In which I complete my analysis of Jay Gatsby.
In this post, I will finish my analysis of Jay Gatsby
finally. If you haven’t been along for the whole ride, you can get caught up with part 1 and part 2. For the rest of my analyses on The Great Gatsby, hover over the “Analysis” tab and click on “The Great Gatsby.”
Disclaimer: This post will obviously contain spoilers. If you haven’t done so, read the book (it’s super short, it won’t take you long), then return and we shall discuss.
Page numbers are taken from the 2004 Scribner paperback edition.
We left Gatsby feeling rather upset, believing that Daisy didn’t have a good time at his party. And just like that, the parties stop. Gatsby’s servants are all replaced with some of Wolfsheim’s people, who are suspected of not being servants at all, and Gatsby mentions rather casually to Nick over the phone that Daisy “comes over quite often—in the afternoons.”
Things Start to Unravel
Nick and Gatsby go to the Buchanan’s for lunch. Jordan is also invited. There is an interesting moment where Daisy’s child comes into the room, and Gatsby is forced to acknowledge it.
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. (117)
The reason this is noteworthy is that things are already beginning to unravel. Daisy’s child really exists—how are they going to deal with that?
It only gets worse once they get into town. The tension between Gatsby and Tom builds.
The conversation that the group has in the hotel seems rather incidental and meaningless, but it simply can’t be an accident on Fitzgerald’s part that the topic of conversation is Tom and Daisy’s wedding. First the reminder of their child, now a reminder of their wedding. If all this isn’t serving to make Gatsby stop and think, well, it ought to. These facts are unchangeable, no matter how determined Gatsby is to repeat the past.
The conversation also serves to lead into an attack by Tom on Gatsby’s Oxford days.
And finally, it all explodes. Tom asks Gatsby “what kind of a row” he’s trying to cause.
They were out in the open at last and Gatsby was content. (129)
This is what Gatsby wants. They have been dancing around it all afternoon, but finally they are here. This is the moment—the moment for Daisy to tell Tom she never loved him. The moment for the past to begin anew.
“Only the dead dream fought on.”
And then Gatsby says it. He tells Tom that Daisy never loved him. Tom reacts with surprised denial, and Gatsby springs to his feet, “vivid with excitement,” and continues.
“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 anyone except for me!” (130)
Gatsby’s words ooze desperation. He has to believe what he’s saying. He has to believe in his dream. He must believe that the past can be repeated, that four years can be obliterated with a simple statement, and that he and Daisy can go back to how things were in that moment when he kissed her.
Tom and Gatsby go back and forth for a bit, and then Gatsby makes an earnest plea to Daisy:
“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.” (132)
Again, in Gatsby’s mind, it really is that simple. But of course, it isn’t that simple, and Daisy cannot do it. And then she bursts out suddenly, exposing the flaw in Gatsby’s dream:
“Oh, you want too much!” she cried to Gatsby.
Gatsby had Daisy. She was coming over in the afternoons, she was even ready to divorce Tom. But that wasn’t enough for him. And he confirms this when Daisy says that she loved Tom, but that she also loved Gatsby.
“You loved me too?”
In Gatsby’s dream, there is no room for a “too.” It’s all or nothing. He is content with nothing less than a Daisy who never loved Tom Buchanan. And that Daisy is in the past. Confirming what Nick tried to tell him earlier, Daisy tells him:
“I can’t help what’s past.”
That’s a really, really important quote. That’s it. That’s really the end. There is no going back from this moment. There’s no repeating the past.
All of this is far too much for Gatsby.
The words seemed to bite physically into Gatsby.
Showing his “extraordinary gift for hope,” he tries to talk to Daisy alone. He believes he can still fix it. But she insists that even alone, she can’t say she never loved Tom.
And then Tom starts in on Gatsby about his business ventures. He’s looked into Gatsby, and is all too glad tell all of them what he’s found out.
Gatsby is still trying his best to pick up the pieces. I think it is in this scene, above all other scenes, that we understand the full extent of Gatsby’s dogged confidence in his dream. We’re so far past over that it’s not even funny, but he keeps on.
…[Gatsby] 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 that 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. (134)
As if we needed any more confirmation that everything is definitely, irreparably over, Tom shows his complete confidence by actually sending his wife home with Gatsby. Just a few minutes ago, Gatsby was telling Tom that Daisy was going to leave him. For Tom to send them away in a car together is as confident a statement as he can make. As Tom says:
“He won’t annoy you. I think he realizes that his presumptuous little flirtation is over.” (135)
You want to talk about obliterating four years with a sentence? Calling all of Gatsby’s tireless efforts a “presumptuous little flirtation” might just do it. Because that’s all it amounted to. And that would deflate any man just a hair less hopeful than Gatsby. But does it deflate Gatsby? I don’t think so.
