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.

Brief Summary

Nick is invited to and attends one of Gatsby's extravagant parties. Nick feels awkward and does not recognize any of the guests until he sees Jordan Baker. He and Jordan attempt to find Gatsby, but instead discover Owl Eyes, a drunken, middle-aged man in large spectacles who marvels at the "real" books in Gatsby's library. Nick meets Gatsby later in the evening by coincidence when Gatsby recognizes him as a fellow soldier from World War I. During the party, Gatsby does not drink, nor does he socialize very much with his guests. Nick finds Gatsby amicable, if absurdly formal.

Rumors about Gatsby circulate wildly among party guests, most of whom have shown up uninvited. It is rumored that Gatsby once killed a man in cold blood, that he was a spy for the Germans during the war, and that he is an "Oxford man." None of the guests seem to know Gatsby's true background, which abets much speculation.

Gatsby requests to speak with Jordan privately. Jordan later tells Nick that Gatsby has divulged an incredible secret, which she will not reveal. Leaving the party, Nick sees an car overturned in a roadside ditch. The passengers, one of whom is Owl Eyes, are both unharmed, but very drunk.

Nick is lonely in New York, though he has grown to like the city. He and Jordan date casually, and he develops a serious fondness for her, despite her relentless dishonesty. For a moment, he thinks he loves her. Nick prides himself on his own honesty,and remarks that he is one of the few honest people he has ever known.

Detailed Summary

Nick often overhears the indulgent parties thrown by his neighbor, Gatsby. He notices Gatsby's abundance of servants restoring order to the property on the days following his wild parties. Before the parties, crates of fresh fruit arrive from New York, and a corps of caterers transform Gatsby's garden into a lavishly decorated banquet hall. Fine food and liquor is served and exquisitely presented on buffet tables. A live orchestra provides the music. On these summer evenings, Gatsby's chauffer shuttles party guests to and from the mansion in his grand Rolls Royce limousine. It is these swanky parties that make Gatsby the gossip of New York. Nick is formally invited to one of the parties when Gatsby's chauffer delivers an invitation to him at his home.

At the party, Nick initially feels somewhat awkward and alone, and immediately attempts to find Gatsby. He believes that he is one of the few guests who has actually been invited to the party, and that most of the others do not know Gatsby at all. The party is conducted with a circus-like extravagance; brazen with liquor, guests dance, drink, and gossip freely. It is a hedonistic spectacle. Lonely, Nick retreats to the cocktail table where he intends to get roaring drunk.

Nick does not recognize any of the other guests until he spots Jordan Baker. He attaches himself to her so that he will not feel quite so out of place. Rumors about Gatsby's personal history circulate among party guests. Nick and Jordan sit at a table with two girls in twin yellow dresses. One of the girls, Lucille, who Jordan recognizes from a previous party, tells the group that Gatsby sent her an extraordinary, expensive gown to replace the one she had torn at another of his lavish celebrations. The other girl in yellow raises suspicion about Gatsby, noting that he does not want any trouble with anyone. Further, she has been told that Gatsby once killed a man in cold blood. Lucille insists that that Gatsby was a German spy during World War I, but the other girl protests that he fought in the American army. Jordan says that Gatsby is reportedly an Oxford man (a graduate of the elite Oxford University in London, England), though she does not believe this is true.

Nick and Jordan leave the dinner table 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 shocked that the books are real, not simply for display.

Nick becomes slightly drunk as the night continues, and his perception grows rosy. A man who he does not know recognizes him as a former soldier. The man is Gatsby, who claims he is a also a former soldier. Throughout their conversation, Gatsby continually addresses Nick not by name, but as old sport. Nick notes that Gatsby has a rare, reassuring smile and a strangely formal manner of speaking. Gatsby appears slightly over the age of thirty, just a year or two older than Nick. He ceases his conversation with Nick to take a seemingly important phone call from Chicago. Gatsby does not drink, nor does he socialize very much with his guests.

Gatsby requests to see Jordan, alone. An hour later, Nick sees the pair emerge from the library. Gatsby appears strikingly eager, and Jordan tells Nick that Gatsby has just told her an incredible secret. She does not share the secret with Nick, but asks him to call her. Before departing, Nick says farewell to Gatsby, who invites him to take a ride in his hydroplane the following morning. Nick accepts, and on his way out the door, sees an overturned car in a roadside ditch. Both passengers, one of whom is Owl Eyes, are unharmed, but very drunk.

Nick explains that his life is consumed mostly by work, which he finds dull. He begins to appreciate New York for its liveliness, though he sometimes feels lonely, particularly when, after work, he hears the laughter of passersby beginning an evening of fun.

Nick does not see Jordan again until midsummer, when the two begin dating casually. He develops a fondness for her, despite her chronic dishonesty. Nick remarks that this characteristic is forgivable in a woman, and that he, himself, is one of the few honest people he has ever known. For a moment, Nick says, he thinks he loves Jordan. She is a publicly recognized professional golfer, though her career is sullied by scandal. It is rumored that during a tournament, she had moved her ball to win a game.

Analysis

Gatsby's extravagant parties exemplify the excess and hedonism characterized by the 1920's Jazz Age, when America's traditional moral values were challenged. The Jazz Age comes on the heels of the emotional and economic devastation of World War I, and thus celebrates indulgence in the pleasures which most were deprived of during the war.

Although Nick is initially repulsed by such indulgences, he now exhibits less resistance to hedonistic behavior, for he gets drunk (presumably, for the third time in his life) at Gatsby's party, and does not object to Jordan's dishonest character. Moreover, he has developed a greater appreciation for New York, a "racy," "adventurous" city, which he now finds exhilarating. Nick's moralistic Mid-Western values, challenged by the libertine values of the East, are changing with the influence of his New York cohorts.

The purpose of Chapter III is to introduce both Nick and the reader to the title character, Jay Gatsby, who, until now, has only been spoken of. Although Gatsby is finally introduced, he is as mysterious as ever. Rumors about Gatsby's past swirl among the party guests. There is much speculation as to his true history, though no one can give definitive information about his background. Such speculation and suspicion serve only to create more curiosity about Gatsby, whose persona is mysterious, yet alluring. Interest in Gatsby's history is piqued by his admission of an intimate secret to Jordan.

It is unclear how Gatsby has made his fortune, though it is likely that he is not from a wealthy family, as his garish mansion is located in less fashionable West Egg, a colony for the "new rich." Generally, the "new rich" lack the class and proper manners of the blue-bloods of East Egg, though Gatsby is exquisitely formal in his demeanor, speech, and attire. Gatsby does not seem to have any friends or acquaintances of his own, as most of his guests are uninvited. He stands alone at his own party, a solitary figure among flagrant social activity. It seems that he and Nick are equally lonely.

The themes of dishonesty and deception among the upper class permeate the novel, and are evident in Chapter III. Although Nick proclaims that he is one of the most honest people he has ever known, he is strangely unconcerned by Jordan's incurable dishonesty. The theme of deception is also intimated by the scene in Gatsby's library, in which Owl Eyes expresses delight and surprise that Gatsby's books are real. His surprise indicates that he had expected the books would be fake, flimsy proof of Gatsby's supposed Oxford education, mere veneers for the sake of appearance. Appearances are of prime importance to both the "new rich" of West Egg and the well-bred aristocracy of East Egg, further suggesting that the wealthy conceal their secrets and agonies behind a curtain of luxury and riches.

You'll need to sign up to view the entire study guide.

Sign Up Now, It's FREE