- The narrator, Nick Carraway, begins the novel by commenting on himself: he says that he is very tolerant, and has a tendency to reserve judgment. Carraway comes from a prominent Midwestern family and graduated from Yale; therefore, he fears to be misunderstood by those who have not enjoyed the same advantages. He attempts to understand people on their own terms, rather than holding them up to his own personal standards.
- Nick fought in World War I; after the war, he went through a period of restlessness. He eventually decided to go east, to New York City, in order to learn the bond business. At the novel's outset, in the summer of 1922, Carraway has just arrived in New York and is living in a part of Long Island known as West Egg. West Egg is home to the nouveau riche (those who have recently made money and lack an established social position), while neighboring East Egg is home to the insular, narrow-minded denizens of the old aristocracy. Nick's house is next door to Gatsby's enormous, Gothic mansion.
- One night, he attends a dinner party in East Egg; the party is given by Tom Buchanan and his wife, Daisy. Daisy is Nick's cousin, while Tom was Nick's classmate at Yale. Tom comes from a wealthy, established family, and was a much-feared football player while at Yale. A friend of Daisy's is also in attendance. This woman, whose name is Jordan Baker, makes her living as a professional golfer. She has a frigid, boyish beauty and affects an air of extreme boredom.
- Tom dominates the conversation at dinner; he wishes to propound ideas he has found in a book entitled "The Rise of the Colored Empires." This book espouses racist and white supremacist ideas, to which Tom wholeheartedly subscribes. When Tom abruptly leaves to take a phone call, Daisy declares that she has become terribly cynical and sophisticated since she and Nick last met. Her claims ring false, however particularly when contrasted with the genuine cynicism of Jordan Baker, who languidly informs Nick that Tom's phone call is from his lover in New York. After his awkward visit with the Buchanans, Carraway goes home to West Egg. There, he sees a handsome young man, Jay Gatsby, standing on his wide lawn, with his arms stretched out to the sea. He appears to be reaching for a faraway green light, which may mark the end of a dock.
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- The second chapter begins with a description of the valley of ashes, a dismal, barren wasteland halfway between West Egg and New York. A pair of enormous eyes broods over the valley from a large, decaying billboard. These are the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, an optometrist whose practice has long since ended.
- Tom Buchanan takes Nick to George Wilson's garage, which lies at the edge of the valley of ashes. Wilson's wife, Myrtle, is the woman with whom Tom has been having an affair. Tom forces both Myrtle and Nick to accompany him to the city. There, in the flat in which Tom maintains his affair, they have a shrill, vulgar party with Myrtle's sister, Catherine, and a repulsive couple named McKee. The group gossips about Jay Gatsby: Catherine claims that he is somehow related to Kaiser Wilhelm, the much-despised ruler of Germany during World War I. The group becomes exceedingly drunk; as a result, Myrtle begins to grow garrulous and harsh. Shortly after Tom gives her a puppy as a gift, Myrtle begins chanting Daisy's name to irritate Tom. Tom tells her that she has no right to say Daisy's name; she continues taunting him, and he responds by breaking Myrtle's nose.
- Nick chooses to escape the situation.
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- This chapter begins with Nick's description of Gatsby's Saturday night parties: they have become legendary in New York for their opulence and hedonism. These parties are obscenely lavish. The guests marvel at Gatsby's Rolls-Royce, his enormous swimming pool, the live musicians he engages weekly, the sumptuous food that he provides for hundreds of people, and, perhaps most importantly, the unlimited liquor he generously supplies. Nick is eventually invited to one of these parties, but not by Gatsby himself; instead, Gatsby's chauffeur brings an invitation to Nick's door.
- Gatsby's mansion is packed with revelers when Nick arrives. Very few of them seem to be invited guests, and even fewer have met Gatsby face to face. It is a very mixed crowd: East Eggers rub elbows with West Eggers, and people from New York high society meet those from "the wrong side of the tracks." Nick runs into Jordan Baker who is even more casually bitter than usual because she has recently lost a golf tournament. All around them, people gossip about their mysterious host. They speculate that he once killed a man in cold blood or that he was a spy for Germany during World War I.J
- Jordan and Nick go looking for Gatsby in his mansion; instead, they find a grotesque little man in enormous eyeglasses (Nick calls him "Owl eyes") skimming through the books in Gatsby's library. Both Owl Eyes and Jordan initially think that the books are false, designed only to give the appearance of a library; both are surprised to find that the books are real.
