Great Gatsby Chapter 9 notes

Fitzgerald draws his novel to its conclusion. This chapter allows him to make his final comment on the corrupt and destructive side of the American Dream. On one level it could be said that Gatsby represents the success story of the American Dream – the epitome of the stereotypical ascent from ‘rags to riches’. He drives his own fortune and prosperity acquiring great wealth and material possessions; but , ultimately, his dream fails anyway.
Fitzgerald makes it abundantly clear just how distorted the collective vision of society had become with regard to the accumulation of wealth and the influence of mass media – represented by the eyes of T J Eckleburg. Such materialistic goals had overtaken the more altruistic and virtuous pursuits inherent in the original interpretation of the American Dream.
In this chapter the reader senses Nick’s great sense of despair, disillusionment and disgust. He is appalled by the behaviour he encounters in his preparation for Gatsby’s funeral: ‘I found myself on Gatsby’s side and alone.’ After all the parties he had thrown for a countless trail of guests who paraded through his house ‘Nobody came.’
The reader has now experienced Nick’s journey, his voyage – note the sea imagery to which he refers in the final lines of the novel. It is interesting to note just how much Nick has matured as a result of his experiences: ‘…as he lay in his house and didn’t move or breathe or speak, hour upon hour, it grew upon me that I was responsible, because no one else was interested – interested, I mean, with that intense personal interest to which everyone has some vague right at the end.’ So, it is Nick who shoulders the final responsibility for Gatsby.
Nick begins the chapter commenting on the impact of these events – remember he is writing from a retrospective stance two years later: ‘After two years I remember the rest of that day, and that night and the next day, only as an endless drill of police and photographers and newspaper men in and out of Gatsby’s front door.’ These seem to be the only people interested – the media. They are not interested in the man Gatsby, but rather the fabrication of the man, the lies and the gossip which go hand in hand with his own self-constructed image. Essentially the media contributes to the corruption of the American Dream.
Nick ‘wanted to get somebody for him’. He feels loyal and protective towards Gatsby and so begins an avid search to do just this.
But he tells us ‘no one arrived except more police and photographers and newspaper men.’ Perhaps, one need look no further than at the history of the original image fabricators, the dream creators of Hollywood to learn of the pitiful and lonely existences of their more fragile stars. Strip away the veneer of glamour and wealth and all that really prevails is the very stark and harsh Valley of Ashes.
All of this reinforces Nick’s loyalty: ‘I began to have a feeling of defiance, of scornful solidarity between Gatsby and me against them all.’
Nick begins to catalogue the callousness of the people who cannot hide their indifference to Gatsby’s death.
Wolfsheim declares ‘I cannot come down now as I am tied up in some very important business and cannot get mixed up in this thing now.’ A pathetic euphemism for really saying he cannot be bothered – it’s not that important.
Next, there is Klipspringer who claims ‘Well, I certainly try…’ when asked to attend the funeral but may be unable to because of ‘a sort of picnic’. However, he does get to the heart of the matter, ‘What I called about was a pair of shoes I left there…’
Nick ‘felt a certain shame for Gatsby.’
Fitzgerald now chooses this moment to reveal another aspect of Gatsby’s past – his estranged father: ‘He came out to see me two years ago and bought me the house I live in now.’ Gatsby has been generous with his money.
It is Gatsby’s father who reveals the sense of purpose and indeed the dreamer in Gatsby from his diary:
‘Rise from bed 6.00 AM
Dumbbell exercise and wall-scaling…’
He even had a list of endearing ‘General Resolves’ which do imbue him with an innocence and a sincerity that enhances the reader’s opinion of him, sadly after his death:
‘No more smokeing or chewing
Read one improving book or magazine per week
Save $5.00 (crossed out) $3.00 per week
Be better to parents’
The misspelling of ‘smoking’ is deliberate by the way.
Three people attend the funeral – Mr Gatz, Nick and Owl Eyes.
Owl eyes is the only party guest who shows up. He is shocked to witness the absence of so many; ‘Why, my God! They used to go there by the hundreds.’
It is interesting to note, bearing in mind the references to blindness that we encounter throughout the novel, that Owl eyes removes his spectacles before declaring the reality and moral truth of Gatsby’s situation: ‘The poor son- of -a-bitch.’
The blindness comes from within as can be seen from most of Fitzgerald’s characters.
Nick comments, ‘I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all – Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life.’
You will remember from ‘Death of a Salesman’ that there is a similar East – West divide. Biff favours the freedom and happiness in the West whereas Willy relentlessly pursues the capitalist Eastern way of life – again exposing the corrupt nature of the American Dream.
Nick has matured enough to see through the ‘racy, adventurous ffeel’ of the East and its ‘enchanted metropolitan twilight’ – he realises that beneath all the glamorous, glittering veneer there are ‘spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it…’ just like the ‘fowl dust’ which ‘floated in the wake of his (Gatsby’s) dreams’.
The East represents capitalism and consumerism and indeed corruption of American society.
