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

Tom and Daisy host lunch at their mansion for Nick, Gatsby, and Jordan. The day is unbearably hot, undoubtedly the hottest day of the summer. Tom notices Daisy and Gatsby staring intimately at one another, and thus discovers that they are having an affair.

Daisy suggests they all go to New York to seek distraction from the heat. Tom insists that he and Gatsby trade cars: Tom will drive Gatsby's car into the city, and Gatsby will drive Tom's car. Tom urges Daisy to ride with him, but she insists upon riding with Gatsby.

In New York, the group rents a room at the Plaza Hotel, where Tom confronts Gatsby about his affair with Daisy. Gatsby insists that Daisy has never loved Tom, and that she is in love with Gatsby, alone. Daisy reluctantly agrees, then recants, saying she once loved Tom, but that she now loves Gatsby. Distraught, she urges the men to stop arguing.

Daisy and Gatsby drive back to Long Island together; Tom chauffeurs Nick and Jordan. Driving through the valley of ashes, Tom and his passengers come upon an accident scene. Myrtle Wilson has been killed by a hit-and-run driver of an expensive yellow car. The car is Gatsby's, though Daisy was behind the wheel when it killed Myrtle. Gatsby is prepared to shoulder all of the blame for the accident.

That night, Gatsby hides in the bushes around Tom and Daisy's mansion, ensuring Daisy's safety. He sends Nick to check on her, and Nick sees Daisy and Tom in the kitchen, having a civil conversation. He is certain that they are conspiring.

Detailed Summary

Gatsby no longer throws wild parties each weekend. To prevent gossip about his affair with Daisy, Gatsby replaces all of his servants with strange, seedy characters refered by Meyer Wolfsheim.

Nick senses that something important is going on when both Gatsby and Daisy request his presence at lunch the following afternoon, on the hottest day of the summer. Nick takes the train to Daisy and Tom's mansion in East Egg. There, he finds Daisy and Jordan lounging on the couch in the parlor, garbed in flowing white dresses. Gatsby stands in the center of the room. Jordan remarks that Tom is in the kitchen, on the telephone with his mistress, Myrtle.

After his phone call, Tom makes a loud entrance into the parlor, and extends his hand to Gatsby with false friendliness. Daisy requests that Tom leave the room to make them some drinks, and when he does, she kisses Gatsby and professes her love for him. Daisy suggests that Jordan do the same to Nick, but Jordan resists, calling Daisy a "vulgar girl." Just then, the nurse enters the room with Daisy's two-year-old daughter, Pammy, who is dressed impeccably in white. The little girl wears powder make-up and is well disciplined. Daisy pays her daughter little attention, except to show her off to her guests. Gatsby, meanwhile, looks at the child in disbelief, as if shocked that she actually exists.

Tom returns with cocktails and the group makes awkward conversation. They walk in the garden, and Gatsby points out to Tom that his home is just across the water (Long Island Sound). After an uncomfortable lunch, Daisy suggests that they all take a trip to New York City to escape the unbearable heat. Tom notices Daisy and Gatsby staring intimately at one another, and thus discovers that they are having an affair. Tom is flabbergasted, but refrains from immediate confrontation. Abruptly, he agrees to go to New York, and hurries everyone into motion.

Tom retreats inside to find whiskey to bring with them, and Gatsby and Nick talk outside. Gatsby remarks that he is rendered speechless in Tom's house. When Nick begins to comment on the musical quality of Daisy's voice, Gatsby says that it is a voice "full of money."

Gatsby suggests that they all ride to New York in his car, but Tom insists that they switch cars, instead. Gatsby protests, saying that his car is low on gas, but Tom persists. Tom pushes Daisy towards Gatsby's car, but she resists, and tells Tom to drive Nick and Jordan. She and Gatsby will ride together. Tom drives Nick and Jordan to New York in Gatsby's car, and Gatsby drives Daisy to the city in Tom's car.

On the way to New York, Tom confronts Nick and Jordan about Gatsby and Daisy's affair, then realizes that they are already aware of it. They stop for gas at Wilson's garage in the valley of ashes, under the watchful eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg. Wilson tells Tom that he is sick, for he has just discovered that Myrtle has been having an affair with, and that he intends to move with her to the west. Meanwhile, Myrtle peers at them from a window above the garage and stares with jealousy at Jordan, who she mistakenly believes is Tom's wife. Driving away, Tom panics, realizing he has lost both his wife and his mistress.

The group reunites at the Plaza Hotel, where Tom confronts Gatsby about his affair with Daisy. Tom begins the confrontation by mocking Gatsby for his use of "old sport" when addressing another man. Daisy tries, unsuccessfully, to interrupt the escalating argument. Tom continues to press Gatsby, interrogating him about his past. When he questions Gatsby about his Oxford education, Gatsby admits that he cannot honestly call himself an "Oxford man" because he attended Oxford for merely five months, and at no charge, an opportunity afforded to him and many other soldiers by his service in World War I.

Soon thereafter, Tom reveals Gatsby's shady business dealings as a bootlegger.

