Chapter 9

Synopsis of Chapter 9

From a distance of ‘two years’ afterwards, Nick remembers the next few days as an ‘endless drill’ of people entering and leaving Gatsby’s house. The truth about Gatsby is distorted by ‘grotesque’ newspaper reports and Catherine’s presentation of her sister Myrtle as a woman of virtue. 

Nick feels that he is responsible for Gatsby and tries to ‘get somebody’ for his funeral and to show friendship for him. Several telephone calls yield no answers: Daisy and Tom have gone away, Meyer Wolfsheim is unavailable, and the only caller assumes Gatsby is alive and reveals some criminal activity involving bonds. 

Gatsby’s father arrives. He is grieving but also impressed by his son’s wealth. He shows Nick a book with an inscription by Gatsby dated 1906 and talks of his son’s ambition to ‘get ahead’. Klipspringer declines attending the funeral, as does Wolfsheim, despite a visit from Nick. Wolfsheim claims that he ‘made’ Gatsby:

I raised him up out of nothing, right out of the gutter

Very few people attend the funeral: the servants, Nick, Henry Gatz. Owl-Eyes turns up at the graveside and is shocked at the paucity of mourners, referring to Gatsby as a ‘poor son-of-a-bitch’.

Nick then digresses from the story of Gatsby, to remember his prep school and college days, in particular the experience of returning West. He comments that he sees the East as ‘haunted’ and ‘distorted’ and that he, Gatsby, Daisy, Tom and Jordan are all Westerners who cannot adapt to Eastern life. 

As Nick prepares to go back West he has several encounters. First, he contacts Jordan one last time, about their relationship. She says she is soon to marry (though he doubts this is true) but is still upset that he finished the relationship over the telephone. She calls him a ‘bad driver’ (a metaphorical reference to the ‘crash’ of their relationship) and not an ‘honest, straightforward person’. 

In late October, Nick accidentally meets Tom Buchanan and challenges him about what he said to Wilson in the afternoon just before Gatsby’s death. Tom’s answer indicates his belief that Gatsby ran over Myrtle. Nick comments that Tom and Daisy were ‘careless people’, like children, smashing things up, and then leaving the mess for others to clean up. 

Nick’s final encounter is with Gatsby’s house, and the novel closes with a night scene on the beach where he contemplates human efforts to shape the world and futile attempts to attain an elusive dream.

Commentary on Chapter 9

The structure of this final chapter is almost a series of episodes in which Nick encounters various people from Gatsby’s life (Meyer Wolfsheim, Slagle, Henry C Gatz, Klipspringer, Owl-eyes), leading up to the funeral. After this, more episodes ensue, where Nick encounters significant people from his life in the East (Jordan and Tom). Significantly, Daisy is absent throughout, while Gatsby remains a powerful presence even to the final line.

After two years - Nick’s narrative now moves forwards beyond the time setting of Chapter 1 (the careful reference to ‘last autumn’ in Chapter 1 indicates that the narrator’s time setting is within a year of the main events of the book). Now we are reminded that this has been a retrospective narration but also newly positioned at a greater distance than ever. Memory is at issue here, as Nick claims only to recall an ‘endless drill’ of people, but offers a detailed account of events leading to the funeral of Gatsby and his own departure from the East. Even if Nick is an unreliable narrator, we have now come to rely on him completely, and his moral stance remains steadfast in this closing chapter.

‘madman’ - This label for Wilson is shown to be wholly inadequate as Nick demonstrates the way that this narrative is created out of one authoritative-sounding comment, and then distorted by the newspaper reporters. Furthermore, the inquest only partially revealed the truth, as Catherine (Myrtle’s sister) denied that Myrtle had ever had an affair, so that Wilson’s actions would be explained as those of ‘a man deranged by grief’.

racy pasquinade – A pasquinade is a public lampoon of someone. Nick criticises the newspaper reporters for their sensationalism, describing the reports as ‘a nightmare – grotesque, circumstantial, eager and untrue.’ This is in keeping with the type of stories already attached to Gatsby and which were fuelling the curiosity of journalists, as mentioned at the start of Chapter 6.

I found myself on Gatsby’s side and alone - Nick feels a strong sense of responsibility towards Gatsby. He sees his role as needing ‘to get somebody for him’ and imagines Gatsby asking for this too:

Look here, old sport, you’ve got to get somebody for me. You’ve got to try hard. I can’t go through this alone.

