Chapter 4

Synopsis of Chapter 4

Chapter 4 continues the account of Gatsby’s hospitality, detailing the events on a Sunday morning after the Saturday night of drunken revelry. We are told ‘the world and its mistress’ came to his house and Nick substantiates this with a long list of names of those who attended the parties at Gatsby’s mansion during the summer. 

Next, Nick tells us that a ‘restless’ Gatsby came to his house, ‘one morning late in July’. During a car ride Gatsby presents his own account of his origins, and introduces the idea that Jordan will speak to Nick about a mysterious ‘matter’. They pass the valley of ashes (glimpsing Myrtle) and a dead man in a hearse, as well as a limousine carrying black passengers and driven by a white chauffeur.

Nick meets Gatsby for lunch at noon and meets Meyer Wolfsheim, whose stories are edged with criminality and violence. He also provides another perspective on Gatsby, supporting the idea that he was educated at Oxford (‘Oggsford’) and claiming that he is a ‘man of fine breeding’. By chance, Tom is also in the restaurant, but when Nick introduces him, Gatsby immediately disappears.

That afternoon, Jordan tells Nick about the relationship between Daisy and Gatsby. In 1917 Daisy was unmarried (Daisy Fay), lived in Louisville and had a romance with Gatsby, a young officer in the World War in which America had joined in April 1917. However, she married Tom Buchanan in June 1919, although a letter received on the eve of her wedding almost caused her to cancel it. Jordan goes on to explain that Gatsby hopes to meet Daisy at Nick’s house, with Nick inviting her to tea under false pretences. Nick does not respond but instead kisses Jordan.

Commentary on Chapter 4

the world and its mistress This wordplay (adapting the cliché ‘the world and his wife’) implies that all the relationships in this novel are undermined by infidelity and might suggest that Gatsby’s parties encourage or endorse infidelity - he later admits that he hoped to encounter the married Daisy at one of his parties. 

The ‘world’ is illustrated by Nick’s very long list of guests. Most of this list is respectable and often double-barrelled names (‘Doctor Webster Civet’ and ‘the Chester Beckers’), suggesting the upper echelons of society. However, there are several examples of marital discord:

G. Earl Muldoon, brother to that Muldoon who afterwards strangled his wife.

Two of the guests (Beluga and Beny Clenahan) bring ‘girls’ who are described as interchangeable. 

twinkled hilariously This phrase highlights the superficiality of the guests at Gatsby’s house. It is all the more trivial when set against the religious observances clearly expected on Sunday morning (‘church bells rang in the villages onshore’).

He’s a bootlegger… second cousin to the devil. The gossip surrounding Gatsby suggests illicit activity. During Prohibition, bootleggers made money by illegally transporting / trading alcohol. 

accepted Gatsby’s hospitality … knowing nothing whatever about him - Nick highlights the irony and hypocrisy of the gossipers as they indulge in wild rumour, while enjoying Gatsby’s generosity.

drowned last summer up in Maine - The tragic fate of one of Gatsby’s guests foreshadows the demise of Gatsby. Nick’s list of guests is also punctuated with examples of snobbery, eccentricity, infidelity, car accidents, murder and suicide. All together, they present a chaotic, dysfunctional society and a less than ideal view of American success.

The Great Gatsby car used in Warner Bros film, image available through Creative CommonsGatsby’s gorgeous car - Nick’s description of the car combines both positive and negative lexis, with the overall effect being ‘disconcerting’. 

More on Analysing Nick's description of Gatsby's car in Chapter 4:
  • Colour imagery is used to suggest sophistication and pleasure, particularly in the words ‘cream’ and ‘caramel’. The interior of the car is ‘green leather’ suggesting wealth, which enables Gatsby to replicate nature in a luxurious manner.
  • Very positive adjectives are used: ‘triumphant’, ‘rich’, ‘gorgeous’ (used twice) and ‘pretty’, along with light imagery which suggests wealth, aspiration and power: ‘bright with nickel’ and ‘mirrored a dozen suns’.
  • Negative language is woven closely among the positive ideas, and undermines our capacity to simply admire the car. Fitzgerald uses ‘swollen’, ‘monstrous’, ‘rocky’, ‘lurched’ and ‘labyrinth’ to suggest the dangers of this powerful vehicle, and imply the ways in which wealth can be a corrupting and destructive force.
  • The final image of the car associates it with a bird: ‘With fenders spread like wings, we scattered light through half Astoria’ and then this is abruptly replaced with the ‘jug-jug-spat!’ of the police motorcycle which halts Gatsby.

