Why Chapter Seven Of Gatsby is Arguably Its Most Significant

The significance of chapter seven in The Great Gatsby is its position as a tragic turning point in which Gatsby, in whom Nick invested so much admiration and hope, is finally revealed to be no more than a name, and where the dream engendered in that name is utterly destroyed. Any attempts to preserve any kind of guiding ideal in this world are shown to be either futile, or perhaps worse, fuelled by illusion rather than reality.

One of the most significant of Fitzgerald’s motifs in this section is the idea of futility, one which steadily emerges with the narrative’s progression, becoming ever clearer, until the destruction of ‘Jay Gatsby’ is suddenly inescapable, and with it the dream that has stimulated Gatsby’s economic advancement, his parties- his very existence. Even in the first sentence, a definite sense of foreboding is introduced: “his career as Trimalchio was over”.  As this career is made to seem intertwined with the rumours and whispers that have continually swirled about the figure of Gatsby, when the lights fail to go on, interest and curiosity in his character fade almost instantaneously, a telling reflection of Daisy’s hedonistic contemporaries, a society devoted only to the present, with transient interest and little regard for Gatsby’s ultimate desideratum: to return to the past. Tension only continues to build as “Doctor TJ Eckleberg’s faded eyes” come into sight along the road, as the arresting symbol of a consumerist deity keeps “vigil” over the valley of ashes. The choice of “vigil” imbues Eckleberg with something like anticipation, as if in expectation of an impending threat. This idea is furthered with the violent imagery given to not simply objects and surroundings, but the climate, the very air of the scene, creating a sense of claustrophobia with phrases such as “the relentless beating heat” which serves to make both Gatsby and Tom’s attempts to maintain control of the latter’s affair, and the former’s identity seem in vain. The motifs of violence resurface when Tom begins to feel “the hot whips of panic” as “his wife and mistress…were slipping precipitately from his control”. At this point, any kind of action or decision appears entirely out of the characters’ hands, while a sense is evoked in the reader that events seem to be happening of their own accord, as if conducted by something akin to fate. This is reinforced by the notion that it is “instinct” that causes Tom to “step on the accelerator” to outrun Daisy and Wilson, rather than a conscious choice of his own. Fitzgerald’s use of “instinct” also connotes something primal, characterising Tom almost as an animal fleeing an unseen threat.  The superficially banal description of the truck giving out a “cursing whistle behind us” when coupled with Tom’s impatience only extends the idea that the characters no longer hold the capacity to halt what may befall them. By the time the party has reached the hotel, what began as a moment of awkward tension has now escalated into “a prolonged and tumultuous argument”. Mere recollection of the event seems uncomfortable for Nick; he claims to have a “sharp physical memory” that not only suggests clarity, but also pain. The simile of the “damp snake” that climbs around Nick’s legs increases the sense of inevitability, as it gives the impression of constriction, which is later strengthened by the paradoxical description of the suite as “large and stifling”. Somehow the confrontation between Gatsby and Nick is unavoidable, as their environment seems to will them into conflict.

The theme of futility extends not only to the Gatsby’s efforts to evade the destruction of his identity, but also the futility of his dream, and by extension, the identity itself. The first example of a noticeable crack in his dream is his encounter with Daisy’s daughter, frequently referred to as simply “the child”, perhaps an attempt by the empathising Nick to detach Pammy from her mother, out of sympathy for Gatsby. However, even this is shown to be in vain, as Daisy confirms “she looks like me. She’s got my hair and shape of the face”. The child, then, is a physical manifestation of the impossibility of that for which Gatsby so ardently yearns, a perpetual reminder of the “things between Daisy and me that you’ll never know”, Tom’s final delivery of the words that “seemed to bite physically into Gatsby” later on in the hotel, and Daisy’s addressing her daughter as “you dream” add a cruel sense of unknowing irony.  The ultimate impossibility of Gatsby’s dream is revisited later with the symbolism of the “one small sail” attempting to reach the fresher sea from “the stagnant heat”, a near perfect reflection of Gatsby’s desire to escape the corruption surrounding him, and realise his fantasy of winning Daisy’s eternal love. The raw hope set against the festering amoral reality appears to have a renewing, or replenishing effect in both Gatsby and Nick’s perception of the view. The boat is given “wings”, against the “blue cool limit of the sky”, giving the impression it is capable of flight, connoting blissfully impossible freedom, while the sea becomes home to the “abounding blessed isles”, characterising the islands in the Sound as angelic places of divinity and holiness. The futility of this vision only serves to make it more beautiful, especially when compared to the “darkened” dining-room to which the men eventually retreat. Perhaps the most significant example of the contradictions within Gatsby’s dream is his remark “her voice is full of money”, which Nick immediately romanticises into the image of the “king’s daughter” “high in a white palace”- once again, an unattainable fantasy. The king’s daughter could not marry a commoner, no matter how much wealth he had accumulated; he must remain a hereditary noble. This cuts perfectly to the core of Gatsby’s attraction to Daisy. Her voice holds some hypnotic, almost mystical sway over Nick and Gatsby- the “inexhaustible charm” of money in her voice (‘old money’) is the one aspect of her character that Gatsby cannot replicate. Money is literally in every word she says; it is present in everything from her indignantly innocent cries to her low whispers of love. Money is a fundamental part of Daisy, an integral ingredient in her identity, and despite Gatsby’s most decadent and illustrious attempts to prove otherwise, money is not a part of him in quite the same regard, having not been born into it. It seems in this respect that economic advancement is secondary, arguably irrelevant, relative to the splendour of one who has always had money in one’s voice, and this is a central reason for Gatsby’s fixation with Daisy- no matter how many “beautiful shirts” he can toss down, chapter seven clearly makes the distinction that they can never be equal, even if Gatsby’s own wealth outstrips the Buchanans’. This perverse notion of ‘economic illegitimacy’ is strongly echoed during  Tom and Gatsby’s climatic confrontation: “I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife”, revealing an inherent fear of change (and thereby characterising him as another representative of “old money) while insulting Gatsby’s less than illustrious background. In his- admittedly prejudiced- eyes, Gatsby’s social advancement, regardless of its dubious means, is to be insulted rather than celebrated, which directly undermines the notion of the American Dream itself.

