The crunch! The longest chapter covering the disintegration of the dream and the betrayal of love and acceptance of material, rather than emotional wealth.
There are several settings in this chapter – the empty Gatsby mansion, the train, the Buchanan’s mansion, the plaza suite, the cars, the garage interior and a micro setting in the Buchanan’s kitchen. The weather is now stifling hot- a typical New York late summer which is used to increase the feeling of discomfort and pressure on the characters. Daisy may be joking when she hopes for 5 iced baths in the Plaza, but the point is made. The pressure has built to the point when it must explode.
- Gatsby’s mansion: empty
Chapter 6 opened with the brief passage about a newsman questioning Gatsby and 7 builds on this idea – ‘curiosity about Gatsby was at its highest’. Nick does not specify who is curious but the implication is that as Gatsby wishes to cut himself off from the world to focus on Daisy, the world has finally become deeply interested in this boy from the Mid-West. The new staff – Wolfshiem’s men are building a defensive carapace about their master. There is no more need for the flamboyance and display, but there is also a sense that there may be a need for protection of the business. The most recent phone call, at the end of chapter 6 suggests that the business may not be running smoothly. We could hypothesise that with Gatsby’s attention elsewhere Wolfshiem has seen then need to ensure some security is in place.
- The Train
The train is used to link the previous setting to that of the Buchanan mansion. It is ‘broiling’ suggestive of actual physical pain as opposed to simple discomfort. We read that the seats – ‘straw’ coloured, like Tom’s hair and other yellow ideas are on ‘the point of combustion’. The single word ‘hot’ is repeated again and again and Nick suggests that the heat is so intense it would outweigh simple issues of emotion: ‘that anyone should care in this heat whose flushed lips he kissed’ and gives the scene a sense of desperation.
- Buchanan’s mansion
With the surreal telephone conversation imagined on arrival, it is clear that the afternoon is to be vastly different from the visit in chapter 2. The drawing room is now ‘dark and cool’ and the women described as ‘silver idols… weighing down their clothes’ against the artificial attempts to ameliorate the oppressive heat. Jordan has clear application of powder to maintain her ‘white’ image and Tom is already speaking to Myrtle on the telephone – his final comments, as though to Wilson, are seen as a sham. As soon as he is absent, Daisy is professing her love for Gatsby openly. The room is the scene for Gatsby to be brought face to face with the reality of Daisy and Tom’s relationship in the form of the child, brought in to say hello. He stares, shocked as the child is shown off and removed just as Tom returns. She is Daisy’s child, her ‘dream’. The sea is now stagnant, a small boat moving slowly towards ‘the abounding blessed isles’. Tom wishes he could join it. The dining room is also dark and the heat such that there is a need to escape and Daisy suggests a trip to town – hardly likely to be cooler. She does this after having stressed that Gatsby ‘always looks so cool’ and comparing him with Tom – who looks like an unspecified advertising character, presumably lacking depth and background. Nick states that she has told him that she love shim, in Tom’s presence and that Tom has noted.
- The cars.
Highly suggestive of their owners, the cars must be considered closely. Much symbolism has been used in the novel linking cars to ideas of escape, speed and violence. In this chapter the great yellow car will be used as a murder weapon.
Tom takes over Gatsby’s ‘circus wagon’ knowing there is not much fuel precisely so that he can show off to Wilson by stopping to fill up. He tries to keep Daisy with him, but she refuses to join him. The journey is used as the chance to relate what he thinks he knows of Gatsby’s background much in the manner of Gatsby’s first opening-up to Nick in Chapter 4. It is a form of neutral territory. Possibly because of the heat and the sun, Wilson identifies the car as ‘yellow’ rather than ‘deep cream’ suggesting a harshness and clarity which has no need for subtle recognition of shade. As they leave the garage, Tom presses the accelerator – his mental turmoil being contrasted with that of the pair in the ‘easy going’ blue coupe. Tom is all power and aggression but is unsettled. The driving and the car reflect this.
Later, his victory complete, Tom allows Gatsby to return in his car, with Daisy. The confusion is complete and we learn that Myrtle has thrown herself towards what she thinks is Tom and is hit by Daisy, despite Gatsby’s attempts to grab the wheel. The description of the accident comes in various stages.
The first stage is the reportage of the ‘death car’ coming out of the darkness and it is typical of the ambiguity of its owner that there is confusion over its colour until Nick recounts an unknown negro as being firmly specific about the yellow. Tom is swift to confirm the colour to the police. The car had been driving at high speed in the hands of an inexperienced driver. We recall that Gatsby had sped when driving into New York in chapter 4. Presumably the car is safe in his hands.
Cars represent privacy and are used to recount past histories and to discuss current events. They also represent freedom, especially for women of the day. If the freedom is misused, the result is serious as Daisy discovers.
- The Plaza Suite
Utterly stifling and utterly trapping, the group opt for a suite in one of the Top Hotels – a long way from Tom and Myrtle’s apartment, we notice. The group is ‘herded’ into the suite and Fitzgerald captures the acute discomfort by having Nick tell us about his underwear, clinging to his legs like a ‘snake’. Adding to the discomfort of the heat is the domination of the sound of a Wedding march and ceremony from below. The events of the afternoon define the novel as a whole and it is with relief that the group break free, to ‘drive on toward death through the cooling twighlight’.
