The Great Gatsby

Plot Summary

            Narrator Nick Carraway opens by mentioning that he holds everything about Gatsby's character in contempt, but doesn't judge him like he would to most people. Carraway has moved to New York to enter the bond business. He lives in West Egg, wealthier than East Egg. People in West Egg have just recently become rich. Carraway lives next door to Gatsby's enormous house. Nick drives to East Egg to visit his cousin, Daisy Buchanan and her husband, Tom. Tom excitedly tells them and Daisy's friend, Jordan, about a racist white-supremist book. When Tom and Daisy leave the room, Jordan tells Nick that it is Tom's lover who has just called Tom on the phone. Between NYC and West Egg is a huge, old billboard with the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg which are "always watching." Tom takes Nick to George Wilson's garage, the husband of Myrtle, Tom's mistress. Tom taunts Wilson, a very lifeless man. Tom takes Nick and Myrtle to NYC to the apartment he uses for his affair with Myrtle. They have a party and drink a lot, which is very unusual for Nick to do. The group is incredibly obnoxious and rude. Tom buys Myrtle a puppy that she wants and she brings up his wife; he gets angry and tells her to never mention her again. Myrtle chants Daisy's name and Tom, in anger, breaks her nose.

            Nick receives an invitation to one of Gatsby's parties. Upon attending the party with Jordan, Tom realizes that people know very little about Gatsby, his past or wealth. Gatsby has a very lavish house. Many of the guests get drunk. Nick and Jordan meet Gatsby himself, a well spoken man who often refers to people as "old sport." Nick notices that Gatsby removes himself slowly from the party. People drive drunkenly and carelessly. Nick shortly after begins going out with Jordan and comments on her dishonest nature but how he is still attracted to her.

            Gatsby and Nick go out for lunch one day. Gatsby tells untrue stories about his past. They get pulled over for speeding, but Gatsby shows him a card and the policeman apologizes and lets them go. Gatsby introduced Nick to Meyer Wolfshiem who was apparently the person behind the fixed 1919 World Series. The man makes Nick wonder about how Gatsby has acquired his wealth and whether or not his work is shady like Wolfshiem. Later, Nick sees Jordan, who tells him of how Gatsby told her how he used to be in love with Daisy. The two almost married, but Daisy married Tom when Gatsby went off to the war. Jordan says that Gatsby bought his mansion so he could live close to Daisy. Gatsby can see the green light at the end of the dock by Daisy's property. Nick learns that Gatsby wants him to invite his old lover to have tea with him. He sends a man over to cut Nick's lawn and wants to pay for Nick to set up a meeting with Daisy. It is raining and Gatsby is very nervous. It starts out awkwardly between Gatsby and Daisy, but within half an hour, the two are very happy together like they once were. Daisy and Nick later go to Gatsby's house and Daisy is in awe at the number of elaborate possessions Gatsby owns. She cries when Gatsby shows her his collection of shirts. Gatsby and Daisy get so lost in each other that they forget Nick is even there.

            Nick tells how Gatsby's real name is James Gatz and he grew up on a farm in North Dakota and went to college in Minnesota, only to drop out two weeks later. After a number of years doing manual work, Gatsby met a yaht owner named Dan Cody. The man inspired Gatsby to become rich. One day, Nick finds Tom at Gatsby's house and finds out that Tom still doesn't know about Gatsby and Daisy's love, but Tom has learned that the two have met before. Tom's hate of Gatsby grows, and he spouts off negative things about Gatsby, calling him a bootlegger and upsetting Daisy. The party is not fun like the others had been. Once Daisy and Tom leave, Gatsby is upset that Daisy had bad time there. Gatsby believes that with his money, he can recreate the past, while Nick believes and tries to convince him otherwise.

