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

Rumors about Gatsby continue to spread throughout New York. A reporter arrives unexpectedly at Gatsby's doorstep to question him, an event which officiates Gatsby as a city-wide celebrity.

Although Gatsby reveals his true identity to Nick after the events of Chapter VI, Nick includes the information in the chapter. Gatsby was born James Gatz to farmer parents in North Dakota, and changed his name to Jay Gatsby upon seeing millionaire Dan Cody's yacht drop anchor in Lake Superior, where Gatsby worked as a fisherman after dropping out of St. Olaf college. Gatsby drops out of college after only two weeks namely because he detests his job as a janitor, which he works to pay his tuition. Gatsby rows out to Cody to warn him of an oncoming wind storm, and Cody, impressed by Gatsby,adopts the young man as his protg. For five years, they sail to exotic destinations, until Cody dies. He wills Gatsby twenty-five thousand dollars, but the inheritance money is won in a legal battle by Cody's mistress, Ella Kaye. Gatsby does not drink alcohol because he witnessed its negative effects on Cody. Gatsby admires Cody and his wealth, and aspires to attain such status for himself.

Nick doesn't see Gatsby for several weeks after the reunion with Daisy. Nick goes to see Gatsby and his mansion, and is shocked to find Tom there with two friends, Mr. and Mrs. Sloane, who have paid Gatsby an unexpected visit. They have arrived on horseback, and Mrs. Sloane asks Nick and Gatsby to attend her party that evening, though her invitation is insincere. Nick declines, but, naively, Gatsby accepts. Tom and the Sloans leave without Gatsby, even though they had planned to leave together.

Tom accompanies Daisy to Gatsby's party the following Saturday so that he may keep an eye on her. Daisy's relationship with Gatsby makes Tom uneasy, although he does not yet know of their romantic involvement. Neither Nick nor Daisy has a good time at the party. The mood that evening is unpleasant and oppressive. Afterward, Nick warns Gatsby not to expect too much of Daisy, and that he cannot recreate the past. Gatsby, however, insists that he can, and makes it clear that he intends to.

Detailed Summary

Rumors about Gatsby continue to spread throughout New York. A reporter arrives unexpectedly at Gatsby's doorstep to question him, an event which officiates Gatsby as a city-wide celebrity.

Although Gatsby reveals his true identity to Nick after the events of Chapter VI, Nick includes the information in the chapter.. Gatsby was born James Gatz to unsuccessful farm people in North Dakota. He had changed it to Jay Gatsby upon seeing Dan Cody's yacht drop anchor in Lake Superior. Gatsby had been roaming the shore, working as a clam digger and salmon fisher, and when he noticed Cody's yacht. Gatsby borrowed a row-boat and rowed out to Cody to forewarn him that his boat might soon be destroyed by a treacherous wind storm.

Cody, a millionaire by means of Montana copper, is impressed by Gatsby's thoughtfulness, aptitude, and ambition, and adopts him as his protg and assistant. Together, Cody and Gatsby sail to exotic destinations. During his time with Cody, Gatsby develops an immediate appreciation for wealth and life's fineries. They have been partners for five years when Cody suddenly dies, a week after his new mistress, Ella Kaye, has come aboard.

In his will, Cody had left twenty-five thousand dollars to Gatsby, but Gatsby had not seen a penny of it. Ella Kaye had won all of the inheritance money in a legal battle. Gatsby resigns himself to a life of great wealth and success, though he knows he will have to earn it on his own. He resolves to become an entirely self-made man. Cody, in his life, was a heavy drinker; Gatsby does not often drink alcohol, even in small amounts, because he has witnessed its negative effects on Cody.

