Chapter 5

Synopsis of Chapter 5

Nick returns home and finds Gatsby’s house ‘lit from tower to cellar’, has a conversation with Gatsby in which they arrange the meeting with Daisy and refuses to accept a business offer which he sees as being in return for bringing Daisy to Gatsby. He describes himself as ‘light-headed and happy’, presumably because he has kissed Jordan. Nick invites Daisy to tea and she happily agrees to leave her husband behind and in ignorance of the meeting. 

Before Daisy arrives, Gatsby is a nervous wreck and almost abandons the whole meeting. He pretends to arrive after Daisy, and their initial meeting is strained and tense, verging on the hysterical, with Nick noting that, ‘it wasn’t a bit funny’. Nick leaves them for half an hour and when he returns they are reunited and highly emotional. 

They all go to Gatsby’s house so that Gatsby can show Daisy his wealth. He demonstrates the excess of his life, numerous rooms in various styles, and then his own apartment, with his bedroom ‘the simplest room of all’. Here Daisy brushes her hair and examines his ‘stacks’ of clothing. She is so impressed with his shirts that she cries. They listen to music played by ‘the boarder’ Ewing Klipspringer and then Nick observes that Gatsby seems bewildered, possibly doubtful of Daisy, as she is now a reality, although Daisy’s voice reignites the emotion. Nick leaves the two together at the end of the chapter.

Commentary on Chapter 5

I was afraid for a moment that my house was on fire - Nick realises that the ‘blazing’ light is actually Gatsby’s excessive illumination of his own house, but the element of fear and alarm is notable. The silence and intermittent light ‘as if the house had winked into the darkness’ is almost ghostly and Nick experiences it as ‘unreal’. The image of the blaze and Gatsby’s suggestion of a ‘plunge in the swimming-pool’ foreshadow the tragic outcome of his pursuit of Daisy.

Who is ‘Tom’? - Daisy colludes with Nick, although she doesn’t know what he is planning. She asks Nick later if he is in love with her, and plays along with his mock-gothic, ‘That’s the secret of Castle Rackrent…’

Gatsby, pale as death … glaring tragically into my eyes. - Gatsby has disappeared from Nick’s living-room and reappeared on his doorstep in order to pretend nonchalance, and the language is heavy with ominous references. The description of Daisy and Gatsby’s meeting verges in this way on the comic, and even becomes farcical, as Gatsby is rendered helplessly clumsy and Nick makes some ridiculous comments. None of the characters are amused, but rather they are tortured and overwhelmed by the emotions of this event. Gatsby almost falls down his own stairs as he is so ‘dazed’ by the presence of Daisy, and this might be interpreted as a hint of his ‘fall’ later in the novel.

‘It’s an old clock,’ I told them idiotically. - The clock on Nick’s mantelpiece almost falls because Gatsby is attempting to feign nonchalance. He is resting his head on the face of the clock, which then tilts, and he catches it ‘with trembling fingers’. Nick emphasises the comic elements of this encounter, as the tension and suffering of the lovers affects even himself. The clock image is used later in the chapter to describe Gatsby ‘running down like an overwound clock’.

He literally glowed… well-being radiated from him … an ecstatic patron of recurrent light - The transformation of Gatsby, once he is reunited with Daisy, is profound, and recalls the earlier imagery of blazing light in this chapter. Gatsby’s comment on his house at this point, ‘See how the whole front of it catches the light’, also echoes this image. 

There are several narrative loops in this chapter: 

  • Gatsby begins to talk about a ‘gonnegtion’ that he mentioned in the previous chapter
  • The house is associated with ‘ghostly’ visitors
  • Owl Eyes is imagined laughing as the door to the ‘Merton College Library’ closes, possibly mocking the illusion that Gatsby has created.

They’re such beautiful shirts - Daisy is very emotional about the shirts and indeed all of Gatsby’s possessions. Her comment is nonsensical and shallow, but can be interpreted as an oblique reference to the man. She doesn’t comment directly on Gatsby, but is very quick to identify with her surroundings, even brushing her hair with his gold hairbrush. Her tears may represent her realisation that she passed up the chance of marrying Gatsby for the sake of material security - which would have come her way anyway.

You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock. - Gatsby reveals the extent to which he has followed Daisy and observed her life from afar. The reference to the green light connects this chapter with the first chapter, in which Gatsby is introduced as a silhouetted figure reaching out to a green light ‘that might have been the end of a dock’. 

