The Great Gatsby Contents
Synopsis of Chapter 7
Because Daisy is often at his house, Gatsby has curtailed his parties and dismissed all his servants. Nick is invited to Daisy’s house, fearing a ‘rather harrowing scene’. The group of five (Daisy, Tom, Nick, Jordan and Gatsby) gather the next day in ‘broiling heat’. Gatsby is surprised to meet Pammy, Daisy’s daughter, briefly.
Over lunch, Tom guesses that Daisy and Gatsby are lovers. To break the tension, everyone agrees to drive into New York. Tom asks to try Gatsby’s yellow car, taking Nick and Jordan. He boasts that he has just bought it when they refuel at Wilson’s garage. Wilson is still wanting a deal from Tom so he can move away with Myrtle, whom he has discovered is having an affair. Nick notices Myrtle watching them, who assumes Jordan is Tom’s wife.
Everyone arrives at the Plaza Hotel and takes a room there, underneath which a wedding party is taking place. Gatsby speaks for Daisy, denying any love she ever had for Tom, and Tom refutes this, forcing Daisy to admit that she has loved both men. Tom also insinuates that Gatsby is a criminal and an overwhelmed Daisy withdraws from Gatsby. Gatsby and Daisy return home, this time in Gatsby’s car, the others following later.
The narrative changes perspective to give Michaelis’ account of Myrtle’s last moments, who ran out from the garage and was killed instantly by a ‘yellow car’. Tom, arriving a little later, is careful to instil in Wilson the knowledge that he doesn’t own the car, and then leaves, believing that the driver of the ‘yellow car’ was Gatsby.
When Tom, Nick and Jordan arrive at Daisy’s house, Tom dismisses them and Nick encounters Gatsby lurking outside. He reveals that it was Daisy at the wheel, but declares, ‘I’ll say I was’, and he recounts the death of Myrtle again. Nick checks to see if Daisy is safe, and discovers Daisy and Tom talking conspiratorially in the kitchen. Nick goes home, but Gatsby remains, ready to defend Daisy if needed.
Commentary on Chapter 7
the lights at his house failed to go on … his career … was over - The ending of Gatsby’s ‘career’ is associated with him reaching a zenith of popular interest: ‘curiosity about Gatsby was at its highest’. His fall from grace is therefore the conventional tragic downturn, activating all the associated ideas of the genre of tragedy (Gatsby as a great man, a hero, making a tragic error, the interrelated roles of fate and personality, the idea of a corrupted world which can be restored by death).
Trimalchio - The reference to Trimalchio connects Gatsby with the image of someone who seeks to impress people with lavish parties, having become wealthy despite humble origins. This was such an important image to Fitzgerald that he almost named the novel ‘Trimalchio’ or ‘Trimalchio in West Egg’. Some commentators have suggested that, as Trimalchio was a freed slave, this may indicate that Gatsby was a freed black slave, pale enough to pass for white.
an unfamiliar butler with a villainous face squinted at me suspiciously - The signs of change are numerous, and the language is overtly negative: ‘sick’, ‘unfamiliar’, ‘villainous’, ‘squinted’, ‘suspiciously’, ‘grudging’, ‘sulkily’, ‘rudely’, ‘slammed’, ‘pigsty’, ‘fallen in like a card house’. The image of a card house emphasises the role of fate in determining Gatsby’s status, although this is attributed to Daisy’s disapproval of the last party.
The next day was broiling - Fitzgerald uses the hot weather to reflect the tension and discomfort as Gatsby and Daisy seem to be preparing for a ‘harrowing scene’. Broiling is an American cooking term meaning the application of heat directly on food (eg. grilling).
silver idols - this image of Daisy and Jordan is very similar to the way in which Nick initially encounters them in Chapter 1. They are given almost divine status (and are worshipped by the men), but may also be seen as comic. They are wearing white, usually associated with simplicity and purity, but neither character can aspire to these ideals.
Bles-sed pre-cious - Daisy’s daughter, Pammy, is brought into the room briefly, between Daisy kissing Gatsby and Tom returning with drinks. The presence of the child disconcerts Gatsby, and draws attention to the complexity of Daisy’s relationships. Neither Tom nor Gatsby is ever seen interacting with the child, and her existence is almost entirely tangential, except possibly as a reminder that Daisy has strong family ties.
