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Free Study Guide-The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald-Book Notes


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Nick begins this chapter with another reference to a party at Gatsby’s with the young ladies still speculating about the past of their mysterious host. This brief introduction to Chapter IV serves two purposes. It reminds the reader that no one seems to know much about Gatsby; but by the end of the chapter, Nick will have gathered much information that helps him to understand and appreciate his neighbor. The brief party description also serves as an introduction for Nick to tell about his list of party-guests. During his summer in New York, he kept track of many of the names of the people who attended Gatsby’s gatherings. Most of the names, such as Leech, Blackbuck, Dancies, Whitebait, Hammerhead, Ferret, Bull, Smirkes, Belcher, and Hip, are to poke fun at the society of the roaring 20’s. But Nick’s description of some of their activities is not funny. Mr. Civet drowned in Maine, the Blackbucks flipped up their noses at the world like goats, Snell was drunk for three days before going to the penitentiary, Muldoon’s brother strangled his wife, and Palmetto jumped in front of the subway to kill himself. Such events paint a pathetic picture of the Jazz Age Society. Appropriately, Nick has

written the names and events on a fading train schedule dated July 5, 1922. This “roaring” generation comes after July 4th, after the great American Declaration, after the holiday, but they are nothing to celebrate; they are a sad and corrupt group that is temporary and disintegrating from within, just like the railroad time table on which Nick has written their names and just like the vehicles they drive and wreck.

Throughout the novel Nick pays particular attention to the automobile as part of the action of the plot (remember Mr. Wilson owns an automobile repair shop and a car accident is the ending to the first party that Nick attends at Gatsby’s house). More importantly, the automobile is used as a symbol of the materialism of the age. In Chapter II, Nick states that Gatsby drives a Rolls-Royce, the most pretentious of all cars. In this chapter, Nick has an opportunity to ride with Gatsby in his vehicle, for they are going into New York City for lunch. Because cars will remain important to the action of the story , as well as to the central theme of the devastation of materialism, Nick describes Gatsby’s ostentatious automobile in detail.

It was a rich cream color bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hatboxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of windshields.

As Nick admires the car, Gatsby says, “It’s pretty isn’t it, old sport.” He then asks Nick to climb inside to the handsome green leather interior. On the way into New York, Nick describes two other vehicles. The first is a hearse carrying a dead man and the second is a limousine, driven by a white chauffeur and carrying “three modish Negroes,” who regard the Rolls-Royce in haughty rivalry. Nick mentions both of these to show that anything can and does happen in New York. Although at a distance it looks like a fairy tale city “made of white heaps and sugar lumps,” New York is the center of money where wealth corrupts, as depicted by Meyer Wolfsheim, whom Nick is soon to meet. New York is a place that also produces ostentatious wealth (symbolized by the Rolls-Royce and the limousine) and death (symbolized by the hearse) with the resulting reality of the Valley of Ashes, which is in contrast to the white sugar lumps of New York.

Gatsby has a “big” favor to ask of Nick, so he feels he should tell his neighbor something about himself, and the story is as extravagant as Gatsby’s car. He says he is from the Midwest (like Nick himself) and then adds specifically from San Francisco (far from Nick’s middle west both geographically and spiritually). He says he is the son of a wealthy family that has passed away, leaving him a large inheritance. He also claims he was educated at Oxford, for “it is a family tradition.” After college, he chooses to live the life of luxury in Europe, collecting rubies and hunting big game, with no real purpose. Then he enlists in World War I, where Gatsby hopes to be killed, but instead becomes a decorated war hero. Since the war, he has drifted here and there, trying to forget a very sad thing that has happened to him. To Nick, this story is so obviously exaggerated and told in such poor taste that it is comical.

