Summary and Analysis
The book's final chapter begins with the police and the paparazzi storming Gatsby's house. Nick becomes worried that he is handling Gatsby's burial arrangements, believing there must be someone closer to Gatsby who should be conducting the business at hand. When he phones Daisy to tell her of Gatsby's death, he learns she and Tom have left on a trip, leaving no itinerary. Nick, with increasing frustration, feels he must "get somebody" for Gatsby. In his mind, Gatsby did not deserve to be alone. Hoping to gather Gatsby's friends, Nick sends for Meyer Wolfshiem the next day. Wolfshiem, much to Nick's dismay, sends a letter explaining he won't be involved with Gatsby's funeral. Later that afternoon when Gatsby's phone rings, Nick answers. Upon telling the speaker that Gatsby is dead, the speaker hangs up.
Three days after Gatsby dies, Nick receives a telegram from Henry C. Gatz, Gatsby's father in Minnesota. Gatz, it seems, learned of Jimmy's (Gatsby's) death through the Chicago newspaper. Gatz refuses to take the body to the Midwest, noting "Jimmy always liked it better down East." That evening, Klipspringer phones and Nick, thinking another mourner will be joining the funeral the next day, is dismayed to learn Klipspringer is only calling to inquire about his tennis shoes. The morning of the funeral, Nick forces his way into Wolfshiem's office, again hoping to convince Gatsby's closest business associate to attend the services. Wolfshiem again refuses, but discloses he did not just give Gatsby a start in business — he made Gatsby's fortune by using him in various questionable activities.
When Nick returns to Gatsby's, he finds Mr. Gatz going through his son's house, growing more proud as he takes in the possessions around him. Pulling out a copy of Hopalong Cassidy, once owned by the young Jimmy Gatz, Gatsby's father points out his young son's drive toward self-improvement by calling Nick's attention to the daily schedule penciled in the back. Shortly after, the men adjourn to the funeral. At the graveside are a few servants, the mail carrier, the minister, Nick, and Mr. Gatz. Nick is struck by the bitter injustice of Gatsby's solitary death. Despite all the people who found their way to Gatsby's parties, not one, with the exception of a man known only as "Owl Eyes," bothered to make an appearance at his funeral (and he only made it to the gate after the services ended).
Nick then moves to memories of traveling West when he came home from college. As the train moved further and further West he became more and more comfortable, as if he were returning to a special place just his own. Remembering this memory launches Nick into a discussion of the merits of the Midwest versus the vices of the East. The story is brought to a close when Nick interacts with two people from his past. First, he speaks with Jordan and, although he still feels fondly toward her, he once again coolly dismisses her. Finally, one autumn day, Nick meets Tom along Fifth Avenue. Tom, seeing Nick, makes the first move to speak. Initially Nick refuses to shake Tom's hand, upset with what Tom has come to represent. In the course of their short discussion, Nick learns Tom had a role in Gatsby's death — George Wilson worked his way to the Buchanan house in East Egg and Tom told him who owned the car that struck Myrtle. When Nick leaves, he shakes Tom's hand because he "felt suddenly as though [he] were talking to a child."
The time comes for Nick to leave West Egg and return West. On the last night, he wanders over to Gatsby's for one last visit. Strolling down to the water he is called to remember the way Gatsby's house used to be, filled with people and lavish parties. He considers Gatsby's wonder at picking out Daisy's dock in the darkness, how far Gatsby had traveled in his life, and how he always had hope in the future. In his final thought, Nick links society to the boats eternally moving against the current on the Sound.
The last chapter of The Great Gatsby continues a theme begun in the previous chapter, bringing the reader face-to-face with the ugly side of the American dream. Throughout the story, Gatsby has been held up as an example of one who has achieved the American dream — he had money, possessions, independence, and people who wanted to be around him. Or so the reader thinks. Gatsby's funeral takes center stage in this chapter, and with the exception of Nick, who continues to show his moral fiber, what Fitzgerald reveals about the moral decrepitude of those people still living is even worse than any of Gatsby's secrets.
As the chapter opens, Nick tells readers what an impact this course of events makes upon him. "After two years," he writes, "I remember the rest of that day, and that night, and the next day" as a ceaseless string of police officers and newspaper reporters. They came to investigate, and once again, the carnivalesque atmosphere that so often accompanied Gatsby's parties establishes itself. This time, however, the situation is decidedly less merry. Nick, showing he has come to respect Gatsby over the course of the summer, worries that, in fact, the circus-like atmosphere will allow the "grotesque, circumstantial, [and] eager" reporters to mythologize his neighbor, filling the pages of their rags with half-truths and full-blown lies. For Nick, however, even more disturbing than the free-for-all that surrounds the investigation is the fact that he finds himself "on Gatsby's side, and alone."
