The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
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The Great Gatsby
About the Book
F. Scott Fitzgerald
September 24, 1896 – December 21, 1940
American novelist, essayist, screenwriter, and short-story writer
Published in 1925 by Charles Scribner’s Sons
The book is narrated by Nick Carraway, a Yale University graduate from the Midwest who moves to New York after World War I to pursue a career in bonds.
He recounts the events of the summer he spent in the East two years later, reconstructing his story through a series of flashbacks not always told in chronological order.
In the spring of 1922, Nick takes a house in the fictional village of West Egg on Long Island, where he finds himself living among the colossal mansions of the newly rich. Across the water in the more refined village of East Egg live his cousin Daisy and her brutish, absurdly wealthy husband Tom Buchanan.
Early in the summer Nick goes over to their house for dinner, where he also meets Jordan Baker, a friend of Daisy’s and a well-known golf champion, who tells him that Tom has a mistress in New York City. In a private conversation, Daisy confesses to Nick that she has been unhappy. Returning to his house in West Egg, he catches sight of his neighbour, Jay Gatsby, standing alone in the dark and stretching his arms out to a green light burning across the bay at the end of Tom and Daisy’s dock.
Early in July Tom introduces Nick to his mistress, Myrtle Wilson, who lives with her spiritless husband George Wilson in what Nick calls “a valley of ashes”: an industrial wasteland presided over by the bespectacled eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg, which stare down from an advertising billboard. Meeting her at the garage where George works as a repairman, the three of them go to Tom and Myrtle’s apartment in Manhattan.
They are joined by Myrtle’s sister and some other friends who live nearby, and the evening ends in heavy drunkenness and Tom punching Myrtle in the nose when she brings up Daisy. Nick wakes up in a train station the morning afterward.
As the summer progresses, Nick grows accustomed to the noises and lights of dazzling parties held at his neighbour’s house, where the famous and newly rich turn up on Saturday nights to enjoy Gatsby’s well-stocked bar and full jazz orchestra. Nick attends one of these parties when personally invited by Gatsby and runs into Jordan, with whom he spends most of the evening.
He is struck by the apparent absence of the host and the impression that all of his guests seem to have dark theories about Gatsby’s past. However, Nick meets him at last in a rather quiet encounter later in the evening when the man sitting beside him identifies himself as Gatsby.
Gatsby disappears and later asks to speak to Jordan privately. Jordan returns amazed by what he has told her, but she is unable to tell Nick what it is.
Nick begins seeing Jordan Baker as the summer continues, and he also becomes better acquainted with Gatsby. One afternoon in late July when they are driving into Manhattan for lunch, Gatsby tries to dispel the rumours circulating around himself, and he tells Nick that he is the son of very wealthy people who are all dead and that he is an Oxford man and a war hero.
Nick is skeptical about this. At lunch he meets Gatsby’s business partner Meyer Wolfsheim, the man who fixed the World Series in 1919 (based on a real person and a real event from Fitzgerald’s day). Later at tea, Jordan Baker tells Nick the surprising thing that Gatsby had told her in confidence at his party: Gatsby had known Nick’s cousin Daisy almost five years earlier in Louisville and they had been in love, but then he went away to fight in the war and she married Tom Buchanan. Gatsby bought his house on West Egg so he could be across the water from her.
At Gatsby’s request, Nick agrees to invite Daisy to his house where Gatsby can meet her. A few days later he has them both over for tea, and Daisy is astonished to see Gatsby after nearly five years. The meeting is at first uncomfortable, and Nick steps outside for half an hour to give the two of them privacy. When he returns, they seem fully reconciled, Gatsby glowing with happiness and Daisy in tears. Afterward they go next door to Gatsby’s enormous house, and Gatsby shows off its impressive rooms to Daisy.
As the days pass, Tom becomes aware of Daisy’s association with Gatsby. Disliking it, he shows up at one of Gatsby’s parties with his wife. It becomes clear that Daisy does not like the party and is appalled by the impropriety of the new-money crowd at West Egg. Tom suspects that Gatsby is a bootlegger, and he says so. Voicing his dismay to Nick after the party is over, Gatsby explains that he wants Daisy to tell Tom she never loved him and then marry him as though the years had never passed.
Gatsby’s wild parties cease thereafter, and Daisy goes over to Gatsby’s house in the afternoons. On a boiling hot day near the end of the summer, Nick arrives for lunch at the Buchanans’ house; Gatsby and Jordan have also been invited. In the dining room, Daisy pays Gatsby a compliment that makes clear her love for him, and, when Tom notices this, he insists they drive into town.
Daisy and Gatsby leave in Tom’s blue coupe, while Tom drives Jordan and Nick in Gatsby’s garish yellow car. On the way, Tom stops for gas at George Wilson’s garage in the valley of ashes, and Wilson tells Tom that he is planning to move west with Myrtle as soon as he can raise the money.
This news shakes Tom considerably, and he speeds on toward Manhattan, catching up with Daisy and Gatsby. The whole party ends up in a parlour at the Plaza Hotel, hot and in bad temper. As they are about to drink mint juleps to cool off, Tom confronts Gatsby directly on the subject of his relationship with Daisy.
