F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel,The Great Gatsby, follows Jay Gatsby, a man who orders his life around one desire: to be reunited with Daisy Buchannan, the love he lost five years earlier. Gatsby's quest leads him from poverty to wealth, into the arms of his beloved, and eventually to death. Published in 1925, The Great Gatsby is a classic piece of American fiction. It is a novel of triumph and tragedy, noted for the remarkable way Fitzgerald captured a cross-section of American society.
Setting: 1920s in West Egg, Long Island
Main characters- Nick Carraway, Jay Gatsby, Daisy Buchannan.
Thematic topics- decline of the 1920s, social issues, prohibition, displaced spiritually.
symbols- weather, geography, money.
major symbols- eyes, gatsby's parties.
- Nick Carraway is the narrator, or storyteller, of The Great Gatsby, but he is not the story's protagonist, or main character. Instead, Jay Gatsby is the protagonist of the novel that bears his name. Tom Buchanan is the book's antagonist, opposing Gatsby's attempts to get what he wants: Tom's wife Daisy.
- From the gold hat mentioned in the novel's epigram to the green light at the end of Daisy's dock, The Great Gatsby is filled with things that are gold and green: the colors of money.
- There are two kinds of wealth in The Great Gatsby: the inherited wealth of Daisy and Tom Buchanan, and the newly acquired wealth of Gatsby. The first kind comes with social standing and protects the Buchanans from punishment, as Daisy literally gets away with murder. Gatsby's kind of wealth, though considerable, leaves its owner vulnerable.
The Great Gatsby is a story told by Nick Carraway, who was once Gatsby's neighbor, and he tells the story sometime after 1922, when the incidents that fill the book take place. As the story opens, Nick has just moved from the Midwest to West Egg, Long Island, seeking his fortune as a bond salesman. Shortly after his arrival, Nick travels across the Sound to the more fashionable East Egg to visit his cousin Daisy Buchannan and her husband, Tom, a hulking, imposing man whom Nick had known in college. There he meets professional golfer Jordan Baker. The Buchannans and Jordan Baker live privileged lives, contrasting sharply in sensibility and luxury with Nick's more modest and grounded lifestyle. When Nick returns home that evening, he notices his neighbor, Gatsby, mysteriously standing in the dark and stretching his arms toward the water, and a solitary green light across the Sound.
One day, Nick is invited to accompany Tom, to meet his mistress, Myrtle Wilson, a middle-class woman whose husband runs a modest garage and gas station in the valley of ashes, a desolate and run-down section of town. After the group meets and journeys into the city, Myrtle phones friends and they all spend the afternoon drinking at Myrtle and Tom's apartment. The afternoon is filled with drunken behavior and ends ominously with Myrtle and Tom fighting over Daisy, his wife. Drunkenness turns to rage and Tom breaks Myrtle's nose. Following this incident, Nick turns his attention to his mysterious neighbor, who hosts weekly parties for the rich and fashionable. Upon Gatsby's invitation (rarely is anyone ever invited to Gatsby's parties — they just show up, knowing they will not be turned away), Nick attends one of the gatherings. There, he bumps into Jordan Baker, as well as Gatsby himself. Gatsby, it turns out, is a gracious host, but yet remains apart from his guest — an observer more than a participant — as if he is seeking something. Gatsby takes Jordan aside to speak privately. The reader isn't specifically told what they discuss, Jordan is greatly amazed by what she's learned.
As the summer unfolds, Gatsby and Nick become friends and Jordan and Nick begin to see each other on a regular basis, despite Nick's conviction that she is notoriously dishonest (which offends his sensibilities because he is "one of the few honest people" he has ever met). Nick and Gatsby journey into the city one day and there Nick meets Meyer Wolfshiem, one of Gatsby's associates and Gatsby's link to organized crime. On that same day, while having tea with Jordan Baker, Nick learns the amazing story that Gatsby told her the night of his party. Gatsby, it appears, is in love with Daisy Buchannan. They met years earlier when he was in the army but could not be together because he did not yet have the means to support her. In the intervening years, Gatsby made his fortune, all with the goal of winning Daisy back. He bought his house so that he would be across the Sound from her and hosted the elaborate parties in the hopes that she would notice. It has come time for Gatsby to meet Daisy again, face-to-face, and so, through the intermediary of Jordan Baker, Gatsby asks Nick to invite Daisy to his little house where Gatsby will show up unannounced.