Structurally, this marks the end of that period of longing for Gatsby, and Nick imagines that Gatsby is also ‘absorbed’ by this realisation. Nick comments that the symbolic value of the green light has just been lost, which means that Gatsby’s ‘count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.’ This moment may be considered to be a turning point in the idealism of the novel, with Gatsby’s wishes fulfilled but the reality falling short of the dream.

That’s Mr Dan Cody - Nick examines two photographs in Gatsby’s bedroom, one large one of Dan Cody, and a smaller one of Gatsby, both in yachting costume. More information about Dan Cody will be given in Chapter 6, but Gatsby merely tells us here that he was his ‘best friend years ago’. Daisy’s comment, expressing her approval of Gatsby’s hairstyle (a ‘pompadour’) and complaining that he never told her he had this or a yacht, might suggest that she recognises the material details of the photograph and the evidence of wealth, and values these above the person in the image. Gatsby also produces clippings of Daisy, which they examine together.

I can’t talk now - Gatsby is interrupted again by a telephone call and briefly conducts business in the presence of Daisy and Nick. 

old sport - Gatsby’s catchphrase is used many times in this chapter, and is clearly part of his idiolect, an identifying feature which Nick has already suggested is a pretension. 

This chapter, exploring the private space of Gatsby’s bedroom, and in which revelations are made about the depth of Gatsby’s feeling for Daisy, offers the greatest access to Gatsby’s interior life. However, Nick’s representation of Gatsby’s thoughts and feelings is always hesitant, using the language of uncertainty: ‘Possibly it had occurred to him…’, ‘as though a faint doubt had occurred to him’, and, ‘there must have been moments…’, ‘I think that voice held him the most’.

I’d like to just get one of those pink clouds and put you in it and push you around - Daisy’s exclamation is gushingly romantic, but also infantilises Gatsby, and establishes her wish to be in control or in possession of him.

Ain't We Got Fun sheet music coverThe Love Nest / Ain’t we got fun- These were popular songs from the early 1920s, played by Ewing Klipspringer (known as ‘the boarder’ because he seems to have taken up residence at Gatsby’s home, taking advantage of Gatsby’s hospitality). Gatsby has finally brought Daisy to his home, and would like to resume his relationship with her, making his home a ‘love nest’. However, it soon becomes clear in the next chapter that she has different intentions.

More on Fitzgerald’s use of song in Chapter 5?

a profound human change - Nick notes that the timing of Daisy and Gatsby’s reunion coincides with ‘the hour of a profound human change’ as the workers return home from New York. This sense of homecoming is perhaps a reflection of Gatsby’s and Daisy’s return to each other, with ‘excitement … generating on the air’. However, there are also ominous hints of catastrophe in this passage too (a motif used when Rochester and Jane Eyre declare their love in Jane Eyre):

the wind was loud and there was a faint flow of thunder along the Sound.

the colossal vitality of his illusion - Nick considers the possibility that Gatsby has harboured unrealistic expectations in his long wait for Daisy (‘Almost five years!’) and imagines that he might be bewildered or doubtful now that he is faced with the real Daisy:

There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams.

Acknowledging the power of the imagination, Nick states that:

No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man can store up in his ghostly heart.

Gatsby’s capacity for imagining and dreaming is highly valued by Nick. In Chapter 1 he noted that Gatsby had:

some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life… an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness’

and notes that it was ‘what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams’ which made Nick temporarily retreat from humanity.

That voice held him most … a deathless song - Daisy’s voice has been commented on several times as being captivating and seductive. Here, Nick connects it with the comments on Gatsby’s idealism, and the ironic use of song in the chapter. The adjectives ‘feverish’ and ‘deathless’ are disturbing, and suggest Daisy’s power is perhaps malign or unnatural.

Investigating Chapter 5

  • Compare the description of Daisy as she approaches Nick’s house with the description of Gatsby.
  • How many words from the semantic field of fear can you find in this chapter?
  • Explore the use of light imagery in this chapter.
  • How is the weather used to comment on the events in the chapter?
  • Klipspringer plays two popular songs to his listeners. What associations might Fitzgerald want his readers to make? (See More on Fitzgerald’s use of song in Chapter 5)
  • How far do you feel the reader gains an understanding of Gatsby’s inner life?
  • Nick comments at the end of Chapter 5 that it was ‘the hour of a profound human change’, referring to the homecoming of commuters from New York. What else might this phrase apply to?
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