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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald Chapter VIII Summary And Analysis
Nick cannot sleep. He tosses “half-sick between grotesque reality and savage frightening dreams.” At dawn he jumps out of bed and heads to Gatsby’s house. The front door is open, and Gatsby is in the hall. When Nick enters, Gatsby says in a whine, “Nothing happened. I waited, and about four o’clock she came to the window and stood there for a minute.” Nick suggests that Gatsby go away, but he will not consider it. Even though the dream is shattered, he refuses to leave Daisy.
Gatsby then tells Nick about his past, probably because “Jay Gatsby had broken up like glass against Tom’s hard malice.” Gatsby begins with an explanation of Daisy. He explains that she was the first girl he had ever really known. While he was in the army at Camp Taylor, he went to her house as often as possible. Poor himself, he had never been in such a beautiful house. As a penniless young man, he knew that he did not belong there. “So he made the most of his time. He took what he could get, ravenously…eventually he took Daisy one still October night, took her because he had no real right to touch her hand.”
Gatsby knows he misled Daisy, for he had made her think that he came from a similar background to hers, that he could take care of her. As a result, he committed himself to someday being able to support her, to be worthy of her. She became his holy grail, his mission in life, his golden dream. In fact, “he felt married her.” Daisy seemed to care for him as well; but he was a soldier destined to be sent away. On his last afternoon with Daisy, Gatsby held her silently in his arms for a long time.
Gatsby claims he did well in the war, becoming a major and commanding the divisional machine guns. After the war, he desperately tried to get home to Daisy, but he was sent to Oxford. He was distressed because her letters indicated that she was restless and impatient; she was not sure she was doing the right thing by waiting for him. In truth, she was again mingling with her high society, having half a dozen dates a day. When she met Tom Buchanan, she felt he offered her the right things and decided to marry him, encouraged by her parents. She wrote Gatsby a letter of explanation and sent it to Oxford. Gatsby tells Nick that Daisy probably never loved Tom, or if she did, it was only for a short while when they were first married. He is still convinced that she has always loved him more.
Gatsby returned from Europe while Tom and Daisy were still on their honeymoon. He used the last of his money to go to Louisville and soak up the memories of her. As he left Louisville on the train, “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. . .he knew that he had lost that part of it, the freshest and the best, forever.”
Although Nick needs to go to work in the city, he wants to stay with Gatsby. He misses several trains and finally makes himself get up around ten o’clock. He promises to call Gatsby from the city, around noon. Gatsby lies to himself and says that Daisy will probably phone too. As Nick walks away, he calls back to his friend, “They’re a rotten crowd. You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.” On hearing these words, Gatsby breaks into a radiant and understanding smile, “as if we’d been in ecstatic cahoots on that fact all the time.” Nick realizes it is the only compliment he has ever paid Gatsby, for during the last three months he had “disapproved of him from beginning to end.”
Nick has trouble concentrating at work. When Jordan calls him at noon, she actually wakes him from dozing. She criticizes Nick by saying, “You weren’t so nice to me last night. . .however, I want to see you.” She suggests that she come into the city since she has left the Buchanan’s. Nick simply says he is too busy to see her. After they hang up, he calls Gatsby’s house four times, but the line is always busy. He decides to go home early, on the three-fifty train.
When Nick had passed through the Valley of Ashes on the way to work, he had crossed to the other side of the train. He did not want to see the curious crowds that would be gathered around the place of the accident. Nick then gives more information about the previous night. After Myrtle had been hit, Michaelis made a clumsy attempt to distract Wilson, asking how long they had been married. Wilson answered that she had been his wife for twelve years, but they had no children; he also stated they had no church. Wilson then blurted out, “He killed her. . .he murdered her.” Michaelis explained that he saw the whole thing, and it was an accident, but George insisted that Myrtle “ran out to speak to him and he wouldn’t stop.” At that moment, Michaelis noticed that Wilson’s eyes looked like ashheaps. Wilson went on to explain that he had told Myrtle on the previous night that she might fool him, but she could not fool God, for “God sees everything.” Just as Wilson spoke these words, Michaelis looked up and saw the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckelberg staring at him. Wilson seemed to be looking at them as well. Michaelis went home after dawn and slept for four hours. When he awoke, he went to check on Wilson, but his friend was gone.
Wilson had gone out on foot to search for the owner of the yellow car. At noon, he had bought a sandwich and coffee in Gad’s Hill. By half past two he was in West Egg, where he asked someone for directions to Gatsby’s house. At two o’clock Gatsby had put on his bathing suit. Before going to the pool, he blew up an air mattress, asked the servants to bring the phone out to him if there were calls, and told the chauffeur that the yellow car was not to be taken out of the garage for any reason, even though the right front fender needed repair.
The butler waited until four o’clock to see if Gatsby received a phone call; it was “long after there was anyone to give it to if it came.” Gatsby must have known the call from Daisy would never come; 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.” The chauffeur heard the shots, but had not thought anything about them. Then Nick arrived at Gatsby’s house, anxiously looking for his friend. He hurried to the pool with the chauffeur, the butler, and the gardener. “The laden mattress moved irregularly down the pool,” surrounded by a red circle in the water. As they carried Gatsby’s body from the pool, they noticed Wilson’s body a little way off in the grass. “The holocaust was complete.”
