Summary and Analysis Chapter 5



When Nick returns home to West Egg that evening, he finds Gatsby's house lit top to bottom with no party in sight, and Gatsby walking over to see him. Nick assures Gatsby that he will phone Daisy the next day and invite her to tea. Gatsby, knowing Nick doesn't make much money, offers to arrange for him to "pick up a nice bit of money." Nick, however, declines.

The next day, Nick phones Daisy and extends his invitation with the stipulation "Don't bring Tom." She accepts his invitation, agreeing on a day. The agreed upon day arrives and Gatsby, wanting everything to be perfect, sends a man to cut Nick's grass and, later, has flowers delivered. Arriving an hour before Daisy, Gatsby is nervous and, for the first time in the novel, a little unsure of himself. At the appointed time, Daisy arrives. Nick ushers Daisy into the house to find that Gatsby has disappeared, only to reemerge at the front door, looking pale and tragic. Gatsby ushers himself into the living room and joins Daisy. The reunion is initially stilted and unnaturally polite, leaving all three people feeling somewhat awkward, but amid the tea preparations, a greater sense of ease overtakes the group. Excusing himself, Nick tries to give Gatsby and Daisy some privacy, but Gatsby, as nervous as a young man, follows him out. Nick sends Gatsby back in to Daisy, while he himself sneaks out the back and wanders around the house for half an hour.

Upon his return, Nick finds Gatsby changed entirely. He has moved from the embarrassment of his initial appearance to unbounded delight, radiating a newfound sense of well-being. Daisy, too, reflects an "unexpected joy" through her voice. At Gatsby's request, the three move from Nick's little house to Gatsby's mansion. Daisy, just as Gatsby had intended, is delighted by the magnificence of his estate. Together they wander from room to room, each one tastefully and carefully decorated to create a particular ambiance. Along the way they meet Klipspringer, "the boarder," who was busy doing exercises as if he hadn't a care in the world. At the house, Gatsby passes into yet a third phase: wonder at Daisy's presence in his house. Daisy, at seeing Gatsby's array of shirts, buries her head in them weeping at their beauty. By the end of the afternoon, Gatsby has shown Daisy all the material stability he possesses, yet Nick hints that perhaps Daisy doesn't measure up — not because of a shortcoming on her part, but because of the magnitude of the dream that Gatsby has built over the past five years. At chapter's end, Nick departs, leaving Gatsby and Daisy alone together.


Chapter 5 introduces the heart of the matter: Gatsby's dream of Daisy. Through Nick, Gatsby is brought face-to-face with the fulfillment of a dream that he has pursued relentlessly for the past five years of his life. Everything he has done has been, in some sense, tied to his pursuit of Daisy. In a sense, Daisy's and Gatsby's encounter marks the book's high point — the dream is realized. What happens after a dream is fulfilled? Unlike other novels in which characters work to overcome adversity only to have their dreams realized at the end of the book and live happily ever after (or so the implication goes), Gatsby has his dream fulfilled early, suggesting to astute readers that this won't be the typical rags-to-riches story. The second half of the book describes what happens when one chases, then obtains, one's dream. The end need not be "happily ever after."

The chapter opens as Nick returns home, only to find Gatsby's house "lit from tower to cellar," with no party in sight, only Gatsby "glancing into some of the rooms." In an attempt to calm Gatsby's apparent restlessness, Nick tells him he will phone Daisy and invite her to tea. Gatsby, still trying to play it cool, casually remarks "Oh, that's all right." Nick, who now knows a great deal more about how Gatsby functions (and the fact he has spent the last five years of his life chasing a dream), insists on pinning Gatsby down to a date. Gatsby, trying to show his appreciation, suggests he line Nick up with some of his business contacts in order to "pick up a nice bit of money" on the side. Of course, Gatsby is referring to his underworld connections, but what is perhaps so striking about Gatsby's gesture is the apparent tactlessness of it all. Despite his great wealth, his generosity takes curious and non-traditional forms showing just how far out of touch he really is with the "old money" world into which he wishes entrée.

On the day of the appointed visit, Gatsby arrives an hour in advance, giving us our first glimpse of his vulnerability. Wanting to make sure every detail of his meeting is perfect (meaning it measures up to his dream) Gatsby has Nick's grass cut and has "a greenhouse" of flowers delivered prior to Daisy's arrival. Gatsby dresses for the event in a "white flannel suit, silver shirt, a gold-colored tie." His clothes, like his parties, his house, and his car, are an overt reminder of his newly earned wealth. It is as if he wants to make sure Daisy does not miss the fact that he now has that one thing that eluded him before: money.

When Gatsby arrives, for the first time he shows his vulnerability and uncertainty. Up to this point, he has been collected in every situation, but when facing the biggest challenge he's faced in years, his sulking, self-conscious behavior is nearly embarrassing — the generally graceful man stammers in fright, not unlike a young boy. For the first time, Jay Gatsby seems unsure of himself.