- The garage (interior)
The garage is the scene of Myrtle’s imprisonment and her morgue. Michaelis tells how Wilson had locked Myrtle in an upstairs room (whence she was seen looking down on Tom earlier in the chapter) before she had escaped somewhat melodramatically and rushed for the road.
Once the body has been brought inside it lies on a work table, wrapped in blankets ‘as though she suffered from a chill in the hot night’. There is a sense of stillness in the room and Nick can spot each participant in turn – the effortful policeman, Wilson in a state of deep shock and emotion, the ‘pale, well-dressed negro… This last character stands out as unusual in this novel – the only man of colour who is not a musician, it is odd that Nick should be so precise about his appearance and skin tone, yet he provides the first accurate description of the car and the background to the event. It is a location for suspicion and authority: both the policeman and Tom are given this epithet to describe their movements. In this garage Tom is equated with the figure of the law and no amount of cards to the commissioner will save Gatsby.
- The kitchen
Once the Buchanan mansion has ‘floated into view’ like some form of dream, Nick finds that he cannot enter and meets Gatsby lurking in the garden wishing to protect Daisy. His chivalrous intentions are wasted as Nick sees by looking in through the kitchen window.
Removed from the display and luxury of the public face of the house, the kitchen allows us to see the reality of the relationship between Tom and Daisy. It is a relationship rooted in practicality and the need for both to maintain their respective materialistic standards. At base level – suggested by the untouched meal of fried chicken and ale – they need each other. Daisy is silent and is nodding in agreement as Tom tells her how things will be – ‘anybody would have said they were conspiring together’ – as Nick says. For Daisy the choice is stark – life with Tom, loveless but wealthy or a loving life with a criminal of dubious background and uncertain, if immense, wealth. In the kitchen, with the facades removed, the pair can agree a modus vivendi.
Tom Buchanan has been a peripheral player in the recent chapters and this chapter brings him back to the forefront of the narrative in his battle for possession of Daisy. At the start of the action he is a figure of fun – ‘And Mr Thomas Buchanan the athlete’ enquires Nick of Daisy on his arrival, clearly positioning himself as an ally of the Daisy/Gatsby pair, before Tom is heard on the phone, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his secrets are no longer secret. Once again he is shown as lacking in intellect and trying to impress as when he declares that ‘pretty soon the earth’s going to fall into the sun…’ Ironically, however, for Gatsby, the prediction of the end of the world is highly appropriate.
He does have enough sense to recognise the threat to his marriage. His response to Daisy’s declaration of love for Gatsby is swift – he is initially shocked, his ‘temper cracked a little’ and he propels the group out of the door for the city, pausing only to grab some whisky, and commandeers Gatsby’s car for his own ends. Tom is rough with Wilson and taunts him with the apparent purchase of the new car. It is here that a new load is thrown onto his weakening self-control when Wilson tells him that he and Myrtle are returning to the West. Nick is cruel in his appraisal of Tom as his world collapses – ‘there is no confusion like the confusion of a simple mind’ – and suggests that the ‘hot whips of panic’ are driving him. As the group ascend to their broiling private hell Tom mounts his fightback by attacking Gatsby’s identity and the façade of his manners. The face-off is delayed by mint juleps and Jordan’s digression into wedding guests (establishing her as an ally of Daisy, not of Gatsby and Daisy) before Tom picks at the whole picture from oxford to the drug stores. He has been doing his research and at the moment when Gatsby pushes Daisy to leave Tom, she is caught between two powerful men and is a passive bystander as the two knock lumps from each other. Tom cannot move away from his inner bigotry, moving from ‘Mr Nobody from Nowhere’ to the threat of miscegenation in a manner which Nick finds amusing – the shift ‘from libertine to prig’ is not yet destructive. Tom needs allies and refuses to let Jordan and Nick leave before renewing hjis attack and revealing his inner knowledge of Gatsby’s business before Daisy capitulates, unable ot sustain the tension of the battle and begs him to cease.
He knows he has won the girl and has no appetite for further recrimination, even allowing the pair to leave together – the victor can be magnanimous, after all Gatsby has been ‘presumptuous’ in his ‘flirtation’ and Tom’s Kind never lose.
At Wilson’s garage we see another side of his power – he manhandles Wilson and swiftly instructs the man to forget about his earlier appearance in the Yellow Car. His ‘authoritative’ arm may part the crowd as they leave, but in the privacy of the car, he ‘whimpered’ his grief and anger at the actions of the ‘Goddam Coward’. By the time they reach home, his breeding has returned to the fore – he invites Jordan and Tom to ‘have them get you some supper’ and proceeds to address the issue of Daisy and their immediate future. In the kitchen he is dominant and assertive and is able to persuade her of the best way forward. We never know whether he is aware that Daisy had been driving and the gentleman’s code ensures that he never will unless she tells him, yet he now has the easiest way in which to rid himself of Gatsby as we will see in the closing chapters.
