Chapter II


The chapter begins with a description of a deep, wide pile of ashes between the road and the train to New York and of an elderly billboard put up by an oculist in the city, the image highlighted by a large pair of watchful eyes. It was in the vicinity of the billboard, Nick says, that he first met Tom's mistress. He and Tom were on their way to New York, and when the train stopped at the station by the ash-heap, Tom quickly muscled him off and into a nearby used car dealership run by the pale, nervous-looking George Wilson. As Tom half-banters/half-bullies him, Wilson's wife Myrtle appears and goes straight to Tom, who tells her that he's taking her into the city.

As Tom and Nick are waiting for Myrtle to join the train station, Tom tells Nick that Wilson thinks she is visiting her sister. After Myrtle arrives, and after the brief journey into New York (during which Myrtle impulsively buys a puppy from a street vendor), they arrive at the apartment she and Tom share. Myrtle then quickly throws together a party, inviting her sister Catherine and a few others. Over the course of the afternoon and evening, as large amounts of alcohol and pretentious, Nick hears from Catherine that she's heard that Gatsby is related to a German dictator, who is the source of his money. She also says that neither Myrtle nor Tom can stand the people they are married to, and that Tom's wife is a Catholic, which is why she won't give him a divorce. This, Nick comments in narration, is untrue - Daisy is not a Catholic.

Meanwhile, as the alcohol is keeps coming and as Nick becomes simultaneously both in and out of the situation, Myrtle talks about her first meeting with Tom, how she felt immediate desire for him, and how she convinced herself that she had to take her chances for happiness when she could. Later, she and Tom argue over whether she has the right to say Daisy's name, leading to an eruption of violence of first aid and protecting the furniture from the spurting blood, Nick leaves and finds himself alone in a station waiting for an early morning train to take him home.


The pile of ashes

  • Represents and foreshadows death, the deaths of Myrtle Wilson, of her husband George Wilson and of Gatsby
  • Represents and foreshadows destruction of Gatsby's dreams of bringing his past into the present

The billboard with the eyes

  • Represents the watchfulness of both Nick and the reader
  • A steady gaze that observes, measures, and judges the actions of the other characters

The Wilsons

  • They are symbolic how the so-called 'American Dream' has become perverted
  • Specifically, the ease with which Tom and the other characters use and dismiss the financially struggling Mr. Wilson and desperately ambitious Mrs. Wilson, combined with the eventual deaths of both characters, can be seen as evoking the essential heartlessness driving the dark side of the Dream, the essential ruthlessness and capacity of destroy
  • Mr. Wilson can, in this context, be seen as a representation of a sort of everyman, the hard-working, lower-middle class person just trying to earn a living and do his best
  • Mrs. Wilson clearly has ambitions similar to those held by Nick Carraway, to become part of and live that dream. It may be, in fact, that the death of Mrs. Wilson can be seen as a warning to Nick of emotional and moral destruction that awaits him if he pursues the Dream as passionately as she did

The New York party (like the Buchanan's party in the previous chapter)

  • Foreshadows a second party in similar circumstances with a similar outcome
  • Mrs. Wilson's struggle to embody her dreams at this party foreshadows Gatsby's struggle to embody his at the second party, while the physical violence that erupts at this party foreshadows the emotional violence that erupts at the second
  • Nick's journey of transformation really begins at this first party - that is, here he begins to realize just how corrupt, how potentially destructive, Tom's self-indulgent and self-justifying version of the American Dream really is