Summary and Analysis
As the curiosity surrounding Gatsby peaks, the routine Saturday parties abruptly cease. When Gatsby comes, at Daisy's request, to invite him to lunch at her house the next day, Nick learns that Gatsby replaced the servants with "some people Wolfshiem wanted to do something for" — he feared they would leak information about he and Daisy. The day, it turns out, is unbearably hot, making all the participants in the luncheon — Daisy, Gatsby, Nick, Jordan, and Tom — even more uncomfortable than expected. While all five are at the Buchanans' house, Tom leaves the room to speak with his mistress on the phone and Daisy boldly kisses Gatsby, declaring her love for him. Later, after Daisy suggests they go to town, Tom witnesses a soft glance that passes between Daisy and Gatsby and can no longer deny the two of them are having an affair.
Enraged by what he has just learned, Tom agrees they should go to the city. He retrieves a bottle of whiskey and the group starts out — Tom, Jordan, and Nick driving Gatsby's car, and Gatsby and Daisy in Tom's. Tom, it turns out, has been suspicious of Gatsby all along and has had him investigated. Noticing the car is low on gas, Tom pulls into Wilson's station where he finds Wilson visibly unwell. Wilson abruptly announces he and Myrtle will be headed West shortly because he has just learned of her secret life, although the identity of Myrtle's lover is yet unknown to him. Tom, doubly enraged at the potential loss of his mistress and his wife, malevolently questions Gatsby after the group assembles at the Plaza Hotel. He confronts Gatsby about his love for Daisy. Gatsby, refusing to be intimidated, tells Tom "Your wife doesn't love you . . . She's never loved you. She loves me." Tom, in disbelief, turns to Daisy for confirmation. Daisy, however, cannot honestly admit she never loved Tom. Gatsby, somewhat shaken by the scene unfolding before him — the collapse of his carefully constructed dream — tries another tactic. He declares: "Daisy's leaving you." Tom assures him Daisy will never leave him for a bootlegger. Tom orders Daisy and Gatsby to head home (in Gatsby's own car this time). Tom, Jordan, and Nick follow in Tom's car.
The narration now skips to George Wilson who has been found ill by his neighbor, Michaelis. Wilson explains he has Myrtle locked inside and she will remain so until they leave in two days' time. Michaelis, astonished, heads back to his restaurant. He returns a few hours later, hears Myrtle's voice, and then sees her break away from her husband and rush into the road. As she enters the highway Myrtle is struck by a passing car that fails to stop, continuing its route out of the city. Nick, Tom, and Jordan arrive on the scene shortly. Excited by the thought of something going on, Tom pulls over to investigate. He is grief-stricken to find Myrtle's lifeless body lying on a worktable. Tom learns the car that struck Myrtle matches Gatsby's in description. Tom, visibly upset by the day's events, can only whimper of his anger toward the man he already hates.
Returning to East Egg, Tom invites Nick inside to wait for a cab to take him home. Nick, seeing clearly the moral and spiritual corruption of Tom, Daisy, and the whole society they represent, declines. Outside the Buchanans', Nick bumps into Gatsby who asks if there was trouble on the road. Nick recounts what he has seen. After asking a few questions, Nick learns Daisy, not Gatsby, was driving at the time. Gatsby, however, in true chivalric fashion, says he'll take the blame. The chapter ends with Gatsby, the paragon of chivalry and lost dreams, remaining on vigil outside Daisy's house, in case she needs assistance dealing with Tom, while Nick heads back to West Egg.
Everything The Great Gatsby has been building toward intersects in this very important chapter. All of the paths, once loosely related at best, now converge — forcefully and fatally. The turbulence of Chapter 7 gives clear indications of what Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, and even Nick are about. Unfortunately, for three of the four, the revelations are complementary. As the weather of the novel becomes increasingly hotter and more oppressive, Fitzgerald finally gets to the heart of the love triangle between Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom, but lets it speak poorly of all the participants. Nick, alone, comes out of this chapter looking stronger. Like all the other characters, he has been tested in this chapter, but much to his credit, he grows and develops in a positive way.