Even though Nick finds Gatsby’s manufactured history to be a fascinating and incredible story, Gatsby himself is not as bizarre as Meyer Wolfsheim, Gatsby’s business partner who joins them for lunch. He is “a small flat-nosed Jew” with a large head, tiny eyes, and large nostrils and obviously a member of the underworld, who like Gatsby is nervous and suspicious by nature and in perpetual motion. During lunch Wolfsheim tells about the night he was with his friend Rosy Rosenthal who was “shot three times in his full belly” at The Metropole, which is located across the street from where they are having lunch. Nick then learns that this astonishing man also fixed the 1919 World Series, an action which staggered Nick’s moral Midwestern mind, and he says, “It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people--with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing up a safe.” Appropriately Wolfsheim proudly wears cuff links made from human molars, symbolizing the corrupt nature of the wealthy who will do anything to obtain and maintain their materialistic goals. Gatsby’s association with this incredible man sheds light on how he has likely amassed his fortune.

Nick leaves this luncheon with the West Eggers (the new money) to have tea with an East Egger (the old money), but the only differences between them are in appearance and background. Both East Egg and West Egg are characterized by materialism and purposelessness, as revealed in Jordan’s upcoming story. Over tea she tells Nick new information about Gatsby. He has been in love with Daisy Fay (her maiden name appropriately means fairy) since 1917, when he was a young lieutenant stationed near Louisville. Daisy, the most wealthy and popular girl in town with her fancy white roadster, was very attracted to this handsome, young soldier, and even tried to run away with him during the war. Her “monied” family would have no part of an unknown Gatsby, who offered no riches or stability, and made certain that Daisy soon forgot the soldier and became engaged to Tom Buchanan, who, being from a similar background to herself, could offer wealth and stability (and ironically one affair after another). Daisy (having no moral character or backbone) flits into Tom’s arms, ignoring her true emotions. On the night before her marriage to Tom, however, an inebriated Daisy was obviously thinking about Jay Gatsby and clutching a tear-stained letter from him in her hand. In spite of her real feelings, she marries Tom the next day and begins her purposeless travels through California, France, and Chicago, tolerating her husband’s affairs and indulging herself. When she hears the name of Gatsby mentioned again five years later, she tells Jordan “in the strangest voice that it must be the man she used to know.”

Gatsby has also never forgotten Daisy. She is the “sad event” in his life, the unfulfilled dream. It is for her that he has amassed his wealth, driven his fancy car, and purchased his fantastic mansion (so he could be just across a small bay from her -- but it is a huge gulf that separates the background of East Eggers and West Eggers). Then Jordan explains that Gatsby’s “huge” favor is for Nick to invite Daisy over one afternoon and let him drop in as well. He wants Daisy to see his wealth -- his gaudy mansion and his flashy car. He wants her to think he is successful, even if the riches are immorally obtained. But he cannot buy his background, so he has had to manufacture it and pretend to be something he can never be.

Jordan’s revelation about Gatsby totally changes Nick’s opinion of him. At the beginning of this chapter, Nick’s sense of wonder about his neighbor and belief that he was a man of consequence have faded into his being “simply the proprietor of an elaborate roadhouse next door.” When Gatsby manufactures the story of his past on the drive to New York, Nick begins to wonder “if there wasn’t something a little sinister about him after all,” but the story is so far fetched that Nick has to laugh it off with new fascination. Then at lunch Nick is made aware of Gatsby’s “underworld” connections, and the proper Midwesterner is appalled. But when Nick realizes that Gatsby has done everything, obtained his riches, bought his mansion, driven his car, in order to catch Daisy’s attention, the man was “delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor” to an elevated plain of pure motive, the endless pursuit of a dream. Nick, with his moral Midwestern mind, can only admire such incredible purpose and drive. Unfortunately, Nick knows that his cousin, the purposeless, drifting Daisy, is not worthy of such devotion.

At the end of the chapter, Nick’s morals and motives also become a little less pure. He agrees to Gatsby’s subterfuge and plans to arrange a meeting of his neighbor and Daisy, without any knowledge on Daisy’s part. It is almost as if he supports Jordan’s idea that “Daisy ought to have something in her life,” even if it is totally immoral. It is also obvious that Nick is attracted to Jordan for all the wrong reasons. He knows that she is incurably dishonest, limited, and skeptical (in complete contrast to Nick himself) and still he pursues an affair with her, a product of New York and the times.


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