Summary and Analysis
Chapter 4 opens with a cataloguing of Gatsby's party guests: the Chester Beckers, the Leeches, Doctor Webster Civet, the Hornbeams, the Ismays, the Chrysties, and so on. From socialites and debutantes to the famous and the infamous, Gatsby's parties draw only the most fashionable of people. One fellow, Klipspringer, in fact, was at Gatsby's house so often and so long that he became known as simply "the boarder."
One late July morning, Gatsby arrives at Nick's and announces they are having lunch that day in New York. During the "disconcerting ride" to the city, Gatsby attempts to clear the record about his past so that Nick wouldn't "get a wrong idea" by listening to the rumors. Nick is suspicious, however, when he hears Gatsby reveal that he was born into a wealthy Midwest family (in San Francisco) and educated at Oxford, "a family tradition." After touring Europe, Gatsby served as a major in the military where he "tried very hard to die" but, in his own words, "seemed to bear an enchanted life." As in testament to this disclosure, Gatsby is pulled over for speeding, but is let go after producing a card from the police commissioner for whom Gatsby had once done a favor.
In New York, two important things happen to Nick. First, at lunch Nick meets Meyer Wolfshiem, a professional gambler and the man rumored to have fixed the 1919 World Series. Wolfshiem is Gatsby's link to organized crime and there is an intimation that Gatsby may be able to fix Nick up with Wolfshiem in an undisclosed venture (this hint is again brought out in Chapter 5). The second memorable thing which happened to Nick comes through Jordan Baker. She recounts how one morning in 1917 she met Daisy and an unknown admirer, a military officer, who watched Daisy "in a way that every young girl wants to be looked at." His name: Jay Gatsby. Daisy's family didn't approve of the match and so she eventually turned her attentions away from Gatsby and to Tom Buchanan. On the day before the wedding, Daisy reconsidered her actions but after a drunken cry, she thought better of her situation and married Tom. The following April, Daisy gave birth to a daughter. Jordan continues, noting what Gatsby told her on the night of the party. Apparently, it was not coincidence that brought him to West Egg: He purposely selected his house so that the house of his lost love would be just across the bay. Jordan then relays Gatsby's request: that Nick invite Daisy over some afternoon so he can arrange to come by and see her, as if by accident. She is to know nothing about the intended reunion with her former lover; it is all supposed to be a surprise.
All three of the major incidents in this chapter — Gatsby's disclosure in the car, the meeting with Wolfshiem, and Jordan's story about Daisy's soldier — all serve one common purpose: They all give a better understanding of Jay Gatsby's past and, in turn, his present. Gatsby, as if aware of the rumors flying about him, attempts to set the record straight, but doesn't touch on every aspect of his past, only what he wishes Nick to know. Later chapters will give more and more information, even after his death.
The opening paragraphs of the chapter read much like a Who's Who of 1922. Nick expands upon an idea brought out in the prior chapter: Gatsby's party guests. Nick recounts dozens and dozens of names, all of them supposedly recognizable. Clearly, everyone who was anyone wanted to be seen at Gatsby's lavish gatherings. Some of the people came from East Egg (they are distinguished by their aristocratic-sounding names: the Endives, the Stonewall Jacksons, the Fishguards, and the Ripley Snells), while others came from West Egg (sporting more ethnic-sounding names such as Pole, Mulready, Schoen, Gulick, Cohen, Schwartze, and McCarty. Fitzgerald's use of names here brings out the notion that East Egg is symbolic of the established social order (the old money) while West Egg is home to the newcomers, people who may have equal wealth, but haven't had it nearly as long. It is curious that Nick recounts the names off notes he took on a timetable dated July 5, 1922, the day after Independence Day, as if to indicate these people have somehow only just arrived and are enjoying the benefits of independence that they didn't even fight for.
After the conspicuous cataloging of Gatsby's guests, Nick recounts another of his adventures — this time one that changes the course of his life forever. Gatsby, arriving at Nick's house for the first time, informs him that because they will be having lunch together, they may as well ride together. The real reason for Gatsby's visit, however, is to talk to Nick alone, and so the two men head to the city driving Gatsby's car — so big and excessive as to border on being gaudy. (How ironic it is that a car, a massive symbol of the American dream and here an outward manifestation of Gatsby's wealth, will ultimately lead to his undoing.)
