Chapter Seven of The Great Gatsby is the longest — it also contains both the crisis (the moment of highest emotional intensity) and the climax (the turning point) of the novel.
This chapter, in so many ways, feels mechanical...technical. I want you to note two things in particular.
First, Nick has just told Gatsby that he can't repeat the past. But this entire chapter is mirror, or repetition, of chapters one and two: a party at the Buchanans followed by a trip into the city and another party in a cramped, stuffy room. But this is a repetition with a difference.
For one thing, Gatsby is there. And everything is slightly off. In the opening chapter, the scene is cool and breezy. Curtains and girls are floating about, balancing on air. Now, everything is overheated. It's the type of heat that blunts fruit.
The party is once again interrupted by a call for Tom. Only this time, the call is from Myrtle's husband, not Myrtle. Tom is reading again. Not about the rise of the colored races this time, but about the end of the world. He can't remember if it's getting hotter or colder. If it's going to end by fire or by ice.
The girl (we find out her name is Pammy) appears again so Daisy can show her off. Only this time, Daisy doesn't seem to worry about her fate. She seems happy to groom her for decoration and idleness ("I got dressed before lunch today, mom!" the daughter says).
Speaking of Daisy, she is spouting nonsense again. In Chapter One, she asks: "What do people plan?" In a very breezy way. Here, she asks what they are to do with themselves now, tomorrow, and for the next thirty years. Much heavier. There is the palpable sense that she is displeased with the floating, unplanned nature of her life. With the visions and revisions. She repeats herself. You look so cool. You always look so cool.
And Tom shows off his place. He's the only person he knows who has turned a garage into a stable. What snobbery...to be proud of moving backwards.
Secondly, notice the precision with which Fitzgerald lays the trap for Myrtle. How perfectly he plants his plot points. The relentless mechanism that leads to her death. The swapped cars. The stop for gas. The fact that Wilson has discovered something fishy at this precise moment. Fitzgerald has followed one of Pixar's storytelling rules: Coincidence can get you into trouble, but it can't get you out of trouble.
This leads me to one of the main critiques I hear about this novel. The technical precision, the symmetry, the plodding, Greek-drama style unfolding of the tragedy complete with mistaken identity and false accusations, the heavy symbolism and the heavy foreshadowing...leaves a lot of people feeling cold. Lacking empathy. Unable to feel for these characters as real people. Over and above what they symbolize. They know Gatsby is great. But is it any good?
I don't have an answer. And so I ask you. Do you feel sorry for any of these people? Does it matter that Gatsby and Daisy won't be together? If you care, why? If you never cared, why? If you cared in chapters 1-6 but stopped caring now...why?
In the opening sentences of this chapter, Nick remarks that, in this kind of heat, any false move is an affront to the common store of life. Do these characters' false moves make any difference to us? Does Myrtle's death, or the failure of a romance, deplete the common store of life? Or is that someone else's problem?