and cannot be changed, just like the crushed flowers cannot be brought back to life. The party is over, and only the residue is left behind; Gatsby’s dream is soon to be over as well, leaving only a similar residue.
At the end of the chapter, Nick gives another flashback into Gatsby’s past. It is a description of the first time Gatsby kissed Daisy, which is synonymous with the tangible beginning of his dream world. For five years Gatsby’s dream has expanded, but remained pure and spiritual, tied to an illusion of what Daisy is. Now the dream is disintegrating into flesh and blood, and Gatsby, without the dream, really has nothing. As Nick reflects on the sad state of affairs for his neighbor, he also thinks about the sad state of affairs of Americans in the 1920’s, who have lost the dream but continue the party.