            Gatsby puts a hold on his parties which were originally intended to impress Daisy. One day, Nick goes to Tom and Daisy's house and finds Jordan and Gatsby there. Gatsby is surprised to see Daisy and Tom's baby, and Daisy acts indifferent and interested in the child. Gatsby and Daisy cannot hide their romance and Tom begins to become more than suspicious. The group decides to go for a drive to NYC - Nick, Jordan, and Tom in one car, and Gatsby and Daisy in another. Upon reaching the gas station, their learn that Wilson has found out that his wife has been cheating on him, but does not know it is with Tom. Tom and Gatsby get in a confrontation when they reach a hotel; Gatsby says that Daisy loves him, but Tom believes he has the advantage so he tells Gatsby and Daisy to ride back together, in an attempt to prove that Gatsby is not a threat to him. Nick, Tom, and Jordan come across a fatal accident hit-and-run accident - Myrtle's death - which Nick believes was done by Gatsby. Upon returning home, Tom meets Gatsby who tells him that Daisy was driving when the accident occurred but that he was going to take the blame for it. Meanwhile, Tom and Daisy reconcile with each other. Gatsby tells Nick how much he loved Daisy. Later, Wilson believes Gatsby is responsible for his wife's death and kills Gatsby while he is floating in the water. He then takes his own life. Nick later finds Gatsby dead in his pool.

            Two years have passed when Nick writes again. Reporters and spectators spread even more untrue rumors around about Gatsby's death and his ties to Myrtle and Wilson. Nick attempts to hold a big funeral, but very few show up. Tom and Daisy are moving away and others simply refuse to come. Gatsby's father, Henry Gatz, however, does attend the funeral, coming all the way from Minnesota. The man is proud of Gatsby and to have had him as a son. Nick, now in his thirties, decides to move back to the Midwest. Before leaving, he comes across Tom, who tells him that he was the one who told Wilson that Gatsby's car had killed his wife. Tom says that Gatsby deserved to die, and even has the nerve to say that he was sad that he had to give up the apartment that he used for his affair with Myrtle. And angry and frustrated Nick says that Tom and Daisy are uncaring and will never get into any trouble because they have money to get them out of it. Nick is happy to be moving back to the Midwest where there is innocence and not so much greed and phonies. On the last night that Nick is in West Egg, he walks to Gatsby's house and lays down on the beach, wondering what the island looked like before everyone it had been settled. He comments on how those trying to attain the American dream by attaining money don't realize that the dream has already ended. Nick compares people's struggle to have their dreams realized with a boat moving against a strong current that keeps pushing it back where it came from.

Character List

Jay Gatsby - A young man of about 30 years old. Fell in love with Daisy before he went off to war, only to have her marry Tom Buchanan. Was inspired to become wealthy by a rich yaht-owner whom he worked for in his youth. Gatsby buys the house in New York and throws parties to lure Daisy back to him. He comes close, but fails. He often stands on his property, looking across the water to the green light on Daisy's dock. Gatsby's past is elusive and many rumors exist about him across town. He lives in a mansion next to Nick. He is killed by George Wilson, who is led to believe that Gatsby killed his wife, Myrtle. Gatsby's father, Henry, has always been proud of him but has not been in contact with Gatsby until his son's death.

Nick Carraway - Calls himself a generally honest and upright man, who generally stays away from alcohol. He is cousin to Daisy Buchanan and dates Jordan Baker for her sophistication. Generally he despises people like her for being dishonest and heartless toward others, but he looks past that because he enjoys her sophistication. Tom is a good listener and a somewhat non-biased narrator. Nick's thoughts are quite levelheaded and rational.

Daisy Buchanan - A popular and attractive young woman, married to Tom Buchanan. Used to be in love with Gatsby before he went off to war; she then married Tom. She is very shallow; attracted to material possessions and wealth and indifferent to her child and things that matter most for some people in life. She is almost lured by Gatsby, but decides to choose Tom over him. She is responsible for the hit-and-run death of Myrtle, as she was the one driving Gatsby's car with Gatsby at the time. Daisy enjoys a very easy lifestyle.

Tom Buchanan - Married to Daisy; has a hot temper. Taunts Wilson while having an affair with the man's wife. Wins Daisy back and prevents her from going back to Gatsby. Tom is cocky about his affair and even owns an apartment which he uses to go away with Myrtle.

George Wilson - Garage owner; handsome but very boring man who doesn't realize his wife is having an affair right under his nose. Led to believe that Gatsby is fully responsible for his wife's death, he kills Gatsby and then himself.


