The Great Gatsby Contents
Synopsis of Chapter 8
This chapter opens with Gatsby’s rejection by Daisy, and Nick’s visit to Gatsby’s house, which is now dusty and musty with being unused.
From Gatsby, Nick hears the tale of Dan Cody (recounted in Chapter 6) as well as further details about Gatsby’s first relationship with Daisy. He had come to see her as a ‘grail’ and ‘felt married to her’, but the war intervened and Tom Buchanan replaced Gatsby. Daisy sent a letter to Oxford to reject Gatsby.
The season is now turning to autumn, Nick comments, and Gatsby decides to use the pool before it is drained ready for the falling leaves. Nick tells Gatsby that he is ‘worth the whole damn bunch put together’ and then leaves to go to work. At his office, he speaks to Jordan on the telephone as they finish their relationship.
Nick then narrates what happened at the garage during the previous night as Wilson slowly came to the conclusion that Myrtle’s lover deliberately killed her. The following morning an obsessed Wilson sets out to avenge his wife.
Nick reconstructs the rest of the events using police information, the testimony of the chauffeur and the butler and his own imagination of Gatsby’s feelings. We see how Gatsby is finally disillusioned, just as his murderer approaches and shoots him in the pool. Nick focuses on the moving water, taking ‘its accidental course with its accidental burden’. The chapter ends with Wilson’s death, as a completion of the movement towards ‘holocaust’ that began in Chapter 5, once Gatsby had regained his lost love.
Commentary on Chapter 8
I tossed half-sick between grotesque reality and savage, frightening dreams - This dichotomy is notable for offering two equally unpleasant alternatives. The personification of the fog-horn ‘groaning’ (which keeps him awake) also conveys a sense of distress.
turned out the light - This passage is similar to the opening of Chapter 7, where the lights ‘failed to go on’, except this is Daisy’s extinction of her romantic associations with Gatsby. This non-communication is her final message to him, as she and Tom depart from their home on the same day. This is ironic as Nick’s advice to Gatsby is to ‘go away’ but Gatsby is determined to wait for Daisy.
I found the humidor on an unfamiliar table, with two stale, dry cigarettes inside – A humidor is a box or cabinet designed to keep tobacco from drying out, but its function has failed here. As Nick and Gatsby look through each room to find cigarettes, every aspect of the house is described in the language of decay and alienation.
the strange story of his youth with Dan Cody - This narrative was presented by Nick in Chapter 6 but chronologically is told on the final morning of Gatsby’s life. It leads into the story of his relationship with Daisy, from Gatsby’s point of view. This narrative has already been told from Jordan’s point of view in Chapter 4.
the first ‘nice’ girl he had ever known - This description of Daisy is ironic, given her brutality, selfishness and betrayals, but refers to her social class and difference from Gatsby. He is particularly impressed with her house and the endorsement of her that ‘many men had already loved Daisy’ as this ‘increased her value in his eyes’.
He felt married to her, that was all. - Gatsby unexpectedly finds himself emotionally committed to Daisy, once he ‘took Daisy one still October night’ (meaning that they had had sex). She becomes a ‘grail’ to him, and the convention that a ‘fallen woman’ would be the passive victim of a predatory man is reversed, placing Gatsby completely in Daisy’s power.
Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor - It may be that Daisy avoids being a victim because of her wealth. The narrative has continually focussed on aspects of her material status as it dazzles him with ‘radiance’, ‘shining’, ‘gleaming’ and ‘bright … star-shine’. Her elevation above the poor also echoes Nick’s comment that Daisy and Jordan were ‘like silver idols’ (in the previous chapter).
‘I can’t describe to you how surprised I was to find out I loved her, old sport’ - Nick’s narrative shifts from reporting Gatsby’s account to directly quoting him:
Gatsby’s words seem to contradict the emphasis on wealth which is evident in Nick’s account. The description of their final afternoon together is one of tenderness and intimacy, ‘profound’ communication.
some complication or misunderstanding sent him to Oxford instead - Here we are presented with yet another explanation of Gatsby being ‘an Oxford man’, contradicting his earlier statements. This would be the most ironic, since it is the reason he remains separated from Daisy while she succumbs to the ‘pressure of the world outside’.