Her voice struggled on through the heat, beating against it, moulding its senselessness into forms. - This heroic effort, against overwhelming opposition, is a motif of the novel, and the word ‘beat’ or ‘beating’ is also used on several occasions to recognise determination in adversity. The final line of the novel uses this phrase also: ‘So we beat on…’ Out of context, this word has connotations of ‘heartbeat’, and may refer, in this way, to the human will to survive and persevere. In this specific passage, it may refer to the human impulse to make sense out of chaos.
You always look so cool - This statement is presented as revelatory, being noticed and understood by Tom. Daisy continues to address Gatsby and begins to compare him to ‘the advertisement of the man’ (possibly a reference to the eyes of Dr T. J. Eckleburg) which may emphasise her superficial interest in appearances.
Her voice is full of money – Gatsby’s description of Daisy enables Nick to demystify Daisy’s power (he refers to it earlier as a ‘deathless song’ that couldn’t be ‘over-dreamed’) and this recognition frees him from illusion about her). However, Gatsby is still enthralled, which may also imply something about the nature of his infatuation with her.
I’ll take you in this circus wagon - Tom’s reaction to the discovery of Daisy’s infidelity is to assert himself powerfully (‘boisterously’) and to usurp Gatsby’s car, which Daisy resists. This exchange of cars and partners sets up the narrative for a confusion over identities (which has already happened in a different car crash in Chapter 3). Myrtle will initiate this when she mistakes Jordan for Tom’s wife as she looks from her window with ‘jealous terror’.
I just got wised up to something funny the last two days - Wilson’s words, referring to his discovery of Myrtle’s infidelity, are ironic as he is informing Tom, the cause of his suffering. Nick comments on the parallels between Tom and Wilson, but also notes later the ‘hot whips of panic’ in Tom’s mind as he realises he is losing both his wife and his mistress.
I can’t really call myself an Oxford man - Gatsby presents a new version of the ‘Oxford man’ story, where he attended the university in 1919 for five months, and Nick endorses this with an enthusiastic statement:
Nick’s attitude is important in directing the reader’s response, but there is an inherent cynicism in the phrase ‘I’d experienced before’ and we are left uncertain on this aspect of Gatsby’s life.
Your wife doesn’t love you… She loves me. - Gatsby makes this statement, against Daisy’s wishes, and stakes his claim to Daisy
You loved me too? - Gatsby cannot comprehend the notion of a compromised love, as expressed by Daisy, whereas, although Tom rejects the statement, he doesn’t struggle with the concept, since he himself is unfaithful. Only Gatsby maintains the ideal of constancy and fidelity.
Who are you anyhow? - Tom challenges Gatsby’s credentials, and instead supplies information that he has gathered, implying that Gatsby is a major criminal, and discouraging Daisy from continuing the relationship.
only the dead dream fought on … that lost voice across the room. - Gatsby has been vanquished by Tom, partly because he manages to discredit Gatsby, and because he cites ways in which he and Daisy are united, but partly also because Daisy lacks the will to leave Tom. She is described as hesitating, reluctant and frightened, although she can also be seen as strong because she makes the honest admission that she did love Tom once.
The voice begged again to go. - Daisy is referred to as a ‘voice’, possibly emphasising the role of money in the events of that afternoon, and also disempowering her as no-one responds to her requests.
‘You two start on home, Daisy,’ said Tom. ‘In Mr Gatsby’s car.’ - Tom is fully in control now, and demonstrates his triumph by directing the actions of Gatsby and Daisy. The swapping back of cars is also symbolic of Tom’s victory.
Before me stretched the portentous, menacing road of a new decade - Nick’s announcement that he is thirty on this day leads to his very pessimistic anticipation of future misery as ‘a decade of loneliness’, but this is alleviated by the presence of Jordan, ‘too wise to ever carry well-forgotten dreams from age to age’.
So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight - Nick may be anticipating Myrtle’s death here, but, in the context of his comments about his own aging, the ‘death’ may be more general, using the road as a metaphor for life.
