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THE NOVEL - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Chapter IX covers the period from Gatsby's death to Nick's departure for the Midwest later that autumn. It is a chapter which allows Fitzgerald to tie together loose ends and to sum up the larger significance of the novel in a final poetic passage that has become one of the most famous in American literature.
Nick is still living in the East, but his heart is no longer there. "I found myself on Gatsby's side, and alone," he says. He tries to bring Gatsby's friends together for the funeral, but everyone has conveniently disappeared. Tom and Daisy have gone away, leaving no address. Meyer Wolfsheim does not want to be involved with Gatsby now that the breath of scandal surrounds him. No one visits Gatsby's house now except policemen, photographers, and newspapermen. Finally, on the third day, a telegram arrives from Mr. Henry C. Gatz of Minnesota, Gatsby's father. He has read of his son's death and is on his way. (Is there any religious significance in the fact that the father tries to reach Gatsby three days after his son's death? Gatsby, like Christ, has been scorned by the world and only his father seems to care.) Nick tries to convince Klipspringer, "the boarder," to come to the funeral, but Klipspringer has a social engagement in Westport. When he asks Nick to send his tennis shoes, which he had left at Gatsby's, Nick hangs up on him.
No friends come to the funeral except Owl Eyes, the man who had admired Gatsby's library back in the third chapter. Why he should care enough to come makes for interesting speculation: your ideas are as good as any.
As they stand there in the rain-Nick, Mr. Gatz, Owl Eyes, and a few servants-we cannot help but be appalled by the way his so-called friends have deserted him when he is no longer of any use to them. You can look at their desertion, as Nick surely does, as proof of their moral and spiritual bankruptcy. Or you can argue that Gatsby, in pursuit of a false dream, has brought this fate down on himself.
Gatsby's father, of course, has loved his son all these years and followed his career with special interest. He is proud of his boy and totally unaware of the darker side of his life. He has saved a picture of his son's house, which he apparently takes great pride in showing to others as proof of his son's success. He has also brought along a book, Hopalong Cassidy, which Jimmy owned as a boy. On the flyleaf is a daily schedule of exercise, study, sports, "elocution," and work. The schedule, which reads like an excerpt from Ben Franklin's Almanac, reminds us how deeply Gatsby believed-even as a boy-in the American dream of success. Like millions of other young Americans, he must have believed that life rewards those who work hard, and that if he only stuck to his plan he could achieve whatever he set out to accomplish. Whether Fitzgerald's novel praises or condemns this dream is something you'll have to determine for yourself.
With the account of Gatsby's funeral, Nick's story comes to an end. In the novel's closing pages, Nick turns in on himself, and talks about his own values and his preparations for a return to the Midwest.
Before he leaves, Nick ends his relationship with Jordan Baker. The scene with Jordan parallels the one at the end of Chapter III where they discuss careless people and bad drivers. In both scenes driving becomes a metaphor for life. Careless drivers stand for those who hurt other people. Jordan is a careless driver, Nick is not. Is this what drew them together and what ultimately pulled them apart? Nick's feelings about Jordan are ambivalent throughout the scene, as they are throughout the book. He is still in love with her, still attracted to her, yet something in him wants to write an end to this chapter in his life. She says she's engaged to another man; he doesn't believe it. We sense that he could probably get her back if he apologized for his behavior on the phone the day of Gatsby's death. But he won't do that.
Nor will he, at first, shake hands with Tom Buchanan when he sees him on Fifth Avenue. Although he blames Tom for Gatsby's death-it was Tom who told Wilson that Gatsby owned the car-he can't really argue with Tom or get mad at him. Why? Because Tom believes that Gatsby was the driver and that his action was "entirely justified." Nick probably realizes that his own moral standards will mean nothing to Tom, and that the only way to deal with his type is to turn around and walk away. Nick at this moment sees Tom and Daisy as careless people who "smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money... and let other people clean up the mess they had made." He calls Jordan careless too-a "careless" driver. Nick's decision to leave the East is tied up with his reaction of careless people. He doesn't want to become that way himself. It's uncertain when he finally shakes hands with Tom, whether he has finally learned to accept others who are different from himself, thus getting rid of what Tom calls his "provincial squeamishness"- or whether he is doing only what is proper for a gentleman to do. In any case, he is now rid of Tom and the world he represents, and can return to a world of principles and traditions in the Midwest.
There's no way you can understand Nick's final thoughts without having them in front of you. So, open your books and read Nick's words again. The meaning of the novel is summed up here, and the novel is transformed from a story of a small group of people at a moment of time to a portrait of an entire nation.
It is Nick's last night in West Egg. He has walked over to Gatsby's mansion and erased an obscene word someone has scrawled on the deserted house. He walks down to the beach. As the moon rises and the houses melt away in his imagination, he thinks of what this island must have looked like to the Dutch sailors seeing it for the first time in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was a new world then-pure, unspoiled. Nick calls it "a fresh green breast of the new world." Nick realizes that men have always been dreamers, but that dreamers cannot simply dream. They must have some object or person to fix their dreams upon. Such was this continent, he thinks, in the early days of the Republic. The idea of America as a land of infinite possibilities was so magnificent that man was "face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder." The land-its physical beauty and its apparently limitless horizons-were worthy of the dream.
We have come to call this idea "the American dream." Jefferson, Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman were only a few of the spokesmen for this dream who saw in America a hope for equality and self-fulfillment. This was Gatsby's dream, too, Nick thinks. For Gatsby the green light at the end of Daisy's dock symbolized the same American dream that drove the Dutch sailors to the New World, the Minutemen to Concord, and Thoreau to Walden Pond. Gatsby believed in the dream, and Nick will always love him for it. But what Gatsby never understood is that the dream was already behind him, "somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night." Unable to find an object or a person commensurate with his capacity for wonder, Gatsby finds Daisy, an unworthy and shallow substitute for the real dream.
Nick seems to suggest that America in the 1920s has lost its way-deliberately or inevitably. American has become a shallow, materialistic nation, and the dream for which people fought and about which poets wrote has turned into a cheap and vulgar substitute for the real thing.
Fitzgerald seems to be saying that what keeps Americans going as individuals is the belief in that dream, and so they struggle like Gatsby to attain it. But they are like "boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." Americans row and row against the current of time, trying to get back to that dream, bearing themselves backward like Gatsby, who believed the past could be repeated, but doomed by the hand of time to failure. Whether Fitzgerald believes Americans can recapture that dream, or whether it's part of their lost childhood-both as individuals and as a nation-is something you'll have to decide for yourself.
The Great Gatsby is not, then, just a book about the 1920s. It is a book about America-its promise, and the betrayal of that promise. Throughout the book Fitzgerald has contrasted Gatsby the dreamer with "the foul dust" that preyed on his dream. The tragedy of Gatsby is that he still dreams the dream, but that he is not wise enough or strong enough to see that Daisy is not worthy of his devotion, of his sacrifice. He cannot step back to see where he has gone wrong. Nick can. Nick loves Gatsby, but he knows what is wrong with Gatsby's dream. And so, his education completed, he returns to the Midwest to begin his own adult life.