Through this twilight universe Daisy began to move again with the season - Daisy has waited for Gatsby to return, but her ‘artificial world’ slowly eclipses her commitment to Gatsby. The ‘season’ may be a reference to the social season for young women to be socially active and wooed. The language used to describe this process is elegiac and melancholic:
- ‘sadness and suggestiveness’
- ‘wailed… hopeless’
- ‘shuffled the shining dust’
- ‘fresh faces drifted here and there like rose petals blown by the sad horns around the floor’
a wholesome bulkiness about his person and his position - Tom seems to represent crude reality in contrast to the dreamlike and insubstantial experiences of Daisy’s life, including the relationship with Gatsby.
It was dawn now on Long Island - Nick uses language associated with change and movement (‘grey-turning, gold-turning’, ‘fell abruptly’) to indicate forward progress in the narrative after several retrospective passages, although there will be more digressions and disruptions within this chapter. The language of this paragraph is also ominous:
it was just personal - This is a highly enigmatic comment from Gatsby, as there is no clear referent for the pronoun ‘it’ and no clear meaning for ‘personal’. Nick notes the difficulty of interpreting the comment: ‘What could you make of that…?’ and offers:
which is also unclear. Nick then resumes the retelling of Gatsby’s narrative, covering Gatsby’s actions after he ‘came back from France’ although we had last heard of him being in Oxford when he received the rejection letter from Daisy.
He stretched out his hand desperately … she had made lovely for him. - This retrospective narrative deals with Gatsby’s departure from Louisville, now that Daisy has married Tom, and his final thoughts and actions. The gesture is reminiscent of the first image of Gatsby in Chapter 1:
Here the image is directly associated with loss:
Gatsby is still hoping that Daisy will contact him, but Nick and the audience know that this is unlikely.
an autumn flavour in the air - the sense of an ending is created by reference to the seasons and the image of falling leaves anticipates the death of Gatsby. The conversation about the pool is highly ironic, as the gardener is concerned about the effects of falling leaves, while Gatsby observes, ‘I’ve never used that pool all summer.’
You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together - Nick’s misgivings about leaving Gatsby are also ominous, and his warm endorsement is like a premature eulogy.
His gorgeous pink rag of a suit made a bright spot of colour against the white steps - Nick notes the details of the scene, linking this image also with a memory of the first party he attended. The colour symbolism could be said to have sacrificial connotations, and certainly foreshadows his death in the pool, marked by a ‘thin red circle in the water’.
concealing his incorruptible dream - He contrasts the idea of a corrupt Gatsby with the idea of Gatsby’s dream being ‘incorruptible’, unperceived by the crowds who visited his home. Nick seems to reconcile his disapproval of Gatsby, which he says he felt from ‘beginning to end’, with his admiration and appreciation of Gatsby’s ability to pursue a dream.
You weren’t so nice to me last night. - Jordan’s complaint about Nick’s treatment of her seems very trivial and self-centred, and he has no interest in mollifying her. She, Tom and Daisy are sharply distinguished from Nick and Gatsby because the three wealthier characters are self-interested and ruthless; they also leave town as if running away, although Jordan is trying to persuade Nick to see her before she leaves.
I supposed there’d be a curious crowd - Nick’s narrative becomes even more complicated as he shifts into a reconstruction of the events at the garage, beginning with his own experience on the train and recounting what he imagines is happening there (‘little boys searching for dark spots in the dust’). His ‘garrulous man’ who narrates the events ‘until it became less and less real even to him’ is an ironic comment on his own narrative.
