Thursday, November 16, 2006

Gatsby Chapter Nine: Nick Goes Home

More on Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.


In the final chapter of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, two interesting things happen simultaneously. On the one hand, many of the myths that surround Gatsby are dispelled. Gatsby’s father, Mr. Gatz, sheds light on “Jimmy’s” early life. The mysterious call and the revelations of Meyer Wolfsheim help to clarify the nature of Gatsby’s vocation at the time of his death. Missing pieces of the puzzle of the title character’s life fall into place. At the same time Nick is going through a kind of moral transition while doing some myth building of his own.

The first part is Nick, alone with Gatsby and a crowd of strangers. He realizes that he has become responsible for taking care of Gatsby’s affairs “because no one else was interested . . . with that intense personal interest to which everyone has some vague right at the end” (165). Neither Daisy nor Wolfsheim can be reached. Nick searches in vain for some clue as to who he should call. The next day he sends the butler to Wolfsheim, who sends a note in return. He says that he cannot get involved in Gatsby’s death. Nick begins to have “a feeling of defiance, of scornful solidarity between Gatsby and me against them all” (166). It is at this point that Nick’s image of himself as Gatsby’s best and only friend begins to form.

Later, Nick receives a mysterious call from Chicago, apparently from one of Gatsby’s business associates who has not yet heard of his demise. Though it is the shortest section of the chapter, it is very powerful in bringing the character of Gatsby into focus. At this point it is clear that he is involved in extralegal activities. Still, Nick feels compelled to answer for him by informing the caller that Mr. Gatsby is dead. Nick’s perception of Gatsby’s abandonment grows.

Three days after the murder Nick gets a telegram from Gatsby’s father, a Mr. Gatz, asking to hold the funeral until he arrives. Mr. Gatz apparently has his own version of the Gatsby’s myth. All he knows about his son is what is represented on the photograph he has of Gatsby’s house. Nick assures Mr. Gatz that he and Gatsby were close friends, in effect strengthening the image he is forming about their relationship.

After Mr. Gatz falls asleep, “the boarder” calls asking for his shoes. Nick is angered to find out that he doesn’t plan to attend Gatsby’s funeral and hangs up. Then Nick goes to Meyer Wolfsheim’s office to get him to come to the funeral. Wolfsheim reveals another part of Gatsby’s past, but still refuses to get mixed up in the murder by attending the funeral.

By now, Nick’s role as Gatsby’s only true friend is firmly embedded in his mind. He is the only one who really knows this Gatsby character, not his gangster “gonnegtions,” not his hangers-on, not even his father.

When Nick returns from Wolfsheim’s office, he finds Mr. Gatz wandering around Gatsby’s house in awe of his son’s possessions. He shows Nick the plan “Jimmy” wrote in the back of a book. To him, it seems to be clear evidence of the young Gatsby’s potential for success, and it reflects the spirit of distant hope that so impresses Nick.

No one comes to the funeral. At the cemetery, there is only Nick, Mr. Gatz, the minister, five servants, and the postman. At the last minute “Owl Eyes” arrives. Ironically, the only one of the party guests to show up to the burial, he is one of those guests who never actually met Gatsby. All the others are there either out of curiosity or obligation.

In the next part Nick makes a kind of “declaration of self.” He describes what the West means to him, especially what coming home to it means. After the war Nick had been restless, and went to the East in search of excitement. He realizes that he has been led away from the things that are important to him by the glare of big city lights and all that comes with them. He decides to return west. This is an important moment. Nick has decided to reject the world of the East and all the illusions it brings with it.

Before going home, however, Nick has to finish up his business with Jordan. Their last meeting is brief and not without the expression of some hard feelings. Jordan calls into question Nick’s honesty in regard to their relationship. Nick, having realized that his excursion into the East has been illusory, replies that he is “ . . . five years too old to lie to [himself] and call it honor” (179). He seems to be saying, both by breaking with Jordan and by returning home, that he now sees that he was fooling himself in thinking that life in East was right for him.

Nick runs into Tom and confronts him about Wilson. He finds that, indeed, Tom told Wilson that it was Gatsby’s car, that Gatsby had killed his wife. Nick sees the futility of arguing the point with him. He can’t condone what Tom has done, nor admit to liking him, but he still seems to reserve judgment and shakes his hand.

The final part is Nick talking about the cab driver, his spending his Saturday nights in the city to avoid the ghosts of Gatsby’s parties, the obscene word, and his lying on the sand and contemplating the wonder of everything. His mind wanders to the wonder that the first Dutch colonizers must have felt on arriving in the “new world” and the boundless hope that it must have inspired. To Nick the most wondrous thing about Gatsby was his capacity for infinite hope, his single-minded purposefulness. He must feel a certain kinship for someone who seems to have in abundance the quality that he so values in himself. For, as he makes clear, Nicks values the habit of reserving judgment, and as he says early in the novel, “Reserving judgment is a matter of infinite hope” (1).

Chapter Nine reveals that the novel was really about Nick and the journey he has undergone since his return from the war. It shows how he, a restless young man yearning for meaning in life, became caught up in the illusory world of the high-society scene of the early ‘20’s. Led willingly into the intrigues of the people around him, he learns that beneath the surface nothing in this world is real. He reaches thirty as the novel comes to a climax, an age that represents an important transition to him. He can no longer allow himself to be carried away by the mythologies and illusions of others, but must remain true to his own mythology; his Middle West, perhaps his girl back home, and his friend Gatsby, who “ . . . turned out all right at the end” (2).

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