This chapter put Gatsby and Tom side-by-side. While this happened briefly in Chapter 6, here the two men take each other on, head-to-head. Tom can no longer deny that Gatsby and Daisy are having an affair (specifics about that affair are, however, sketchy. The only item of significance is that the affair is an extension of Gatsby's dream and it leads him to the destruction of the dream and of himself). Within hours of learning of his wife's indiscretions, Tom learns that in addition to perhaps losing his wife, he is most certainly losing his mistress. This double loss enrages Tom and he strikes violently at the man he perceives as being responsible — a man who is, in his eyes, a low-class hustler, a bootlegger who will never be able to distance himself from his past. In Tom's elitist mind, Gatsby is common and therefore his existence is meaningless: He comes from ordinary roots and can never change that.
By chapter's end, Gatsby has been fully exposed. Gone are the mysterious rumors and the self-made myth. Stripped of all his illusions, he stands outside Daisy's house, vulnerable and tragically alone. Although he begins the chapter with his customary Gatsby dignity, when he comes up against Tom's hardness, the illusion of Jay Gatsby comes tumbling down. In all of Gatsby's years of dreaming, he never once suspected that he might not have his way (as is the nature of dreaming; one never dreams of having people stand in the way, preventing fantasies from coming true). As soon as Gatsby has to contend with people whose parts he can't script, he's at a loss. Instead, he will try, at all costs, to hold on to his dream. It is, in a sense, the only thing that is real to him. Without it (sadly), he is no longer able to define himself; therefore, the dream must be maintained at all costs (even when the dream has passed its prime). The best example of Gatsby's last-chance efforts to save his dream come after he tries to get Daisy to admit she never loved Tom. When she admits to having actually loved Tom, Gatsby, unwilling to give up, pushes the situation forward, abruptly telling Tom "Daisy's leaving you." Tom laughs off this declaration, dismissing the whole party and ordering Daisy and Gatsby to head back in Gatsby's car. By following Tom's command, the lovers, in effect, admit defeat and Gatsby's dream disintegrates.
In addition to getting the real scoop on Gatsby, one also sees the real Daisy. She has relatively few lines, but what she utters, and later what she does, changes her persona forever. Whereas in the previous chapters she has come off as shy and sweet, a little vapid, but decidedly charming, here, there is a bit more depth to her — but what lies beneath the surface isn't necessarily good. Daisy's reasons for having an affair with Gatsby aren't at all the same reasons he is in love with her. By boldly kissing Gatsby when Tom leaves the room early in Chapter 7, then declaring "You know I love you" loudly enough for all to hear (much to Jordan and Nick's discomfiture) Daisy has, in effect, shown that to her, loving Gatsby is a game whose sole purpose is to try and get back at Tom. She's playing the game on her own terms, trying to prove something to her husband (her response to Tom's rough questioning later at the hotel also supports this idea).
The other early vision of Daisy is of the peacekeeper (although one wonders why she would want Tom and Gatsby both at the same outing). On the hot summer day, it is Daisy who suggests they move the party to town (largely in an attempt to keep everyone happy). Strange things, however, always happen in the city — in the land of infinite possibilities. By changing the location, the action also shifts.
As the chapter continues and the party moves to the neutral, yet magical, land of the city, the real Daisy begins to emerge, culminating in her fateful refusal to be part of Gatsby's vision. In a sense, she betrays him, leaving him to flounder helplessly against Tom's spite and anger. Finally, by the end of the chapter, the mask of innocence has come off and Daisy is exposed. Her recklessness has resulted in Myrtle's brutal death. To make matters worse, one even senses that Daisy, in fact, tried to kill Myrtle. Gatsby has a hard time admitting that the object of his love has, in fact, not merely hit and killed another person, but has fled the scene as well.
Myrtle's death by Gatsby's great car is certainly no accident. The details are sketchy, but in having Myrtle run down by Gatsby's roadster, Fitzgerald is sending a clear message. Gatsby's car, the "death car," assumes a symbolic significance as a clear and obvious manifestation of American materialism. What more obvious way to put one's wealth and means on display than through the biggest, fanciest car around. Yes, it is tragic that Myrtle dies so brutally, but her death takes on greater meaning when one realizes that it is materialism that brought about her end. Looking back to Chapter 2, it is clear that Myrtle aspires to wealth and privilege. She wants all the material comforts money can provide — and isn't at all above lording her wealth over others (such as her sister, or Nick, or the McKees). Her desire for money (which allows access to all things material) led her to have an affair with Tom (she got involved with him initially because of the fashionable way he was dressed). Myrtle's death is sadly poetic; a woman who spent her life acquiring material possessions by whatever means possible has been, in effect, killed by her own desires. Dwelling too much on material things, Fitzgerald says, can not bring a positive resolution. Materialism can only bring misery, as seen through Myrtle.
