You've done it! You've read The Great Gatsby over the past nine days. I hope you enjoyed it.
We come to Chapter Nine. I love Chapter Nine because it could feel like an epilogue or a tack-on after the dramatic events of Chapter Eight, but it doesn't. The story keeps churning at a clip. Fitzgerald doesn't take the lazy way out. And neither does Nick.
In Chapter Eight, Nick finally ventures an opinion...finally asserts himself, his voice, his will into the story. In this chapter, Nick enters the story fully. Nick drives the story. Nick makes choices. Nick is the story. In this chapter, Nick grows up.
We know that Nick has grown up because of three scenes: The Funeral, The Break-up, and The Meeting with Tom. This is important, because people who read his proclamation and the title of the book as ironic must forget about Chapter Nine when they think about Gatsby. They must forget that Nick is a dynamic character. That he changes from a reserved, naive, accidentally-hypocritical observer to a bold, experienced, fully self-aware creator. Really. Read Chapter One and Chapter Nine back-to-back skipping everything in-between. This is not the same person.
His transformation begins at the end of the previous chapter, when he imagines Gatsby lounging in the pool, waiting for a call from Daisy. When he imagines his last moments:
He must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about...like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees.
If you've read my blog for long, you know I am no stranger to imagining last moments. I think it's a good exercise. What's important here is that Nick is expending his sympathetic imagination on Gatsby. He has never done this before. Neither has anyone else in the book — for all the gossip and malicious rumors — no one has taken the time to imagine what it would feel like to be Gatsby. Until now.
This leads us straight into the funeral scene. We find out that Nick is writing all of this down two years later. And the funeral scene reads a little like a newspaper report mixed with court notes at first. But underneath it all is Nick's desire...his need...to make something happen. To get people there to do right by Gatsby. No drifting.
(It doesn't really fit with what I'm writing — but I want to point out that I just love all the stuff with the dad. The fact that he's standing in his son's house but pulls out a picture to show Nick. He's very proud of that picture. The boyhood list of resolves he brings. Everything. I hope some of you will give your thoughts on these moments.)
Just in case Nick's performance at Gatsby's last rites doesn't convince us, Fitzgerald gives us two more scenes.
First, Nick goes to see Jordan and break things (whatever those things are) off with her. He doesn't want to trust the "obliging and indifferent sea to sweep [his] refuse away." Jordan reminds Nick (and us) of their conversation in the car — the Key Scene in Chapter Three. This is another example of repetition with a difference. Jordan repeats the scene. She has the gall to call him the careless one. After all that she's seen. She tells him he's not honest.
The old Nick...the old Nick would have let things linger. The old Nick would have crumbled under those accusations. Would have continued to write Jordan weekly, signing his letters Love, Nick while seeing someone back home. And then turned around and told us he is one of the few honest people he knows. The Chapter Three Nick would have done this.
Chapter Nine Nick, angry and still "half in love," tells Jordan he's "five years to old to lie to [himself] and call it honor."
Finally, we see a brief scene between Nick and Tom — who bump into each other on Fifth Avenue. At first, Nick won't shake Tom's hand. Nick wants to know what Tom said to Wilson, and discovers that his suspicions are correct. Tom led Wilson to Gatsby...he had it coming. He ran over Myrtle like a dog and "never even stopped his car." Of course, Tom doesn't know that Daisy hit Myrtle. And Daisy doesn't know that Myrtle ran toward her because she thought it was Tom. The two careless people, the two drifters...the two bad drivers...leave the scene unharmed. Unaware.
(Think, for a minute, of the unspeakable cruelty of Tom. Stringing George Wilson along with the promise of a car while making love to his wife. Directing Wilson to Gatsby. In a novel that some would say has no true hero, there is a clear villain.)
And, because they are so unaware. Because Nick suddenly feels like he is "talking to a child." He decides to shake hands with Tom after all. Not out of approval or ambivalence or reserved judgment. He's making judgments right and left now, calling them a "rotten crowd" and "careless people" who retreat back into their money and their "vast carelessness." But because he's grown enough to realize that his refusal to shake hands won't make any difference...won't be understood by these careless drifters who live above the rest of us.
And then Nick goes back, back, back in time to when the first Dutch sailors came to the island. Saw the "fresh, green beast of the new world" and felt "compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder."
Reserving judgment is fine, I guess. Drifting. Ambivalence. But with the inability or refusal to make judgments comes the inability to imagine. A loss of one's capacity for wonder.
Gatsby had that capacity for wonder. And, now, Nick has it, too.
I'd love to hear your final thoughts on Gatsby, whatever they may be.