Nick does not see Gatsby for several weeks after he learns of Gatsby's true life history. Following this period of separation, Nick goes over to Gatsby's mansion and is surprised to find Tom there, with a man named Sloane and his wife. They had arrived on horseback, unexpectedly. Gatsby invites them in for drinks, and they make tense conversation. Mrs. Sloane extends an insincere invitation to a dinner party she is throwing that evening, asking Gatsby and Nick to come. Nick declines, but, naively, Gatsby accepts. Tom is disdainful of Gatsby's acceptance of the clearly insincere invitation. He wonders where Gatsby met Daisy, and remarks that women "run around too much." Tom and Mrs. and Mr. Sloane leave without Gatsby while he is out of the room, asking that Nick tell him they couldn't wait.

Tom escorts Daisy to Gatsby's next party. Nick attends the party as well, though he does not enjoy himself. Daisy does not enjoy herself, either, except for the half hour she spends alone with Gatsby. She is offended by West Egg and its lack of sophistication. Tom is suspicious of Gatsby, and disapproves of him.

Gatsby worries that Daisy did not have a good time at his party. He expects nothing less of her than to go to Tom and tell him that she has never loved him. He wishes that he and Daisy may return to Louisville and marry at her house, as if their five years of separation had never passed. Nick advises Gatsby not to expect too much of Daisy, and that he cannot repeat the past. Incredulous, Gatsby retorts that "of course" you can repeat the past, and says, decidedly, that he will fix everything just the way it was before.

Analysis

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-and, moreover, intends--to recover the days of his youth when his romance with Daisy smoldered.

Gatsby endures only two weeks of schooling at unprestigious St. Olaf college before dropping out, namely because he detests his job as a janitor, and feels that such work is beneath him. Gatsby is convinced that he is capable of more, and that he deserves a better life. Gatsby's intense dislike of such menial work is an early indication of his obsession with attaining wealth, power, and success.

Gatsby's desire for wealth and luxury is realized, in part, upon his encounter with Dan Cody. Cody adopts Gatsby, and treats him almost as a son. Gatsby undoubtedly looks to Cody as the defining paternal figure of his youth. Following Cody's death, Gatsby models himself after his mentor, also a self-made millionaire.

Gatsby exhibits the utmost self-control, but also extreme self-absorption in his pursuit of wealth and success. He is fixated on his dreams, and entertains a wild imagination. Gatsby's illusions, however, are not merely passing reveries; Gatsby intends to realize even his most faraway dreams, including rekindling his passionate romance with his beloved Daisy. He expects that their newfound romance will be as perfect as it is in his dreams.

Gatsby's love for Daisy borders on obsession. As he tells Nick, he has no doubt that he can revive the past. Moreover, he intends to recreate it, and will do whatever it takes to do so. He pursues Daisy as he has pursued his material wealth, with relentless greed and ambition, and will stop at nothing until he has won the conquest. He does not consider that he is expecting too much of Daisy, for, as far as he is concerned, she is nothing short of perfection. To Gatsby, however, Daisy has exists more as an immaculate dream, rather than an actual, flawed woman.

Tom's uneasiness about Daisy's friendship with Gatsby is indicative of his jealousy and possessiveness. He is not yet aware that Daisy and Gatsby are romantically involved, or that they ever have been in the past, though he is upset that Daisy has the freedom to see whomever she pleases, whenever she pleases. Tom feels undermined because she has developed a relationship, a life, apart from him and their marriage.

Daisy feels uncomfortable at Gatsby's party not because Tom is there, but, primarily, because she is in the company of the uncouth "new rich" who inhabit West Egg. Daisy is somewhat offended by the raunchy, raw behavior of those who attend Gatsby's party, most of whom, as she remarks, have arrived uninvited. Again, the novel presents a clear demarcation between the blue-blooded, well-bred wealthy of East Egg, where Daisy and Tom reside, and the flashy "new rich" of West Egg. The blue-bloods of East Egg behave with elegance and class; Daisy is constantly acting to maintain her high-society status. Conversely, the new rich of West Egg behave in an altogether different manner, partying wildly and indulging excessively in the delights their money provides. Daisy's uneasiness at Gatsby's party serves as evidence that they are each from very different social worlds.

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