Wilson, too, becomes more dimensional in the chapter, which is necessary in order to prepare adequately for the chapter to follow. While Wilson isn't necessarily good, he is pure. His distress at finding out about his wife's secret life is genuine but, being a man of little means and few wits, he doesn't know what to do about it. Clearly he loves Myrtle deeply — so deeply, in fact, that he would lock her in a room to prevent her running away (he plans to take her West in a few day's time, showing once again that in Fitzgerald's mind, there is something more pure, more sensible, about the West). Wilson is meant to stand opposite Tom, and the way the two men respond first to their wives' infidelities, and later to Myrtle's death, show that although one man is rich and the other poor, they still have much in common. In the end, however, the poor man comes off as the more passionate and heartfelt in his grief.
Nick is the only character to make it out of this chapter in better shape than when he went in. He has, of course, remembered that it was his thirtieth birthday during this chapter (remember, Fitzgerald himself was only 29 when this book was published so it is likely he saw thirty as a milestone for his narrator, as well as himself). For Nick, the change marks a passage away from youthful idealism (even ignorance). Although Nick begins the chapter much as in prior chapters (a bit uncomfortable with the Buchanans and what they represent, but not at all willing to take a stand against them), by the end he has seen quite clearly what Daisy, Tom, and Jordan are about.
After Myrtle's death, Nick is plainly shaken and as a man of moral conscience, he has looked at his life and those around him. When Tom, Jordan, and Nick return home after the accident, Tom invites Nick in. This is where Nick shows what he's really made of. Rather than accept Tom's invitation, as expected, he tells the reader "I'd be damned if I'd go in; I'd had enough of all of them for one day." Gone is the fellow who walked the line between the working class and the upper class. Gone is the fellow who withheld judgment because not everyone "had the advantages that [he's] had." Finally, Nick has grown up enough to take a clear moral stand. His opinion of the Buchanans becomes clear and continues to ripen until he finally can stand it no longer and heads back to the Midwest at the end of the book (again, Fitzgerald is showing the Midwest as a Utopia).
The final image in the chapter is perhaps the most pathetic in the whole book. For some readers it will tug on their heartstrings, for others it will be a defining moment, showing the true Jay Gatsby. After Jay and Daisy return to East Egg, Gatsby waits outside her house, calling to Nick as he passes. He makes a strikingly odd figure with his pink suit glowing luminously in the moonlight. When Nick inquires as to what he's doing, Gatsby, ever the dreamer, replies he is keeping watch, in case Daisy should need his help. Although Gatsby has assumed the guise of a knight-errant before, nowhere does he seem so clearly on a quest (and a quest doomed to failure) than right here, willing to sacrifice his own life for Daisy's. (Besides, what good is a dream that has been destroyed? What's worth living for?) What escapes Gatsby, but is perfectly clear to Nick, is that his surveillance is unnecessary; there is no chance of Daisy having trouble with Tom. Both Tom and Daisy's actions at the hotel have shown just how alike they are and in a time of crisis, there is no question they will join together. Daisy is likely unaware (or at least unconcerned) with Gatsby's feelings; Tom, while perhaps sad about Myrtle's death, likely sees her as he sees everyone who isn't of his social class — an expendable object. And so Gatsby, utterly lost now that his dream has died, holds on to the last piece of all he's ever known as an adult by standing guard at Daisy's. Unfortunately for him, it will be a long night.
Trimalchio wealthy character who lavishly feasts guests at a banquet in Petronius' Satyricon, a satire on Roman life in the first century A.D.
caravansary in the Near and Middle East, a kind of inn with a large central court, where caravans stop for the night.
medium a person through whom communications are thought to be sent to the living from spirits of the dead.