Notes on Chapter 5
This is the central chapter and the one which brings Gatsby and Daisy together. It takes place largely in Nick’s house before moving across the newly mown lawn into the Gatsby mansion giving him the chance to show Daisy the evidence of his material success – the route not so much to her heart, but to keeping it. The prelude to the tea party is a short description of a meeting between Gatsby and Nick on Nick’s return from New York. Chapters 4 & 5 are consecutive and little or no time passes between them.
House and Garden:
We know that Nick’s house is squeezed between the great mansions of West Egg and it can be useful to see it as a sort of off-shoot of the great wealth that is Gatsby’s – he certainly has few scruples about directing the lawn to be cut and the pair move freely into each other’s spaces. At the start of the chapter Gatsby’s house is lit up, ‘like the World’s Fair’ heightening the sense of advertising and display which Jordan has told Nick about and also causing Nick to fear for the safety of his house. There seems to be a warning here – to continue with Gatsby will bring about destruction in some way. Again the Lucifer idea becomes plausible – a light-bringer who may burn all with whom he has contact. Gatsby offers a ride to Coney Island and a dip in the pool (foreshadowing the end of the book) and Nick accepts neither, brushes off a job-offer and goes happily to bed in his house.
The day of the party is raining, hardly a good omen and images of ‘soggy whitewashed alleys’ and a gardener in a raincoat trying to tame Nick’s lawn – or ‘yard’ as Gatsby refers to it – hardly suggest a positive outcome. By tea time there is a ‘damp mist’ echoing the general fog in Gatsby’s mind and his uncertainty, yet the sun emerges as the pair talk before the wind rises and thunder is heard. The chapter ends in rain. A moment of happiness and calm has been found, but the outlook for the pair, as predicted by nature, is not encouraging.
A clear contrast between Nick’s small house, crammed with Gatsby’s outsize preparations for tea and the vast and ostentatious display of financial power in Gatsby’s mansion is clear. It is in this chapter that Nick recounts the history of Gatsby’s house and the fate of the brewer who had it built. Again, Fitzgerald places the show of material success against the reality of material failure and allows the reader to draw their own conclusions.
- Gatsby seems ill at ease in this chapter. His green light/grail/green ball/dream is within his grasp and he fears for the outcome. He is uncertain how to thank Nick and makes a clumsy offer of a job, making it clear that there will be no dealing with Wolfshiem, as though this might be the root of Nick’s scruples. Mention is made of selling bonds and there is a clear foreshadowing of the phone call received in Chapter 9. Presumably Nick was to enter the world of the ill-fated ‘Young Parks’, but he is not ready to cross to Gatsby’s nether world and the offer is rebuffed. Gatsby is anxious about appearances, sends over vast quantities of tea and flowers before losing his nerve and almost leaving before Daisy arrives. Ever the actor, though, once she does arrive – playing up to Nick’s mysterious invitation and exhortations to leave Tom behind, Gatsby (re)enters, as though just arriving. The tension is palpable. As Nick says ‘it wasn’t a bit funny’. Gatsby is gauche and clumsy – he knocks a (broken) clock from the mantle and reinforces the theme of time and man’s attempts to control it. At this point, as the broken clock suggests, the pair are returning to 1917, the point of Gatsby’s departure and he seems to have arranged to stop time momentarily, even if he will never be able to turn it backwards. Nick is relieved to be able to leave but has time to speak to Gatsby. For the only time in the novel, Gatsby is at a loss, behaving like a ‘little boy’ stuck in a world he cannot control. This will not last.