The West was presumably still relatively innocent rating homespun values and the happiness of the individual.
Nick is able to see this – but he is the only character in the novel who does.
The East has ‘a quality of distortion’.
Again, Fitzgerald juxtaposes the recurring adjectives, ‘grotesque’ and ‘fantastic’, once more alluding to the impossible dream with reality:
‘West Egg, especially, still figures in my more fantastic dreams…a hundred houses, at once conventional and grotesque, crouching under a sullen, over-hanging sky and lustreless moon.’
There is no romantic presentation of this location for Nick – the place is given an eerie, dismal atmosphere, where the houses are personified as shrinking away from this depressing, all-consuming locale.
Notably it is here Nick talks about the anonymous woman in white whom I have pointed out before:
‘…four solemn men in dress suits are walking along the sidewalk with a stretcher on which lies a drunken woman in a white evening dress. Her hand, which dangles over the side, sparkles cold with jewels. Gravely the men turn in at a house – the wrong house. But no one knows the woman’s name, and no one cares.’
This is a very sinister dream in which Nick envisions a woman in white – this woman could represent Daisy or Jordan or even one of the female guests at Gatsby’s party. It does not really matter, for Fitzgerald she represents the anonymity and lack of substance of the typical 1920s female. She is suppressed by the superiority of her male counterpart who uses her to satisfy and fulfil sexual desire. The fact that the woman is drunk and therefore lacks control reinforces the status of women is such a society which has itself lost sight and control of any kind of moral fibre. Her hand ‘sparkles cold with jewels’ suggesting the empty, shallow pursuit of such material possessions. The fact that the men drop her off at the wrong house and ‘no one cares’ really captures the essence of something Daisy says earlier in reference to her daughter – ‘I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.’
On first reading this seems like another very whimsical, even stupid and callous statement from Daisy but it is this very passage about Nick’s nightmare that gives her comment weight and meaning and, perhaps, it’s the most insightful thing she says in the entire novel.
‘They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…’
This really contains the essence of Nick’s loathing of such people. This triggers the memory of something he says at the beginning of the novel when he is about to relate his story to the reader: ‘When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention for ever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart.’
We remember him talking about ‘the distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged.’ A society which had such a callous disregard for human life; this can be seen by their reactions to the deaths of Gatsby and Myrtle – both of which are really perpetuated by Tom and Daisy respectively.
They disappear – drifting off leaving chaos behind undoubtedly to begin a life elsewhere.
The drifting which permeates the novel points towards the loss of moral and spiritual stability which must come from the core of the individual.
Tom and Daisy can do this because they never really become attached to anything or anyone – they are indeed ‘careless’ and their wealth allows them a certain freedom, an escape from reality.
Finally Nick sums up the essence of the original American Dream:
‘And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes – a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.’
This is a brilliant piece of description from Fitzgerald and quite poignantly encapsulates the real essence of the American Dream. Yet, it could not be sustained. The land became manipulated and exploited for human profit. But for the 17th century Dutch sailors it was, in those first moments, the ultimate land of growth, beauty and enchantment – ‘fresh, green breast of the new world’.
It is clear that this is why Nick refers to Gatsby as ‘great’ – …I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.’
This was what Nick admired – ‘his capacity for wonder’
‘He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.’
This is again referring to Gatsby’s refusal to admit that his past could not be relived, or recaptured, just like his tenacious belief in the dream.
The image of darkness and the attendant image of blindness is often used to foreshadow the inevitable failure of Gatsby’s dream.
Yet ‘Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by yea recedes before us.’
The green light here symbolises the dreams and hopes of society
‘It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And one fine morning -‘
Nick refers here to the dreamer in all of us. He conveys the human need to dream, to be inspired, to be challenged. Yet, he knows it’s important to be able to draw a line between the dream and reality – something Gatsby could never do.
‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’
We are all inextricably linked with our pasts – the past shapes the future. We know this obviously from history. Gatsby insisted on living in the past – his past with Daisy. Daisy could not isolate him from his past; he remained socially unworthy of her. Can any of us really escape the past. America itself struggled to shake off her more rigid European connections before the declaration of independence.
Furthermore, the American Dream has become part of its past – a part of American history which no longer exists in the same way as it did then.
The dream is impossible and this is what makes Gatsby’s plight so tragic.

Prof. Angela


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