At one point, in his nervousness, he knocks a broken clock off the mantel, catching it just before it hits the ground. The symbolic nature of this act cannot be overlooked. Although on one level it is just another awkward incident caused by Gatsby's nervousness, it goes beyond that. The fact the clock is stopped is significant. In a sense, the clock stopped at a specific point in time, trapped there forever, just as Gatsby's life, in many regards, stopped when he was hit with the realization that while he was poor, he could never have Daisy. Gatsby is, in essence, trapped by his dreams of ideal love with Daisy, just as the clock is trapped in that exact moment when it stopped working. Following this analysis through to its final conclusion, one must wonder if Fitzgerald isn't also trying to say that Gatsby's dream stopped his growth in some respects (specifically emotionally); he's been so busy chasing a dream rather than enjoying reality, that like the clock, he is frozen in time.

As the afternoon unfolds, Jay and Daisy grow more comfortable in each other's presence. After excusing himself, allowing Daisy and Gatsby the opportunity to be alone together, Nick returns to find Gatsby glowing; "without a word or gesture of exultation a new well-being radiated from him and filled the little room." Daisy, too, appears equally moved by the meeting and (not surprisingly) her voice, "full of aching, grieving beauty" gives away her happiness at the meeting. When Gatsby nears the peak of his comfort, he suggests the party adjourn to his house.

As the three people make their way up to and through Gatsby's mansion, Gatsby revels in the impact his belongings have on Daisy. They have, in essence, accomplished that which he intended: They impress her. In fact, Gatsby is able to "[revalue] everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes." Keep this image in mind during Chapter 9, when it is inverted as Gatsby's father revalues his son based on the beauty and number of his material possessions. In another of the book's memorable images, Gatsby takes out a pile of shirts and throws them in the air. The shirts keep coming, and Gatsby keeps throwing them. Shirts of every color, every style, and every texture become strewn about the room in a glaringly obvious display of his wealth. How can a man who isn't well off afford to have such an array of shirts? The shirts' impact is not lost on Daisy, who is always appreciative of a great display of materialism. In fact, the excess and bounty of Gatsby's shirts causes her to put her face into them and cry, sad because she's "never seen such — such beautiful shirts before." Although a seemingly nonsensical statement, it is really a good indication of her true nature. She isn't weeping for a lost love; rather she is weeping at the overt display of wealth she sees before her.

When the trio attempts to move down to the waterfront they are held up by the rain, giving Gatsby the opportunity to make a telling statement. He informs Daisy, who clearly has no idea, that her house is right across the Sound from where they are standing. He then continues, informing her "You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock." Gatsby's admission of this secret is lost neither on Nick nor on Gatsby himself (according to Nick). Daisy, however, remains oblivious to its meaning. She is unable to grasp that by Gatsby telling her this, he has shared one of his most sanctified rituals. Prior to that day, the green light (representing many things: hope, youth, forward momentum, money) represented a dream to him and by reaching out to it, he was bringing himself closer to his love. Now that she was standing beside him, her arm in his, the light will no longer hold the same significance. His dream, the goal for which he patterned most of his adult life on, must now change.

Gatsby and Daisy are, as is evidenced in this chapter, generally a good match. Gatsby's dreamlike nature complements nicely Daisy's ethereal qualities. Gatsby, the collector of "enchanted objects," as Nick says, seems the perfect match for the otherworldly Daisy who runs exclusively on emotional responses. As if caught up in Gatsby's dream vision, Daisy calls him to the window to look at the "pink and golden billow of foamy clouds," declaring to Gatsby that she'd "like to just get one of those pink clouds and put you in it and push you around."

As the chapter ends, Nick, the trusted voice of reason, offers an astute reading on the whole situation. He interprets a look of Gatsby's face to indicate that perhaps he is dissatisfied with the whole affair. What occurs to Nick, and perhaps to Gatsby, is that once a dream is achieved, life must still continue. How does one go about the business of reordering his life after bringing a fabrication, a fantasy, to life? For Gatsby, who has spent the past five years dreaming of Daisy, one wonders whether through the five years he was in love with Daisy, or the idea of Daisy. His relentless pursuit of his dream has allowed him ample opportunity to construct scenarios in his head and to imagine her not necessarily as she is, but as he perceives her to be. As Gatsby peers into Daisy's eyes and listens to her enchanting voice, he becomes more and more in love with the vision he has conjured in front of him. As the chapter closes, Daisy and Gatsby have become so lost in each other that Nick ceases to exist for them. In response, Nick quietly retreats, leaving the lovers alone together.


Kant Immanuel Kant (1724-1804); German philosopher.

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