The Great Gatsby Contents
Synopsis of Chapter 6
Nick opens this chapter as ‘About this time’ and describes the increasing celebrity of Gatsby so that he is pursued by a journalist seeking information about him. Nick then presents a detailed account of Gatsby’s origins, focussing on his relationship with Dan Cody and his reinvention of himself from ‘James Gatz’. The narrative is a ‘short halt’ in the progress of the story and out of chronological order, as Nick says, ‘He told me all this very much later, but I’ve put it down here.’
When the chronological narrative resumes, several weeks have passed since Daisy and Gatsby are reunited, and it is Sunday afternoon at Gatsby’s house. Nick recounts the arrival of Tom, with two companions, at Gatsby’s house, and then a party there which Tom and Daisy attend. Tom makes an excuse and pursues a young woman, while Daisy spends some time with Gatsby and the rest of the time being disgusted with West Egg. Tom attacks Gatsby’s character, classing him as a ‘bootlegger’ and then vowing to ‘make a point of finding out’.
After the guests have all gone, Gatsby and Nick discuss Daisy and the reasons for Gatsby’s ‘unutterable depression’. Gatsby has found that Daisy ‘doesn’t understand’ and that the reality of their relationship is not what he dreamed. Crucially, Gatsby and Nick disagree over whether the past can be repeated and Gatsby explains that he wants to recover something lost from the past.
Commentary on Chapter 6
James Gatz of North Dakota - This chapter begins to dismantle the Gatsby myth, detailing the origins of Gatsby in less glamorous terms than the previous narratives from Gatsby and Jordan (both in Chapter 4). We are encouraged to view this as truthful since Nick offers a detailed and authoritative narrative (based on Gatsby’s account), claiming an omniscient stance in some of his statements, such as:
The moment of invention is identified as the moment when Gatsby saw Dan Cody arrive in his yacht on Lake Superior. The lake has been the source of Gatsby’s livelihood up to this point, but then he becomes a companion to the rich Cody (in the previous chapter, he describes Cody as having been his ‘best friend’).
the unreality of reality - Nick describes the young Gatsby as having a highly active imagination: he is haunted by ‘grotesque and fantastic conceits’ and a ‘universe of ineffable gaudiness spun itself out in his brain’. The effects of this imagination are that Gatsby’s perception of reality is destabilised: he is aware of the ‘unreality of reality’ and a ‘promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy’s wing’. Because of this fluidity in his perception, he is able to invent a new identity, abandon his parents (‘his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all’) and take up a new life with Dan Cody.
Cody was fifty years old then - Cody is a successful older man, a kind of father figure for Gatsby, and has gained his wealth from the trade in metals (silver and copper are mentioned, with an indirect reference to gold in the ‘Yukon’). He is exploited by unscrupulous women, eventually falling victim to Ella Kaye, as is insinuated by the comment that
Cody is labelled ‘the pioneer debauchee’ here, as Nick recalls the photograph in Gatsby’s bedroom, and is associated with excessive drinking and ‘gay parties’ (‘gay’ then meant ‘wild’, ‘brilliant’, ‘flamboyant’ - this word has undergone semantic change since the novel was written). Gatsby has learnt from him to avoid drinking and there is a reference to ‘his singularly appropriate education’, possibly the experience of five years as Cody’s personal assistant.
He told me all this very much later - With this account of Gatsby’s time with Dan Cody, Nick disrupts the chronology of the novel in order, he says, to respond to ‘those first wild rumours’ and ‘clear this set of misconceptions away’. He undermines the story of Dan Cody by commenting that;
The choice of presenting this information at this point in the novel, just after Gatsby and Daisy are reunited, must be considered. Nick highlights the fact that Gatsby loses touch with him for several weeks, almost teasing the reader with silence on the subject of the two lovers. The next event in this chapter is the arrival of Tom Buchanan with two companions at Gatsby’s house, creating a narrative tension which is heightened now by the reality of Daisy’s unfaithfulness.
‘I know your wife,’ continued Gatsby, almost aggressively. - Gatsby is more confident than in his last encounter with Tom (where he disappeared before he could be introduced), and even invites him to supper. Tom expresses to Nick his disapproval of Daisy’s association with Gatsby, and attends Gatsby’s next party in order to reinforce his status as Daisy’s husband.
the rest offended her - Daisy does not like Gatsby’s party and ‘was appalled by West Egg’, with its ‘raw vigour’ and ‘obtrusive fate’, whilst lacking the ‘old euphemisms’. Nick comments that she ‘saw something awful in the very simplicity she failed to understand’. This may be interpreted as a dissatisfaction with Gatsby and his newly-rich milieu, and sits uneasily with her sense of wonder at Gatsby’s house and its environs in the previous chapter. It also contradicts her concern (imagined by Nick) that:
each change tipped out a little of her warm human magic upon the air - Daisy is singing along to the music at Gatsby’s party, and Nick notes the power of her voice once again.
‘I feel far away from her,’ he said. ‘It’s hard to make her understand.’ - Gatsby explains to Nick that he wants Daisy to deny she had ever loved Tom, and then marry him from her old home in Louisville. He is determined ‘to fix everything just the way it was before’. Gatsby’s sentiments highlight his unreal image of Daisy, as well as heightening the pathos of fixing his passion on someone too shallow to appreciate it
he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself, perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. - Gatsby’s search for something undefined, but which Daisy represents or embodies, is like a ‘quest’. This undermines the notion that Gatsby’s pursuit of Daisy is born out of true love, but suggests rather that she is being exploited to restore a lost reality. The language used here, is highly abstract and symbolic:
- ‘a secret place above the trees’
- ‘gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder’
- ‘wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath’
- ‘she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.’
One autumn night, five years before - This account of a kiss between Daisy and Gatsby is yet another disruption of the chronology, and it seems that this is a memory being recounted by Gatsby in the novel’s ‘present’ (just after the party which Daisy and Tom attended together). Moreover, it is a memory with visionary or surreal elements such as the ‘ladder’ of housing blocks.
when he kissed this girl … the incarnation was complete –
- The use of ‘wed’ is developed in Chapter 8 as Gatsby says he ‘felt married to her, that was all.’
- The idea that his mind will ‘never romp’ may be interpreted as a limiting experience, a ‘fall’ from the divine, anchoring Gatsby to the mortal ‘perishable’ world. (See http://www.crossref-it.info/repository/big-ideas-bible/Garden-of-Eden,-Adam-and-Eve,-'Second-Adam'?jump=h2-2)
- Nevertheless, the use of flower imagery ‘blossomed’ presents this as a positive idea
- The question of what has been incarnated is left unresolved.
an elusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words … uncommunicable for ever. - Nick’s own sense of loss is prompted by Gatsby’s determination to recover and reinstate the past. The loss is all the more terrible because neither Gatsby nor Nick knows what they have lost. The elusiveness of memory and understanding is part of the tragedy of this novel, and is revisited in the final lines: ‘It eluded us then, but that’s no matter…’
Investigating Chapter 6
- What parallels can you draw between Gatsby and Cody?
- Using the details in this chapter, add to the timeline created from Chapter 4
- How are colour and light imagery used to describe the events of the ‘autumn night’?
- How do you interpret the idea of something that has been lost?
- What do you think it is?
- How can it be recovered?
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