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 and Gatsby talk on Gatsby's lawn. Gatsby tells Nick that he had stayed outside of Daisy's house, keeping watch for her safety, until four thirty that morning, but that nothing of note had transpired. Nick advises Gatsby to flee New York, but Gatsby refuses to without first speaking with Daisy.

Gatsby tells Nick that he has felt married to Daisy since the first time they made love, and that she married Tom because her family pressured her to marry him while Gatsby was away at war. Gatsby was penniless at the time, and though he tried to prove otherwise to Daisy, she saw Tom as a pillar of financial stability and admired his solid standing in the upper class.

Gatsby's gardener says he will drain the pool that day, before the autumn leaves fall, but Gatsby protests, saying he has not used the pool all summer. As Nick departs for work, he tells Gatsby that he is "worth the whole damn bunch put together," meaning Tom, Daisy, and Jordan. This is the only compliment that Nick ever gives Gatsby.

Jordan calls Nick at work, and, after a terse phone conversation, Nick remarks that he could care less if he ever saw her again.

Wilson seeks revenge on the driver of the yellow car, who he suspects was Myrtle's lover. Myrtle had fled into the street after Wilson had confronted her about her infidelity. Wilson stares at the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg and recalls telling Myrtle, during their argument, that "God sees everything." Wilson's grief turns to vengefulness, and he seeks out the man who killed his wife. His day-long investigation leads him to Gatsby, who he finds in his pool. Wilson shoots and kills Gatsby, then himself.

Detailed Summary

Nick cannot sleep the night after the car accident in the valley of ashes. The following day, he goes next door and finds Gatsby standing on the lawn. Gatsby tells Nick that he waited outside of Daisy's house until four thirty that morning, but nothing happened; Tom did not try to hurt her, nor did she come outside to speak with Gatsby. Nick advises Gatsby to leave New York if he does not want to be prosecuted and sent to prison for killing Myrtle Wilson in the hit-and-run accident. Gatsby, however, resists the idea on the grounds that he cannot leave Daisy until she has a plan.

It is on this day that Gatsby reveals his true history to Nick, the history which Nick unfurls in Chapter VI. Gatsby tells Nick that Daisy was the first "nice" girl he had ever known. Daisy was admired by many other men besides Gatsby, which increased Gatsby's desire for her. He pursues Daisy hungrily, and convinces her that he is capable of caring for her, and is of her same social class, despite his true poverty and humble background.

After Gatsby and Daisy make love, he feels committed to her, and deep in love, as if they are married. Although she had promised to wait for Gatsby to get home from the war, Daisy feels pressured to marry, and marries Tom in Gatsby's absence. Unlike Gatsby, Tom is financially secure and of a high social standing. Gatsby remarks, once again, that he does not think Daisy has ever loved Tom. Soon, however, he relents, saying that perhaps she loved Tom when they were first married, but that she had loved Gatsby even more, at that same time. When Gatsby had returns from the war, he goes to Louisville to search for Daisy, but does not find her. Upon his departure, he feels defeated, as though he has lost the best of his life, forever.

Gatsby's gardener informs Gatsby that he intends to drain the pool that day, to prevent autumn leaves from clogging its drains. Gatsby protests, saying that he has not used the pool all summer.

Nick realizes that he will be late to work, and leaves Gatsby's house after breakfast. Departing, he tells Gatsby that he is "worth the whole damn bunch put together," the only compliment Nick ever gives Gatsby.

Nick has difficulty concentrating at work, and declines a date with Jordan, who sounds terse on the phone. They have a brief, hostile conversation, and Nick remarks that he couldn't care less if he ever sees her again.

Michaelis, George Wilson's Greek neighbor, cares for Wilson during his bereavement. Wilson is distraught and incoherent after his his wife's death, though his grief quickly turns to vengeance, and Wilson seeks out the driver of the yellow car that killed his wife. Myrtle had run into the street after Wilson had confronted her about her infidelity, and Wilson suspects that Myrtle's lover is also her murderer. Wilson recalls telling Myrtle that that she could fool him, but she couldn't fool God. As he relates the story to Michaelis, Wilson stares at the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, and again says, "God sees everything."