- Outside, in the garden, Nick strikes up a conversation with a handsome, youthful man who looks familiar to him; it turns out that they served in the same division during the war. This man is the mysterious Gatsby. Gatsby has an affected English accent and a highly formal way of speaking. He stands aloof from his guests, watching the party rather than taking part in it. Gatsby leaves to take a phone call; later, he sends his butler to ask Jordan Baker if he may speak with her privately. When she finishes talking to Gatsby, she tells Nick that she has heard some "remarkable" news.
- At about two in the morning, Nick decides to walk home; on the way, he sees Owl Eyes, who has crashed his car into a ditch. Owl Eyes loudly proclaims that he is finished with the whole business; it is not clear (either to Nick or to the reader) what, if anything, he means by this.
- Nick informs the reader that he did not merely attend parties during the summer of 1922; he was also working in New York, a city which he simultaneously loves and hates. At Tom and Daisy's urging, he becomes romantically involved with Jordan Baker. Though he finds her essential dishonesty somewhat off-putting, he is attracted to her despite himself.
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- At a Sunday morning party at Gatsby's, Nick hears further gossip about Gatsby from a group of foolish young women. They say that he is a bootlegger who killed a man who discovered that he was nephew to von Hindenburg and second cousin to the devil. One morning, Gatsby invites Nick to lunch in the city. He proudly displays his Rolls-Royce, then abruptly asks Nick what he thinks of him. Nick is understandably evasive. Gatsby responds to his reticence by giving Nick an account of his past. His story, however, is highly improbable. Though he claims to descend from a prominent Midwestern family, when Nick asks him which Midwestern city he comes from, Gatsby hesitates, then says "San Francisco." He rattles off an absurdly long list of accomplishments: he claims to have studied at Oxford and lived in all of the capitals of Europe; then he enlisted in the war effort, where he was rapidly promoted to major and decorated by every Allied government, including Montenegro. He pulls out a photograph of himself in Oxford cricket whites, as well as a medal awarded by the government of Montenegro, in order to corroborate his story. They drive very fast through the valley of ashes; when Gatsby is stopped for speeding, he flashes a white card at the policeman. The policeman apologizes profusely and does not give Gatsby a ticket.
- At lunch, Gatsby introduces Carraway to Meyer, a disreputable character who proudly calls their attention to his cufflinks, which are made from human molars. Wolfsheim is an infamous gambler, and claims responsibility for fixing the 1919 World Series. Nick begins to suspect Gatsby of underworld dealings, due to his association with the sinister Wolfsheim.
- They happen to run into Tom , and Nick introduces him to Gatsby. Gatsby appears highly uncomfortable in Tom's presence and quickly leaves without giving an explanation.
- During Nick's next encounter with Jordan, she finally tells him her remarkable news: Gatsby is in love with Daisy. Back in 1917, when Daisy was eighteen and Jordan sixteen, the two had been volunteers with the Red Cross. Though all the officers at the military base had courted Daisy, she fell passionately in love with a young lieutenant named Jay Gatsby. Though she had promised to wait for Gatsby's return, she accepted Tom Buchanan's proposal of marriage while Gatsby was still away at war. The night before her wedding, Daisy suddenly realized the enormity of her mistake; she became hysterical and drank herself into a stupor.According to Jordan, Gatsby bought his house in West Egg just in order to be close to Daisy. It is at this moment that Nick realizes that the green light, toward which he saw Gatsby so plaintively gesturing, is the light that marks the end of the Buchanans' dock. Jordan informs Nick that Gatsby wants him to arrange a reunion between himself and Daisy.
