The Great Gatsby Summary and Analysis

Chapter 8

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Chapter Eight

That night, Nick finds himself unable to sleep, since the terrible events of the day have greatly unsettled him. Wracked by anxiety, he hurries to Gatsby's mansion shortly before dawn. He advises Gatsby to leave Long Island until the scandal of Myrtle's death has quieted down. Gatsby refuses, as he cannot bring himself to leave Daisy: he tells Nick that he spent the entire night in front of the Buchanans' mansion, just to ensure that Daisy was safe. He tells Nick that Tom did not try to harm her, and that Daisy did not come out to meet him, though he was standing on her lawn in full moonlight.

Gatsby, in his misery, tells Nick the story of his first meeting with Daisy. He does so even though it patently gives the lie to his earlier account of his past. Gatsby and Daisy first met in Louisville in 1917; Gatsby was instantly smitten with her wealth, her beauty, and her youthful innocence. Realizing that Daisy would spurn him if she knew of his poverty, Gatsby determined to lie to her about his past and his circumstances. Before he left for the war, Daisy promised to wait for him; the two then slept together, as though to seal their pact. Of course, Daisy did not wait; she married Tom, who was her social equal and the choice of her parents.

Realizing that it has grown late, Nick says goodbye to Gatsby. As he is walking away, he turns back and shouts that Gatsby is "worth the whole damn bunch [of the Buchanans and their East Egg friends] put together."

The scene shifts from West Egg to the valley of ashes, where George Wilson has sought refuge with Michaelis. It is from the latter that Nick later learns what happened in the aftermath of Myrtle's death. George Wilson tells Michaelis that he confronted Myrtle with the evidence of her affair and told her that, although she could conceal her sin from her husband, she could not hide it from the eyes of God. As the sun rises over the valley of ashes, Wilson is suddenly transfixed by the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg; he mistakes them for the eyes of God. Wilson assumes that the driver of the fatal car was Myrtle's lover, and decides to punish this man for his sins.

He seeks out Tom Buchanan, in the hope that Tom will know the driver's identity. Tom tells him that Gatsby was the driver. Wilson drives to Gatsby's mansion; there, he finds Gatsby floating in his pool, staring contemplatively at the sky. Wilson shoots Gatsby, and then turns the gun on himself.

It is Nick who finds Gatsby's body. He reflects that Gatsby died utterly disillusioned, having lost, in rapid succession, his lover and his dreams.

Analysis

Nick gives the novel's final appraisal of Gatsby when he asserts that Gatsby is "worth the whole damn bunch of them." Despite the ambivalence he feels toward Gatsby's criminal past and nouveau riche affectations, Nick cannot help but admire him for his essential nobility. Though he disapproved of Gatsby "from beginning to end," Nick is still able to recognize him as a visionary, a man capable of grand passion and great dreams. He represents an ideal that had grown exceedingly rare in the 1920s, which Nick (along with Fitzgerald) regards as an age of cynicism, decadence, and cruelty.

Nick, in his reflections on Gatsby's life, suggests that Gatsby's great mistake was loving Daisy. He chose an inferior object upon which to focus his almost mystical capacity for dreaming. Just as the American Dream itself has degenerated into the crass pursuit of material wealth, Gatsby, too, strived only for wealth once he had fallen in love with Daisy, whose trivial, limited imagination could conceive of nothing greater. It is significant that Gatsby is not murdered for his criminal connections, but rather for his unswerving devotion to Daisy. As Nick writes, Gatsby thus "[pays] a high price for living too long with a single dream."

Up to the moment of his death, Gatsby cannot accept that his dream is over: he continues to insist that Daisy may still come to him, though it is clear to everyone, including the reader, that she is bound indissolubly to Tom. Gatsby's death thus seems almost inevitable, given that a dreamer cannot exist without his dreams; through Daisy's betrayal, he effectively loses his reason for living.

Wilson seems to be Gatsby's grim double in Chapter VIII, and represents the more menacing aspects of a capacity for visionary dreaming. Like Gatsby, he fundamentally alters the course of his life by attaching symbolic significance to something that is, in and of itself, meaningless. For Gatsby, it is Daisy and her green light, for Wilson, it is the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg. Both men are destroyed by their love of women who love the brutal Tom Buchanan; both are consumed with longing for something greater than themselves. While Gatsby is a "successful" American dreamer (at least insofar as he has realized his dreams of wealth), Wilson exemplifies the fate of the failed dreamer, whose poverty has deprived him of even his ability to hope.

Gatsby's death takes place on the first day of autumn, when a chill has begun to creep into the air. His decision to use his pool is in defiance of the change of seasons, and represents yet another instance of Gatsby's unwillingness to accept the passage of time. The summer is, for him, equivalent to his reunion with Daisy; the end of the summer heralds the end of their romance.