Nick, by default, assumes the responsibility for making Gatsby's final arrangements, "because no one else was interested — interested . . . with that intense personal interest to which every one has some vague right at the end." Two important things are revealed in that short statement. First, the Nick who is blooming at the end of Chapter 7 has come into fruition in this chapter. He is a man of principles and integrity (which shows more and more as the chapter unfolds). The second idea introduced here is the utter shallowness of the people who, in better times, take every opportunity to be at Gatsby's house, drinking his liquor, eating his food, and enjoying his hospitality, but abandon him at the end: Daisy and Tom have left without a forwarding address. Meyer Wolfshiem, who is "completely knocked down and out" at Gatsby's death, and who wants to "know about the funeral etc." is speaking rhetorically, as his refusal to get involved shows. Even the partygoers disappear. The party is over, and so they move on to the next event, treating their host with the same respect in death that they gave him in life — none at all. Klipspringer is a shining example of all the partygoers when he phones Gatsby's, speaks to Nick, and sidesteps the issue of Gatsby's funeral, shamelessly admitting, "what I called up about was a pair of shoes I left there . . . I'm sort of helpless without them." Nick, again much to his credit, hangs up the phone as Klipspringer tries to leave a forwarding address. The callousness of the people who so eagerly took advantage of Gatsby's hospitality is appalling. Certainly the American dream isn't supposed to end like this, gunned down for something you didn't do, utterly forgotten in your death. Fitzgerald does a fine job of displaying the downside to the American dream and how drive and ambition can, in effect, go too far. Dreams are useful, to a point, but when they consume the dreamer, they lead to destruction.
In true Fitzgerald fashion, and in keeping with the way he has effectively withheld information regarding Gatsby's past throughout the novel, just when the reader thinks he or she knows all, Gatsby's father arrives and gives yet another peek into Gatsby's past. Henry C. Gatz, an unassuming man who is not nearly as wretched as one may have imagined, arrives for his son's burial. The relationship between father and son is estranged, even in death, as evidenced by Gatz's burying "Jimmy" in the East where "he always liked it better." In many ways, Gatz seems a perfectly normal man, yet there is a hint of the superficiality that's similar to Gatsby's former party guests. In one noted example, Nick finds Gatz "walking up and down excitedly in the hall. His pride in his son and in his son's possessions was continually increasing." Apparently Gatz, like so many others, measured Gatsby's merit not on the type of man he was, but on his possessions.
Gatz also fills in Gatsby's early days by pointing to a schedule written in 1906, when Gatsby was about fourteen years old. First, it happens to be in Hopalong Cassidy, a famous Western adventure serial from the turn of the century. The book is significant in that it helps explain where Gatsby's dreamer spirit came from. The schedule, too, speaks to a dreamer's spirit. The itinerary is commendable: Gatsby, from the early days, aspired to greatness.
After Gatsby's funeral, wherein Nick and Gatz are the chief (and nearly sole) mourners, little is left for Nick in the East. In fact, he comes to the realization that in the end, Tom, Daisy, Gatsby, Jordan, and he all come from the West and in the end they all "possessed some deficiency in common which made [them] subtly unadaptable to Eastern life." It is only a matter of time before he leaves the East, headed back to the Midwest where, presumably, morality and kindness still exist.
Before he leaves, however, Nick has two important experiences. First, he speaks with Jordan on the phone. What he learns is surprising, but strangely in keeping with her character: She chastises him for being the first man who has ever broken up with her, but before ending the conversation she gets in one last strike, hitting his secret vanity and labeling him as deceitful and dishonest. The second important experience occurs when Nick bumps into Tom on the street. Although he tries to avoid Tom, meeting him can't be helped. Tom, as arrogant as ever, initiates conversation, slightly offended that Nick won't shake hands upon their meeting. During the short conversation, Nick learns that Tom, not surprisingly, had a role in Gatsby's death. When Wilson came to Tom's house, gun in hand, Tom directed Wilson to Gatsby, not feeling an ounce of remorse. In his mind's eye, what he had done was "entirely justified," leading Nick to the apt conclusion that Tom and Daisy were "careless people," using people like objects, until they no longer serve a purpose, then they discard them and move on. This realization is more than Nick can stand and forces him to a new level of maturity. In the end, he shakes hands with Tom, finding no reason not to because Tom (and the people he represents) is really no more than a child.
The final chapter of the novel again draws attention to the green light at the end of the dock, and in turn, to the hopes and dreams of society. Readers are left with a final image of Gatsby as a powerful presence who lives on despite the destruction of the dream and the decay of the estate. Nick again reminds the reader of the thin line separating dreams from reality, causing everyone to stop and wonder about the validity of the dreams people chase. Is everyone, like Gatsby, chasing illusions while neglecting reality? Can anyone ever escape being held hostage by the past, continually working to get back to better times and sometimes missing the joy of the present? According to Nick, the more Gatsby reached for his dream, the more it retreated into the shadowy past, taking him further and further away from what is real. Gatsby had hope and believed in the bounty of what was ahead, but it brought him face-to-face with his own destruction. Although one may look at Gatsby and realize the futility of chasing dreams (at the expense of the here and now), in the end, is anyone really that different? Perhaps there's a bit of Gatsby in everyone. After all, society is, as Nick says, "boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
pasquinade a satirical piece of writing that holds its object up to ridicule, formerly one posted in a public place; lampoon.
James J. Hill (1838-1916) U.S. railroad magnate and financier; builder of the Great Northern Railway.
Hopalong Cassidy cowboy hero of novelist Clarence E. Mulford's popular western series.
El Greco (about 1541-1614); painter in Italy and Spain.