The day of the meeting arrives. Nick's house is perfectly prepared, due largely to the generosity of the hopeless romantic Gatsby, who wants every detail to be perfect for his reunion with his lost love. When the former lovers meet, their reunion is slightly nervous, but shortly, the two are once again comfortable with each other, leaving Nick to feel an outsider in the warmth the two people radiate. As the afternoon progresses, the three move the party from Nick's house to Gatsby's, where he takes special delight in showing Daisy his meticulously decorated house and his impressive array of belongings, as if demonstrating in a very tangible way just how far out of poverty he has traveled. At this point, Nick again lapses into memory, relating the story of Jay Gatsby. Born James Gatz to "shiftless and unsuccessful farm people," Gatsby changed his name at seventeen, about the same time he met Dan Cody.
Cody would become Gatsby's mentor, taking him on in "a vague personal capacity" for five years as he went three times around the Continent. By the time of Cody's death, Gatsby had grown into manhood and had defined the man he would become. Never again would he acknowledge his meager past; from that point on, armed with a fabricated family history, he was Jay Gatsby, entrepreneur. Moving back to the present, we discover that Daisy and Tom will attend one of Gatsby's parties. Tom, of course, spends his time chasing women, while Daisy and Gatsby sneak over to Nick's yard for a moment's privacy while Nick, accomplice in the affair, keeps guard. After the Buchannans leave, Gatsby tells Nick of his secret desire: to recapture the past. Gatsby, the idealistic dreamer, firmly believes the past can be recaptured in its entirety. Gatsby then goes on to tell what it is about his past with Daisy that has made such an impact on him.
As the summer unfolds, Gatsby and Daisy's affair begins to grow and they see each other regularly. On one fateful day, the hottest and most unbearable of the summer, Gatsby and Nick journey to East Egg to have lunch with the Buchannans and Jordan Baker. Oppressed by the heat, Daisy suggests they take solace in a trip to the city. No longer hiding her love for Gatsby, Daisy pays him special attention and Tom deftly picks up on what's going on. As the party prepares to leave for the city, Tom fetches a bottle of whisky. Tom, Nick, and Jordan drive in Gatsby's car, while Gatsby and Daisy drive Tom's coupe. Low on gas, Tom stops Gatsby's car at Wilson's gas station, where he sees that Wilson is not well. Like Tom, who has just learned of Daisy's affair, Wilson has just learned of Myrtle's secret life — although he does not know who the man is — and it has made him physically sick. Wilson announces his plans to take Myrtle out West, much to Tom's dismay. Tom has lost a wife and a mistress all in a matter of an hour. Absorbed in his own fears, Tom hastily drives into the city.
The group ends up at the Plaza hotel, where they continue drinking, moving the day closer and closer to its tragic end. Tom, always a hot-head, begins to badger Gatsby, questioning him as to his intentions with Daisy. Decidedly tactless and confrontational, Tom keeps harping on Gatsby until the truth comes out: Gatsby wants Daisy to admit she's never loved Tom but that, instead, she has always loved him. When Daisy is unable to do this, Gatsby declares that Daisy is going to leave Tom. Tom, though, understands Daisy far better than Gatsby does and knows she won't leave him: His wealth and power, matured through generations of privilege, will triumph over Gatsby's newly found wealth. In a gesture of authority, Tom orders Daisy and Gatsby to head home in Gatsby's car. Tom, Nick, and Jordan follow. As Tom's car nears Wilson's garage, they can all see that some sort of accident has occurred.
Pulling over to investigate, they learn that Myrtle Wilson, Tom's mistress, has been hit and killed by a passing car that never bothered to stop, and it appears to have been Gatsby's car. Tom, Jordan, and Nick continue home to East Egg. Nick, now disgusted by the morality and behavior of the people with whom he has been on friendly terms, meets Gatsby outside of the Buchannans house where he is keeping watch for Daisy. With a few well-chosen questions, Nick learns that Daisy, not Gatsby, was driving the car, although Gatsby confesses he will take all the blame. Nick, greatly agitated by all that he has experienced during the day, continues home, but an overarching feeling of dread haunts him. Nearing dawn the next morning, Nick goes to Gatsby's house. While the two men turn the house upside down looking for cigarettes, Gatsby tells Nick more about how he became the man he is and how Daisy figured into his life. Later that morning, while at work, Nick is unable to concentrate. He receives a phone call from Jordan Baker, but is quick to end the discussion — and thereby the friendship. He plans to take an early train home and check on Gatsby.
