In this chapter flesh is put on Gatsby and the dream begins to fade. It is as if the two ideas are linked – Jimmy Gatz has invented himself in the model of Dan Cody and attained his highest position when amorously linked to Daisy Fay. At this point the War intervenes and the new Jay Gatsby loses all to Tom Buchanan. His world has been damaged. His dream is clear and stated by Nick: the total acceptance by Daisy and a return to the conditions of 1917. This will require her to renounce Tom. It may be too much to ask.
The chapter is set largely at Gatsby’s second party – a party no different in practice to the first but which is now seen through the eyes of Daisy, by both Gatsby and Nick. What amused in Chapter 3 now repulses.
The opening section, however is a discourse on the true character of Gatsby, told, we learn, by Gatsby himself ‘very much later – in fact, as we learn in Chapter 8, after the collision as the dream is irredeemably shattered. This careful ordering of the narrative is an important feature of the novel – such analepsis can forefront and withdraw key information at key moments – it is important at this stage that Nick, who by now is firmly in Gatsby’s camp shows us the true fragility of his artifice, so that we can appreciate how easily the edifice will fall when pushed. There is also a sense that this renewed relationship deserves a new layer of honesty in the telling.
Gatsby – the ‘Son of God’ – his own God- is a creation awaiting an opportunity. He is poor, slovenly and unworldly until he is taken up by Dan Cody – a semi-senile multi-millionaire who spends his life aimlessly sailing around the continent pursued by gold-digging women, one of whom, Ella Kaye, appears instrumental in his death and also manages to outsmart the young man to whom Cody has left a substantial fortune. We assume that Gatsby will never be outsmarted in this way again.
He drops the name of the immigrant –Gatz – and adopts an Americanised version, both suggestive of the gangster’s ‘gat’ or gun, hinting at the profession which is still hidden from the reader.
- East meet West
When Tom and two strangers arrive for a drink, the clash is painful. Gatsby performs the work of a host and Nick comments on this – ‘as if they cared’ suggesting the relationship between the group is far from equal. Nick has been giving Gatsby space to be with Daisy, whilst following up his relationship with Jordan – ‘trotting around’ with her and trying (failing) to ingratiate himself with her aunt.
The visitors are cold and aloof: Mr Sloane ‘lounges haughtily’ and will take no drink though his wife becomes affable after some drink. She will make a polite invitation which is misinterpreted and will cause friction. Tom is challenged by Gatsby who informs him first of their previous meeting which Tom has forgotten and then that he knows Daisy. This is a challenge and Tom responds – he cannot work out how Daisy would have met such a man – a bootlegger, he suggests later – and once again returns to his pet theory about women being given too much freedom. ‘I may be old-fashioned in my ideas’ he apologises, but he is old-fashioned, representing an older generation in which women had little freedom or chance to develop emotionally and men had a free-rein on behaviour as long as no scandal ensued. Once the group leave the house – Mr Sloane almost dragging his wife away whilst Gatsby is changing, the stage is set for the second party. It is clear that true East Egg values will never accept Gatsby. Daisy might have been enchanted by his wealth, but the society will not tolerate such hedonistic flamboyance.
- At the Party:
This recognition of the chasm between East Egg and the invention that is Gatsby and West Egg is clear at the party. Seen through Daisy’s eyes, by implication, guests are now vulgar and distasteful. The only guest of whom Daisy really approves is the great ‘white orchid’ of an antique film star. Like herself, she can recognise the link between the cold and disdainful ‘whiteness’ of this hothouse flower, like herself needing close attention and constant care. Otherwise we read of drunkenness, potential violence, especially towards women, who are often being shown as in need of being ‘stuck in a pool’ due to their drunken state. One woman, offering a round of golf to Daisy, is massive and lethargic’ as she defends Miss Baedeker against the idea of drunkenness with the defence that she is ‘always like this’ after a considerable drinking spree. Gatsby is in attendance but often called to the phone and Daisy is ‘appalled’ by the shallowness of the gathering except when she and Gatsby escape to sit on Nick’s porch for half an hour.
Tom is caught up in the party to an extent. At first his eyes are ‘arrogant’ and he seems slightly embarrassed by the epithet of the ‘polo player’ but his excuse of the man ‘getting off some funny stuff’ is seen through by Daisy who pronounces the girl he is chasing as ‘common but pretty.’
As the party ends Daisy, Tom and Nick are on the steps. Gatsby’s mansion sends its light ‘volleying’ out into the darkness, like so many thunderous guns. Impressive but also destructive. Tom accuses Gatsby of being a bootlegger and Daisy defends the party by pointing out that most of the guests had not been invited. Too many people, she suggests, take advantage of Gatsby’s good nature. She seems proud of his history – ‘he built them up himself’ she says of the drug-stores. Presumably Gatsby has given her a version of his recent history, heavily sanitised. Drug-stores were the common cover for illicit alcohol businesses. Tom’s guess is correct; whether Daisy knows this is open to conjecture, but Tom intends to find out, not because he guesses about the affair, but because his ‘old fashioned’ values cannot tolerate an upstart like Gatsby.
As the party ends, Nick and Gatsby are alone and Nick recounts a final piece of history told to him by Gatsby. This is in indirect speech, as though Nick is not taking the responsibility for precise and accurate recording of such an overtly romantic narrative. Gatsby has spoken of the sidewalk rising to the tree tops to a ‘secret place’ which he could attain if he ‘climbed alone’. In this place all things seem possible and all dreams can be forged. He is prepared to sacrifice this when Daisy kisses him, never again will he ‘romp again like the mind of God’. As he kisses her, other dreams perish and Daisy ‘blossomed for him like a flower’. Nick claims to be appalled by this sentimentality and is unable put his thoughts into words.