The Great Gatsby | Study Guide

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Chapter 6

Professor Tony Bowers from the College of DuPage explains Chapter 6 in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby | Chapter 6 | Summary

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Summary

A reporter approaches Jay Gatsby's house hoping to question him about his past and to resolve the various rumors that have been circulating around New York. Nick Carraway interrupts the story to relate Gatsby's true past: his real name is James Gatz and his parents are poor North Dakota farmers. He attended college for two weeks, paying his tuition through janitorial work, but dropped out because he found the work too demeaning. He took a job fishing on Lake Superior, and one fateful day warned a yacht owner of an impending storm. Dan Cody, the wealthy yacht owner, took an immediate liking to James and hired him as an assistant. James, who had by now changed his name to the more fashionable "Jay Gatsby," became obsessed with wealth and luxury, learning many important lessons from Cody. In his will, Cody left the amount of $25,000 to Gatsby. Gatsby was unsuccessful in actually claiming the inheritance; nevertheless, he used the lessons he learned from Cody to amass his fortune.

Returning to the summer of 1922—Tom stops at Gatsby's house for a drink after a day out riding with friends. Gatsby is the consummate host, offering them cigarettes, his best liquor, and even dinner, an invitation they politely decline. The threesome shallowly invites Gatsby to join them for dinner, and he eagerly accepts, not realizing that the invitation is only a polite formality. They sneak out while Gatsby is fetching his coat.

Tom, who has become suspicious of Gatsby's strange behavior and no longer wants Daisy visiting him unattended, joins her at one of Gatsby's parties. Despite Gatsby's best efforts, no one has a particularly good time—even Nick, who sees the party through Daisy's eyes, in all its garish opulence. After the party, Gatsby is depressed about Daisy and vows to "fix everything just the way it was before" when they knew each other in Louisville.

Analysis

Insight into Gatsby's true past highlights the transformation his character has undergone. At the age of 17, Gatsby abandoned his past, even changing his name, to chase a dream. In all this time his character hasn't matured past his teenage dreams—he still naively believes that with enough determination (and money) anything is possible. His dream won't be complete until Daisy admits that she never loved Tom, leaves him, and runs back to Louisville to marry Gatsby. Nick tries to shake sense into Gatsby by warning that he can't re-create the past, but Gatsby responds incredulously, "Of course you can!" Gatsby has been so dedicated to chasing a dream that he no longer sees its impossibility.

Gatsby's crucial flaw is that he believes money can buy him anything. Unfortunately, Gatsby is new money and will never be accepted in the old-money social circle. This is painfully obvious when the riding party visits for a drink. They haven't come to socialize with Gatsby—they use him for a rest and free booze. Gatsby foolishly thinks he can buy their friendship, just as he tried to do with Nick in Chapter 5, and he becomes a laughingstock. Tom and his friends sneak out of Gatsby's house, both horrified and amused that he believed their dinner invitation to be sincere.

The clash between old money and new money is further highlighted during the unsuccessful party that weekend. Even Nick finds the garish opulence of the party appalling. He, like the Buchanans, is impressed with what Gatsby can buy but finds the gluttony and excess disgusting.

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