Directly, Tom accuses Gatsby of having an affair with Daisy. Tom, in his rage, seems somewhat foolish, and Nick has to stifle laughter every time he speaks. Gatsby tells Tom that Daisy has never loved him, but that she is in love with Gatsby, alone. Further, he tells Tom that Daisy only married him because Gatsby was too poor, and Daisy was tired of waiting for him to come home from the war. Tom denies this, though he admits to past infidelities. Daisy reveals that it is because of Tom's past affairs that they left Chicago. Reluctantly, Daisy says that she has never loved Tom. Nick and Jordan try to leave, but Gatsby insists they remain.

The argument between Gatsby and Tom intensifies. Frustrated, Daisy exclaims that Gatsby wants too much from her; she loves him, and that should be enough, despite what has transpired in the past. She admits that she had loved Tom at one time, but that she had loved Gatsby, too.

Nick remembers that it is his thirtieth birthday, which he finds rather distressing.

On the drive back to Long Island, Tom, Nick, and Jordan discover that Myrtle Wilson has been hit by a car and killed in the valley of ashes. The driver had fled the scene without stopping. Myrtle had rushed into the street while fighting with Wilson, and had been killed on impact by a speeding yellow car, as identified by witnesses. The car, Nick discovers, belongs to Gatsby. Wilson is devastated by his wife's death.

Gatsby tells Nick that Daisy was behind the wheel when the car hit Myrtle, but that he will accept all of the blame. He does not know that Myrtle has been killed until Nick tells him so. Gatsby lurks in the bushes around Daisy and Tom's house, ensuring Daisy is safe from Tom's volatile temper. Gatsby asks that Nick check on her, and, through the window, he sees Daisy and Tom having a civil conversation in the kitchen. Nick senses an unmistakable intimacy between them, and is certain that they are conspiring about something. Gatsby tells Nick that he will stay on watch until Daisy goes to bed.

Analysis

On the hottest day of the summer, tensions among Gatsby, Tom, and Daisy explode. Chapter VII features one of the novel's essential themes, that of oppression, which is characterized by the blistering weather. Tom, a misogynist, controlling man, oppresses Daisy throughout their marriage. He is upset that she has a life apart from him, even before he discovers her affair with Gatsby. He sees no problem in carrying on extramarital affairs of his own, which he admits to and, furthermore, excuses, during his argument with Gatsby at the Plaza Hotel, though he feels victimized and outraged by his wife's infidelity. Likewise, Gatsby, too, oppresses Daisy. Though he loves her, almost obsessively, his desire for her is smothering. He insists that she tell Tom that she has never loved him, and that she loves and has only ever loved Gatsby. Gatsby's insistence prompts Daisy to become overwhelmed and tormented by the conflict.

As Nick anticipates, Gatsby's expectations of Daisy are too high, and Daisy tells him so during the argument at the Plaza. Gatsby is so fixated on recapturing the past, that he feels he must eradicate all that has transpired during the five years he and Daisy have been apart, including her three-year marriage to Tom. Nick's prediction that Gatsby's dream of Daisy will soon be shattered is actualized when Daisy exclaims, in frustration, that she has loved both Tom and Gatsby, but at different times in her life. Until this point, Gatsby has been in total denial of Daisy's relationship with Tom. Although their marriage is unhappy, Daisy has loved Tom in the past, and Gatsby must come to terms with this.

Daisy seems indifferent to her young daughter, and shows her off as if she were nothing more than a pretty doll. The child is clothed primly in a white dress, like those worn by her mother and Jordan, and wears powder on her face. Although she is only two years old, the girl shows the utmost discipline and restraint. This scene depicts Daisy's self-absorption and corresponding apathy toward her daughter. The child looks exactly like her mother, but miniaturized; she wears the same dress, and the same make-up, and displays the manners of a proper woman. The girl, like Daisy, is oppressed by the demands and expectations of her socio-economic class.

Throughout the novel, Nick comments that Daisy's voice is magically lyrical and charming, though he cannot describe precisely why it is so. Gatsby, however, describes Daisy's voice with pointed accuracy: her voice, he says, is "full of money." Daisy has been trained to speak as she does, just as her daughter, however young she may be, is in training to become like her mother, a married, aristocratic woman. Daisy's voice is full of money--and full of falsity. Her charming pitch is an integral part of her aristocratic act, the part she must play as a woman of class.

Just as Daisy is oppressed by Gatsby's unreasonable expectations of her, Gatsby is oppressed by his obsession with her. Gatsby's unrelenting desire for Daisy serves as the motivation for his every action. Gatsby is portrayed as a man with unstoppable will power and unfaltering self-control, who will stop at nothing to achieve his desires. Chapter VII, however, paints Gatsby in a different light. He is suddenly out of control of his future, and appears somewhat pathetic, as Tom mocks him during their confrontation, and as he waits outside, in Daisy's shrubbery, to be sure that she is safe from Tom. As soon as Gatsby's dream of Daisy was realized upon their reunion in Chapter V, his grandest illusion, his sole motivator, was destroyed.

Similarly, Tom's life spins out of control in Chapter VII. He realizes that, in a single day, he has lost both his wife and his mistress.

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