After the whole incident with Myrtle Wilson being killed, Nick finds Gatsby standing watch outside Daisy’s house. When he and Nick talk about the accident, Nick makes a noteworthy observation:
He spoke as if Daisy’s reaction was the only thing that mattered. (143)
Even after the horrifying event that just occurred, all Gatsby can care about is Daisy. Everything Gatsby does, thinks, and feels is entirely through that filter.
Gatsby tries to act like he was driving, but it doesn’t take Nick very long at all to guess at the truth, and he asks if Daisy was driving.
“Yes,” he said after a moment, “but of course I’ll say I was.”
The casualness of that statement. The “of course.” Nothing could be more natural than for Gatsby to take the blame for killing a woman so that Daisy can get off scot free.
Gatsby says he’s going to wait there all night, if necessary, to make sure Tom doesn’t hurt Daisy. Nick’s attempts to convince him that it isn’t necessary to do so are futile. Nick gives up.
So I walked away and left him standing there in the moonlight—watching over nothing. (145)
That “watching over nothing.” I don’t think anything could better express how completely finished everything is. It’s all over. But Gatsby isn’t ready to accept that. He never will be.
“His incorruptible dream.”
Early in the morning, Nick goes to Gatsby’s house and tries to convince Gatsby that he should go away, since they’re sure to trace the car back to him.
He wouldn’t consider it. He couldn’t possibly leave Daisy until he knew what she was going to do. He was clutching at some last hope and I couldn’t bear to shake him free. (148)
Everyone else knows exactly what Daisy is going to do: exactly nothing. In fact, as early as the moment Gatsby tried to get Daisy to tell Tom she never loved him, we read:
Her eyes fell on me and Jordan with a sort of appeal, as though she realized at last what she was doing—and as though she had never, all along, intended to do anything at all. (132)
But for Gatsby to admit to himself that Daisy doesn’t intend to do anything is tantamount to admitting that Daisy doesn’t love him, or at least, not nearly as much as he loves her. And he can no more do that than Daisy can say she doesn’t love Tom.
It is now that Gatsby tells Nick about Dan Cody, and also about how he came to meet Daisy, and came to need her above all other things.
He had intended, probably, to take what he could and go—but now he found that he had committed himself to the following of a grail…He felt married to her, that was all. (149)
Gatsby’s course in life was set. He is committed to Daisy; in his own way, he’s married to her. But Daisy doesn’t have that same commitment to him. It’s not that she never cared anything for Gatsby, it’s just that Gatsby is infinitely more devoted to Daisy than Daisy’s likely ever been to anything in her careless life.
Even after all that has happened, Gatsby continues to insist to Nick that Daisy never loved Tom, that she was just very excited and didn’t know what she was saying. But then, he says:
“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? (152)
It’s painful to watch Gatsby working through this, trying to reconstruct his dream when it’s all going to pieces around him.
Gatsby decides he’ll finally use his pool, which he hasn’t used all summer, while he waits for Daisy to call. Nick leaves for work. This is the last image we get of Gatsby, alive:
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 had guessed at his corruption—and he had stood on those steps, concealing his incorruptible dream, as he waved them goodbye. (154)
Gatsby’s dream truly is incorruptible. Everything else about Gatsby is steeped in corruption. He didn’t come by his money honestly, and the stories he tells about his life are greatly embellished. But that dream remains untouched by it all. That dream is stuck in a purer past.
Nick reconstructs Gatsby’s last moments as he imagines them.
No telephone message arrived…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.
This is important. Gatsby has lived too long with a single dream. And as we talked about in the previous post, that dream was a dream that centred around something perishable, which made it doomed to crumble.
And that’s it. The phone call never comes, Gatsby is shot. It’s all over.
Was Gatsby Great?
The big question. The question no one seems to agree on. My answer? Yes…or, at least, he could have been.
Gatsby started out in life with ambitions having nothing to do with Daisy. For example, his father shows Nick a book in which Gatsby had written out a schedule and a list of resolves. And then, when he transformed himself into Jay Gatsby and learned from Dan Cody how to act the part of the rich gentleman, he was all set to make something of himself. But then he met Daisy, and we know what happened from there.
Gatsby says something to Nick that is worth mentioning:
“Well there I was, ‘way off my ambitions, getting deeper in love every minute, and all of a sudden I didn’t care. What was the use of doing great things if I could have a better time telling her what I was going to do?” (152)
So I think that really answers the question. Gatsby could have done great things, but instead he chose to “wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath.” He had potential, but the greatness he could have attained by putting his incredible hopeful energies into something more worthwhile was thrown away.
And yet, I think he was still great, in a way, because of what he represented. He represented the extraordinary hopefulness that is necessary in order to achieve greatness. The extraordinary hopefulness which is a major ingredient in the “American Dream” (which we’ll definitely talk about by the time I’ve finished analysing this book). Yes, he could have put it towards something better, but in the end, it was the “fowl dust,” not his dream, that was to blame.