Both Nick and Gatsby are united in their abandonment by others: Daisy disappears with Tom, Meyer Wolfsheim evades contact, and Nick searches without success for Gatsby’s parents (the later arrival of Henry Gatz is not owing to Nick’s efforts). 

the picture of Dan Cody, a token of forgotten violence - Earlier references to Dan Cody in Chapter 6 mention violence as part of Cody’s debauched lifestyle, and there is also the implied violence associated with Ella Kaye, who was present when Cody died and gained the inheritance intended for Gatsby. That violence is the most salient association prompted by the picture perhaps highlights the underlying nature of Gatsby’s life. 

cannot get mixed up in this thing now - Wolfsheim’s letter in response to Nick’s letter hints at the perceived danger of being associated with Gatsby. The language is redolent of euphemistic phrases stereotypically used by gangsters, such as ‘very important business’ and ‘mixed up in this thing’. The next communication is a telephone call from a mysterious man named ‘Slagle’ informing Nick (whom he assumes to be Gatsby) of a foiled plot involving bonds. This juxtaposition of details reinforces the interpretation that Wolfsheim’s reluctance to attend Gatsby is based on self-preservation. 

signed Henry C. Gatz - Gatsby’s father is introduced into the narrative, having only appeared briefly in the account given in Chapter 6:

his parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people – his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all.

Gatsby’s parents are certainly eclipsed by Cody as a defining influence upon Gatsby, and there is no picture of them to signal their inclusion in the narrative of Gatsby’s life, until Nick describes Henry C. Gatz at this point in the novel. 

a telegram – Gatz’s mode of communication is more old-fashioned than the telephone (frequently associated with failed communication) but more reliable. Its brevity (necessary since the user was charged by the word) increased the need for clarity and thus conveyed a sense of authenticity.

a long cheap ulster – An ulster is a heavy-duty overcoat. This detail demonstrates Gatz’s poverty compared to his son - he is later said to be in awe of his son’s house. The language associated with him conveys his powerlessness: ‘solemn’, ‘helpless’, ‘dismayed’, ‘collapse’, ‘trembling’. 

Where have they got Jimmy? - This naming of Gatsby anchors him firmly back in his origins, even though his father recognises that ‘He rose up to his position in the East.’ The use of another figure from Gatsby’s past introduces the possibility of an authentic narrative, but this is unfulfilled despite the use of the photo and the book (two narrative devices) which add further fragments to the story about Gatsby.

He’d of helped build up the country - The irony of this statement, just as Gatsby’s criminality is brought more sharply into focus, confirms that his father is just as unreliable a source of information as anyone else. It also suggests a darker side to America’s economy, where bribery, corruption and organised crime exerted strong influence upon statesmen and law enforcers. Even Tom and Daisy, as legitimate members of the powerful class, are now shown to be profoundly dishonest and unsavoury characters, yet remain part of the fabric of the country.

there’s a sort of picnic or something - Klipspringer’s excuse for not attending Gatsby’s funeral underlines both his own frivolous nature and the lack of respect for Gatsby that was typical of Gatsby’s guests. The telephone call from Klipspringer is actually made in order to retrieve his shoes, displaying a materialism which disgusts Nick, and he responds by cutting off the call.

Meyer Wolfsheim stood solemnly in the doorway, holding out both hands. - This gesture, as he is determined not to attend the funeral, but insists on his emotional connection with Gatsby, is very difficult to interpret. It is reminiscent of Gatsby’s gesture towards the green light in Chapter 1, but also has a demonstrative, showy aspect, especially with Nick’s observation that he used a ‘reverent voice… and offered me a cigar.’ It seems that Wolfsheim has a theatrical sense of occasion (‘the hair in his nostrils quivered slightly… his eyes filled with tears’). Nevertheless, his advice to Nick has a sententious, proverbial tone:

Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead.

He uses the exhortative phrase ‘Let’s’ and the inclusive pronouns ‘us’ and ‘our’ almost as if delivering a sermon to Nick.

Start him! I made him. - Wolfsheim claims to be the ‘creator’ of Gatsby, complicating the narrative of Chapter 6 in which Gatsby is self-made or influenced by his interactions with Dan Cody. Wolfsheim’s story adds a further fragment to the picture of Gatsby’s life: post-war, Gatsby was ‘so hard up’ he had no clothes other than his army uniform to wear and he encountered Wolfsheim who recognised his potential for criminal ‘work’. 

Jimmy sent me this picture - The final photograph of the novel is an image of Gatsby’s mansion, sent to his father and now shown to Nick in the house itself, upon which Nick comments, ‘I think it was more real to him now than the house itself.’ This could serve to emphasise the ephemeral nature of Gatsby’s wealth, so that a picture is more real than the actual thing, and Gatsby’s father points out features of the house by referring to the photograph instead of to the house around them.

Hopalong Takes Command, 1905 illustration by Frank Schoonover available through Creative CommonsHopalong Cassidy - This character was a favourite among children during this period. He is the hero of a typical American narrative, the pioneer/cowboy who overcomes difficulties and faces challenges to his personal integrity in a brutal environment. That this is a text associated with the young Gatsby poignantly suggests an innocence which precedes his self-transformation.

