The Great Gatsby | Study Guide

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Chapter 8

Professor Tony Bowers from the College of DuPage explains Chapter 8 in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby | Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

The morning after the accident, Nick Carraway visits Jay Gatsby and tries to encourage him to leave West Egg for a while, but Gatsby refuses to leave Daisy. He describes how he first met and courted Daisy before the war, dazzled by her beauty, wealth, and social position. Before shipping out, he and Daisy made love, leaving Gatsby to feel "married to her, that was all." Daisy promised to wait for Gatsby to return, but grew anxious the longer he was away. The following spring, she met and married Tom, who matched her social rank and whom her parents approved of. When Gatsby returned, Daisy was already on her honeymoon. Despite everything, Gatsby remains convinced that he and Daisy will end up together. Nick feels heartbroken for Gatsby and his stubborn refusal to accept the obvious truth. Before boarding the train Nick calls out that Gatsby is "worth the whole damn bunch put together."

Meanwhile, in the valley of ashes, George Wilson is struggling with Myrtle's death and the recent discovery of her infidelity. He convinces himself her death was murder, not an accident. He believes that God demands revenge. Obsessed with finding Myrtle's killer, he asks around until he learns—from Tom Buchanan—that it was Gatsby's car that killed his wife. Believing Gatsby was the driver responsible for the accident, George travels to West Egg and shoots Gatsby in his pool. Then he turns the gun on himself. Nick, worried when he cannot get through to Gatsby on the phone, leaves work early and discovers the bodies.

Analysis

When Gatsby returns from his vigil outside Daisy's home, he is surprised that Daisy didn't need him. Gatsby has fantasized his relationship with Daisy for so long that he cannot come to grips with the idea that she has changed since he first met her. The reality is, Gatsby doesn't really know her. Spiritually, he feels "married" to her because they consummated their relationship five years ago, but Daisy obviously didn't feel the same way, yet Gatsby—the perpetual dreamer—still clings to the idea that Daisy has lost her way and needs him to save her. As frustrating as Gatsby's dreams are, Nick prefers them to the moral emptiness of the "rotten crowd" Daisy and Tom are a part of. Morally shaken by the events surrounding Myrtle's death, Nick even ends his relationship with Jordan, realizing that it is shallow. He shows genuine care for Gatsby, more concerned about his friend than his family (Daisy), urging him to leave Long Island until the dust has settled around Myrtle's death. Unfortunately, Gatsby has worked too long, given up too much, to slink away in hiding. He cannot admit, even to himself, that his dream of living a happy life with Daisy has died.

The symbolism of Dr. Eckleburg's eyes returns in this chapter, with George insisting that while Myrtle may have been able to fool him, she "can't fool God." When George looks up at the faded billboard, the reader is reminded how easily the characters have shed their morality in pursuit of personal gains (wealth, romance, and so on). The characters regularly pass under the billboard—God's eyes—on their way to and from illicit trysts, meetings with unscrupulous businessmen, and indeed, after a murder. The faded (forgotten) billboard hangs above the valley of ashes, suggesting a broader symbolism of America's rejections of morality in its capitalistic pursuit of wealth. Armed with the belief that he is exacting God's revenge, George sets out to find Myrtle's murderer. This belief, and the unfortunate mistaken identity of Gatsby as the killer, is just another example of distorted reality. Daisy, the truly guilty party, continues her life without consequence while Gatsby is sacrificed. Fitzgerald is here again examining the idea of class struggle, with Myrtle, George, and Gatsby representing collateral damage—casualties of the games the rich can afford to play.

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