Daisy tries to calm them down, but Gatsby insists that Daisy and he have always been in love and that she has never loved Tom. As the fight escalates and Daisy threatens to leave her husband, Tom reveals what he learned from an investigation into Gatsby’s affairs—that he had earned his money by selling illegal alcohol at drugstores in Chicago with Wolfsheim after Prohibition laws went into effect. Gatsby tries to deny it, but Daisy has lost her resolve, and his cause seems hopeless. As they leave the Plaza, Nick realizes that it is his 30th birthday.
Gatsby and Daisy leave together in Gatsby’s car, with Daisy driving. On the road they hit and kill Myrtle, who, after having a vehement argument with her husband, had run into the street toward Gatsby’s passing car thinking it was Tom. Terrified, Daisy continues driving, but the car is seen by witnesses.
Coming behind them, Tom stops his car when he sees a commotion on the road. He is stunned and devastated when he finds the body of his mistress dead on a table in Wilson’s garage. Wilson accusingly tells him it was a yellow car that hit her, but Tom insists it was not his and drives on to East Egg in tears. Back at the Buchanans’ house in East Egg, Nick finds Gatsby hiding in the garden and learns that it was Daisy who was driving, though Gatsby insists that he will say it was him if his car is found. He says he will wait outside Daisy’s house in case Tom abuses Daisy.
The next morning Nick goes over to Gatsby’s house, where he has returned, dejected. Nick advises him to go away, afraid that his car will be traced. He refuses, and that night he tells Nick the truth about his past: he had come from a poor farming family and had met Daisy in Louisville while serving in the army, but he was too poor to marry her at the time. He earned his incredible wealth only after the war (by bootlegging, as Tom discovered).
Reluctantly, Nick leaves for work, while Gatsby continues to wait for a call from Daisy. That afternoon, George Wilson arrives in East Egg, where Tom tells him that it was Gatsby who killed his wife. Wilson makes his way to Gatsby’s house, where he finds Gatsby in his pool. Wilson shoots Gatsby and then himself. Afterward the Buchanans leave Long Island. They give no forwarding address. Nick arranges Gatsby’s funeral, although only two people attend, one of whom is Gatsby’s father. Nick moves back to the Midwest, disgusted with life in the East.
The Great Gatsby has been read as a pessimistic examination of the American Dream. At its centre is a remarkable rags-to-riches story, of a boy from a poor farming background who has built himself up to fabulous wealth.
Jay Gatsby is someone who once had nothing but who now entertains rich and celebrated people in his enormous house on Long Island. However, even though Gatsby’s wealth may be commensurate to the likes of Tom Buchanan’s, he is ultimately unable to break into the “distinguished secret society” of those who were born wealthy.
His attempt to win Daisy Buchanan, a woman from a well-established family of the American elite, ends in disaster and his death. This tension between “new money” and “old money” is represented in the book by the contrast between West Egg and East Egg.
West Egg is portrayed as a tawdry, brash society that “chafed under the old euphemisms,” full of people who have made their money in an age of unprecedented materialism.
East Egg, in contrast, is a refined society populated by America’s “staid nobility,” those who have inherited their wealth and who frown on the rawness of West Egg.
In the end, it is East Egg that might be said to triumph: while Gatsby is shot and his garish parties are dispersed, Tom and Daisy are unharmed by the terrible events of the summer.
The novel’s narrator, Nick is a young man from Minnesota who, after being educated at Yale and fighting in World War I, goes to New York City to learn the bond business.
The title character and protagonist of the novel, Gatsby is a fabulously wealthy young man living in a Gothic mansion in West Egg. He is famous for the lavish parties he throws every Saturday night, but no one knows where he comes from, what he does, or how he made his fortune.
Nick’s cousin, and the woman Gatsby loves. As a young woman in Louisville before the war, Daisy was courted by a number of officers, including Gatsby. She fell in love with Gatsby and promised to wait for him. However, Daisy harbors a deep need to be loved, and when a wealthy, powerful young man named Tom Buchanan asked her to marry him, Daisy decided not to wait for Gatsby after all. Now a beautiful socialite, Daisy lives with Tom across from Gatsby in the fashionable East Egg district of Long Island. She is sardonic and somewhat cynical, and behaves superficially to mask her pain at her husband’s constant infidelity.
Daisy’s immensely wealthy husband, once a member of Nick’s social club at Yale. Powerfully built and hailing from a socially solid old family, Tom is an arrogant, hypocritical bully.
Daisy’s friend, a woman with whom Nick becomes romantically involved during the course of the novel.
Tom’s lover, whose lifeless husband George owns a run-down garage in the valley of ashes.
Myrtle’s husband, the lifeless, exhausted owner of a run-down auto shop at the edge of the valley of ashes.
The eccentric, bespectacled drunk whom Nick meets at the first party he attends at Gatsby’s mansion.
The shallow freeloader who seems almost to live at Gatsby’s mansion, taking advantage of his host’s money.
Gatsby’s friend, a prominent figure in organized crime. Before the events of the novel take place, Wolfsheim helped Gatsby to make his fortune bootlegging illegal liquor.