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Curriculum Vital

The Education Umbrella Guide to The Great Gatsby
Chapter four summary and analysis

 

Summary

Nick describes some of the people who attend Gatsby's parties that summer. The names indicate that the people are of high social stature, though quite a few are involved in scandal, death and suicide, while others are snobbish and arrive with one or more mistresses.

The story then moves to the present, an afternoon in late July. Gatsby comes to Nick's house in his huge, elegant yellow car to drive him to their lunch appointment. During the drive Gatsby initially says very little, which Nick finds disappointing. Eventually, Gatsby decides to tell Nick about his past. He begins by saying that he inherited his money from his wealthy family, all of whom are now dead. He says that he was educated at Oxford, but, like Jordan, Nick suspects that he might be lying.

With his family's inheritance, Gatsby says, he lived an extravagant life. He tells Nick that he was relieved when World War I began because he was sure it would kill him. He then describes how he earned medals for bravery and became a major. He shows Nick his medals and a photo from his Oxford years, which convinces Nick that he was telling the truth.

As they drive into New York, a policeman on a motorbike pulls alongside Gatsby's car. After Gatsby identifies himself the policeman apologises and drives away. Gatsby explains to Nick that he ‘did a favour’ for the police commissioner some time ago.

When Nick arrives at the restaurant, Gatsby is in a back room with a Jewish man named Meyer Wolfshiem. The two of them have some kind of business deal planned, but we do not learn what it is. While Wolfshiem is eating, Gatsby apologises to Nick for being secretive, adding that there is nothing "underhand" going on. After Mr. Wolfshiem leaves, Gatsby tells Nick that he (Wolfshiem) was the one who fixed the 1919 baseball World Series, adding that he is too smart to be caught. The scene ends when Nick spots Tom Buchanan and introduces him to Gatsby, to the latter's embarrassment. When Nick turns back a moment later Gatsby has gone.

The scene then moves to Jordan and Nick having tea. Jordan tells Nick the story of Gatsby's connection to Daisy. In 1917 Daisy and Gatsby were romantically involved, but this ended when Gatsby went to fight in the First World War. Eventually, Daisy became engaged to Tom Buchanan. The night before their wedding Daisy became horribly drunk, began crying hysterically and said that she had changed her mind. With great effort, Jordan and Daisy's mother talked her out of it and the wedding went ahead.

At first, Daisy was a loving wife and devoted to Tom. Not long after their honeymoon, though, Tom was in a car crash that broke an arm of the person in the passenger seat, a woman with whom, Jordan implies, he was having an affair. Jordan ends by saying that when Daisy heard Nick say Gatsby's name at their first meeting a few weeks ago she (Daisy) later realised it was the man she once loved.

Back in the present, Jordan explains to Nick that Gatsby's living across the bay from Daisy is not a coincidence, that he bought the house deliberately so he might be close to her. Nick is astonished. Jordan then tells Nick that Gatsby would like him to invite Daisy to dinner so that he can come over and meet her. As Nick mulls this, he becomes increasingly attracted to Jordan. The chapter ends with them kissing for the first time.

Analysis

On Sunday morning while church bells rang in the villages along shore the world and its mistress returned to Gatsby's house and twinkled hilariously on his lawn.

In this opening sentence of the chapter Fitzgerald contrasts Christianity, the dominant religion in America, then as now, with the hedonism of Gatsby’s parties. In Christianity Sunday is a holy day on which one is not supposed to work, but to Gatsby and his guests it is simply another day of partying. God may seem entirely absent in this world, but, as we shall see, some characters think otherwise.  

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A dead man passed us in a hearse heaped with blooms, followed by two carriages with drawn blinds and by more cheerful carriages for friends. The friends looked out at us with the tragic eyes and short upper lips of south-eastern Europe, and I was glad the sight of Gatsby's splendid car was included in their sombre holiday. As we crossed Blackwell's Island a limousine passed us, driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish Negroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry.

This passage comes as Gatsby and Nick arrive in New York. The description of a white chauffeur driving three black men, two 'bucks' (an offensive slang term for a Native American Indian) and a girl suggests a world turned upside down. At that time, even in New York, such a reversal of the typical racial roles would have been unusual (though 'negro' was an accepted and widely used term for a black man). Although Nick finds the men 'modish' and their challenging glances laughable, the scene recalls Tom’s fears that the white race will soon be taken over by non-whites. 

Later in the chapter, after Jordan explains that Gatsby bought his house so he would be across the bay from Daisy, Nick writes:

Then it had not been merely the stars to which he had aspired on that June night. He came alive to me, delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor.

The first sentence is a reference to the moment at the end of chapter two when Nick sees Gatsby on his lawn looking across the bay and stretching his arms out towards the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. Suddenly, everything makes sense to Nick.

The somewhat oxymoronic (and alliterative) phrase ‘purposeless splendor’ suggests a sense of weary wonder in Nick for Gatsby’s achievements, and echoes his feeling at Tom and Myrtle’s flat of being ‘enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.’

Running parallel to the reawakening of Gatsby's love story is the budding romance between Jordan and Nick. After Jordan has finished the story Nick writes:

It was dark now, and as we dipped under a little bridge I put my arm around Jordan's golden shoulder and drew her toward me and asked her to dinner. Suddenly I wasn't thinking of Daisy and Gatsby any more but of this clean, hard, limited person who dealt in universal skepticism and who leaned back jauntily just within the circle of my arm. A phrase began to beat in my ears with a sort of heady excitement: 'There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.'

Again we have several contrasts: the dark evening and Jordan's 'golden shoulder'; Nick's attraction to Jordan despite her 'universal skepticism'; and then Nick's thought that life consists only of 'the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.' Which category do you think the main characters fall into?

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Questions? Comments? Contact Ross: rgrainger@educationumbrella.com

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