Summary and Analysis
Chapter 6 opens with an air of suspicion as a reporter comes to Gatsby, asking him "if he had anything to say." The myth of Gatsby was becoming so great by summer's end that he was rumored to be embroiled in a variety of plots and schemes, inventions that provided a source of satisfaction to Gatsby, who was originally christened James Gatz and hails from North Dakota. Nick fills the reader in on Gatsby's real background, which is in sharp contrast to the fabricated antecedents Gatsby told Nick during their drive to New York. James Gatz became Jay Gatsby on the fateful day when, on the shores of Lake Superior, he saw Dan Cody drop anchor on his yacht. Prior to that time, Gatsby spent part of his young adulthood roaming parts of Minnesota shaping the aspects of the persona he would assume. Nick suspects he had the name ready prior to meeting Cody, but it was Cody who gave Gatsby the opportunity to hone the fiction that would define his life. Cody, fifty years old with a penchant for women, took Gatsby under his wing and prepared him for the yachting life, and they embarked for the West Indies and the Barbary Coast. During their five years together, Cody and Gatsby went around the continent three times; in the end, Cody was mysteriously undone by his lady love.
After many weeks of not seeing Gatsby (largely because Nick was too busy spending time with Jordan), Nick goes to visit. Shortly after his arrival, Tom Buchanan and two others out for a horseback ride show up for a drink. After exchanging social small talk wherein Gatsby is invited to dine with the group, the three riders abruptly leave without him, somewhat taken aback that he accepted what they deem to be a purely rhetorical invitation.
Tom, apparently concerned with Daisy's recent activities, accompanies her to one of Gatsby's parties. Gatsby tries to impress the Buchanans by pointing out all the celebrities present, then makes a point of introducing Tom, much to his unease, as "the polo player." Gatsby and Daisy dance, marking the only time Gatsby really gets involved with one of his own parties. Later, Daisy and Gatsby adjourn to Nick's steps for a half-hour of privacy. They head back to the party and when dinner arrives, Tom remarks he wishes to eat with another group. Daisy, always aware of what Tom is really up to, remarks the girl is "common but pretty" and offers a pencil in case he wants to take down an address. Daisy, aside from the half-hour she spends with Gatsby, finds the party unnerving and appalling. After the Buchanans leave and the party breaks up, Nick and Gatsby review the evening. Gatsby, fearing Daisy did not have a good time, worries about her. When Nick cautions Gatsby that "You can't repeat the past," Gatsby idealistically answers "Why of course you can!" words that strike Nick soundly because of their "appalling sentimentality," which both delights and disgusts him.
If Chapter 5 showed Gatsby achieving his dream, Chapter 6 demonstrates just how deeply his dream runs. Much of the mystery surrounding Gatsby is cleared away in this chapter and the reader learns more about who he really is, where he comes from, and what he believes. After seeing Gatsby and getting to know him, Nick presents the real story of his past. By holding the actual story until Chapter 6, Fitzgerald accomplishes two things: First and most obviously, he builds suspense and piques the reader's curiosity. Second, and of equal importance, Fitzgerald is able to undercut the image of Gatsby. Ever so subtly, Fitzgerald presents, in effect, an exposé. Much as Nick did, one feels led on — Gatsby is not at all the man he claims to be. Fitzgerald wants the readers to feel delighted, glad for someone to succeed by his own ingenuity, while also a little unnerved at the ease in which Gatsby has been able to pull off his charade.
The chapter opens with an increased flurry of suspicion surrounding Gatsby. Much to his delight, the rumors about him are flying as furiously as ever, even bringing a wayward reporter to investigate (although what, precisely, he was investigating he wouldn't say). Rumors about Gatsby's past abound by the end of the summer, making a perfect segue for Nick to tell the real story on his neighbor — James Gatz from North Dakota. Gatsby is, in reality, a creation, a fiction brought to life. He is the fabrication of a young Midwestern dreamer, the son of "shiftless and unsuccessful farm people" who spent his youth planning how he would escape the monotony of his everyday life — a life he never really accepted at all. He craved adventures and the embodiment of the romantic ideal, and so he voluntarily left his family to make his own way. In many senses, Gatsby's story is the rags-to-riches American dream. A young man from the middle of nowhere, through his own ingenuity and resourcefulness, makes it big.
But there is a decided downside to this American dream. For Gatsby, his life began at age seventeen when he met Dan Cody. In the years since, he has traveled the globe, gaining, losing, and regaining his fortune. All of his money, however, doesn't exactly place him within the social strata to which he aspires. His wealth may allow him to enter certain social circles otherwise forbidden, but he is unprepared to function fully in them (just as in Chapter 5 when Gatsby tries to thank Nick for his kindness by offering to bring him into a suspicious, yet lucrative, business arrangement). Although money is a large part of the American dream, through Gatsby one sees that just having money isn't enough. In this chapter in particular, Fitzgerald clearly points out the distinction between "new money" and "old money" and, regardless of the amount of wealth one accumulates, where the money comes from and how long it's been around matters just as much as how much of it there is.
