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 subjective narrator and implied writer of the novel, he is the cousin of Daisy Buchanan. Born in Minnesota, he attends Yale, then serves in World War I. After the war, he moves from the Mid-West to New York City to work as a bond broker. He rents a ramshackle cottage in the fictional commuter town of West Egg, Long Island, home to the new rich. He is the next door neighbor of Jay Gatsby. Nick prides himself on his tolerant, non-judgmental attitude, though these characteristics often make him an unlikely friend to mysterious men, like Gatsby, who share with him their most intimate secrets. Nick is the second cousin of Daisy Buchanan, Gatsby's great love. Nick helps Gatsby to reunite with Daisy. He turns thirty years old late in the novel.

Jay Gatsby

The title character and protagonist of the novel, Gatsby is exceedingly wealthy, and resides in a garish Gothic mansion in West Egg, home to the new rich, where he throws wild, opulent parties. He is famous among New Yorkers for his parties, and for his great mystery. He is rumored to be a killer and a bootlegger, though no one is certain of his true history. At just over the age of thirty, Gatsby is handsome and charming. Gatsby reveals to Nick that he was born James Gatz to poor farm people in North Dakota. Inspired by his adoptive mentor, millionaire Dan Cody, Gatsby resolved to become wealthy, himself. While stationed in Louisville before leaving to serve as an officer in World War I, Gatsby met and fell in love with Daisy. He is obsessed with rekindling his and Daisy's romance, and strives to earn his fortune so that he will be worthy of her. Gatsby will stop at nothing to achieve his dream, and thus earns money by means of unspecified criminal activity. Nick disapproves of Gatsby, and thinks him immoral, crude, and self-centered, though he admires his tenacity and stamina in his relentless pursuit of his dreams, for this is why Nick calls him great.

Daisy Buchanan

Nick's second cousin, Gatsby's greatest love, and the wife of Tom Buchanan. Born into a high society family in Louisville, Daisy is now a beautiful, however daft, woman with little moral character and a superficial charisma. She and Gatsby were in love while Gatsby was stationed in Louisville before leaving to fight in World War I, and though she promised to wait for him until his return, she grows impatient and succumbs to pressure to marry another man, Tom. She and Tom live in an exquisite mansion on East Egg, Long Island, home to the well-bred wealthy, and have a two-year old daughter together, who she wishes will become a beautiful little fool. Daisy's marriage is failing, and, as a result, she is embittered, and often cynical.

Tom Buchanan

Daisy's wealthy, well-bred, unfaithful husband, he is the antagonist of the novel. A former college football star at Yale, Tom has an athletic physique and a violent manner. Tom is gruff, arrogant, and domineering. The product of an upper-class background, Tom displays sexist and racist attitudes, and lacks any moral standards. He has an extramarital affair with Myrtle Wilson, though it is not the first time he has cheated on Daisy. When he discovers that Daisy is romantically involved with Gatsby, however, he feels victimized, and incites a brutal confrontation with Gatsby.

Jordan Baker

Daisy's girlhood friend from Louisville who becomes Nick's casual girlfriend. Jordan, a competitive golfer, is representative of the quintessential 1920's woman: she is beautiful, boyish, self-indulgent, and blas. Her bored, cynical attitude is ceaseless. Jordan is hopelessly dishonest, and it is rumored that she cheated in order to win a golf tournament.

Myrtle Wilson

Tom's mistress and the wife of George Wilson, she exudes vitality and colorfulness amidst the gray, depressed valley of ashes where she resides. Myrtle and her husband are the only two poor characters featured in the novel. Myrtle is determined to improve her social standing, and enjoys the superficial excesses of the rich. She is loud, boisterous, aggressive, and rude. Myrtle is hit and killed by Daisy, as she is driving Gatsby's yellow car.

George Wilson

Myrtle's husband, he is the weary and spiritless owner of a failing garage in the valley of ashes. Despite his lifelessness, he is the only morally upright character in the novel. Not coincidentally, he and his wife are the only two poor characters featured in the book. George is devastated upon learning of Myrtle's affair, though he does not know that Tom is her lover. When Myrtle is killed by Gatsby's car, George is grief-stricken, and can barely speak. He grows vengeful, and determined to seek justice for his beloved wife, finds Gatsby, who he believes was behind the wheel of the car that killed Myrtle. He shoots and kills Gatsby, then himself.

Meyer Wolfsheim

Gatsby's friend and purported business partner, his precise identity is undefined. He is presumably involved with the Jewish mafia, and involved in illegal activities, namely bootlegging, with Gatsby.

Klipspringer

The casual, cursory man who seems to live at Gatsby's mansion. Nick suspects that he has no home of his own, and that he freeloads off of Gatsby and his fortune. Klipsringer disappears upon Gatsby's death; he does not attend the funeral of his generous provider, but does care to ask after a pair of shoes he thinks he has forgotten at Gatsby's mansion.

Dan Cody

The millionaire who adopts Gatsby as his protg, and inspires him to make his fortune. He and Gatsby sail together on his yacht for five years before Cody dies. In his will, Cody leaves Gatsby $25,000, but his mistress wins all of his inheritance in a legal battle. Cody is Gatsby's greatest mentor.

Owl Eyes

The strange man who Nick and Jordan find sitting in Gatsby's library during one of Gatsby's parties. He is drunk, donning enormous spectacles, and marvels that Gatsby's books are real, not simply for show. After the party, he is in a minor car accident outside the gates of Gatsby's mansion.

Mr. Gatz

Gatsby's father, he is a weary, humble old man from North Dakota. He dresses modestly in cheap clothing, and represents the traditional values of the West. After learning of his son's death from a newspaper, he arrives in New York to attend the funeral. Although he has not seen Gatsby in two years, he is exceptionally proud of him.

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