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.

I see it as a night scene by El Greco: a hundred houses, at once conventional and grotesque, crouching under a sullen, overhanging sky and lustreless moon. In the foreground four solemn men in dress suits are walking along the sidewalk with a stretcher on which lies a drunken woman in a white evening dress. Her hand, which dangles over the side, sparkles with cold jewels. Gravely the men turn at a house-the wrong house. But no one knows the woman's name, and no one cares.

In Chapter IX, Nick reflects on the opulent, "new rich" community of West Egg, Long Island as a skewed dream: a drunken woman in a white dress is taken from her house on a stretcher, her arm hanging limply over the side, sparkling with "cold jewels." "No one knows the woman's name, and no one cares," says Nick. Nick's vision exemplifies the cold, impersonal, and selfish ways of the upper class. The aristocracy of Long Island does not value human social relationships, but places prime importance on money and material wealth. Thus, human kindnesses are obsolete, and social interactions among the aristocrats of Long Island are meaningless, empty of genuine feeling.

The woman's "cold jewels" sparkle, indicating her material wealth, though they are absent of human warmth. She is as nondescript and conventional as the grotesque mansions, each one a semblance of the others, one more aristocrat with an impressive bank account, but an absolute lack of true friends.

Nick's vision of the woman on the stretcher, with no friends to care for her, recalls Gatsby's lack of friends, and the low attendance at his funeral. Nick tries earnestly, however unsuccessfully, to find friends and acquaintances to attend Gatsby's funeral, though everyone he contacts declines the invitation. Despite his immense wealth, Gatsby dies miserable, unfulfilled, and alone.

Nick's lamentation speaks to the moral bankruptcy of capitalism, and the downfall of the American Dream, two major themes which intertwine throughout the novel. Fitzgerald communicates that the traditional American Dream of "roast beef and apple pie" has been warped by capitalism, transformed from the pure-intentioned quest for sufficiency and satisfaction to a greedy, gluttonous, and ruthless crusade for class and material wealth.

Well, she was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. All right,' I said, I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope she'll be a fool-that's the best ting a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.

In Chapter I, Daisy admits to Nick, somewhat ashamedly, her reaction to the birth of her daughter. Despite her vibrancy, Daisy is unhappy in her seemingly perfect, materially rich life. Her marriage to Tom is failed and empty of emotion, namely because Tom has conducted indiscreet affairs with numerous women. Currently, he is having an affair with Myrtle Wilson. Tom speaks with Myrtle on the telephone as Daisy relates her sentiments to Nick, after they have had dinner together at Tom and Daisy's mansion in fashionable East Egg.

Together, she and Tom have a two-year-old daughter, for whom Daisy shows little affection, except to praise her pretty white dress. Daisy wants her daughter to grow up a beautiful little fool because she thinks that's the best thing a girl can be in this world--beautiful, so that she can be provided for by a man, and foolish so that she won't know when she's been hurt. Daisy's unhappiness indicates a significant theme in The Great Gatsby : one can have all the material wealth in the world, but, beneath that veneer of perfection, suffer misery and dissatisfaction. Things are not always as they appear. To guard against further emotional damage, Daisy, herself, plays the part of the "beautiful fool." She masks her discontent with a flimsy facade of girlish imprudence.

He was left with his singularly appropriate education; the vague contour of Jay Gatsby had filled out to the substantiality of a man.

This excerpt appears in Chapter VI, as Nick describes the true events of Gatsby's past. Gatsby lives a life and projects a persona he has deliberately created for himself, a creation which began when Gatsby first meets his millionaire mentor, Dan Cody. Gatsby is working as a fisherman on the shores of Lake Superior, and rows out to Cody's yacht to warn him of an oncoming wind storm. Cody is impressed by Gatsby, and adopts him as his protg.

Cody unknowingly inspires the impressionable young man to change his name from the simple "Jay Gatz" to the sophisticated Jay Gatsby. From this point on, Jay Gatz ceases to exist; Gatsby denies his humble past as the uneducated son of two North Dakota farmers and creates for himself an entirely new persona. Upon meeting Cody, he is reborn a new man: the respectable sophisticate, Jay Gatsby.

They sail together to exotic destinations until Cody's death, five years after their first meeting. During his time with Cody, Gatsby develops an immediate appreciation for wealth and life's fineries. Cody exposes Gatsby to his lavish lifestyle, and, thereon, Gatsby is enamored with luxury, determined to live such a life himself.

In his will, Cody had left twenty-five thousand dollars to Gatsby, but Gatsby had not seen a penny of it. Ella Kaye, Cody's mistress, had won all of his inheritance in a legal battle. Gatsby resigns himself to a life of great wealth and success, though must earn it on his own. He is an entirely self-made man--and self-made millionaire.

It is Cody who provides Gatsby with the "singularly appropriate education" of how to be wealthy and sophisticated. He provides Gatsby the tools with which to create himself anew, and to substantiate the "vague contour" of his illusion.

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy-they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made

Nick passes ultimate judgment on Tom and Daisy Buchanan in Chapter IX after he runs into Tom on Fifth Avenue in late October, just prior to his departure from New York.

Nick concludes that Tom and Daisy are "careless people," people who have little, if any, regard for their affect on those who enter into and out of their lives. Like the other Eastern aristocrats, Tom and Daisy are inherently selfish, and thus reckless in their relationships. Undoubtedly, it is their wealth that makes them careless, as they use their money to shirk their depraved actions.

Since his first encounter with Tom in Chapter I, Nick has expressed unerring disgust at Tom's brutish behavior, though he remains cordial during their personal encounters. In Chapter IV, however, Nick shows his disgust openly, first refusing to shake Tom's hand, then relenting when he realizes how pitiful a man Tom truly is. Nick equates Tom's behavior with that of a child who does not know better. Tom is morally ignorant, and, like his affluent neighbors, is so blinded by his greed and selfishness, that he cannot distinguish right from wrong.

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-tomorrow, we will run faster, stretch out our arms fartherAnd one fine morning-- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

This quote, excerpted from Chapter IX, features the green dock light, one of the novel's most important symbols. an important symbol. The quote also highlights an essential theme of The Great Gatsby : the struggle against the past.

The green light, which shines from the end of Daisy's dock in East Egg, and is visible from the shoreline of Gatsby's garden in West Egg, is a symbolic representation of Gatsby's desires, and his hopes for the future. The green light is a clear symbol of Gatsby's yearning for Daisy.

Gatsby's first appearance in the novel occurs at the end of Chapter I, when Nick sees him standing on his lawn by the shore, arms outstretched and trembling toward a green light across the water. Nick assumes that the light shines from the end of a dock in neighboring East Egg. Nick's suspicions are soon confirmed when he learns that the light is indeed the light at the end of Daisy's Dock, and that Gatsby has moved to West Egg to be near her.

Fitzgerald's choice to make the light green, the color of money, was deliberate. Wealth and grandeur are Gatsby's greatest desires, apart from Daisy. Daisy, herself, embodies the wealth and sophistication for which Gatsby yearns.

The final lines of the excerpt call attention to Gatsby's struggle against his past. The boats, as they struggle against the current, mirror Gatsby's own unsuccessful struggle against his complex and mysterious history. At once, Gatsby embraces and rejects select parts of his past. He denies his true, humble roots as the poor, uneducated son of two Mid-Western farmers, yet he yearns- nd, moreover, intends--to recover the days of his youth when his romance with Daisy smoldered. Like the boats against the current, Gatsby tries earnestly to deny his humble Mid-Western past, and to overcome it, though his efforts ultimately backfire.

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