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The Great Gatsby | Chapter 9 | Summary

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Summary

The day of Jay Gatsby's death descends into a stream of gossipy police, reporters, photographers, and rubberneckers gazing into Gatsby's pool and theorizing about his life. Fearing he'll have to plan Gatsby's funeral on his own, Nick Carraway reaches out to Gatsby's friends, but they've all disappeared. Even Daisy and Tom have abandoned their home, sneaking away without leaving a forwarding address. Nick is infuriated by the fickleness of Gatsby's "friends," but not entirely surprised when he, a few of Gatsby's servants, and Gatsby's father, who has traveled from Minnesota, are the lone attendants of Gatsby's funeral. Despite the fact that Gatsby had abandoned his past, his father talks fondly of his son, saying how proud he was of him, and saving a photo of Gatsby's enormous house to remember him by.

In New York one afternoon, Nick bumps into Tom, who admits that he told George Wilson that Gatsby killed Myrtle Wilson. Nick is outraged, but Tom insists that Gatsby deserved to die. Tom also insists that he suffered terribly after Myrtle's death, and that giving up the New York apartment where they used to meet was heartbreaking. Nick leaves the conversation feeling as if he had been talking to a child. After saying goodbye once and for all to Jordan, Nick packs up his belongings and prepares to move back to the Midwest. On his last night, he visits Gatsby's house and stares across the bay at the green light in the distance.

Analysis

This final chapter ties up the novel's loose ends and brings many of the themes full circle. Tom's blind arrogance allows him to blame Gatsby for the accident, and to feel no remorse for the false accusation or for Gatsby's death. Initially, Nick does not want to shake Tom's hand, but relents before saying goodbye because it would be "silly not to." Nick realizes that there is no point in being angry with Tom, despite his horrific behavior. Tom, like Daisy, is too self-involved, too shallow, and too spoiled to realize the tragedy he caused. Tom's insistence that he "had his share of suffering" in giving up his New York apartment seems to him punishment enough for Gatsby's death. This interaction solidifies the divide between old money and new money. Although Nick doesn't have the extreme wealth Gatsby enjoyed, he is representative of the same social circle: privileged, but not elite. Nick's time in West Egg gave him a taste of an upscale lifestyle filled with riches and leisure foreign to his Midwestern upbringing. Through his friendship with Gatsby and the Buchanans, he sees what people are willing to sacrifice in pursuit of social standing, and what they will trample on to cling to their positions. Like Gatsby, Nick must decide if the ends justify the means.

Nick, like many other characters in the novel (Gatsby, Myrtle), grapples with the trappings of the American dream. America is the land of opportunity, where rags-to-riches stories are celebrated. Gatsby was able to create an entirely different persona for himself and amass unimaginable wealth, but he was never able to fully achieve his dream. When Nick visits Gatsby's house one last time, he sees the green light and imagines how Gatsby must have believed his dream to be just out of grasp, not realizing that "it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity." For Myrtle and Gatsby, being born poor prevented them from being truly accepted into the elite rank of social hierarchy, and no matter what either accomplished, acceptance would be impossible. In this way, their dreams were always doomed. Nick has the social breeding to be accepted into the elite circle (he is Daisy's cousin, after all), but not the wealth. Had he worked to gain a fortune like Gatsby did, he might have a chance of acceptance, but for Nick, the reward is not worth losing his morality. Instead, he packs his bags and moves home to the Midwest, leaving the green light and the valley of ashes behind him.

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