Daisy makes her final appearances in this chapter. From this point she will be mentioned but will vanish from the narrative as a character in her own right. As it is, she is passive once the fighting starts and cannot make herself deny either party – the most she can do is admit to having loved both men. She expresses few opinions and seems to lack any strength of character when faced by her crisis before being led back to her new future by Tom.
In her drawing room she is open in her affection for Gatsby – Tom speaks to Myrtle and she kisses her lover – but she oversteps the mark and Tom realises. From this point she seems to fade. At the hotel she spends much time looking in the mirror doing her hair. Either she is watching the events unfold from a distance or she is trying to remove herself from them in a selfish display of vanity. When pushed she speaks ‘desperately’ or ‘with ‘perceptible reluctance’. At first she is scornful of Tom before realising that she will be forced to make a decision. She looks at Jordan and Nick ‘with a sort of appeal, as though she realised at last what she was doing – and as though she had never, all along, intended doing anything at all’. Reality bites her and the affairs of the summer must come tumbling down. She seeks allies in Jordan and Nick – Jordan is made of the same cloth, perhaps, but Nick’s true loyalty is to Gatsby by this stage. Her ‘frightened eyes’ tell their own story – the fright is of the loss of her charmed life.
Gatsby loses all in this chapter – he plays for the highest stakes and although he is reluctant to accept it, his gamble fails. Maybe he wants too much. We know that he will settle for nothing less than Daisy’s utter rejection of Tom and his shock when he realises that she ‘loved me too’, rather than exclusively is the moment that he loses control. When he had a chance of leaving with Daisy as his possession, Tom’s attacks on his honesty left little mark. From this point he has little left with which to fight. By the end Nick is startled to see the ‘unfamiliar but recognisable’ look come into Gatsby’s face – he genuinely looked as though ‘he had killed a man’. Gatsby has been wonderful at clothing his harsh reality under a veneer of lovely clothes –caramel or pink suits are not the uniform of men like Tom, but they cover the gritty reality of the small time gangster. He waits in the garden after the accident intent on protecting Daisy, but he will never be needed in this guise. She will withdraw into her wealth and he will once again be left alone as an outsider to the world of sophistication and power which is East Egg. He is ‘watching over nothing’ as the chapter closes in a sad echo of his lonely vigil over the green light seen in Chapter 1.
Jordan is seen as an ally of Daisy. By the end of the chapter she and nick will have parted as he cannot reconcile entry to the Buchanan mansion with the tragedy that has taken place and the way in which Gatsby has been destroyed by Tom. In the suite she is by turns amusing ( ‘a swell suite’) and aloof before returning to her habit of trying to balance ‘an invisible but absorbing object on the tip of her chin’ – a signal that she will take no part in this discussion. She may be a New Woman in dress and profession, but in her heart she remains Old Money and will not risk losing this. She is given no opinion in Nick’s tale and we have to suppose that she has none.
Mr and Mrs Wilson as Wilson realises the fact of his wife’s infidelity, so he becomes genuinely ill. The sense of illness pervades the garage whether his ‘hollow eyed’ gaze, her ‘jealous terror’ or the terminally ill marriage which they share. Even after death Myrtle is wrapped as though against a ‘chill’. For the only time Wilson has taken control of his wife and locked her in an upper room. In a narrative shift, Michaelis explains all at the inquest: Wilson is genuinely sick and Myrtle, who by now has seen Tom driving into New York is in a raging passion. Her escape is preceded by melodramatic rage – ‘beat me, throw me down and beat me, you dirty little coward’. One wonders if this language has been generated by exposure to the movies and the scandal rags she reads on her trips to New York.
Her death is grotesque. She is essentially raped by the car – the immense power of the phallic vehicle driving ‘right into’ her, ripping her open and severing her breast which is now ‘swinging loose… like a flap’. The focus on the sexual nature of the accident is possibly a moralising response to the nature of the women in the novel, yet the depiction of Myrtle presents a suppliant who ‘knelt in the road’ as though praying at the altar of the manifestation of male power which killed her. The ‘think dark blood’ mingles with the dust of the Valley of the Ashes and in both we recall the funeral words – dust to dust, ashes to ashes.
Wilson’s response is beyond expectation. His ‘incessantly… high horrible call: Oh my Gaod…’ is the despairing soundtrack to the scene in the garage before he collapses and can be picked up by Tom, who takes control, ‘like a doll’.
Nick takes sides in this chapter and opts for Gatsby, not necessarily for affection but certainly because he is appalled by the callousness and shallowness of the sophisticated East. He is given the chance to reject Gatsby and West Egg, but chooses instead to remain faithful to this world which, for all its evident faults, seems kinder and fairer. This will end his relationship with Jordan who moves away from him ‘abruptly’ and runs up into the house as she realises his response to the moral dilemma. He is present throughout as a passive onlooker – has no relationship with the events described from Louisville or the early years of marriage. He has served his purpose to Gatsby and Daisy and is now impotent to help either.