Study Guide

The Great Gatsby Compassion and Forgiveness

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Compassion and Forgiveness


It passed, and he began to talk excitedly to Daisy, denying everything, defending his name against accusations that had not been made. But with every word she was drawing further and further into herself, so he gave that up, and only the dead dream fought on as the afternoon slipped away, trying to touch what was no longer tangible, struggling unhappily, undespairingly, toward that lost voice across the room.

The voice begged again to go.

"PLEASE, Tom! I can’t stand this any more."

Her frightened eyes told that whatever intentions, whatever courage, she had had, were definitely gone.

"You two start on home, Daisy," said Tom. "In Mr. Gatsby’s car."

She looked at Tom, alarmed now, but he insisted with magnanimous scorn.

"Go on. He won’t annoy you. I think he realizes that his presumptuous little flirtation is over." (7.292-298)

For Tom, forgiving Daisy for her affair is easy; because he doesn’t value their marriage or her love, he sees no need for it to exist untarnished. Gatsby, on the other hand, because of the intensity of his love for Daisy, cannot forgive her for loving Tom; he needs their love to be flawless in his mind.

Daisy and Tom were sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table, with a plate of cold fried chicken between them, and two bottles of ale. He was talking intently across the table at her, and in his earnestness his hand had fallen upon and covered her own. Once in a while she looked up at him and nodded in agreement.

They weren’t happy, and neither of them had touched the chicken or the ale – and yet they weren’t unhappy either. There was an unmistakable air of natural intimacy about the picture, and anybody would have said that they were conspiring together. (7.409-410)

Do Daisy and Tom forgive each other? Perhaps not. It may be that they simply don’t care enough about their marriage emotionally to be bothered by their mutual infidelities. Yet they care about it in other ways – they choose to stay together for reasons of practicality.

"And if you think I didn’t have my share of suffering – look here, when I went to give up that flat and saw that damn box of dog biscuits sitting there on the sideboard, I sat down and cried like a baby. By God it was awful –– "

I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made... (9.144-145)

Nick draws an interesting distinction between understanding a person’s motives and forgiving that person for his actions. By removing himself mentally from "that crowd," Nick puts himself at a psychological distance from Tom. He is then able to view the situation objectively, to comment but not to judge or criticize, just as his father recommended. This is why he can see that Tom’s actions were justified in his mind. But, by revealing that he "couldn’t forgive" Tom, Nick also makes it clear that he is slipping up, breaking from his father’s advice, closing the psychological gap between himself and "that crowd."

"I wanted to get somebody for him. I wanted to go into the room where he lay and reassure him: "I’ll get somebody for you, Gatsby. Don’t worry. Just trust me and I'll get somebody for you–" (9.11)

Nick has much compassion for Gatsby after he’s gone, he seems heartbroken that his friend has been abandoned by everyone. For a man who was so generous and loyal, no one is loyal or kind to him in return (besides Nick, of course, and the owl-eyed man). This says something about Gatsby’s relationships with everyone around him and the shallowness of the society he was in.

[Klipspringer’s] tone made me suspicious.

"Of course you’ll be there yourself." "Well, I’ll certainly try. What I called up about is—"

"Wait a minute," I interrupted. "How about saying you’ll come?"

"Well, the fact is—the truth of the matter is that I’m staying with some people up here in Greenwich, and they rather expect me to be with them to-morrow. In fact, there’s a sort of picnic or something. Of course I’ll do my very best to get away."

I ejaculated an unrestrained "Huh!" and he must have heard me, for he went on nervously: "What I called up about was a pair of shoes I left there. I wonder if it’d be too much trouble to have the butler send them on. You see, they’re tennis shoes, and I’m sort of helpless without them. My address is care of B. F. –"

I didn’t hear the rest of the name, because I hung up the receiver. (9.58-65)

The man who was staying in Gatsby’s house, won’t even show up to the funeral. Not only that, but he has the audacity to ask Nick to ship his shoes to him. Nick’s compassion for Gatsby spurs him to hang up, and not a moment too soon.

We straggled down quickly through the rain to the cars. Owl-eyes spoke to me by the gate.

"I couldn't get to the house," he remarked.

"Neither could anybody else."

"Go on!" He started. "Why, my God! they used to go there by the hundreds."

He took off his glasses and wiped them again, outside and in.

"The poor son-of-a-b****," he said. (9.114-119)

The owl-eyed man is the only party-goer who comes through to say good-bye to his periodic host. He obviously feels some connection to Gatsby, otherwise he wouldn't have come to pay his last respects. His final comments show his compassion, albeit in somewhat abrasive form, for Gatsby’s sparsely attended funeral.

On the last night, with my trunk packed and my car sold to the grocer, I went over and looked at that huge incoherent failure of a house once more. On the white steps an obscene word, scrawled by some boy with a piece of brick, stood out clearly in the moonlight, and I erased it, drawing my shoe raspingly along the stone. Then I wandered down to the beach and sprawled out on the sand. (9.147)

Nick’s compassion even extends to the house that stood for everything he despised about Gatsby. He tries to keep it clean, since the house meant much to Gatsby, and he would have wanted it that way.

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