When the two men leave for town Nick, by his own disclosure, has little real knowledge of Gatsby, having "talked with him perhaps half a dozen times in the past month." All that soon changes, however, as Gatsby unfolds his story. The discussion is particularly important because it gives the first strong indication that Gatsby isn't quite what he presents himself to be. Up to now, there has been mystery and speculation, but Fitzgerald hasn't revealed enough of Gatsby to allow readers to figure him out. Gatsby tells Nick, "God's truth," that he comes from wealthy people in the Middle West and was "educated at Oxford." Gatsby's inability to deliver that phrase without difficulty alerts Nick that something may be amiss. When Nick questions him as to where in the Middle West he hails from, readers get their first clear indication that Gatsby is recounting an elaborate lie — "San Francisco" is hardly the Middle West, and Nick knows it.
Sadly, Gatsby isn't even a good liar and he continues to tell his story, as if telling it will make it so. Fitzgerald later reveals that nearly everything (perhaps everything) he tells Nick during this ride, the candid self-disclosures he freely offers so that Nick doesn't get "a wrong idea" of him from the stories floating around, are themselves fictions created by Gatsby as part of his plan to reinvent himself. In fact, the past that Gatsby describes reads like an adventure tale, a romance in which the hero "lived like a young rajah," looking for treasures, dabbling in everything from the fine arts to big game hunting. Gatsby's past is highly unbelievable — a point not lost on Nick. When Gatsby informs Nick that his "family all died and [he] came into a good deal of money," it is wishful thinking at best, and Chapters 7 and 9 disclose that Gatsby's money came from a very different place.
As the two men head to the city, they pass through the valley of ashes, moving from a desolate gray world of dead-end dreams to the city, the place where anything at all can happen. When Gatsby is stopped for speeding, Gatsby need merely to wave a card before the officer and he is let go with a polite "Know you next time, Mr. Gatsby. Excuse me!" Apparently Gatsby once did a favor for the commissioner and receives his eternal thanks. Although Gatsby has just fed Nick an elaborate series of lies, this is the first piece that may well be true. Gatsby, through a business associate whom they are on their way to see, may likely have done a favor for the commissioner — and it is likely to have been something of a questionable nature.
The luncheon with Gatsby is not remarkable, save for the character who is introduced: Meyer Wolfshiem, a notorious gambler who is rumored to have rigged the 1919 World Series, an unprecedented scandal that degraded America's Game. Mr. Wolfshiem, a business associate of Jay Gatsby, is everything his name suggests: He is a perfect combination of human and animal. He is wolf-like in his ways, and nowhere do we get better evidence of this than by the human molar cufflinks he sports proudly. Although Nick has begun to like Gatsby and wants to give him the benefit of the doubt, Gatsby's taste in business connections is not at all what a man who comes from the background Gatsby has just recounted would make. Wolfshiem is Gatsby's connection (or gonnection, as Wolfshiem would say) to the world of organized crime. Wolfshiem, as is later made known, has been instrumental in Gatsby's ability to accumulate wealth. Theirs is a partnership in which Gatsby feels some sort of indebtedness to Wolfshiem — although they are partners on some levels, they are not at all equals.
That same afternoon, after hearing Gatsby's story and meeting his business contact, Nick has tea with Jordan Baker wherein he gets a more accurate reading of Gatsby. Jordan recounts the "amazing" story she learned the night of Gatsby's party. The story recalls Jordan's girlhood in Louisville and one of her memories of Daisy Fay (who would later become Daisy Buchanan; notice, too, "Fay" is a synonym for "faerie" — an appropriate name for someone of Daisy's ethereal nature). On one memorable day, she saw Daisy with a young officer, Jay Gatsby, who looked at Daisy "in a way that every young girl wants to be looked at." The memory stayed with Jordan "because it seemed romantic." However, she didn't put the Jay Gatsby in Daisy's car with the Jay Gatsby of West Egg until the night of the party.