This chapter gives details on the beginning and final ending of Gatsby’s dream. It opens with foreshadowing of the later tragedy of the chapter. Nick hears a mournful foghorn and has terrible nightmares. No longer able to sleep, he goes to check on Gatsby and to advise him to leave town. Gatsby will not think of leaving West Egg, for he still refuses to admit that his dream is past. He excuses Daisy’s behavior, blaming it on Tom, and still hopes she may telephone. When he goes to the pool later in the day, he leaves specific instructions that he will take a phone call, still believing it might just be Daisy.
As if to hold on to his dream. Gatsby feels compelled to tell Nick more about his early relationship with Daisy, when he first met her as a soldier in Louisville. Although much of this information has been told to Nick by others, it is the first time that Nick has heard Gatsby’s side of the story. In the flashback, Gatsby admits that he misled the young Daisy, making her believe that he came from a similar background and could support her. He did not feel he had the right to touch her, and yet he made love to her. From that point forward, Gatsby felt married to Daisy. He decided he would spend the rest of his life proving that he was worthy of what he had taken. She became for him his “holy grail.” It is sad that his quest in life, defined with sacred, religious fervor, is wasted on an object as unworthy as Daisy Buchanan. His spiritual quest degenerates into a financial quest so he can prove his worth to her. In a similar manner, the spiritual quest of the country, the American dream, degenerated into a simple search for more wealth.
It is apparent that Daisy has never had any stamina, any moral strength. She waited for Gatsby for a short while after he went to the war; but she soon became bored and impatient and started dating again. When she met Tom Buchanan, she decided to marry him, for he offered all the right things – good looks, a solid background, and lots of money. It is still those things that have made her choose her husband over her lover. Gatsby, even after the events at the Plaza Hotel, still naively holds to his claim that Daisy never really loved Tom, but has always loved him. He still clings to the dream.
It is very significant that Nick tells Gatsby that “you are worth more than the whole bunch put together.” Gatsby is pleased with the assessment, as seen by the smile that he gives Nick. It is also important that these are probably amongst the last words that Gatsby will ever hear spoken, and definitely the last he will hear from Nick. Ironically, Nick remembers that it is the first compliment he has ever paid Gatsby. Most importantly, however, it is the first time in the novel that Nick takes a firm stand and makes a clear judgement. One of his faults has been to reserve judgement, holding back and not taking a stand. Now he realizes that in spite of Gatsby’s vulgar, naïve ways, he must be respected for his tenacity in holding on to his dream. His words of judgement, clearly spoken to Gatsby, indicate that Nick has truly matured.
Nick proves his maturity several times in the chapter. He crosses to the other side of the train when it passes through the Valley of Ashes, for he does not want to be sickened by the sight of the curious onlookers gathered around the site of Myrtle’s accident. When he arrives at work, he cannot concentrate, for he is worried about his friend Gatsby and tries to call him several times. He refuses to see Jordan Baker, even though she telephones and wants to meet him; he instinctively knows she no longer holds any appeal to him. Such realizations are part of his maturing process.
Nick’s flashback about Wilson and the details of the previous night are filled with significant images. It must be remembered that Myrtle lived and was killed in a wasteland, the Valley of Ashes, underneath the watchful eyes of T.J. Eckelberg. Wilson has become so much a part of the wasteland that his eyes are even described as ashheaps. It is not surprising that he has no friends, no family, and no religion. Without Myrtle, he literally has nothing (even though the reader realizes he has had nothing for a long time.) It is intentional and significant that Wilson, like Gatsby, has held on to an empty dream. He has believed that if he moves Myrtle away from the Valley of Ashes, everything will be fine between them, just as Gatsby believed if he amassed a fortune, everything would be fine between Daisy and him.
There are many ironies in the fact that it is Wilson who kills Gatsby in the swimming pool. It is one disillusioned dreamer killing another disillusioned dreamer. Both of them are betrayed by the women they love, and both of those women (Daisy and Myrtle) love Tom Buchanan, a cruel man who is totally unworthy of being loved. By killing Gatsby and then turning the gun on himself, Wilson is destroying a lifetime of dreams; but neither man has anything left to dream about. By killing Gatsby, he is also totally clearing the way for Tom, the man that Wilson should really hate; now the careless Tom and Daisy can, without threat, continue their immoral and purposeless lifestyle. It is also significant that Gatsby is shot in the water, typically a symbol of baptism and rebirth. Ironically, Gatsby’s death begins a new life for Nick. He is finally able to see the shallowness of his life on the East Coast and make the decision to start a new life for himself in the Midwest. The end of Gatsby’s dream is also the end of Nick’s delusion about New York.
It is important to reflect on the time frame of the novel. Nick comes to the East in the springtime, the season of new life and new beginnings. He becomes acquainted with Gatsby, Jordan, and the lifestyle of the Buchanan’s during the hot, torrid months of summer. Now it is autumn, and the dead leaves are falling and Gatsby has been killed, his life snuffed out foolishly and prematurely. During the winter that is to come, Nick will prepare to return to the Midwest.