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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 VIII

Chapter VIII begins a few hours later. Nick has been unable to sleep, and hearing Gatsby come in, he goes over to his friend's house to talk. For the better part of the chapter Nick is alone with Gatsby in his deserted mansion, listening to the story of Gatsby's youth, his courtship of Daisy, and his experiences during the war. The information helps Nick put together the final pieces of the puzzle that is Gatsby. Now that the dream is over, the past is more real to Gatsby than ever. Gatsby hopes that by talking about the Daisy he knew in Louisville in 1917 he can keep the ghost of his dream alive.

All of us have wanted something we couldn't have, something that was beyond our reach. And so, as Gatsby tells Nick about his courtship of Daisy, we can't help but sympathize with him. We can understand how he felt when he entered Daisy's home for the first time and fell in love with everything about her. It was not only Daisy he hungered for, it was her house and her possessions, too. The fact that everybody wanted her merely increased her worth in Gatsby's eyes. He himself was nothing but "a penniless young man without a past." She stood for everything he was not-for everything he wanted to have and to become. And so he "committed himself to the following of a grail," and made marrying Daisy his ultimate goal in life.

NOTE:

The grail-or the chalice used by Christ at the Last Supper-is what the knights of the round table were searching for. If they found it, they would be saved. Fitzgerald uses the word grail to suggest that for Gatsby, marrying Daisy was a kind of religious quest.


Daisy promised to wait for Gatsby until the war ended. What Gatsby has not bargained for was Daisy's youth and her need for love and the attention of society. She was too frivolous and insecure to stay alone for long, and soon began going out to parties and dances. At one of them, she met Tom Buchanan, who seemed safe and strong. She loved Jay, but knew nothing about him-nothing about his past or his practical plans for the future. And he wasn't there. So she married Tom.

The previous chapter took place on the hottest day of the summer. Now it is early morning. Autumn-symbol of change and of the approach of death-is in the air. The gardener informs Gatsby that he will drain the pool, because the falling leaves will clog the pipes. Gatsby asks him to wait a day because he has never used the pool and wants to take a swim.

Nick says good-bye to Gatsby, turns to walk away, then pauses, turns back, and shouts "'They're a rotten crowd. You're worth the whole damn bunch put together.'"

It's a very special moment that reveals to us why the novel is called The Great Gatsby. Nick disapproves of Gatsby "from beginning to end"disapproves of his vulgar materialism; his tasteless pink suits; his "gonnegtion" with Meyer Wolfsheim; his love of a woman as shallow as Daisy; his pathetic efforts to win her back by showing off what he has rather than who he is. And yet he is not part of the "foul dust." His "incorruptible dream" has something pure and noble about it, which sets him apart from the others. Tom, Daisy, Jordan-they belong to the "rotten crowd" because they are selfish, materialistic, and cruel. They are without spiritual values or compassion. Gatsby, on the surface, seems just as far away from beauty and grace. In reality he is nothing more than a thug. And yet in Nick's eyes-and perhaps in ours-he is "worth the whole damn bunch put together" because of his total dedication to his dream. When the dream is gone, he has nothing left to live for.

Nick takes the train to New York, but he can't work. He keeps thinking about Gatsby. Not even Jordan Baker can get his mind off his friend. She tries to meet him in the city for a date, but Nick turns her down-a fact that will contribute to their eventual break up in the final chapter. Nick is tired of "the whole rotten bunch," and that includes Jordan.

Unable to reach Gatsby by phone, Nick takes an early train back to West Egg. As he passes the valley of ashes, he thinks about Myrtle Wilson's death and tells us what George Wilson was doing from the time of the accident to the present moment. Nick has gotten his information from the Greek Michaelis and from newspaper reports.

Michaelis had sat up all night with George Wilson. At the very moment that Nick and Gatsby were watching the dawn in West Egg, Michaelis and Wilson were looking at the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, "which had just emerged, pale and enormous from the dissolving night." To Wilson, the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg are the all-seeing, all-judging eyes of God. Wilson now believes that the car that hit Myrtle was being driven by her lover. He has made up his mind to play God himself and to revenge the murder of his wife. It is simply a matter of finding out who owns the yellow car. His first step is to find Tom Buchanan; Tom drove the car to New York the day before and will know wBy the time Nick gets to West Egg, Gatsby is lying dead in his pool. The tragedy is complete. Wilson, having found out from Tom where Gatsby lived, had gone to Gatsby's mansion and found him floating on an air mattress in the pool. Wilson had shot Gatsby, then himself.

Nick wonders what Gatsby might have been thinking as he lay on the mattress in the pool just before Wilson's arrival: --He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about... --One key to understanding this difficult passage is the phrase, "material without being real." What Nick means is that for Gatsby, the world is "material"- it is something he can touch and see and feel-yet it is completely without meaning for him. Without Daisy-without his dream-to sustain him he is like a child who wakes up one day and finds himself in an utterly frightening and unfamiliar world. Gatsby has lived "too long with a single dream"; without it life has become absurd. A rose is beautiful because we feel its beauty, not because it possesses beauty in itself. In the same way, the green light at the end of Daisy's dock was special only because it meant something special to Gatsby. In this new world, which Gatsby encounters a rose is just a rose and a green light is not more than a green light. Gatsby has been forced to grow up, or at least to give up his childlike sense of wonder. Unlike the rest of the rotten crowd, he cannot live without this private vision, and so he is, in a sense, already dead when Wilson shoots him.

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