Editor’s Note: In honor of National Poetry Month, we’re opening this month’s patron-exclusive book club to the public. We hope you enjoy The Great Gatsby and poetry!
Great Gatsby Chapters 7-9
Talk about a whirlwind. With so much action unfolding in the final few chapters of The Great Gatsby, it can be hard for readers to catch their breath. Everything changes; yet again, everything stays the same. And it becomes pretty clear that this is one of the novel’s primary points.
I live on the border of Illinois and Wisconsin, meaning that I experience some pretty intense winters. Sure, a foot of snow and subzero temps present their challenges, but if you want to see me get really stressed out, plop me in the prairie on a humid, 97-degree day. Fitzgerald knows how crazymaking intense heat can be (and he wrote this book before AC), which makes it all the more appropriate that chapter 7’s climactic confrontations and ensuing fatal accident take place on a sweltering New York afternoon during which everyone feels suffocatingly trapped in their stations in life:
- Tom confronts Gatsby about his sordid, bootlegging past.
- Daisy and Gatsby admit to their affair. . .
- . . .but Daisy cannot commit to having “never loved” Tom.
- Nick is so wrapped up in the drama, the day’s half over before he realizes it’s his thirtieth birthday.
- Myrtle, who’s being kept under lock and key at the Wilson place, tries to escape to what she thinks is Tom’s car—with horrible consequences.
- Gatsby, desperately trying to keep Daisy all to himself, keeps vigil outside the Buchanan house where Tom and Daisy return to their lives, leaving Gatsby “watching over nothing.”
It’s sad: not just the accident, but the whole “clutching at some last hope” that consumes Gatsby. We learn in chapter 8 that Gatsby’s whole history with Daisy, if you can even call it that, happened by a “colossal accident” and really, when you come right down to it, isn’t a love story, but a money story. Daisy couldn’t even wait for Gatsby to return from the Great War; she went with old-money Tom because her life “was crying for a decision.” Even Daisy’s hypnotic voice, as Gatsby finally admits, is magical because “it’s full of money.”
Then things get even worse.
Finally deciding to take a dip in his pool at the tail end of summer (analyze that, my friends), Gatsby floats on his raft, vainly hoping for a call from Daisy while the distraught George Wilson takes off looking for the owner of the yellow car.
I suppose I should hold off on spelling out the GREAT BIG DRAMATIC SPOILER here, just in case, but you’ll get a pretty good idea what happens once you see this week’s poetry prompt.
And then chapter 9. You really gonna go on breaking my heart like that, Fitzgerald? Let’s just say an important event takes place that shows how people really feel about Gatsby, which is, well, not a whole lot.
But it’s those last few paragraphs of the book—the ones that have been discussed, written about, and analyzed for almost a century—that stick in the literary knife and twist, not just breaking our hearts for Gatsby and Co., but for ourselves. The last words?
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
How does that last sentence sit with you, old sports? I want to hear your thoughts. Describe the image as it plays out on the silver screen of your mind. Talk about what you see in the boat, the current. Explain what it means to you to be “borne back ceaselessly into the past.” As any good teacher says, there are no wrong answers, except, perhaps, for a blank comment box.
Want to dig deeper? (You know you do.) Take a look at the poetry prompts for Chapters 7-9. Oh, and thank you for joining me on this month-long poetic journey through a novel that’s “worth the whole damn bunch put together.” Hey, those are Nick’s words, not mine!
Great Gatsby Poetry Challenge: Chapters 7-9
Free verse: Write an elegy in honor of one of the three deceased characters from chapters 7 and 8. Think about ways to incorporate some of those rich, powerful images from the final chapters: the eyes of “God” (T.J. Eckleberg), the autumn leaves circling their “accidental burden” in the swimming pool, Mr. Gatz’s picture of his son’s house and Gatsby’s old schedule (ow, ouchie, my heart), and of course, the green light.
Form: A cento is a form of found poetry that takes full lines from other poets and arranges them into a new poem.Your poem may not be a cento in the strict sense of the word, since Gatsby is a novel, not a poem (but wow, does it come close), but it will operate in much the same way. Focusing on those last couple pages of the book, during which Nick walks down to gaze at Gatsby’s abandoned mansion one last time before moving back to the Midwest, choose and order lines in a way that captures the novel’s meaning for you.
Capacity for Wonder
And one fine morning——
his dream must have seemed so close.
It pandered in whispers to the last and greatest
of all human dreams, never took a fare
past the entrance gate.
Some final guest who had been away
at the ends of the earth
wandered down to the beach
and sprawled out on the sand,
where boats against the current
began to melt away. The past?
That’s an obscene word—no,
it’s the fresh green breast of the new world.
Gatsby’s wonder. Daisy’s dock.
Year by year they recede
before us, the moon rises higher,
and we stretch out our arms,
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