Chapter Five is the midpoint of the book and the meeting between Gatsby and Daisy. A meeting nearly five years in the making.
Let's talk about distance, desire, and reality.
But first — I want to mention the initial meeting between Daisy and Gatsby, because it makes me laugh out loud every time. This is the fifth version of Gatsby we've seen so far. We've seen the aloof, mysterious, party Gatsby, the drifting baron Gatsby of his own imagination, the shady businessman Gatsby, the single-minded, pursuing Gatsby as presented by Jordan. Now we finally have a Gatsby stripped bare of all affectations. This may be the closest we ever get to seeing Gatsby in the flesh. And it is, for the moment, hilarious. Like seeing a lion shaved and soaking wet or a football player having a tea-party with his four-year-old daughter. This is Gatsby the schoolboy. The Gatsby who knocks over clocks and disappears into the pouring rain and asks his friend nervously in the hallway: "Do you think she likes me?" I love everything about this initial meeting.
We, of course, see this initial meeting and Gatsby and Daisy through the lens of Nick. And then that lens is often refracted and refracted again and doubled up on itself until we can't quite tell where things stand. Like Gatsby's multiple windshields and mirrors on his fabulous car that reflect a dozen suns. Or like a Picasso.
We've talked about Nick's function as the narrator — as a boring foil to the novel's more colorful characters, as a sounding-board for people's stories, as an inside-outside observer to a fantastic world. But he also serves another, very important function. Distance. He keeps us away from Gatsby and Daisy. From their love.
You may have noticed that the story is its most refracted and most fragmentary when Daisy and Gatsby are together.
While, in Chapter Two, we heard about Myrtle and Tom's meeting directly from Myrtle. While we know her reasons for having an affair with Tom ("You can't live forever!") When we first learn about Daisy and Gatsby's young romance, we don't hear the story directly from either of them. We hear it from Nick who heard it from Jordan who experienced pieces of it and heard the rest from Gatsby. No one gets to see what's in that letter before it disintegrates to pulp. We don't know why they are in love. We are, at all times, at least two degrees removed from their love affair.
Similarly, in this chapter. We're permitted to see that awkward, bumbling meet-cute. Daisy and Gatsby near tears and embarrassed and sitting as far apart as the room will allow. But then, we have to step outside with Nick and wait in the rain under the "huge black knotted tree." In Chapter Two, Nick is inside-outside. Here, he is simply outside. We imagine what the two might be saying. The rain subsides. We go back in and they are sitting in a near-embrace and literally glowing. They don't know that we're there, but they insist that we stay.
What happened? What did they say? And...and. I'm really interested in hearing your thoughts on this. How does Fitzgerald do it? How does he make you invested in these two? Assuming you are. How does he make you believe that their love is true, without telling you anything at all about it?
This idea of distance brings us straight to the end of the chapter. I know I'm skipping over a lot of details here. The pile of colorful shirts. The piano playing. But I'm taking my cue from the best.
This is the meeting. The turning point. I have to warn you...this is the happiest the novel ever gets. But, at the end, Nick wonders about the "quality of...present happiness." Is love best viewed from a distance? Is desire better than reality? A green, hopeful light just across the bay?
This is the big question of this chapter. And maybe the entire book.
Has Gatsby's world actually become less enchanted now that he's reconnected with Daisy? Are people more valuable for what they symbolize, for the meanings we attach to them? Or for their actual selves?
Does distance make people seem better? Or worse? More desirable? Or less?