Another downside to Gatsby's American dream is that it has, in essence, stunted his growth, intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally. As noted, James ("Jimmy") Gatz ceased to exist on the day Gatsby was born, the day he rowed out in Lake Superior to meet Dan Cody (whose name alone is meant to evoke images of Daniel Boone and "Buffalo Bill" Cody, two oftentimes romanticized frontier figures). Since that time, he has worked to flesh out a fully dimensional fiction. When the persona he created, Jay Gatsby, fell in love with Daisy Fay, his fate was, in essence, sealed. As Gatsby became fixed on winning Daisy, his whole life became ordered around that goal. And why not? After all, he had willed Jay Gatsby into existence, why couldn't he will Daisy to be with him. It is worth pointing out, too, that there is little growth on Gatsby's part from the time he is seventeen until his death. He remains inexorably tied to his dreams and blindly pursues them at all costs. In one sense, Gatsby's determination is commendable, but there comes a point where living in a fictive world is detrimental to one's self, as Gatsby will find out all too soon. Dreams and goals are good, but not when they consume the dreamer.
After filling in Gatsby's background, Nick tells of a day at Gatsby's when three riders (Tom, Mr. Sloane, and an unnamed young woman) stop in for a drink. Gatsby, ever the good host, receives them warmly, although he knows full well that Tom is Daisy's husband. Although in some sense this may seem a strange interlude lacking in development and purpose, it is, in effect, intricately tied to the story of Dan Cody and the evolution of Jay Gatsby. The riders' visit is in many ways akin to the observations Nick made in Chapter 3 when he experienced his first Gatsby party. Just as at the party Gatsby stood away from the crowd (many of whom didn't even know him), Gatsby stands alone in this smaller setting as well. The three drop by to drink his liquor and little else. Their concern for him is minimal and their purposes mercenary. Under the pretense of sociability, the young woman invites Gatsby to join them for dinner. The three riders know the invitation is rhetorical — just a formality that is not meant to be accepted. Gatsby, however, is unable to sense the invitation's hollowness and agrees to attend. The group, appalled at his behavior, sneaks out without him, marveling at his poor taste.
This scenario contains several valuable messages. First, it gives an example of how shallow and mean-spirited "old money" can be. The trio's behavior is nothing less than appalling. Second, Gatsby takes their words at face value, trusting them to mean what they say. While this is a commendable trait, reflective of Gatsby's good nature and dreamer disposition, it leads to a third realization: that no matter how much Gatsby is living the American dream, the "old money" crowd will never accept him. Try as he might, Gatsby remains outside the inner sanctum and nothing he can do will allow him full access. He will never be accepted by anyone but the nouveaux riches.
The final incident of the chapter is the party at its end, the first and only party Daisy attends, and is, in many ways, unlike any party Gatsby has hosted so far. Up to this point, the purpose of the parties was twofold: to get Daisy's attention or, failing that, to make contact with someone who knows her. Now, for the first time, she's in attendance (with Tom, no less), so the party's purpose must necessarily change. Daisy and Gatsby have become increasingly comfortable with each other and even Tom is beginning to feel somewhat threatened by Daisy's "running around alone." At the party, Gatsby tries his best to impress the Buchanans by pointing out all the famous guests. Tom and Daisy, however, are remarkably unimpressed, although Tom does seem to be having a better time after he finds a woman to pursue and Daisy, not surprisingly, is drawn to the luminescent quality of the movie star (who is, in many ways, a sister to Daisy). By and large, though, Tom and especially Daisy are unimpressed by the West Eggers. The "raw vigor" of the party disgusts them, offending their "old money" sensibilities, providing another example of how the Buchanans and the people they represent discriminate on the basis of social class.
After Tom and Daisy head home, Nick and Gatsby debrief the evening's events. Gatsby, worried that Daisy didn't have a good time (after all, the Daisy in his dream would have a good time), shares his concern with Nick. Carraway, always the gentle voice of reason, reminds his friend that the past is in the past and it can't be resurrected. Most would agree with this, which makes Gatsby's "Why of course you can!" even more striking. There is no mistaking Gatsby's personality: He's like an errant knight, seeking to capture the illusive grail. He is living in the past, something the reader may not have known, had he not realized his dream of reuniting with Daisy. Although it would be going too far to say Gatsby is weak in character, Fitzgerald creates a protagonist who is unable to function in the present. He must continually return to the past, revising it and modifying it until it takes on epic qualities which, sadly, can never be realized in the everyday world. Gatsby, just as he is at his parties and with the social elite, is once again marginalized, forced to the fringes by the vivacity of his dream.
meretricious alluring by false, showy charms; attractive in a flashy way; tawdry.
Madame de Maintenon (1635-1719); second wife of Louis XIV of France. She is often depicted as ambitious, greedy, evil, and narrow-minded.
dilatory inclined to delay; slow or late in doing things.