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

Gatsby is rumored to be a bootlegger by some of his party guests. One morning, Gatsby unexpectedly visits Nick and invites him 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, evidence which alleviates Nick's doubts about the plausability of Gatsby's story.

In New York, Gatsby and Nick have lunch with Meyer Wolfsheim, a friend and business partner of Gatsby's. 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 Daisy had married Tom because Gatsby was overseas in the war. Jordan reports that on the night before her wedding, Daisy was drunk and hysterical, clutching a letter from Gatsby in her hand. Through Jordan, Gatsby requests that Nick invite Daisy to tea at his house so that he may reunite with her and show her his mansion. 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.

Detailed Summary

Rumors about Gatsby continue to swirl among the guests who enjoy his lavish parties. He is rumored to be a bootlegger and a murderer. Nick keeps a running tally of the guests, noting that a man by the name of Klipspringer seems a permanent fixture at the mansion, and is thus known as "the boarder." Nick suspects that Klipsringer has no other home. Gatsby's guests are the toast of New York, all affluent and influential people.

Early one morning, Gatsby visits Nick unexpectedly and asks him to lunch in New York. Gatsby drives them into the city in his expensive car. During the drive, Gatsby asks Nick his opinion of him. When Nick evades Gatsby's inquiry with generalizations, Gatsby interrupts and volunteers his abbreviated life story.

Gatsby claims that he comes from a wealthy Mid-Western family, and that all of his relatives are now dead. He tells Nick that he was educated at Oxford, and that he was highly decorated for his service in World War I. Further, he says that he spent time in glamorous European capitols, collecting jewels, hunting game, and painting, in an effort to forget "something very sad" that had happened in his past. Nick is skeptical of Gatsby's story, and when he asks where in the Mid-West Gatsby is from, Gatsby replies, "San Francisco." Unprovoked, Gatsby produces a photograph of himself and fellow students at Oxford, and the medal awarded for his valor during the war. This physical evidence alleviates some of Nick's skepticism about Gatsby's tale.

As they drive through the valley of ashes, Gatsby is pulled over for speeding. He pulls a white card from his wallet and shows it to the police officer. The officer apologizes profusely, and Gatsby drives away. Gatsby tells Nick that Jordan will discuss an important matter with him, regarding Gatsby's "sad" past, during his and Jordan's date. Nick is perturbed that Gatsby has intruded upon his private plans with Jordan, but does not mention this to Gatsby. He is more annoyed with Gatsby than interested in his personal history.

Nick and Gatsby have lunch with Gatsby's friend, Meyer Wolfsheim, who is said to have rigged the 1919 World Series. Wolfsheim thinks that Nick has arrived to initiate a business "gonnection," but Gatsby corrects him, saying that Nick is not the man, but a friend. Over lunch, Nick tells Gatsby that he would prefer it if Gatsby were straightforward with him, and says that he dislikes mysteries. Wolfsheim praises Gatsby, who he claims he has known for "several" years. Wolfsheim echoes that Gatsby is an Oggsford man, and remarks off-handedly that Gatsby would never even look at another man's wife.

Nick spots Tom dining at another table in the restaurant, and introduces him to Gatsby. Nick converses with Tom briefly, and when he looks to where Gatsby was standing only moments before, he notices that Gatsby has disappeared.

Later that afternoon, over tea at the Plaza Hotel, Jordan divulges Gatsby's secret to Nick. She tells him that Daisy and Gatsby were once madly in love, and that Daisy chose to marry Tom instead of Gatsby because Gatsby was overseas in the war. Daisy was the most popular girl in Louisville, where she and Jordan were raised. On the night before her wedding, Daisy clutched and a letter from Gatsby tight in her hand, refusing to let go. Although she does not drink, Daisy got very drunk that night and cried hysterically, urging Jordan to tell Tom she'd changed her mind about marrying him. Despite Daisy's misgivings, she married Tom the following day. Shortly thereafter, Tom cheated on Daisy with a hotel chambermaid.

Jordan insists that Gatsby purchased his mansion on West Egg to be close to Daisy, and asks that Nick comply with Gatsby's request to invite Daisy over to his house for tea. Gatsby fears that if he invites Daisy himself, he will frighten her, so he instead wants to arrange a meeting between with Daisy at Nick's house. Jordan remarks that Gatsby had hoped Daisy would appear at one of his parties, though she never had, and that he wants her to see his house. Nick recalls when he had first seen Gatsby, standing on his lawn, arms outstretched toward a green light across the water, and concludes that it must have been the light at the end of Daisy's dock.

Analysis

Chapter IV increases both Nick's and the reader's curiosity about Gatsby. It is clear that Nick is skeptical of Gatsby's flimsy stories, even when Gatsby produces tangible evidence of his past accomplishments. Gatsby tells his life story as a monologue, as if it is a tired speech he has given many times over. The story he tells Nick is no more than a myriad of vague generalities which, collectively, create an unlikely history. Initially, Gatsby attempts to manipulate Nick into asking him to divulge his personal history, but when Nick, unaware of Gatsby's intentions, does not cooperate, Gatsby divulges his life story, unprovoked. Similarly, Gatsby produces physical proof of his past--the photograph from Oxford and the medal of valor from World War I--despite Nick's relative disinterest. Although Nick has not displayed any outward sign that he doubts Gatsby's story, Gatsby is noticeably defensive about the events of his past, and feels he must prove himself to Nick. It is unclear, as of yet, why Gatsby feels this way, though it is certain that he is hiding something.

Although it is still unknown how Gatsby has made his fortune, Chapter IV provides possible clues about the source of his income. In the beginning of the chapter, Nick notes that some of Gatsby's party guests have gossiped that he is a bootlegger, someone who sells liquor illegally during Prohibition, when the sale and purchase of alcohol were outlawed by the government. Wolfsheim, Gatsby's friend and presumed business partner, is a suspected member of the Jewish mafia, although it is never overtly revealed. Gatsby's association with Wolfsheim, an undoubtedly dubious character, is an indication of his shady business dealings and fraudulent life story. Gatsby's story is most implausible when Nick inquires what area of the Mid-West he is from, and Gatsby answers that he is from San Francisco, a city in northern California .

Gatsby is certainly a mysterious figure, and, accordingly, has a ghostly quality. After shaking hands with Tom at the restaurant, he disappears from Nick's vision, as he did when Nick first saw him in Chapter I.

One true shred of Gatsby's past is revealed, however, when Jordan, per Gatsby's request, tells Nick of the very sad thing that Gatsby has tried, unsuccessfully, to overcome; Gatsby cannot get over his love for Daisy, with whom he had a passionate romance years ago, before he became a soldier in World War I. Gatsby is adamant not only that Daisy not only see him, but see his mansion, as well. Though little information about their past affair is revealed, Gatsby clearly wants Daisy to see his mansion so that she may witness his enormous wealth, and know that he can is worthy of her. Chapter IV also discloses that Gatsby had thrown his wild parties in hopes that Daisy might appear at one of them, though she never had. In Chapter IV, Nick realizes the significance of one of the most prominent symbols in the novel, the green light at the end of Daisy's dock, toward which he saw Gatsby reaching with trembling arms.

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