The action then switches back to Wilson who, distraught over his wife's death, sneaks out and goes looking for the driver who killed Myrtle. Nick retraces Wilson's journey, which placed him, by early afternoon, at Gatsby's house. Wilson murders Gatsby and then turns the gun on himself. After Gatsby's death, Nick is left to help make arrangements for his burial. What is most perplexing, though, is that no one seems overly concerned with Gatsby's death. Daisy and Tom mysteriously leave on a trip and all the people who so eagerly attended his parties, drinking his liquor and eating his food, refuse to become involved. Even Meyer Wolfshiem, Gatsby's business partner, refuses to publicly mourn his friend's death. A telegram from Henry C. Gatz, Gatsby's father, indicates he will be coming from Minnesota to bury his son. Gatsby's funeral boasts only Nick, Henry Gatz, a few servants, the postman, and the minister at the graveside. Despite all his popularity during his lifetime, in his death, Gatsby is completely forgotten.
Nick, completely disillusioned with what he has experienced in the East, prepares to head back to the Midwest. Before leaving, he sees Tom Buchannan one last time. When Tom notices him and questions him as to why he didn't want to shake hands, Nick curtly offers "You know what I think of you." Their discussion reveals that Tom was the impetus behind Gatsby's death. When Wilson came to his house, he told Wilson that Gatsby owned the car that killed Myrtle. In Tom's mind, he had helped justice along. Nick, disgusted by the carelessness and cruel nature of Tom, Daisy, and those like them, leaves Tom, proud of his own integrity.
On the last night before leaving, Nick goes to Gatsby's mansion, then to the shore where Gatsby once stood, arms outstretched toward the green light. The novel ends prophetically, with Nick noting how we are all a little like Gatsby, boats moving up a river, going forward but continually feeling the pull of the past.
themes in Great Gatsby
- Society and Class- The Great Gatsby is set among wealthy, educated people, who have lots of leisure time and little concern about people who are not in their social milieu. Nobody’s concerned about politics or spiritual matters but everybody cares about how they are perceived socially. Those who do come from other classes seek and envy the glamour and lifestyle that they see in the elite. Jay Gatsby, the protagonist, is able to attain a certain amount of wealth, but he cannot fake education or social behaviors that only come with "old money." The novel’s two main locales, West Egg and East Egg, are distinguished also by class. East Egg represents "old money" while West Egg represents the nouveau riche. East Eggers consistently look down on West Eggers for precisely this fact. Class and wealth are virtually indistinguishable from each other, but if a person lacks education, then he is clearly not part of the upper echelon.
- Love- suggest that what people believe to be love is often only a dream. Gatsby thinks he loves Daisy when in fact he loves a memory of her. Daisy, too, thinks she loves Gatsby, but she really loves being adored. Our narrator is "half" in love with Jordan at the end of the novel, but recognizes the impossibility of being with her anyway. Love is a source of conflict in The Great Gatsbyas well, driving men to fight and ultimately causing three deaths. This text seems to argue that there is a violence and destruction inherent in love.
- Visions of America- In Gatsby, the American Dream seems corrupted. Whereas it used to stand for independence and the ability to make something of one's self with hard work, in Gatsby, the American Dream seems more about materialism and selfish pursuit of pleasure. Not to mention, no amount of hard work can change where Gatsby came from, and the old money folks maintain their sense of superiority because of that simple fact. The indication is that merit and hard work aren't enough. The idea of the American Dream proves to be disappointing and false in Fitzgerald’s classic novel.
- Wealth- In The Great Gatsby, wealth can be distinguished from class; it is possible to achieve great wealth without being accepted into the elite class, as evidenced by Jay Gatsby’s experience. Poverty, on the other hand, restricts decision and action. George Wilson, for example, is unable to "go West" with his wife because he hasn’t enough money. It is money that allows Tom and Daisy to go here and there, leaving other people to clean up their messes. The life of ease and luxury that Tom and others enjoy is contrasted sharply with the stranglehold of poverty containing Myrtle and George Wilson or the life from which Jay Gatsby emerges. Wealth is what separates Gatsby from his love, as he notes of Daisy that "her voice is full of money."
- Memories and the past- The Great Gatsby deals at great length with issues of the past, present, and future. In love with a girl of the past, Gatsby is unable to have her again in the present. He wants a future with her, but only if she will lie to erase the marriage in her past. The narrator indicates in the final lines of the text that nobody can ever reach the future – it is a beacon of light that calls to us, but even as we try to reach it, we are beaten back into the past. The manipulation of time in the narrative adds to this theme. Nick tells the whole tale with a tone of nostalgia – beginning the text with mention of his father’s advice to him in his youth.
- Marriage- The Great Gatsby questions marriage as representative of love and loyalty. The two marriages we do see here are marked by adultery on the part of one or both spouses. One begins to wonder if marriage is more a matter of convenience than it is of love. The issue is frequently raised of marrying below one’s caste; Myrtle fears that she has done so and Daisy may have not married Gatsby because of it – at least in part.