Major Events

Nick moves to West Egg          Nick Visits Daisy and Tom in East Egg  Tom invites Nick and Myrtle to come with him to NYC    Gatsby invites Nick to a party               Gatsby tells Nick to bring Daisy to party             Tom, Gatsby, Nick, and Daisy go to hotel               Tensions rise between Tom and Gatsby         Upon driving home, Daisy hits and kills Myrtle with Gatsby's car        Tom tells Wilson that it was Gatsby's car that killed his wife    Wilson shoots and kills Gatsby and then himself     No one shows at funeral except Jay's Dad, Henry Gatz          Nick moves back to the Midwest

Sample Essay

1980. "A recurring theme in literature is the classic war between a passion and responsibility. For instance, a personal cause, a love, a desire for revenge, a determination to redress a wrong, or some other emotion or drive may conflict with moral duty. Choose a literary work in which a character confronts the demands of a private passion that conflicts with his or her responsibilities. In a well-written essay show clearly the nature of the conflict, its effects upon the character, and its significance to the work."

            In F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, The Great Gatsby, passion gets in the way of the main characters living a fulfilling life. These passions conflict with the responsibilities of the characters through the boundaries that the characters cross.

            Love and passion are responsible for the death of several main characters in The Great Gatsby. Having been together before Jay left for the war, a rekindling of a relationship takes place between Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. Daisy, however, is now a married woman, as she decided she loved Tom Buchanan while Gatsby was away. Despite their marriage, however, Gatsby's actions conflict with his responsibility of respecting a marriage. Gatsby goes to great lengths to lure Daisy back to him. He goes so far as to move into a house within sight Daisy's house. Gatsby plans huge, extravagant parties for the sole purpose of impressing Daisy through the means of material possessions, and luring him back to him. Although it is not physical, an affair takes place between Gatsby and Daisy. They reach a level of emotional fulfillment while being together, away from Tom.

            In a similar way, Tom, in the name of passion, disregards his responsibilities as a married man, and has an affair with Wilson's wife, Myrtle. Nick insinuates that their affair may be of a more physical nature, as he describes Myrtle as appearing to be a sensual woman. Tom's complete and utter disregard for his marriage shows how his private passion gets in the way of true happiness for both him and Daisy. His denial of his responsibilities even leads to the death of Wilson and Gatsby.

            Although their relationship is of a more innocent nature, Nick Carraway and Jordan Baker's relationship also goes against Nick's ideals. He describes Jordan as dishonest, insensitive, and deceitful, which is everything he hates in a person. He finds her elegance and sophistication to be too irresistible, however, and decides to ignore his principles for awhile. Nick forms a new lifestyle that is not true to his real identity, by drinking more and socializing with a group of people with whom he has little in common.

            Love and passion get in the way of the ideals and responsibilities of most of the main characters. Since passion is a relevant theme in The Great Gatsby, it is important for the reader to identify how these themes influence the characters.


Major Themes

The loss of the American Dream - This theme is apparent because it is set in the 1920s. The characters have a lot of money and have lost sight of what is really important in life. They are uncaring, selfish individuals who are only interested in material possessions. They get drunk and act recklessly often. At one point, Nick realizes it is his 30th birthday. This is symbolic of the end of the Roaring 20s and the beginning of the 1930s when people were forced to live modestly at best during the days of the Great Depression.

Love - Love, or distorted love can be a theme because it is present among all of the characters - Daisy and Tom, Daisy and Gatsby, Tom and Myrtle, Wilson and Myrtle (Wilson loves Myrtle, but not vice versa). Nick even seeks to find love by dating Jordan Baker. Love and passion are ultimately what lead to the death of several characters.

Dissatisfaction - With maybe the exception of Nick, none of the characters are ever satisfied with what they have. This could be fueled by greed and the characters having money. This is illustrated best through the characters' love triangles and when Daisy makes Tom buy her a puppy just because she sees a man selling them.

The Past - Little is mentioned of the past, as the characters try to live selfishly in the moment. Rumors are passed around about Gatsby's past but Nick never knows much about him until after his death when Gatsby's father comes to the funeral. The past is referred to very little because it means recalling a time in which the characters didn't have wealth and success.

The Eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleberg - This billboard looking over the "valley of ashes" (where all of NYC's ashes are taken) represents God looking down upon the characters in judgment...always watching. Having been a failed dad campaign from long ago, it represents an Absurdist point of view that life has no meaning. The characters mention little about God or an afterlife, illustrating the meaningless of their lives and why they try to live for the moment, even if it is recklessly and selfishly.