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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
Nick begins this chapter with another reference to a party at Gatsby's with the young ladies still speculating about the past of their mysterious host. This brief introduction to Chapter IV serves two purposes. It reminds the reader that no one seems to know much about Gatsby; but by the end of the chapter, Nick will have gathered much information that helps him to understand and appreciate his neighbor. The brief party description also serves as an introduction for Nick to tell about his list of party-guests. During his summer in New York, he kept track of many of the names of the people who attended Gatsby's gatherings. Most of the names, such as Leech, Blackbuck, Dancies, Whitebait, Hammerhead, Ferret, Bull, Smirkes, Belcher, and Hip, are to poke fun at the society of the roaring 20's. But Nick's description of some of their activities is not funny. Mr. Civet drowned in Maine, the Blackbucks flipped up their noses at the world like goats, Snell was drunk for three days before going to the penitentiary, Muldoon's brother strangled his wife, and Palmetto jumped in front of the subway to kill himself. Such events paint a pathetic picture of the Jazz Age Society. Appropriately, Nick has written the names and events on a fading train schedule dated July 5, 1922.
This "roaring" generation comes after July 4th, after the great American Declaration, after the holiday, but they are nothing to celebrate; they are a sad and corrupt group that is temporary and disintegrating from within, just like the railroad time table on which Nick has written their names and just like the vehicles they drive and wreck.
Throughout the novel Nick pays particular attention to the automobile as part of the action of the plot (remember Mr. Wilson owns an automobile repair shop and a car accident is the ending to the first party that Nick attends at Gatsby's house). More importantly, the automobile is used as a symbol of the materialism of the age. In Chapter II, Nick states that Gatsby drives a Rolls-Royce, the most pretentious of all cars. In this chapter, Nick has an opportunity to ride with Gatsby in his vehicle, for they are going into New York City for lunch. Because cars will remain important to the action of the story , as well as to the central theme of the devastation of materialism, Nick describes Gatsby's ostentatious automobile in detail.It was a rich cream color bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hatboxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of windshields.
As Nick admires the car, Gatsby says, "It's pretty isn't it, old sport." He then asks Nick to climb inside to the handsome green leather interior. On the way into New York, Nick describes two other vehicles. The first is a hearse carrying a dead man and the second is a limousine, driven by a white chauffeur and carrying "three modish Negroes," who regard the Rolls-Royce in haughty rivalry. Nick mentions both of these to show that anything can and does happen in New York.
Although at a distance it looks like a fairy tale city "made of white heaps and sugar lumps," New York is the center of money where wealth corrupts, as depicted by Meyer Wolfsheim, whom Nick is soon to meet. New York is a place that also produces ostentatious wealth (symbolized by the Rolls-Royce and the limousine) and death (symbolized by the hearse) with the resulting reality of the Valley of Ashes, which is in contrast to the white sugar lumps of New York.
Gatsby has a "big" favor to ask of Nick, so he feels he should tell his neighbor something about himself, and the story is as extravagant as Gatsby's car. He says he is from the Midwest (like Nick himself) and then adds specifically from San Francisco (far from Nick's middle west both geographically and spiritually). He says he is the son of a wealthy family that has passed away, leaving him a large inheritance. He also claims he was educated at Oxford, for "it is a family tradition." After college, he chooses to live the life of luxury in Europe, collecting rubies and hunting big game, with no real purpose. Then he enlists in World War I, where Gatsby hopes to be killed, but instead becomes a decorated war hero. Since the war, he has drifted here and there, trying to forget a very sad thing that has happened to him. To Nick, this story is so obviously exaggerated and told in such poor taste that it is comical.