Through Jordan's story of Daisy right before her wedding, Fitzgerald gives a much better sense of Daisy. She loved the young officer (as Gatsby tells in Chapter 8), but was forcibly discouraged from entering into a permanent relationship with the young man — Gatsby's lack of money was his primary character deficit. After breaking off contact with Gatsby, Daisy began to resume her activities as usual. She meets Tom Buchanan
and shortly becomes engaged to him. One the eve of her wedding Daisy has second thoughts, deciding while in a drunken stupor that perhaps marrying for love instead of money is what she should do. As she sobers up she seems to come to terms with herself and what is expected of her. She puts Gatsby behind her and marries Tom. Before long, however, Tom begins to have affairs. Daisy is aware of this from early on, but fails to do anything about it. One can only speculate why. Clearly Daisy is more dimensional than the initial impression of her suggests. She is aware of Tom's indiscretions, but appears not to care. Why? It's difficult to say with certainty, but one theory holds that she enjoys Tom's money and the status she has as a Buchanan
of East Egg. Challenging her husband's tomcat-like behavior would jeopardize her status and security — the things her entire life has revolved around.
When Jordan finishes telling this story of Daisy, she comes to where Gatsby figures in, and Nick learns a great deal about him through this disclosure. Jordan reveals that it wasn't coincidence that Gatsby's house is across the Sound from Daisy's, as Nick initially believes. Rather, it is all part of Gatsby's calculated plan. He purposely chose the less fashionable West Egg so that he could be across from Daisy, rather than adjacent to her. Jordan also discloses that the parties he hosts are for no other reason than to try to get Daisy's attention. Gatsby, following his dream of being reunited with Daisy, puts on excessive displays of wealth, entertaining people he doesn't know and who don't know him, all for the sake of a lost love.
He throws the parties initially in the hope Daisy might attend. Later, he begins to ask his guests if they know her. When he finds that Jordan is a friend of Daisy's, he tells her portions of his story. When Jordan suggests a meeting in New York, Gatsby won't hear of it. "I want to see her right next door," Gatsby protests, with the intimation that he doesn't want to trouble Daisy or Jordan or have them go out of their way. What he really wants is to have Daisy see his house, his nearly ostentatious display of money. In his mind, if Daisy knows how much he is worth, she will have no reason to reject him a second time. As the conversation ends, Jordan brings up Gatsby's request: that Nick invite Daisy over for tea so Gatsby can happen by.
The chapter's end raises some interesting questions and complications, again harkening back to the idea of morality that permeates the book. Jordan, confiding in Nick, tells him "Daisy ought to have something in her life," and Nick, by implicitly agreeing to pander for Gatsby, is in accord. Nick is placing himself in a position in which he will have to come to terms with helping deceive Tom while bringing Gatsby's fantasy to life. Nick, too, is becoming more and more involved with Jordan and this, perhaps, clouds his judgment. (At the end of Chapter 3, he was determined to break off relations with a girl back home so that he could pursue Jordan, again showing his moral nature.) As Chapter 4 ends, Nick comes to the realization that both Tom and Gatsby are linked by their pursuit of their respective dreams. Each of the men, Nick realizes, is motivated by his desire to be loved by a "disembodied face float[ing] along the dark cornices." Nick, feeling empty at the realization he has no such dream, pulls Jordan closer to him, ending the chapter with a kiss.
If nothing else, this moment of desire makes Nick seem more human. He has needs and longings, just as everyone does. In addition, his agreeing to help Gatsby reunite with Daisy suggests he, too, has a bit of the romantic about him. His morality isn't as rigid as may have been initially supposed; these small acts of human nature help warm the reader to an otherwise aloof man. This release of passion, too, marks a turning point for Nick. From this time, he is open to change and susceptible to the feelings and emotions that many other characters (especially Tom, and to a large extent Daisy and Jordan) work diligently to keep out.
Argonne Forest a wooded region in northeast France, near the Belgian border.
1919 World Series notorious championship baseball series plagued by scandal for being fixed.
Sauterne a sweet white wine produced in southwest France near the Bordeaux region.
Victoria an early touring automobile with a folding top over the rear seat.