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- One night, Gatsby waylays Nick and nervously asks him if he would like to take a swim in his pool. When Nick demurs, he offers him a trip to Coney Island. Nick, initially baffled by Gatsby's solicitousness, realizes that he is anxiously waiting for Nick to arrange his meeting with Daisy. Nick agrees to do so. Gatsby, almost wild with joy, responds by offering him a job, a "confidential sort of thing," and assures Nick that he will not have to work with Meyer Wolfsheim Nick is somewhat insulted that Gatsby wishes to reimburse him for his help, and declines Gatsby's offer.
- It rains on the day that Gatsby and Daisy are to meet, and Gatsby becomes extremely apprehensive. The meeting takes place at Nick's house and, initially, their conversation is stilted and awkward. They are all inexplicably embarrassed; when Gatsby clumsily knocks over a clock, Nick tells him that he's behaving like a little boy. Nick leaves the couple alone for a few minutes. When he returns, they seem luminously happy, as though they have just concluded an embrace. There are tears of happiness on Daisy's cheeks.
- They make their way over to Gatsby's mansion, of which Gatsby proceeds to give them a carefully rehearsed tour. Gatsby shows Daisy newspaper clippings detailing his exploits. She is overwhelmed by them, and by the opulence of his possessions. When he shows her his vast collection of imported shirts, she begins to weep tears of joy. Nick wonders whether Gatsby is disappointed with Daisy; it seems that he has concieved of her as a goddess, and though Daisy is alluring, she cannot possibly live up to so grandiose an ideal.
- Gatsby has Ewing Klipspringer, a mysterious man who seems to live at his mansion, play "Ain't We Got Fun" (a popular song of the time) for himself and Daisy:
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- A reporter, inspired by the feverish gossip about Gatsby circulating in New York, comes to West Egg in hopes of obtaining the true story of his past from him. Though Gatsby himself turns the man away, Nick interrupts the narrative to relate Gatsby's past (the truth of which he only learned much later) to the reader.
- His real name is James Gatz, and he was born to an impoverished farmer in North Dakota, rather than into wealth in San Francisco, as he claimed. He had his named legally changed to Jay Gatsby at the age of seventeen. Though he did attend St Olaf's, a small college in Minnesota, he dropped out after two weeks, as he could not bear working as a janitor in order to pay his tuition.
- Gatsby's dreams of self-improvement were only intensified by his relationship with Dan Cody, a man whom he met while working as a fisherman on Lake Superior. Cody was then fifty, a self-made millionaire who had made his fortune during the Yukon gold rush. Cody took Gatsby in and made the young man his personal assistant. On their subsequent voyages to the West Indies and the Barbary Coast, Gatsby became even more passionately covetous of wealth and privilege. When Cody died, Gatsby inherited $25,000; he was unable to claim it, however, due to the malicious intervention of Cody's mistress, Ella Kaye. Afterward, Gatsby vowed to become a success in his own right.
- Several weeks pass without Nick's seeing Gatsby. Upon visiting Gatsby at his mansion, Nick is shocked to find Buchanan there. Tom has unexpectedly stopped for a drink at Gatsby's after an afternoon of horseback riding; he is accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Sloane, an insufferable East Egg couple who exemplify everything that is repellent about the "old rich." Gatsby invites the group to supper, but Mrs. Sloane hastily refuses; perhaps ashamed of her own rudeness, she then half-heartedly offers Gatsby and Nick an invitation to dine at her home. Nick, recognizing the insincerity of her offer, declines; Gatsby accepts, though it is unclear whether his gesture is truly oblivious or defiant.
- Tom pointedly complains about the crazy people that Daisy meets, presumably referring to Gatsby. Throughout the awkward afternoon, he is contemptuous of Gatsby, particularly mocking his acceptance of Mrs. Sloane's disingenuous invitation.
- The following Saturday, Tom and Daisy attend one of Gatsby's parties. Tom, predictably, is unpleasant and rude throughout the evening. After the Buchanans leave, Gatsby is crestfallen at the thought that Daisy did not have a good time; he does not yet know that Tom badly upset her by telling her that Gatsby made his fortune in bootlegging.