- Gender- The Great Gatsby gives us a glimpse into the gender roles of post-WWI America. Gender roles are in part decided by roles, as Tom’s upper class masculinity (strength, intimidation, virility) is contrasted with Wilson’s lower class version (naiveté). Unfaithfulness is a trait of both women and men, as we see in the text’s prevalent adultery. Women take physical abuse at the hands of Tom’s overly-macho persona, which seems a right of his gender at the time. His abuse is a form of the control that he exercises over both his mistress and his wife. Even Gatsby, who treats Daisy as if she is the most precious in the world, does not ultimately understand women. He treats his love as a prize, rather than a person. Daisy and Jordan, seem to do as they please – but they still define themselves by their ability to attract men.
- Compassion and forgiveness- The characters in The Great Gatsby all show a unique combination of a willingness to forgive and a stubbornness not to. Gatsby is willing to forgive Daisy’s marriage to another man, but not her loving him. Daisy is willing to forgive Tom for cheating but unwilling to forgive Gatsby for deceiving her about what kind of person he is. The sadness ofThe Great Gatsby comes from this kind of almost-forgiveness; the characters are taunted with the possibility that all will be forgiven, only to have it torn away because of another character.
The green light- The green light on Daisy’s house that Gatsby gazes wistfully at from his own house across the water represents the "unattainable dream." But the green light also represents the hazy future, the future that is forever elusive, as Nick claims in the last page of the novel, "Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – to-morrow we will run farther, stretch out our arms farther…." Owl-eyed man- Being perceptive and all, the bespectacled man is right to be suspicious of Gatsby. He is the only guest who, in doubting Gatsby, is also wise enough to investigate further. Moving right along to the portent of death part, did you notice that it was the owl-eyed man who had the car accident outside of Gatsby’s house? And that, shortly after he got out of the car, he revealed that someone else was driving? Does any of this sound familiar? Eyes of Dr. T. J Eckleburg- The first time we see the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg, the image is intertwined with Nick’s description of the valley of ashes. The ashes are, as ashes tend to be, "desolate" and "grotesque." Nick and the others have to pass through this "bleak" land any time they travel between the Eggs and the city. Think of the valley of ashes as one big, grey reality check. Compare Gatsby’s lavish parties of fresh fruit and live music and champagne to this land of smokestacks and ash-men; it seems that not all the world is as privileged as our cast of characters.
Colours used-we’re talking about the real stuff, the authentic, traditional, "old money" – not these new-fangled dollar bills. So you’ve got your "yellow cocktail music" playing at Gatsby’s party where the turkeys are "bewitched to dark gold" and Jordan and Nick sit with "two girls in yellow." It seems clear, then, that Gatsby is using these parties to try to fit in with the "old money" crowd. The most noticeable image is that green light we seem to see over and over. You know, the green light of the "orgastic future" that we stretch our hands towards, etc. etc. We can definitely see green as being hopeful, as being the future, as being vitality and freshness. Right before these famous last lines, Nick also describes the "fresh, green breast of the new world," the new world being this land as Nick imagines it existed hundreds of years before. The new world might be green, but when Nick imagines Gatsby’s future without Daisy, he sees "a new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about...like that ashen fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees." Nick struggles to define what the future really means, especially as he faces the new decade before him (the dreaded thirties).
narrative point of view
The story is told in the first person, through the eyes of Nick Carraway. The primary and most visible story is about Jay Gatsby and his devotion to his dream. Other stories, also told through Carraway’s eyes, include Tom’s reconciliation with his wife Daisy, Nick’s own relationship with Jordan, and Nick’s evolving friendship with Gatsby. Nick is only able to tell these stories through his limited omniscience. At times, he is able to narrate scenes despite not being present – but he rarely takes advantage of this fact. Although the story is told in the first person, Nick Carraway is able to easily become part of the wallpaper. His major character trait – reserving judgment – allows him to be almost an "invisible" narrator, similar to a traditional third-person omniscient point of view. Ultimately, however, if we lost Nick’s point-of-view, we would never understand the evolution of his character. He is the invisible man until the end of the book, when suddenly, he has opinions about everybody.
Tone- Nick is one cynical little cookie. Even though Nick reserves explicit judgment on the characters, Fitzgerald still manages to implicitly criticize through his narrator's tone. (Think about how ludicrous Myrtle seems when, although she isn't upper class, she still tries to look down on her husband.) The characters are sometimes slighted by the ironic tone, and we the readers are forced to read with the same cynicism that Fitzgerald writes.