SCHEDULE – The inscription of a programme for self-improvement in the back of a childhood book highlights the strenuous and continuous efforts made by Gatsby to shape his own future:

Practise elocution, poise and how to attain it … Read one improving book or magazine per week

His father is enthusiastic about this enterprise, but acknowledges that his response to criticism of himself was violent: ‘He told me I et like a hog once, and I beat him for it.’

Nobody came - The time is noted as ‘A little before three’ and there is also a reference to the weather as rainy, as tension begins to build towards the funeral. Nick’s efforts to gather mourners have produced no-one, and Fitzgerald amplifies the shame of this by focussing on this realisation in Gatsby’s father:

his eyes began to blink anxiously and he spoke of the rain in a worried, uncertain way.

The time is carefully noted again, as the procession reaches the cemetary.

a thick drizzle - The weather is used to convey the sombre mood of this moment in the narrative. It isn’t dramatic but rather depressing, and the lexical choices of ‘thick drizzle’, ‘wet’, ‘splashing’ and ‘soggy’ and ‘straggled’ are quite anti-heroic in their effect, as is the lack of mourners and implied lack of respect and recognition afforded to Gatsby.

The poor son-of-a-bitch - The final public judgement on Gatsby, delivered by Owl-eyes, is quite demeaning, reinforcing the sense of failure as well as evoking pity that Gatsby has been exploited by people who attended his parties ‘by the hundreds’. There is a sense of irony, too, that Gatsby is reduced to this status at the very height of his wealth.

One of my most vivid memories… - Nick interrupts the narrative to describe the ‘thrilling returning trains of my youth’ which took him home after long periods spent away at prep school and college. His nostalgia is highlighted by phrases such as ‘looking cheerful as Christmas itself’ and the heightened awareness in ‘the real snow’ , ‘sharp, wild brace’ and ‘deep breaths’. There is also a chiaroscuro effect, with ‘twinkle’, ‘dim’, ‘street lamps’, ‘the frosty dark and the shadows’ and ‘lighted windows’.

unutterably aware of our identity with this country for one strange hour, before we melted indistinguishably into it again. - Most important, here, is the sense of identity which is felt keenly, but briefly, in this episode. Nick remarks that this memory encapsulates ‘my Middle West’ and it’s interesting that it’s mostly a memory of the journey to return there, plus a handful of images:

street lamps and sleigh bells… the shadows of holly wreaths.

I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all - Fitzgerald uses Nick to point out a shared aspect of the main characters’ lives - that they all originated in the West. Nick’s comment that:

perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life

might suggest that this is a less convincing interpretation of the narrative. Nick’s flashback hints at his next decision, to ‘come back home.’ The conclusion of the novel, now that Gatsby is laid to rest, is about Nick’s closing interactions with Jordan, Tom, Gatsby’s house and the beach.

the East… had always for me a quality of distortion - Here Nick revisits some of the grotesque and haunting imagery used for the description of the Valley of Ashes in Chapter 2 and describes a nightmarish scene (with reference to the work of El Greco) as representative of West Egg. The scene is of human failure, whereby a wealthy woman (‘her hand… sparkles cold with jewels’) is incapacitated by her own excess, but is also the victim of misidentification and even loss of identity:

the men turn in at a house – the wrong house. But no-one knows the woman’s name, and no one cares.

distorted beyond my eyes’ power of correction - Nick’s experience of the East has profoundly affected him and his altered perception cannot be overcome. Nick’s departure is prompted by this, and the change in season, with ‘brittle leaves’ and ‘wind’.

You threw me over on the telephone. - The act of ‘throwing [Jordan] over’ by telephone is identified as a clear fault on Nick’s part. The telephone has been a major plot device in this novel, associated from its first appearance as a vehicle for dishonesty and betrayal in Chapter 1. It then continues to undermine rather than enhance communication – phone calls seemingly portrayed by Fitzgerald as assisting in the corruption of America.

You said a bad driver was only safe until she met another bad driver? - Jordan’s analysis of their failed relationship, based on a conversation which takes place in Chapter 3, implicates Nick as a ‘bad driver’ and he acknowledges her criticism by saying that he’s now five years too old to ‘lie to myself and call it honour’. Cars are another new technology used as a metaphor for the failure of American values. Nick’s flashback to an idealised youth involves ‘thrilling returning trains’, again preferring an older form of technology as more authentic and more associated with happiness.

I saw Tom Buchanan - Nick is clear in his realisation that Tom is merely immature and careless - ‘I felt suddenly as though I were talking to a child’. However, his perception about Tom’s involvement in the death of Gatsby is expressed using deliberately imprecise language:

  • ‘I knew I had guessed right about those missing hours’
  • ‘There was nothing I could say, except the one unutterable fact that it wasn’t true.’ 

