The Great Gatsby Study Guide

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby is F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel of the roaring 20's, told from the perspective of Nick Carraway, who moves in next door to the eccentric millionaire Jay Gatsby. Over the course of the summer of 1922, Nick becomes drawn into Gatsby's world of excess, a world that also includes Nick's married cousin Daisy Buchanan, the object of Gatsby's obsession. Portraying a world of decayed social and moral values, The Great Gatsby serves as a critique of the Upper class and an exploration of the decline of the American dream.

Nick Carraway, the narrator, recalls the day the summer began. He remembers having an awkward dinner with his cousin Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom Buchanan at their mansion in fashionable East Egg, New York. Nick has just moved to neighboring West Egg, New York from the Mid-West.

Jordan Baker, Daisy's friend, is also present at the dinner. Daisy intimates a romance between Jordan and Nick, which later comes to fruition. Tom excuses himself from the meal to accept a call from his mistress. Later, Daisy reveals to Nick that she is unhappy and embittered by her circumstances.

Nick lives in a ramshackle cottage beside Jay Gatsby's flashy mansion. When he returns home that evening, he sees Gatsby for the first time, standing by the ocean, outstretching his arms toward a green light that shines from across the water.

Nick and Tom take the train from West Egg to New York. On the way to the city, they get off the train to see Tom's mistress, Myrtle Wilson, who lives with her husband, George Wilson, an auto mechanic, in the valley of ashes. The large, bespectacled eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg preside over the valley from an old billboard. In New York, they attend a party at Myrtle's sister's apartment. Drunk, Myrtle shouts Daisy's name defiantly, and Tom breaks her nose.

Nick attends one of Gatsby's extravagant parties, which he throws each weekend. There, he and Jordan attempt to find Gatsby, but instead discover Owl Eyes in Gatsby's library. Nick meets Gatsby later in the evening when Gatsby recognizes him as a fellow soldier from World War I.

Rumors about Gatsby circulate wildly among party guests, most of whom have shown up uninvited. None of the guests seem to know Gatsby's true background, which abets much speculation. Leaving the party, Nick sees an car overturned in a roadside ditch.

Nick and Jordan date casually, and he develops a serious fondness for her, despite her relentless dishonesty. Nick thinks that he is one of the few honest people he's ever known.

Gatsby invites Nick to lunch in New York. On the drive to the city, Gatsby tells Nick his life story, which Nick finds suspect. Gatsby claims that he is from a wealthy Mid-Western family, was educated at Oxford University, and was a highly decorated soldier in World War I. Gatsby produces a photograph from his days at Oxford, and a medal of honor awarded to him for his military service. Gatsby and Nick have lunch with Meyer Wolfsheim, Gatbsy's friend and business partner. At the restaurant, Nick sees Tom and introduces him to Gatsby.

Gatsby arranges for Jordan to divulge to Nick a secret from his past. Jordan tells Nick that Gatsby and Daisy were once madly in love, during Daisy's youth in Louisville, but that she married Tom because Gatsby was overseas in the war. Gatsby requests that Nick invite Daisy to tea at his house so that they can reunite. Nick recalls seeing Gatsby standing on his lawn, arms outstretched toward a green light across the water, and thinks that Gatsby must have been reaching toward the light at the end of Daisy's dock.

Initially, Gatsby and Daisy's reunion is awkward. Nick leaves them alone together, and returns to find them sitting on the couch, Gatsby looking joyful, and Daisy's face streaked with tears. Gatsby invites them to his mansion, where Daisy is in awe of Gatsby's wealth. By the end of their reunion, Gatsby and Daisy have rekindled their love.

Nick warns Gatsby not to expect too much of Daisy, and that he cannot recreate the past. Gatsby, however, insists that he can, and makes it clear that he intends to.

Gatsby reveals his true identity to Nick. He was born James Gatz to farmer parents in North Dakota, and changed his name to Jay Gatsby upon seeing millionaire Dan Cody's yacht drop anchor on Lake Superior, where he worked as a fisherman after dropping out of college. Gatsby warns Cody of an oncoming wind storm. Impressed, Cody adopts him as his protg. They sail together for five years, until Cody dies. Cody wills part of his fortune to Gatsby, but the money is usurped by Cody's mistress. Gatsby admires Cody and his wealth, and aspires to his status.

Nick, Gatbsy, and Jordan have lunch at Tom and Daisy's house on the hottest day of the summer. Tom notices Daisy and Gatsby staring at one another, and discovers their affair. Daisy suggests they drive to New York to find distraction from the heat. At the Plaza Hotel, Tom confronts Gatsby about his affair with Daisy. Gatsby insists that Daisy has never loved Tom. Daisy reluctantly agrees, but recants, saying that she once loved Tom, but that she now loves Gatsby.

Daisy and Gatsby drive back to Long Island together, and Tom chauffeurs Nick and Jordan. In the valley of ashes, Tom comes upon an accident scene. Myrtle Wilson has been killed by a hit-and-run driver of an expensive yellow car - Gatsby's car. Daisy was behind the wheel when Myrtle was killed.

That night, Gatsby hides in the bushes around Tom and Daisy's mansion. He sends Nick to check on Daisy, and Nick sees Daisy and Tom in the kitchen, conspiring.

Grief-stricken, Wilson seeks revenge on the driver of the yellow car, who he suspects is her lover. Myrtle had fled into the street amidst a confrontation with Wilson about her infidelity. Wilson's search leads him to Gatsby, who he finds floating in his pool. Wilson shoots and kills Gatsby, then himself.

Nick tries earnestly, however unsuccessfully, to find friends of Gatsby's to attend his funeral. Gatsby's father learns of his son's death from a Chicago newspaper, and travels to New York to attend the funeral. He is a humble, modest old man, and is exceptionally proud of Gatsby, whom he has not seen in two years. The only people in attendance at Gatsby's funeral are Nick, Gatsby's father, and Owl eyes. Nick calls Daisy and Tom as soon as he knows of Gatsby's death, but they have already fled.

Nick resolves to leave West Egg and return to the Mid-West. Before departing, he sees Jordan Baker. Nick is angry, but still half in love with her. During an encounter on Fifth Avenue, Tom tells Nick that he is the one who told Wilson that Gatsby was Myrtle's killer.

Nick leaves for Chicago as winter begins. He recalls the green light at the end of Daisy's dock, and how it had fed Gatsby's aspirations. People struggle like boats against a current, he muses, but they are inexorably whisked into the past.

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