Ultimately, the significance of chapter seven in relation to the novel as a whole is that it heralds the tragic denouement of the story. Although Tom is exposed as a jaundiced hypocrite, Gatsby’s dream is unmistakeably shattered, not just by Tom’s revelations about his “little stunts” with Wolfsheim, but by the complete incompatibility of his and Daisy’s personalities. And yet perversely, the one thing Gatsby clings to with all his remaining resolve is inexplicably his self-destructive love for Daisy. His one true purpose, his unwavering belief in the green light across the bay was born out of a desperate need to return to the past. Daisy however is fundamentally unable to live in the past; she exists, and can only exist in the present. Tragically, even in their past relationship, Gatsby seems to have had some form of awareness of this- why else would Nick liken her appeal in chapter eight to “this year’s shining motor cars” and “dances whose flowers were scarcely withered”? The transience of these objects, and this lifestyle, is always present- we know the flowers will soon wither, but withered flowers are beyond Daisy’s world, as are the cars that will be replaced next year. Despite Gatsby’s awareness of her inability to live beyond the present, he continues out of foolishly melancholy hope that he was now indeed “a person from the same stratum as herself”.  Gatsby’s dream, to love and be loved by Daisy, and no other, is shown to be alien from the world in which he has placed himself- it is, as Daisy herself cries “too much”. “I love you now-isn’t that enough?” she pleads with him. It is not. Gatsby’s obsession with recovering their lost past is the cornerstone of his entire dream; only the knowledge that Daisy has never loved another will suffice. Tom, meanwhile, cruelly uses the past, Gatsby’s ever out-of-reach fantasy, in recalling his intimate personal history with Daisy, to desecrate Gatsby’s perfect vision of the future. Gatsby’s final act in the chapter, of taking the blame for Myrtle’s death in place in place of the disregardful and capricious Daisy, and then gazing into the Buchanan’s house, keeping “vigil” like Eckleberg, but in this instance with what appears to be genuine “sacredness”, is the most resonant image of the inherent futility of the dream, of Gatsby himself, and the novel.

In short, the significance of chapter seven is that it cements Gatsby’s demise. It is the point in the novel where both Gatsby and the reader attest to a tragic truth: the green light, the recovering of the past, and the promise of everlasting love, is an illusion. The dream that funnelled Gatsby’s rise to riches, that fuelled the legendarily decadent parties, is found to be based on an illusion as insubstantial and transient as the parties themselves and their false spectacles of “pyramids of pulpless orange halves”, as illusory as the figure of Gatsby himself, the Oxford education, the inheritance of huge sums- Gatsby spent years dreaming of crossing the bay to the green light, and by the end of the chapter, he finds himself there, standing in the same moonlight, but bereft of the one ideal that gave him any kind of sustenance. With the disintegration of Gatsby’s dream then, it appears that nothing genuine or true can exist after all, in the world presided over by TJ Eckleberg.

© Finn Maunder and “Finn.” 2013. This content is protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Finn Maunder and “Finn.” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

3 thoughts on “Why Chapter Seven Of Gatsby is Arguably Its Most Significant

  1. I totally agree with your perspective on chapter seven, but you’ve opened my eyes to so many points and allusions I have missed in the past! Thanks for such a great post. I have a literary review blog, so I really appreciate someone who loves Fitzgerald as much as I do. Keep writing!

    • Thank you very much; it certainly is gratifying to know not only that you enjoyed it, but also simply that you took the time to read it! I really do appreciate the feedback. Keep writing yourself!

  2. This is very good. We enjoy your work.i have shared this with some of my friends who work at Mccallie….they send their compliments…..love you….Mimi

    Judy Rowland

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