The Great Gatsby: Summary (Chapter 2)

Summary (Chapter 2)

Soon Nick learns that Tom Buchanan is cheating on his wife, Daisy, with Myrtle Wilson. She is a vulgar woman that represents a lower social class and lives in the Valley of Ashes. Tom takes Nick on a trip to New York City. On their way there, Myrtle and Nick get acquainted.

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Welcome The Great Gatsby Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis page prepared by our editorial team!

📖 Summary

The Great Gatsby‘s Chapter 2 starts with Nick describing an area called “Valley of Ashes.” It’s the valley between West Egg and New York City where all the ashes from the city are dropped. Nick describes it as abandoned land, which was once advanced, totally buried under ashes to the point that everything seems ash-grey.

“This is a valley of ashes – a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.”

(The Great Gatsby, chapter 2)

Two eyes, “blue and gigantic — their retinas are one yard high,” stare down on the valley through glasses from the billboard. It is Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, eye practitioner, looking after the people covered in ashes.

One day Tom and Nick are on a train riding to the city. Tom suddenly wants to get off in the Valley of Ashes. He forces Nick to follow him. They walk to George Wilson’s garage, where Tom wants to speak to George about selling his car. Wilson is a handsome man but tired of this life and covered with ashes. His wife, Myrtle, on the other hand, makes an impression of being lively and seductive.

“Her laughter, her gestures, her assertions became more violently affected moment by moment and as she expanded the room grew smaller around her until she seemed to be revolving on a noisy, creaking pivot through the smoky air.”

(The Great Gatsby, chapter 2)

When George walks out to get some chairs, Nick tells Myrtle he wants to see her. She should come to the train station and meet them there. Mrs. Wilson leaves the house, telling her husband she’s meeting up with her sister.

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Later, Nick, Tom, and Myrtle go to the apartment in New York, which Tom keeps just for his love affair issue. They decide to have a party, and Myrtle’s sister, Catherine, and another couple join them. Catherine is a redhead girl who overdoes it with makeup, and the couple, McKees, don’t make the best impression either. They all get drunk fast. Nick confesses that it is the second time in his life he is drunk.

While the party gets louder and wilder, they start gossiping about other people. Gatsby becomes the subject, and Catherine expresses her fears of Gatsby. She heard that he is a member of the German emperor’s family. They all decided on the fact that Gatsby’s money is dirty. Nick dislikes the energy of the party and wants to leave but finds himself amused by it at the same time. Catherine tells Nick that “neither of them can stand the person they’re married to,” talking about Tom and Myrtle.

“What I say is, why go on living with them if they can’t stand them? If I was them I’d get a divorce and get married to each other right away.”

(The Great Gatsby, chapter 2)

She doesn’t understand why they can’t get divorced and marry each other. She assumes it is because Daisy is religious and doesn’t “believe in divorce.” Nick is shocked because he knows it is a lie.

Myrtle starts talking about her life, how she and Tom met, and then about Tom’s family. He gives her a puppy as a gift. As it gets later in the night, Myrtle and Tom start arguing on whether she’s allowed to mention Daisy’s name. It only makes her start shouting: “Daisy!” over and over again. In one quick movement, Tom hits Myrtle and breaks her nose. It brings a loud party to an end. Nick leaves with Mr. McKee, walks him home, and takes an early morning train to Long Island.

🎭 Active Characters

Nick Carraway, Tom Buchanan, Myrtle Wilson, George Wilson, Catherine, Mr. McKee, Mrs. McKee.

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🔥 Active Themes

Theme of social class in The Great Gatsby.Theme of money in The Great Gatsby.Theme of love and marriage in The Great Gatsby.
Social ClassMoneyLove & Marriage

🔬 The Great Gatsby: Analysis of Chapter 2

The description of the Valley of Ashes at the beginning of Chapter 2 strikes with the shocking contrast. It is a counterpart to the glamour of rich areas. This is where people with no money, no purpose in life, and no dreams live. In the novel, the Valley of Ashes symbolizes the rotten souls of the rich that are covered with dazzling clothes and mansions. Just like that, people in the valley are covered with ashes. It also may be a sign of the dull future of the Roaring Twenties.

The all-seeing eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg on the billboard carry little meaning in this chapter, but they are given more value later in the book. In Chapter 2, the eyes might represent the silent witness of the 1920s’ wildness.

The careful analysis of The Great Gatsby‘s Chapter 2 can bring up many fascinating details, including the reason why Tom Buchanan prefers to have an affair with someone from a lower social class. George Wilson and his wife, Myrtle, seem to be showing completely different characters. While George looks like a lifeless body, Myrtle appears as full of ambition and hope to get out of that swamp they call life. She is not that delicate and elegant girl, like Daisy. Instead, Myrtle is very simple, bulky, but sensual at the same time. Her great desire to be one of the rich brings liveliness to her personality. Daisy, on the other hand, has already got the wealth and lost all the interest in it. It may be one of the reasons why Tom has Myrtle as a mistress – he’s trying to replace the emptiness in his family with the lively energy of his lover.

In The Great Gatsby‘s Chapter 2 summary, an intense discussion between Tom and Myrtle is briefly mentioned. However, this scene opens up Tom’s character a bit more. Being in the company of Tom makes Myrtle feel more powerful as it brings her confidence in her bright future with a wealthy lover. She is probably trying to provoke Tom and starts shouting out Daisy’s name. He breaks her nose. It is a reminder that she must not forget her place since Tom is the privileged one. But most importantly, it demonstrates Tom’s violent tendencies. Even though Nick has known that Tom is not a good guy, this incident leaves him wondering what other awful things Mr. Buchanan is capable of.

In fact, in the previous chapter, a few quotes are mentioning Tom’s hidden demons. Daisy was complaining that Tom bruised her by accident and called him “a brute of a man.” However, he neither denied it nor apologized to Daisy, so the apparent conclusion emerges – he DID mean to do it.

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Moreover, defending Daisy’s name while cheating on her, Tom gives away his hypocrisy. Out of many other themes in the novel, this one is minor but still relevant as it shows the helplessness and despair of women of those times.

There are some questions in The Great Gatsby‘s Chapter 2, which are left unsolved. For instance, the last phrases at the end of the chapter. Nick’s mysterious description of Mr. McKee in his bedroom implies that there might have been intercourse between two men. It may be an addition to the topic of wildness in the 1920s.

🎓 References

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IvyPanda. "Summary (Chapter 2)." June 16, 2021.


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