I mean, we open with the sentence, "On Sunday morning while church bells rang in the village alongshore, the world and its mistress returned to Gatsby's house and twinkled hilariously on his lawn" (p. 64). Well, if that's not an indictment of the moral hollowness of these people, I don't know what is. Of course, it seems Nick's one of those worldly folk and there at Gatsby's, not in church. Tsk tsk.
Interesting that Gatsby is so restless, isn't it? "He was never quite still" (p. 67). I think that's an outward sign of his inner discontent, his constant searching and yearning and needing.
It's also interesting that the one point of Gatsby's narrative that Nick doesn't question at all is his assertion that San Francisco is part of the Middle West, as they call it here? I mean, dude, Nick is a Midwesterner himself. He surely knows Frisco is on the West Coast. Gatsby ought to know that too, come to think of it. Why does he say that city, not some innocuous, actual-Midwestern city like, I don't know, Minneapolis or Omaha? The more we think we learn about Gatsby, the less we actually know about him. It's like we keep trying to walk toward him, but he keeps moving away from us, so we never see him any more clearly.
But Gatsby tells Nick something during that car ride that I think is absolutely true, and a huge piece of understanding why he does the things he does all through this story. He says, "I didn't want you to think I was just some nobody" (p. 71). Gatsby seems, to me, to be striving constantly to be somebody. This will come up again toward the end -- I'm thinking of a specific line of Tom's -- but even here it's so telling, isn't it?
And Nick doesn't really shine in this chapter, does he? I mean, he says, "I was sure the request would be something utterly fantastic, and for a moment I was sorry I'd ever set foot upon his over-populated lawn" (p. 71). Dude, you think Gatsby's all cool until he asks you for a favor, and then you don't want to bother with him? I mean, how utterly fantastic could it be? You think he wants to have you impersonate him at the next party? Swim with sharks? Marry his sister, supposing he has one? Nick, Nick, Nick. I'm not very pleased with you in this chapter. But I know I'm cranky and tired, so maybe that's part of it.
So then there's this guy Wolfshiem. He's like a bad caricature stepped out of a different story into this one, isn't he? Like he just came from rehearsing The Merchant of Venice and forgot to get out of character or something. This chapter is one of the places Nick really feels like a piece of a faraway world, with his casually derogatory attitude toward blacks and Jews. So much of this book feels current, doesn't it? But not this. Maybe we have progressed a little over the past almost-hundred years.
There are two instances in this chapter of people making weird judgement calls about other people, ones we either already know to be erroneous, or will learn by the end of the chapter are off. First, Gatsby says that Jordan Baker is "a great sportswoman, you know, and she'd never do anything that wasn't all right" (p. 75), but Nick already told us in the last chapter that Jordan is a habitual liar and has possibly cheated at golf. So either Gatsby doesn't know much about Jordan, or he thinks Nick doesn't. And then Mr. Wolfsheim says Gatsby "would never so much as look at a friend's wife" (p. 76), and yet, by the end of the chapter, we know he wants to meet up with Daisy semi-secretly.
But then again, Daisy's not "a friend's wife," I guess. He does shake hands with Tom when Nick introduces them, but then he slips away. You know, the more I think about it, the more I think Gatsby refuses to know more about a person than fits into the narrative he's pre-constructed. Nick = helpful = friend = trustworthy, because Gatsby needs him to be. Jordan = sportswoman = honorable = trustworthy, because Gatsby needs her to be. Tom = embarrassing = bad = disposable, because Gatsby needs him to be. Anything that doesn't fit with his idea of how things should go, he discards or ignores.
Poor, poor Jay Gatsby, living in his dream world.
He lifted up the words and nodded at them -- with his smile (p. 70).
Over the great bridge, with the sunlight through the girders making a constant flicker upon the movie cars, with the city rising up across the river in white heaps and sugar lumps all built with a wish out of nonolfactory money (p. 72).
He came alive to me, delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor (p. 83).
Possible Discussion Questions:
What is up with this gigantic list of all the people who went to Gatsby's parties while Nick lived next door to him that summer? Why did Nick write it down in the first place? What compels him to share it with us? And why, if this story takes place only a year or two earlier than when Nick writes it down, is that list so worn out it's "disintegrating at its folds" (p. 64)?