restlessness - Gatsby is described as being in constant motion:

never quite still… always a tapping foot somewhere or the impatient opening and closing of a hand

This is connected with the spirit of the nation when Nick comments that this is ‘peculiarly American’ and exhibited in the ‘formless grace of our nervous sporadic games’.

he had little to say - Nick discovers this about Gatsby, and presents him as a two-dimensional character at this point. It is ironic, then, that immediately after this comment Gatsby embarks on the detailed revelation about his origins.

I’ll tell you God’s truth… his whole statement fell to pieces… Then it was all true. - Nick plays with the reader throughout this part of the narrative (delivered by Gatsby but mediated by Nick), as he alternates between believing and disbelieving what Gatsby has to say. The evidence to substantiate Gatsby’s claims is a medal and a photograph, both of which are uncritically accepted by Nick. The main features of Gatsby’s narrative are his rich family, his orphan status, education at Oxford, time spent in Europe, and military service for which he was awarded honours. 

something very sad that had happened to me long ago - Gatsby refers to his rejection by Daisy in this oblique manner, and Nick mocks this and the style of delivery in his comments to the reader: ‘I managed to restrain my incredulous laughter’.

The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge - This description of New York is extremely beautiful, being associated with sunlight, ‘white heaps and sugar lumps’ and offering an infinitely renewable sense of wonder:

always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world.

Queensboro Bridge 1908Nevertheless, Fitzgerald emphasises the temporary and illusory nature of the city: it is built ‘with a wish out of non-olfactory money’ and the oxymoron of the ‘constant flicker’ suggests an optical effect which dazzles and confuses. The passing image of a dead man in a hearse and his tragic friends, further emphasises the idea that wealth is transitory, overshadowed by death.

Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge - Nick makes this observation after he sees a limousine with a white chauffeur and black passengers. 

More on Attitudes to race in 1920s America: Black people owning cars would have signified the reversal of social conventions in the ’20s as most of America was still very segregated, with black Americans being generally too poor to buy cars. Nick responds to the ‘rivalry’ of the ‘modish negroes’ with mocking laughter, but recognises that Gatsby is similar in being a member of the underclass who has gained social status and wealth in post-war America.

The old-fashioned terms ‘negroes’ and ‘bucks’ have undergone semantic derogation, as they are now regarded as offensive racial terms, the latter being more often used to denote a male animal. Today, they are taboo words and used for effect as such. Fitzgerald’s use is probably more casual, in keeping with the linguistic habits of the time.

my friend Mr. Wolfsheim - Meyer Wolfsheim is characterised firstly as a Jew, with particular facial features verging on caricature (he has a flat nose which is commented on in several ways, a large head and tiny eyes). His ‘business’ seems to involve threats and menace and he appears to inspect his environment in a paranoid manner. His cuff buttons are human molars, which introduces an air of gruesome horror to the characterisation, later hinted at by the ‘ferocious delicacy’ with which he eats his food. Later, Gatsby identifies him as a gambler, who fixed the baseball World’s Series in 1919, as well as having close connections with the murder of Rosy Rosenthal at the Metropole Hotel (both actual historical events with strong links to Jewish gangsters). Wolfsheim may have been based on the figure of Arnold Rothstein, a major criminal of this period. Gatsby’s association with this member of the criminal underworld seems to confirm the gossip about his origins. It is ironic, then, that Wolfsheim vouches for Gatsby as a ‘man of fine breeding’ who is ‘very careful about women’.

a business gonnegtion – Wolfsheim’s flat nose may emphasise the heavy accent depicted by the spelling of ‘connection’ here.

he was no longer there - Gatsby disappears twice in this chapter. His first departure is prompted by a business telephone call, and this time he is trying to avoid meeting Tom Buchanan. This elusive behaviour is also mirrored by the swift departure of Wolfsheim from the restaurant.