- Nick realizes that Gatsby wants Daisy to tell Tom that she has never loved him. Nick gently informs Gatsby that he cannot ask too much of Daisy, and says, "You can't repeat the past." Gatsby spiritedly replies: "Of course you can!"
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- At this point in the novel, when curiosity about Gatsby has reached a fever pitch, he ceases to throw his Saturday night parties. The only purpose of the parties was to solicit Daisy's attention; now that they are reunited, the parties have lost their purpose.
- Nick, surprised that the revelry has stopped, goes over to make certain that Gatsby is all right. He learns that Gatsby has fired all of his former servants and replaced them with a number of disreputable characters who were formerly employed by Meyer Wolfsheim. Daisy has begun visiting him in the afternoons, and Gatsby wants to make certain that she will not be exposed to any of the lurid gossip about his life and his past.
- On the hottest day of the summer, Daisy invites Gatsby, Nick, and Jordan to lunch. Daisy has the nanny exhibit her infant daughter, who is dressed in white, to the assembled guests. Gatsby seems almost bewildered by the child. He has been, until this moment, entirely unable to conceive of Daisy as a mother. Tom is full of his usual bluster, remarking that he read that the sun is growing hotter; soon, the earth will fall into it, and that will be the end of the world.
- During the luncheon, Tom realizes that Gatsby and his wife are romantically involved. Gatsby stares at Daisy with undisguised passion, and Daisy recklessly remarks, within earshot of Tom, that she loves Gatsby.
- Tom, unsettled, goes inside to get a drink, and in his absence Nick remarks that Daisy has an indiscreet voice. When Nick goes on to say that Daisy's voice also has an indescribably seductive quality, Gatsby blurts that her voice is "full of money."
- Tom, desperate to pick a fight with Gatsby, forces the entire party to drive into New York. Gatsby and Daisy drive in Tom's car, while Nick, Jordan, and Tom drive in Gatsby's. On the way, Tom furiously tells Nick that Gatsby is no Oxford man. They stop for gas at Wilson's garage. Wilson tells them that he's decided to move his wife out west, since he recently learned that she's been having an affair; he does not yet, however, know who her lover is. Upon leaving the garage, they see Myrtle peering down at the car from her window. She stares at Jordan with an expression of jealous terror, since she assumes that Jordan is Tom's wife.
- Feeling that both his wife and mistress are slipping away from him, Tom grows panicked and impatient. To escape from the summer heat, the group takes a suite at the Plaza Hotel. There, Tom finally confronts Gatsby, mocking his use of the phrase "old sport." Tom accuses Gatsby of never having been at Oxford; Gatsby replies that he did, in fact, study there for five months after the end of the war. Tom regards Daisy's affair with the lower-class Gatsby as one of the harbingers of the decline of civilization. Soon, Tom hisses, there will even be intermarriage between the races. Gatsby tells Tom that Daisy doesn't love him, and has never loved him; he informs him that he's "not going to take care of Daisy anymore." Tom calls Gatsby a "common swindler" and reveals that he has made his fortune in bootlegging. Daisy, in her shallowness and snobbery, sides with Tom, and refuses Gatsby when he pleads with her to say that she has never loved her husband. As the confrontation draws to a close, Nick realizes that today is his thirtieth birthday.
- In the valley of ashes, Nick, Jordan and Tom find that someone has been struck and killed by a car. The young Greek, Michaelis, who runs the coffee house next to Wilson's garage, tells them that the victim was Myrtle Wilson. She ran out into the road during a fight with her husband; there, she was struck by an opulent yellow car. Nick realizes that the fatal car must have been Gatsby's Rolls-Royce. Tom presumes that Gatsby was the driver.
