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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald-Book Notes
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THE NOVEL - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER V

Nick arrives in West Egg to find all the lights in Gatsby's house blazing and Gatsby himself walking toward him across the lawn. Gatsby invites Nick to go to Coney Island. When Nick turns him down, Gatsby suggests a swim in the pool, which he hasn't used all summer. He never does use the pool until the very last day of his life-but that's getting ahead of ourselves.

Nick agrees to invite Daisy over. Gatsby suggests waiting a few days so that he can get Nick's grass cut. Then he offers Nick some money, not a free handout, but a "little business on the side." Here Nick's Midwestern sense of morality helps him make a decision, and he turns Gatsby down.

The day arrives, and it is raining. (Rain in novels is not usually accidental. Notice, as you read this chapter, how the rain stops conveniently at just the right moment.) Gatsby is so nervous that he can hardly function. He has not slept. He is as pale as a high school boy on his first date. Life with Daisy in Louisville had been so wonderful five years before; now he is terrified that even should Daisy agree to renew their relationship, it won't be the same.

Daisy arrives looking absolutely beautiful in a three-cornered lavender hat, "with a bright, ecstatic smile." She is dying to know why Nick has invited her over. Nick takes Daisy inside, thinking that Gatsby is waiting for her, but the living room is empty. Gatsby, either unable to face the encounter or anxious to pretend that he has just dropped over, has gone out into the rain and walked around the house. Now he knocks on the front door. Nick opens it and sees Gatsby, "pale as death," standing in a puddle of water. Both his paleness and the rain reinforce our sense of his fear, his terrible insecurity, and his gloom. Gatsby goes into the living room, leaving Nick in the hall with us to imagine what the first moment must have been like. Apparently it was dreadful, because when Nick does come in the room he finds Gatsby in a state of nerves.


Gatsby knocks over Nick's clock (some readers see this as a symbol of his attempt to stop time) and then catches it. The scene has an air of desperate comedy about it; it's funny and not funny at the same time. The characters try to get through tea, and they try to make conversation. When Nick excuses himself, Gatsby rushes into the hall after him, whispering, "This is a terrible mistake."

Nick sends Gatsby back and goes off by himself for half an hour. When Nick returns, the rain has stopped, the sun is out, and Daisy and Gatsby are radiantly happy. Fitzgerald's choice of words to describe Gatsby-"glowed," "new well-being," "radiated," "exultation"- suggest that Gatsby has come alive again. He has rediscovered his dream. He walks Daisy and Nick over to his house and shows them his possessions.

NOTE: DAISY AND GATSBY'S SHIRTS

Suddenly in this scene the meaning of the novel's epigraph becomes clear: the four-line poem of Thomas Park d'Invilliers that Fitzgerald quotes on the title page describes exactly what Gatsby has done. He has symbolically worn the gold hat; he has bounced high, accumulating possessions for this moment, so that when Daisy sees them she will cry out, like the lover in the poem, "I must have you." And Daisy does. She admires the house, the gardens, the gigantic rooms, the colors of pink and lavender, the sunken baths. The princess is astounded. Gatsby overwhelms her with these tangible signs of his affection and when he takes his shirts, ordered from England, out of his cabinet and throws them on the bed, she bends her head into the shirts and begins to cry. "They're such beautiful shirts," she sobs. "It makes me sad because I've never seen such beautiful shirts before."

It seems silly of course to cry over shirts. But it is not the shirts themselves that overwhelm her but what they symbolize: Gatsby's extraordinary dedication to his dream. Wouldn't you be moved to tears to find yourself the object of so much adoration?

In the next scene Gatsby tells Daisy about how he has watched the green light that burns at the end of her dock. For so long that light has been a symbol of his dream-of something he has wanted more than life itself. Gazing at it that night when Nick first saw him, and throughout the summer, Gatsby must have believed that if only he could have Daisy he would be happy for ever. Now suddenly he has her, the light is just a light again, and Nick wonders if this person could ever be as wonderful or as magical as Gatsby's idea of her. No matter what we think of Gatsby or of his dream, we are drawn to him by the sad knowledge that dreams themselves are often-perhaps always-more beautiful than dreams fulfilled.

Nick realizes this, too, when he says: "There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams-not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything."

Nick leaves the couple as dusk comes and the lights come on in West Egg. Klipspringer, "the boarder," is summoned from his room to play the piano. As he plays "Ain't We Got Fun?"- one of the most popular songs of the day-we sense a strange irony. What the song is describing is terribly different from what Gatsby and Daisy have at that moment. What they have is so much more than fun: it's beautiful, more intense, and finally more painful. There is both a joy and sadness in a love as great as theirs. Klipspringer plays on, unaware of their feelings. Because Nick is aware, he is wise to leave them alone.

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