Wilson sets out to find the driver of the yellow car. He is aware that Tom knows the owner of the vehicle, but does not suspect Tom because he passed through the valley of ashes after the accident. Wilson conducts an investigation, questioning mechanics at garages all over New York. Wilson's investigation leads him to Gatsby, who he finds relaxing in his pool. Wilson shoots and kills Gatsby, then turns his gun on himself.

Analysis

Chapter VII highlights two major, intertwining themes of The Great Gatsby's : the moral bankruptcy of capitalism and the downfall of the American Dream in the 1920s. In Chapter VIII, Gatsby describes his initial attraction to Daisy. Until now, it is unclear exactly why Gatsby is so enamored with Daisy, and what about her he finds irresistible. In Chapter VIII, Gatsby indicates that he is attracted to Daisy, a fickle, foolish girl, namely for her wealth and status. Gatsby's desire for Daisy is intrinsically linked to his lust for money and class. He hungrily pursues both Daisy and his fortune with greedy, relentless ferocity.

Upon his first meeting with Gatsby in Chapter III, Nick is impressed by Gatsby's hopefulness and idealism. Gatsby's romantic notions, which he does not, for a moment, doubt he will achieve, serve as Gatsby's sole motivation and life's purpose. Since his youth, he has fully dedicated himself to earning wealth, power, status, and,ultimately, in turn, Daisy. Once Gatsby has earned his desired fortune, he is still compelled to regain Daisy's true love, and must do so to realize his long-standing dream. However, when his dream is realized, Gatsby's once perfectly planned, carefully orchestrated future is shattered. Gatsby and his American Dream die together, at once.

Gatsby's dream mirrors the fabled American Dream, which has transformed from the American forefather's pursuit of happiness, to the greedy, capitalistic pursuit of wealth and corresponding social status. The Great Gatsby demonstrates that achieving the American Dream by acquisition of wealth and class does not always result in happiness. Gatsby serves as a prime example of the emotional bankruptcy of capitalism, and the resulting emptiness of an American Dream that has been achieved. Despite his immense, self-made fortune, Gatsby dies alone, emotionally void, and miserable. Similarly, Daisy, who has inherited her wealth, has all the material riches one could desire, but she is a fickle, foolish girl who lacks moral character. Her attractive qualities, beyond her riches, are unmentioned.

The Great Gatsby illuminates the dark underside of the American Dream. Gatsby will stop at nothing to earn his fortune, and does not hesitate to dabble in illegal and immoral business deals, such as those he makes with Meyer Wolfsheim, if it means he will be one step closer to achieving his dream.

Nick remarks that Gatsby is "worth the whole damn bunch put together," because, although he is disdainful of Gatsby's greed and excess, he admires his hopefulness and hard work. Unlike Tom, Daisy, and Jordan, Gatsby has created his own fortune, and has labored to earn it. The others, by contrast, have inherited their wealth and status, and are ignorant of the labor and motivation required to achieve one's goals.

As in Chapter II, Dr. T.J. Eckleburg again appears as a symbol of God. In this instance, he is interpreted as such by Wilson, who looks to Eckleburg as he says, "God sees everything." The poster of Eckleburg, with his huge, bespectacled eyes, presides over the valley of ashes; his gaze is unflinching, mirroring the idea of God's omnipresence. Wilson's interpretation of the poster, and its symbolic meaning through the novel serve as a sad commentary on the decaying moral values of America in a capitalist era. The faded poster, an obvious entity of capitalism and commercialism, is equated with the divine; there is no distinction between God and capitalism. Similarly, Gatsby is dogmatic about his pursuit of wealth, and commits himself to it as if a faithful practitioner of religion.

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