Once Nick returns, the pair are relaxed, the sun has come out and Gatsby’s need for the small house is over – he leads the party next door to introduce Daisy to his world. He bought the house to lure her in, and his success is as absolute as it will ever be. Like his house and like the sun which has emerged, he ‘literally glowed’. He draws Nick’s attention to the light radiating from his house and is so caught up in love that he not only tells the truth about earning the money to buy it (3 years) but cuts Nick off abruptly ‘That’s my affair’ when Nick queries his story. He has no need to act for others –Daisy is his only audience at this stage. She is given the grandest of grand tours, no short cuts, and all designed to impress. The group walk through numerous rooms, all pluralised to emphasise size, before arriving at Gatsby’s relatively modest suite of rooms. Nick is clear that Gatsby is almost trancelike, referring all to Daisy’s gaze and barely aware of his surroundings. His shirts ar ethe final proof of his success in material terms and all designed to impress.
The group return to the drawing room before Klipspringer’s playing of love songs and he shows Daisy the spot where her light glows in the mist. Nick perceives his possible disquiet at this point and muses on the attainment of the dream: ‘perhaps it occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever… Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.’ Only as he says goodbye does Nick really discern trouble in Gatsby: ‘Almost five years! There must have been moments that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams…’ The pair are left in peace, he is bewitched by Daisy’s siren like Death-less song and Nick leaves them together.
After her excited and conspiratorial conversation on the phone, Daisy’s arrival is interesting. I tis raining, yet her car is open. Unusually she is not white in this scene – her hat is lavender and her wet hair lies like a ‘dash of blue paint’ tasking her out of her usual colour palette – possibly she is about to be eclipsed by the grandeur of Gatsby’s world. After the ‘conscientious’ beginning to the party, Nick leaves and only once he returns do we see a change. Daisy has been weeping and Gatsby is becoming radiant. When she arrived Nick was bewitched by her voice, now it is clear that the emotion is real and unfeigned – ‘her throat, full of aching, grieving beauty, told only of her unexpected joy’. Nick is clear: she is not bewitching anyone now. She is bewitched. There are signs of her recognition of Gatsby’s immense wealth and consequent attractiveness – for example Nick notices her ‘brass’ buttons gleaming. In the face of Gatsby’s ‘enormous place’, even Daisy’s wealth and golden charm is downgraded. When she weeps into the shirts, she may be weeping for the missed opportunity – this is wealth, not polo ponies, not pearl necklaces can compete with this display of hedonistic materialism. She realises what she might have missed out on. If she is enchanted by material belongings, she is able to recover by the end of the chapter. She whispers in Gatsby’s ear. He is attentive. As Nick comments, ‘that voice held him most, with its fluctuating, feverish warmth, because it couldn’t be over dreamed.’ Daisy in actuality might disappoint – the voice will never lose its ability to enchant.
Functioning as a pandar for this relationship, Nick sees much, comments less and feels little. He observes Gatsby’s emergence from the cocoon of nervousness and recognises the painful significance of the attainment of the dream and the loss of the power of the longed-for object. He guides the reader towards an understanding of the central idea of the attainment of the dream being its own destruction and slips away, leaving the lovers to their new-found world of pink clouds, silk shirts and ‘in between times’.
The central idea of the Dream being destroyed by its attainment is explored in this chapter for the first time. Gatsby’s quest for his grail could be said to be over – he has Daisy and the pair are left alone with their love, but as Nick says at the end of the chapter, ‘as I watched him he adjusted himself a little, visibly’. All has now changed. He has, in a way, wound back time and reclaimed Daisy, yet in doing so he has lost one of his ‘enchanted’ objects and one might feel that he has one less reason to exist.
The idea of the pursuit of material evidence for a successful and happy life is clear from the shirts and Daisy’s evident thrill at the sheer size of his mansion suggests that in New America, the world of post-war profit seeking, the arriviste of West Egg can indeed top the old money and old ways of the East.
There seems little doubt that Gatsby and Daisy were, and are, in love, yet his quickly built façade and her deeply ingrained love of wealth – and possibly of ‘pure’ or ‘cold’ white wealth – will need to be reconciled. At present both are happy and it seems a good place to leave them –despite the thunder in the air. Even as she is entranced by the ‘dull gold’ of the hairbrushes, the adjective suggests that in her presence all else has lost its lustre for Gatsby.