This chapter gives details on the beginning and final ending of Gatsby's dream. It opens with foreshadowing of the later tragedy of the chapter. Nick hears a mournful foghorn and has terrible nightmares. No longer able to sleep, he goes to check on Gatsby and to advise him to leave town. Gatsby will not think of leaving West Egg, for he still refuses to admit that his dream is past. He excuses Daisy's behavior, blaming it on Tom, and still hopes she may telephone. When he goes to the pool later in the day, he leaves specific instructions that he will take a phone call, still believing it might just be Daisy.
As if to hold on to his dream. Gatsby feels compelled to tell Nick more about his early relationship with Daisy, when he first met her as a soldier in Louisville. Although much of this information has been told to Nick by others, it is the first time that Nick has heard Gatsby's side of the story. In the flashback, Gatsby admits that he misled the young Daisy, making her believe that he came from a similar background and could support her. He did not feel he had the right to touch her, and yet he made love to her. From that point forward, Gatsby felt married to Daisy. He decided he would spend the rest of his life proving that he was worthy of what he had
taken. She became for him his holy grail. It is sad that his quest in life, defined with sacred, religious fervor, is wasted on an object as unworthy as Daisy Buchanan. His spiritual quest degenerates into a financial quest so he can prove his worth to her. In a similar manner, the spiritual quest of the country, the American dream, degenerated into a simple search for more wealth.
It is apparent that Daisy has never had any stamina, any moral strength. She waited for Gatsby for a short while after he went to the war; but she soon became bored and impatient and started dating again. When she met Tom Buchanan, she decided to marry him, for he offered all the right things - good looks, a solid background, and lots of money. It is still those things that have made her choose her husband over her lover. Gatsby, even after the events at the Plaza Hotel, still naively holds to his claim that Daisy never really loved Tom, but has always loved him. He still clings to the dream.
It is very significant that Nick tells Gatsby that you are worth more than the whole bunch put together. Gatsby is pleased with the assessment, as seen by the smile that he gives Nick. It is also important that these are probably amongst the last words that Gatsby will ever hear spoken, and definitely the last he will hear from Nick. Ironically, Nick remembers that it is the first compliment he has ever paid Gatsby. Most importantly, however, it is the first time in the novel that Nick takes a firm stand and makes a clear judgement. One of his faults has been to reserve judgement, holding back and not taking a stand. Now he realizes that in spite of Gatsby's vulgar, naÃ¯ve ways, he must be respected for his tenacity in holding on to his dream. His words of judgement, clearly spoken to Gatsby, indicate that Nick has truly matured.
Nick proves his maturity several times in the chapter. He crosses to the other side of the train when it passes through the Valley of Ashes, for he does not want to be sickened by the sight of the curious onlookers gathered around the site of Myrtle's accident. When he arrives at work, he cannot concentrate, for he is worried about his friend Gatsby and tries to call him several times. He refuses to see Jordan Baker, even though she telephones and wants to meet him; he instinctively knows she no longer holds any appeal to him. Such realizations are part of his maturing process.
Nick's flashback about Wilson and the details of the previous night are filled with significant images. It must be remembered that Myrtle lived and was killed in a wasteland, the Valley of Ashes, underneath the watchful eyes of T.J. Eckelberg. Wilson has become so much a part of the wasteland that his eyes are even described as ashheaps. It is not surprising that he has no friends, no family, and no religion. Without Myrtle, he literally has nothing (even though the reader realizes he has had nothing for a long time.) It is intentional and significant that Wilson, like Gatsby, has held on to an empty dream. He has believed that if he moves Myrtle away from the Valley of Ashes, everything will be fine between them, just as Gatsby believed if he amassed a fortune, everything would be fine between Daisy and him.
There are many ironies in the fact that it is Wilson who kills Gatsby in the swimming pool. It is one disillusioned dreamer killing another disillusioned dreamer. Both of them are betrayed by the women they love, and both of those women (Daisy and Myrtle) love Tom Buchanan, a cruel man who is totally unworthy of being loved. By killing Gatsby and then turning the gun on himself, Wilson is destroying a lifetime of dreams; but neither man has anything left to dream about. By killing Gatsby, he is also totally clearing the way for Tom, the man that Wilson should really hate; now the careless Tom and Daisy can, without threat, continue their immoral and purposeless lifestyle. It is also significant that Gatsby is shot in the water, typically a symbol of baptism and rebirth. Ironically, Gatsby's death begins a new life for Nick. He is finally able to see the shallowness of his life on the East Coast and make the decision to start a new life for himself in the Midwest. The end of Gatsby's dream is also the end of Nick's delusion about New York.
It is important to reflect on the time frame of the novel. Nick comes to the East in the springtime, the season of new life and new beginnings. He becomes acquainted with Gatsby, Jordan, and the lifestyle of the Buchanan's during the hot, torrid months of summer. Now it is autumn, and the dead leaves are falling and Gatsby has been killed, his life snuffed out foolishly and prematurely. During the winter that is to come, Nick will prepare to return to the Midwest.