Michaelis…. was the principal witness at the inquest - The next section of narrative is the account by Michaelis, provided via Nick whom we must imagine to have been at the inquest. His narrative is seamlessly merged with the account in the newspapers, as well as Nick’s own style of expression - the car is said to have ‘wavered tragically’ and of Myrtle’s mouth is described as:
Myrtle Wilson, her life violently extinguished, knelt in the road and mingled her thick, dark blood with the dust. - The choice of active verbs ‘knelt’ and ‘mingled’ imply that Myrtle has in some way determined how she would die, although this is balanced with the passive form ‘extinguished’. The image of her kneeling is also unnerving, as this is not a conventional death position. The later image of her lying on a work-table also has unconventional connotations, as if she is an engine or part that can be fixed. Furthermore, the sense of denial of her death is found here also:
‘Wreck!’ said Tom. ‘That’s good…’ - The irony of this is developed further, as we, with Tom, understand the details of what has happened.
I know what kind of car it was! - Tom is quick to intervene and dissociate himself from the car, telling Wilson that the car wasn’t his, even though he had earlier claimed that it was (‘I bought it last week’) and had offered to sell it to Wilson. Tom handles the situation expertly, mainly relying on his physical strength (‘picking up Wilson like a doll’), his authoritative manner and a well-timed departure. Nick notes, when they arrive back at Tom’s house, that he speaks ‘gravely and with decision’, ominously anticipating a revenge move from Tom, as Tom believes Gatsby to have killed Myrtle and to have failed to stop.
I’d be damned if I’d go in - Nick’s reaction to the invitation to go in Tom’s house, and even have some supper, is one of revulsion. He rejects ‘all of them’ including Jordan, whose comment that ‘it’s only half past nine’ seems to trivialise the death further. Nick thereby rejects their pragmatic moral values, and his choice of ‘damned’ has religious connotations to suggest that their behaviour will lead to divine punishment.
I could think of nothing except the luminosity of his pink suit under the moon - Gatsby’s clothing has been extravagant throughout the novel, and is a powerful symbol of his wealth (Daisy cries over the beauty of his shirts). Tom has already used the evidence of the pink suit as proof that Gatsby is not an ‘Oxford man’, but here it is an ironic symbol of his continuing romantic belief in Daisy, even as she is deciding to stay with Tom.
of course I’ll say I was - Gatsby is prepared to sacrifice himself by taking the blame for Myrtle’s death in order to protect Daisy. He is most concerned about Daisy and avoids focussing on Myrtle.
Daisy and Tom were sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table… conspiring together - This passage is the final betrayal of Gatsby as Daisy and Tom unite despite their failures (perhaps represented by the plate of cold fried chicken between them). It is left unclear what their plans are but it is a glimpse into the hidden manoeuvrings of those with social power. Gatsby is excluded, waiting outside in the dark. Myrtle’s accidental death acts to reinforce the bond between Daisy and Tom, which had already proved to be stronger than that between Daisy and Gatsby. Tom’s power and authority are repeatedly noted in the aftermath of Myrtle’s death.
the sacredness of the vigil… watching over nothing - Gatsby is described as holding a vigil for Daisy, using religious language to describe his actions. This scene in the dark has strong religious connotations, as Gatsby is in the garden, a luminous figure who is ready to sacrifice himself for Daisy’s redemption, the night before his own death. In some respects, he is a Christ-like figure, although his focus is very narrowly upon saving one person. The futility of his actions is emphasised by Nick, in saying that he was ‘watching over nothing’ and his insight leads him to try warning Gatsby at the beginning of the next chapter.
Investigating Chapter 7
- Look carefully at the language used to convey heat at the beginning of this chapter.
- How is this developed in the rest of the chapter?
- How does the heat distort Nick’s perception?
- How is language from the semantic field of metal used in this chapter?
- What is the role of money at this point in the novel?
- Explore the use of light in this chapter, and compare it with the ways in which light is used elsewhere, for example in Chapter 2.
- What effects are achieved by means of this technique?
- What does Fitzgerald achieve by using Myrtle in particular as the victim of Daisy’s poor driving and lack of care?
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