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.

Foreshadowing

Nick Carraway first attends one of Jay Gatsby's lavish parties in Chapter III. At the party, he and Jordan Baker attempt to find Gatsby, but instead discover a drunken, middle-aged man in large owl-eye spectacles staring intently at the shelves of books in Gatsby's library. The man, who Nick refers to as Owl Eyes, is in awe that the books are real, not simply for display. Later that same evening, as Nick leaves the party, he notices a commotion on the road outside of Gatsby's mansion gates. He sees that there is a car overturned in a ditch; drunk, Owl eyes emerges from the vehicle. This car accident foreshadows the major accident that occurs in Chapter VII, in the valley of ashes.

On the hottest day of the summer, Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan drive back from New York City to Long Island. In a separate car, Tom Buchanan chauffeurs Nick and Jordan Baker. Driving through the valley of ashes, Tom and his passengers come upon an accident scene in which a woman has been killed by a hit and run driver. The victim is Myrtle Wilson, Tom's mistress. The driver: Daisy, behind the wheel of Gatsby's expensive yellow car.

Further tragedy is foreshadowed in Chapter VIII, when Gatsby's gardener asks if he may drain the pool to prevent the soon-to-fall autumn leaves from clogging its drains. Gatsby asks his gardener to refrain from draining the pool, saying he has not yet used the pool all summer. Gatsby's seemingly minor interaction with his gardener foreshadows Gatsby's murder by Wilson, who shoots Gatsby as he relaxes in the pool, then turns the gun on himself.

Point of View

The Great Gatsby is narrated in the first person by the novel's protagonist, Nick Carraway. In Chapter I, Nick identifies himself as a trustworthy narrator; while in college at Yale, he gained the confidence of his most mysterious peers, just as he gains the confidence of the enigmatic Gatsby. In Chapter III, Nick remarks that he is "one of the few honest people that [he] has ever known." Nick, who also claims he is the author of the story, serves as the ideal observer-and facilitator--of Daisy and Gatsby's reunion. He is reasonable and reflective, a credible eyewitness to the frenzied drama that unfolds during his summer in New York.

Nick's attitude toward Gatsby is incongruous. His narration is often contradictory, for his feelings about Gatsby fluctuate intensely as the plot develops. Nick disapproves of Gatsby's immoral business dealings, greed, and indulgence in excess, yet he admires his stamina, hopefulness, and determination. Overall, Nick's narration is a solemn and lyrical reflection on times past.

As he unfurls the story of his interactions with Gatsby and Daisy, Nick refrains from revealing too much information about his personal background or situation, apart from details that are relevant to the novel's central focus. Thus, Nick serves primarily as the novel's observant narrator, and occasional commentator. The majority of Nick's personal revelations serve as a social commentary on the moral destitution of capitalistic endeavors, and the hollowness of the aristocracy.

Setting

The Great Gatsby is set during the summer of 1922, in Long Island and New York City. Nick and Gatsby reside in the fictional neighborhood of West Egg, Long Island, home to the flashy "new rich." Daisy and Tom Buchanan reside in nearby East Egg, Long Island (also fictional), home of the blue-blooded, well-bred aristocracy. Another featured location in the novel is the valley of ashes, a gray, desolate wasteland barren but for the ashes dumped there by commercial industry.

In The Great Gatsby , geographic location is representative of various socio-economic situations, values, and cultures. West Egg is the choice residence of the gauche "new rich," and represents garish opulence, moral decay, and indulgence in excess. By contrast, neighboring East Egg, home of the society's sophisticated elite, represents the traditional social etiquette and values of the aristocracy. In sharp contrast to the wealthy Long Island Egg settlements, the valley of ashes is home to the poor working class. Its unprivileged inhabitants are spiritless, downtrodden characters, such as George Wilson, a weary, lifeless auto mechanic who struggles to keep his business from bankruptcy.

Although the majority of the novel is set in New York during the summer of 1922, Nick tells the story retrospectively, after he has left New York to return home, to the Mid-West.

Conflict

The major conflict in the novel is between the rich and the poor, exemplified namely by the inner conflict experienced by Gatsby, who denies his humble, Mid-Western past to embrace a new beginning as an Eastern millionaire.

Concurrently, another major conflict in the novel exists between the two classes of the New York aristocracy: the "new rich" of West Egg, Long Island, and the blue-blooded sophisticates of East Egg, Long Island.

Nick, a native of Minnesota, experiences a related conflict: he grapples to address the dissension between the traditional, honorable values of his native Mid-West and the corrupt, amoral attitudes of the Eastern aristocracy. Similarly, Nick comments on the vast disparity between the honest values of the working class, and the selfish priorities of the privileged. Nick represents the traditional values of the Mid-West; he detests the superficial values of the privileged, and condemns them for their excesses and disgraceful falsehood. Nick identifies corruption with the East, which seems to him a region dominated by capitalistic greed.

At the same time Nick is disgusted by some aspects of the New York lifestyle, he is also entranced by it. As an observer, he appreciates the frantic pace of urban life, and expresses awed disbelief at the opulence of Gatsby's extravagant parties. Likewise, Nick is attracted to Jordan Baker, the woman he dates throughout the summer,despite her profuse dishonesty. He admires her for her her cosmopolitan sophistication and blas attitude, characteristic of affluent New York women. Although Nick disregards Jordan's duplicity in the beginning of their romance, he is soon offended by it. Just as Nick feels uncomfortable at Gatsby's lavish soirees, he feels equally out of place as a Westerner in the amoral East, for he cannot find anyone he relates to. Nick's reflections prompt his ultimate decision to return to the home to the Mid-West, which he identifies with respectable moral values and integrity.

Mood

The overall mood conveyed by the The Great Gatsby is one of mystery, suspense, and conflict. The novel is an elegant mixture of the somber reflections of narrator Nick Carraway and his elegiac retelling of Gatsby's cryptic past. Gatsby upholds the novel's aura of mystery and agitated suspense, for he is the novel's most enigmatic character. Gatsby's true history is not revealed until Chapter VI of the novel. The title character is often portrayed as a ghostlike figure, who disappears from sight unexpectedly, as would a "great" vaudeville magician. Swirling rumors about Gatsby further the unsettling mood of mystery.

Style

Fitzgerald liberally employs imagery, symbolism, and figurative language throughout The Great Gatsby . He identifies color with character: Gatsby in his pink suit, and Daisy in her white dress. Similarly, Fitzgerald uses weather to set the mood for specific turns in plot. It rains on the day of Gatsby's funeral, and on the day of his reunion with Daisy. On the day of the reunion, however, the rain relents when Daisy and Gatsby have rekindled their affection for one another. By contrast, the novel climaxes on the most sweltering day of summer, when Tom confronts Daisy and Gatsby about their affair. Fitzgerald's prose borders on poetry; it is distinctly elegant and complex, carefully crafted, and often dense and cerebral.

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