He shifts completely into someone else’s story (unattributed) with ‘Now I want to go back a little and tell what happened at the garage after we left there the night before.’ The audience knows that the source of information is Michaelis, with many details coming from his perspective:
You ought to have a church, George, for times like this. - Michaelis highlights the secularisation of American society, as he seeks to comfort George Wilson over Myrtle’s death. This passage can be compared with the lack of religious belief expressed in connection with Gatsby’s death and his funeral, and is important in setting up the scene, recounted by George, where he confronts Myrtle with the idea that ‘God sees everything’ with reference to the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. This shocks Michaelis, we’re told, and he points out that it is an advertisement, but Wilson is not persuaded. Fitzgerald may be making an ironic comment about the replacement of religion with consumerism here, as well as highlighting Wilson’s madness.
you can’t fool God! – Wilson paraphrases from Galatians 6:7-8. These verses serve as a comment on much of the action of the novel:
Wilson’s glazed eyes turned out to the ash heaps - This scene fulfils the dismal ideas of Chapter 2, when the ash heaps are first introduced, echoing some of the language and images: ‘small grey clouds took on fantastic shapes’ and featuring the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, which now assume a more sinister role as they are used to intimidate Myrtle. The description of Wilson’s eyes as ‘glazed’ may be ironic as this matches the advertisement (wearing glasses) but may also indicate his introspection and lack of clarity. Later, Wilson is described as an ‘ashen, fantastic figure’ himself and his movement of ‘gliding’ is disturbingly detached and pitiless.
Gatsby shouldered the mattress and started for the pool. - This image may be interpreted as Christ-like, referring to the carrying of the cross, upon which Jesus was killed. The additional detail of Gatsby stopping and repositioning it, and the chauffeur’s offer of help (which is declined by Gatsby) may further support this idea.
the yellowing trees - the choices of language relating to nature are increasingly autumnal, emphasising decay and alienation. Here, Nick imagines Gatsby’s last perceptions of the natural world, using words like ‘raw’, ‘grotesque’, ‘frightening’, ‘unfamiliar’ and ‘amorphous’.
its accidental course with its accidental burden - Nick emphasises the role of fortune in determining events, as we have just seen Wilson determined to pursue the driver of the car which killed Myrtle, ignorant of the fact that the driver was Daisy rather than Gatsby. Nick presents Wilson’s actions as born out of mistaken identity alongside a measure of self-delusion (Wilson sees Myrtle as trying to speak to the driver of the car, whereas Michaelis sees her as running away from Wilson).
Fortune has played a role throughout, in quite subtle ways, as Gatsby was sent to Oxford by accident, he says, and even fell in love with Daisy unexpectedly. Nevertheless, this is balanced by the inevitability of Daisy’s rejection of Gatsby at every stage of their relationship, because their social standing is unequal.
Furthermore, the events of Chapter 9 undermine this tragic idea of Gatsby as the victim of chance events: Tom’s conversation with Nick suggests that there may have been some deliberate deception and misleading on his part, intended to cause Gatsby harm. Tom certainly exploits the mistaken identity and may have concealed the truth and this leads to Wilson’s murder of Gatsby.
the holocaust was complete - This final phrase includes Wilson in an image of dramatic death and sacrifice. (The novel was written before the Holocaust of Nazi Germany took place, so this word had different connotations from those it has now.) While Gatsby can be seen as sacrificing himself in order to save Daisy from punishment, the nature of Wilson’s sacrifice is less clear. One possible interpretation is that Myrtle and Wilson, along with Gatsby, are all sacrificed in order to save the less worthy characters from any loss of status, wealth and freedom and to preserve their corrupt world. Wilson is certainly deranged and has been cruel to his wife, but his death is an expression of his pain, caused at least in part by Tom and then by Daisy.
Investigating Chapter 8
- What meanings and ideas are suggested by the subtle water references in the opening paragraph of Chapter 8?
- Can you find other references to water in this chapter?
- What does the phrase ‘leg of transit’ mean and how does this develop ideas in the novel?
- How much of Gatsby’s narrative of the relationship with Daisy can be said to be Gatsby’s and how much of it is Nick’s?
- For example, consider the description of Tom’s ‘bulkiness’ and Daisy’s ‘relief’.
- How are narrative perspectives used to recount the final few hours of Gatsby’s life?
- How many different ‘voices’ can you detect behind Nick’s overview?
- How is time handled in this chapter, particularly in recounting the events leading to Gatsby’s death?
- What are the implications of the phrase ‘a new world, material without being real’?
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
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