One October day in 1917… - This new narrative is given by Jordan, explaining to Nick the history of Daisy and Gatsby, from the point of view of Jordan as Daisy’s friend. It complements the earlier allusions made by Gatsby to a ‘very sad’ event that had occurred in the past. The repetition of ‘straight’ in ‘sitting up very straight on a straight chair’ implies that this narrative is to be trusted, and the degree of detail adds to the verisimilitude, especially as the events are dated and located very precisely. 

In this narrative, Daisy has a relationship with the young officer Gatsby in 1917 and almost elopes with him in the winter of 1917, but her family intervenes. She returns to socialising by autumn 1918, is engaged in February 1919 and marries Tom in June 1919. On the eve of her wedding, we are told that she almost cancels the wedding, rejecting Tom’s expensive pearls and clinging to a letter. The use of contrast in

as lovely as the June night in her flowered dress – and as drunk as a monkey

emphasises Daisy’s traumatic realisation that she wants to ‘change’ her mine’. The letter disintegrates ‘like snow’ when Daisy is forced to sober up, and she accepts Tom as a husband ‘without so much as a shiver’ the next day. It is implied that the mysterious letter came from Gatsby, as it causes such a profound shift in Daisy’s intentions, but we should also note that Daisy conforms to society’s expectations of her, and chooses the wealthy Tom and his status symbols over Gatsby:

the pearls were around her neck and the incident was over.

It was touching to see them together - Jordan initially presents the relationship as ideal, with Daisy engrossed in her new husband, but quickly undermines this idea with the understated comments on Tom’s car crash:

Tom ran into a wagon on the Ventura road one night, and ripped a front wheel off his car. The girl who was with him got into the papers, too, because her arm was broken – she was one of the chambermaids in the Santa Barbara Hotel.

Tom’s implication in a car crash where a woman is seriously injured foreshadows the crash involving Myrtle. The juxtaposition of this story with the subsequent detail of Daisy’s maternity further incriminates Tom.

Perhaps Daisy never went in for amour at all - Jordan speculates that Daisy would have been able to avoid scandal because she never drank. However, Jordan merely values Daisy’s temperance as an opportunity for her to ‘time any little irregularity of your own so that everybody else is so blind that they don’t see or care’, using the euphemism ‘little irregularity’ to refer to infidelity.

More on Drinking in The Great Gatsby: Drinking in this novel is always associated with moral confusion and relaxing of standards, and the worst damage is done when people are drunk. Drunkenness seems to function as a metaphor for social irresponsibility, and should be considered against the contemporary ideas which underpinned the Prohibition era (that alcohol was the cause of social and moral corruption).

The sun had gone down…. hot twilight - This short interlude in the narrative told by Jordan allows Fitzgerald to relocate Jordan and Nick, introducing an idyllic scene of innocence:

the clear voices of children, already gathered like crickets on the grass, rose through the hot twilight.

Their song has dark elements, however, with the theme of an alien figure, ‘The Sheikh of Araby’, whose possessiveness leads to the predatory pursuit of a lover:

At night when you’re asleep
Into your tent I’ll creep –

This image is immediately followed with the revelation that Gatsby had deliberately chosen his mansion in order to pursue Daisy. Nick reflects a short while later, that:

There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired,

reducing society to an aggressive and primitive paradigm. Nick’s role in relation to Gatsby and Daisy is to be a pander, perhaps fulfilling the ‘busy’ category.

I drew up the girl beside me - Nick presents his embrace with Jordan using negative language:

I had no girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs…

but his action confirms the reality and substantiality of his relationship, compared with the experiences of Gatsby and Tom.

Investigating Chapter 4

  • How might the image of the city be compared with Gatsby’s idea of Daisy?
  • What else, apart from social mobility, might Nick mean when he says that, ‘Even Gatsby could happen, without any particular wonder.’
  • Using the details of Jordan’s story as a starting point, try to create a timeline of the events in the novel.
  • How does the narrative structure compare with a chronological order of events?
  • How is Daisy presented in Chapter 4?
    • What colour is associated with her?
    • What does Jordan mean when she says, ‘there’s something in that voice of hers…’?
  • The events of Chapter 4 take place over the course of a single day (although the stories told relate to earlier events). Note down the references to light throughout the chapter
  • How do they alter to reflect the passage of time?
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