Commentary on Closing Passage of Chapter 7 from Great Gatsby
The extract from Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby depicts the events that occur after the Buchanans, Nick and Gatsby return from New York, after Daisy drives into and kills Myrtle, while letting Gatsby take the blame. Themes explored in this passage include the façade of the upper class and the American dream.
As Nick makes his way to the “pantry window”, his movements are very gentle, as he “traversed the gravel softly and tiptoed up the veranda steps”. It is almost as if he is being careful to not disturb the perfect quality of the Buchanan residence, which is further highlighted as the “small rectangle of light” from their “pantry window” is the only light shining in this night. However, the mention of the “porch where [they] had dined that June night three months before” is a hint that this perfect façade is disintegrating. “That June night” represents a more innocent time without the problems present at this point – Gatsby and Daisy’s affair and Myrtle’s death. Hence, the vacancy of this porch also signifies the disappearance of this time, and perhaps, the imminent arrival of more problems – Gatsby’s death and Nick’s loss of trust in this society.
This façade is truly dissolved as Nick finds the “rift” in the closed “blind”. Through this “rift”, Daisy and Tom are revealed in their mundanity, their glamour absent. Firstly, the choice of food – “a plate of cold fried chicken between them and two bottles of ale” – is very basic in contrast to the previous extravagance of their meal in “that June night”, where they drank wine and were waited upon. Additionally, there is the “unmistakable air of natural intimacy about them”, as this “earnest” interaction, to them, is safely hidden from the eyes of society, behind the “blind”. They are interacting across a simple “kitchen table” that is implied to be small, as Tom’s hand “fall[s] upon and cover[s]” Daisy’s hand subconsciously, in “his earnestness”.
While it remains ambiguous whether Tom knows about Daisy’s true role in Myrtle’s death, this is almost irrelevant to the matter, as the significance of this interaction is that Tom and Daisy are reuniting, leaving their relationships with Myrtle and Gatsby – who are substandard to them – and perhaps, maybe even discussing their physical leave from this entanglement. On a deeper level, they are “conspiring together” to repair the cracks in their façade caused by their temporary submission to desire for vitality and passion allowed through their respective affairs, by removing themselves from this situation detachedly, neither “happy” nor “unhappy”, but merely objectively. Though it is at the cost of Myrtle’s, and later, Gatsby’s death, perhaps because of the concessions they feel they are entitled to by their upper class status, they are either uncaring or ignorant of these consequences, further emphasised by their detachment from reality behind this “blind”.
The rarity of this insight into the façade of the Buchanans is indicated as Nick leaves this scene just as he entered – he “tiptoe[s] from the porch”. The apparent serenity of the Buchanan residence is reinstalled, as even the taxi is personified to be “feeling its way along the dark road”. The transience of the moment where the Buchanans are unveiled is synonymous with their actions – “they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness”.
Still clouded by his dreams centered around Daisy, Gatsby remains oblivious to Daisy’s faults, perhaps never thinking about the possibility of the transition that Daisy is undergoing with Tom to detach themselves from the consequences of their “carelessness”. His concern for Daisy is evident in how he is still “waiting where [Nick] had left him”, and questions Nick “anxiously” the instant he is back. In an attempt to help Gatsby, Nick suggests that Gatsby should “come home and get some sleep”. This suggestion demonstrates Nick’s care and support for Gatsby, not only literally as he tells Gatsby to take care of his health, but also implicitly, as the word “come” has collective connotations. Additionally, “home” refers to a place of belonging, which in Gatsby and Nick’s case is West Egg, the less glamorous, less exclusive equivalent of East Egg. The reality of the situation is that, while Gatsby yearns to reach that “green light”, represented by Daisy and all that she embodies – wealth, lineage, beauty – he can never truly belong there, as his “home”, symbolic of his family background and his roots, is immutable. Regardless of his accumulated wealth or fame, to them, he is merely a parvenu – eternally second class. As such, Nick’s gentle attempt to help Gatsby “come home and get some sleep”, to relax his obsession with reaching the “green light”, can almost represent Nick’s realization that Gatsby’s all-consuming fixation on acquiring Daisy is rather unhealthy, and foreshadows Gatsby’s imminent death.
However, Gatsby persists, and “[shakes] his head” in response to Nick’s suggestions, choosing to remain faithfully by Daisy’s side, and to “wait here till Daisy goes to bed”. In this instance, Gatsby seems quite desperate, almost pathetic, as any contact with Daisy at all, even just through observing the lights in her house, “watching over nothing”, is worthy of “vigil”. The “sacredness” of Gatsby’s “scrutiny of the house” to him can be associated with how Gatsby views Daisy. Just as how her association with the colour white and light portrays her as a sort of celestial and heavenly being, Gatsby’s view of her as his ultimate goal and the way he worships the idea of her elevates her character as an otherworldly, unreachable, yet irresistible goal. This serves to emphasise the futile quality of Gatsby’s goals – just as a human can never transcend the boundary between humans and celestial beings, Gatsby can also never truly overcome the boundary imposed by lineage, between old money and the nouveau riche.
This extract ends rather poetically, as there is a beautiful quality in the way Gatsby is described to be “standing there in the moonlight – watching over nothing”. This is perhaps an acknowledgement of the positive aspect of Gatsby’s ability to hope, as his blind persistence encapsulates the strength of human determination and will, and the essence of the American Dream. However, poignantly, Gatsby can only shine in the “moonlight” – Fitzgerald specifies this time setting to be at night, so as to describe Gatsby in the “moonlight”, light reflected from the sun, which is perhaps representative of Daisy and the glittering beauty of East Egg and its people. While the sole reason for Gatsby’s determination to succeed is the hope that one day, he will obtain Daisy and elevate his own being to be equal to that of Daisy’s, ultimately, similar to the moon that does not emit light and can only receive the reflected light from the sun, he can never truly acquire “light” of his own, and his aspirations are mere reflections of the people who truly own this “light”, namely, the Buchanans and the people of East Egg. Nick’s description of the object of Gatsby’s “scrutiny” as “nothing” is an indication of his developing disgust towards this level of society, which foreshadows his later detachment from this society and conclusion that they are “careless people”. “Nothing” could also signify Gatsby’s eventual achievement, as in the end, his efforts only result in his own death, and he is reduced to nothing and forgotten in the eyes of society.
This passage is significant as it captures a rare, unrevealed moment of the upper class. Yet, this instance also continues to highlight the insurmountable barrier between Gatsby and his dreams, concluding with a poignant atmosphere enforcing the futility of Gatsby’s desires to conquer the American dream, and foreshadowing the imminent deaths of Gatsby and the hope and dreams he represents.
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