Both of these examples leave gaps in the narrative, so the reader is unsure about exactly what Nick had guessed correctly, and also unsure if Nick has indeed said anything at all to Tom, since the modal auxiliary verb ‘could’ does not guarantee action, merely the possibility of action. The choice of ‘unutterable’ to modify ‘fact’ also suggests that the idea is not uttered, but merely thought by Nick.

That fellow had it coming to him - Tom’s justification for informing Wilson that Gatsby ‘ran over Myrtle’ conveys the idea that this was an act of revenge against Gatsby for the callous killing of Myrtle. Nevertheless, Nick and the reader have the additional awareness of the scene at the end of Chapter 7 where Tom and Daisy appear to be ‘conspiring together’. This implies that Tom knows that Daisy is responsible but is conspiring to frame Gatsby with the death and thereby protect the Buchanan family. Fitzgerald creates a complex narrative moment where the reader must judge the extent of Tom’s dishonesty: did he lie to Wilson in order to assist in the murder of Gatsby? Is he pretending to Nick that he believes Gatsby to have killed Myrtle? Or has Daisy withheld the truth from Tom and everyone? Nick’s response that ‘it wasn’t true’ whether spoken aloud or thought, may refer directly to Tom as a liar, or just to the narrative as untrue.

I sat down and cried like a baby - Tom’s claim of having suffered himself is deeply ironic. He is at the root of the entire situation, since Myrtle was his mistress and her jealousy led to her running into the path of the car. He seems sentimental in his reference to the dog biscuits, and shallow in his use of the clichéd phrase ‘like a baby’. 

They were careless people … the mess they had made… - This judgement from Nick is very damning, and certainly applies more generally than to just Tom and Daisy. The juxtaposition of party and funeral scenes highlights the superficiality and carelessness of a whole section of society for whom money provides a buffer from reality.

he went into the jewelry store – The final image of Tom is as a consumer: he goes into a jewellery shop to buy something (‘a pearl necklace - or perhaps only a pair of cuff buttons’), linking together several images of jewellery, including the earlier image of the unconscious woman whose ‘hand… sparkles cold with jewels’ and the macabre cufflinks of Meyer Wolfsheim which were human molars.

that huge incoherent failure of a house - Gatsby’s house is now a ‘failure’, with grass as long as Nick’s (echoing the efforts made to impress Daisy by cutting Nick’s grass in Chapter 5) and ghostly memories of parties still lingering. Nick notes the presence of obscene graffiti on the ‘white steps’, a clear indicator of corrupted innocence, and restores the steps by erasing the word. 

the old island here that flowered once - The focus is shifted to the shore of Long Island Sound as Nick’s narrative becomes more universalised in the final moments. He imagines the experience of arriving at a newly discovered land:

for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent… face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

The language recalls Nick’s earlier comments about Gatsby having a ‘gift for hope’ (Chapter 1), the vision of ‘a secret place above the trees’ where he could ‘gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder’ and the comment that Daisy ‘blossomed for him like a flower’ (Chapter 6), as well as the transitory nature of their rekindled romance. 

a fresh green breast of the new world - The image of a ‘breast’ is interesting, as this feminises the land, discovered by ‘man’ as a nurturing and bounteous place. However, there is also a disturbing echo of Myrtle’s dead body, with ‘her left breast … swinging loose like a flap’. Gatsby’s wonder is treated in the same tragic manner, juxtaposing the pursuit of a source of wonder with the disappointment of failing to grasp it. 

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. - Faith in something that recedes is presented as heroic here, and Nick endorses and shares this commitment, as signalled by the use of the first person plural in:

It eluded us then…. tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further…. So we beat on… (italics added)

There is a powerful optimism at the conclusion of the novel, defying the negative ideas and sense of failure associated with the funeral and Nick’s disappointment with the East.

we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. - The image of the current set against human efforts and the assertion of the past over the future, emphasises the enormity of the task to ‘beat on’. The use of the present tense and ‘ceaselessly’ suggests that this is a perpetual struggle for humanity, not surrendered with the death of Gatsby.

Investigating Chapter 9

  • What narrative devices are employed in this chapter to tell the story?
    • You could consider the use of letters and other types of communication.
  • Fitzgerald selected Owl-eyes as one of the few mourners to attend Gatsby’s funeral, so what is the significance of his presence?
  • How much imagery is related to eyes, seeing and perception in this chapter?
    • What might this suggest?
  • How far do you agree that this is, as Nick claims, ‘a story of the West’?
  • Nick claims that he ‘wanted to leave things in order and not just trust that obliging and indifferent sea to sweep my refuse away.’ How far do you think the final chapter of the novel achieves this?
  • How does the writer use colour imagery in this chapter?
  • Where is water imagery found in this chapter?
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