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- That night, Nick finds himself unable to sleep, since the terrible events of the day have greatly unsettled him. Wracked by anxiety, he hurries to Gatsby's mansion shortly before dawn. He advises Gatsby to leave Long Island until the scandal of Myrtle's death has quieted down. Gatsby refuses, as he cannot bring himself to leave Daisy: he tells Nick that he spent the entire night in front of the Buchanans' mansion, just to ensure that Daisy was safe. He tells Nick that Tom did not try to harm her, and that Daisy did not come out to meet him, though he was standing on her lawn in full moonlight
- Gatsby, in his misery, tells Nick the story of his first meeting with Daisy. He does so even though it patently gives the lie to his earlier account of his past. Gatsby and Daisy first met in Louisville in 1917; Gatsby was instantly smitten with her wealth, her beauty, and her youthful innocence. Realizing that Daisy would spurn him if she knew of his poverty, Gatsby determined to lie to her about his past and his circumstances. Before he left for the war, Daisy promised to wait for him; the two then slept together, as though to seal their pact. Of course, Daisy did not wait; she married Tom, who was her social equal and the choice of her parents.
- Realizing that it has grown late, Nick says goodbye to Gatsby. As he is walking away, he turns back and shouts that Gatsby is "worth the whole damn bunch [of the Buchanans and their East Egg friends] put together."
- The scene shifts from West Egg to the valley of ashes, where George Wilson has sought refuge with Michaelis. It is from the latter that Nick later learns what happened in the aftermath of Myrtle's death. George Wilson tells Michaelis that he confronted Myrtle with the evidence of her affair and told her that, although she could conceal her sin from her husband, she could not hide it from the eyes of God. As the sun rises over the valley of ashes, Wilson is suddenly transfixed by the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg; he mistakes them for the eyes of God. Wilson assumes that the driver of the fatal car was Myrtle's lover, and decides to punish this man for his sins.
- He seeks out Buchanan, in the hope that Tom will know the driver's identity. Tom tells him that Gatsby was the driver. Wilson drives to Gatsby's mansion; there, he finds Gatsby floating in his pool, staring contemplatively at the sky. Wilson shoots Gatsby, and then turns the gun on himself.
- It is Nick who finds Gatsby's body. He reflects that Gatsby died utterly disillusioned, having lost, in rapid succession, his lover and his dreams.
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- Like insects, reporters and gossipmongers swarm around Gatsby's mansion after his death. They immediately busy themselves with spreading grotesquely exaggerated stories about his murder, his life, and his relationships. Nick tries to give Gatsby a funeral as grand as his parties, but finds that Gatsby's enormous circle of acquaintances has suddenly evaporated. Many, like Tom and Daisy, have simply skipped town, while others, including Meyer Wolfsheim and Kilpspringer, flatly refuse to attend the funeral.
- Nick tracks down Gatsby's father, Henry C. Gatz, a solemn old man left helpless and distraught by the death of his son. Gatz shows Nick a book in which the young Gatsby kept a self-improvement schedule; nearly every minute of his day was meticulously planned. The only other attendee at Gatsby's funeral is Owl Eyes, the melancholy drunk who was so astonished by Gatsby's library.
- Nick meets with Jordan, who recalls their conversation about how bad drivers are only dangerous when two of them meet. She tells Nick that she and he are both "bad drivers," and are therefore a treacherous combination. When Nick ends their affair, she suddenly claims to be engaged to another man.
- Months later, Nick runs into Tom on New York's Fifth Avenue. Tom admits that it was he who sent Wilson to Gatsby's; he shows no remorse, however, and says that Gatsby deserved to die. Nick reflects that Tom and Daisy are capable only of cruelty and destruction; they are kept safe from the consequences of their actions by their fortress of wealth and privilege.
- Nick, repulsed by the shallow and brutal East, determines to return to the Midwest. He reflects that he, the Buchanans, Gatsby, and Jordan are all Westerners who came east; perhaps they all possess some deficiency which makes them unsuitable to Eastern life. After Gatsby's death, the East is haunted, grotesque; the Midwest, by contrast, now seems idyllic.
- Staring at the moon on his last night in West Egg, Nick imagines a primeval America, an America made for dreamers like Gatsby. The green light at the end of Daisy's dock is like the green continent of America, beckoning its legions of dreamers. Gatsby, for all his greatness, failed to realize that the American Dream was already dead when he began to dream it: his goals, the pursuit of wealth and status, had long since become empty and meaningless. Nick muses that contemporary Americans are "boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past"; any attempt to progress, to move forward, is ultimately futile.
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