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 tells the story of Gatsby's funeral, two years after Gatsby's death. Nick tries in earnest to find friends of Gatsby's to attend his funeral, but his efforts are fruitless. He meets with Meyer Wolfsheim, who tells him that he cannot get "mixed up" in the business of Gatsby's death.

Gatsby's father, Mr. Gatz, learns of his son's death from a Chicago newspaper, and travels to New York to attend the funeral. He is a weary, humble old man, dressed modestly in cheap clothing. He is exceptionally proud of his Gatsby, and shows Nick one of Gatsby's boyhood books, in which Gatsby had inscribed a rigorous daily schedule and ambitious personal resolutions. Mr. Gatz has not seen his son for two years.

Klipsringer calls Gatbsy's mansion in search of tennis shoes he has left behind. He asks that Nick ship him the tennis shoes, but declines to attend Gatsby's funeral. The only people in attendance at Gatsby's funeral are Nick, Gatsby's father, and Owl eyes, who Nick recognizes as the man from Gatsby's library in Chapter III. Nick calls Daisy and Tom as soon as he knows of Gatsby's death, but it is too late; they have already fled, leaving no trace. Further, Daisy does not send even any acknowledgement of Gatsby's death.

Nick resolves to leave West Egg and return home to the Mid-West. Before departing, he sees Jordan Baker, who mocks his honesty. Nick is conflicted about his emotions toward Jordan; he is angry, but still half in love with her. By chance, Nick encounters Tom on Fifth Avenue. Tom tells Nick that he had told Wilson that Gatsby was the owner of the car that killed Myrtle.

Nick leaves for Chicago just as fall turns to winter in New York. Long Island seems abandoned; all of the summer homes are closed for the season. He recalls the green light at the end of Daisy's dock, and how it had fed Gatsby's grandiose ambitions for the future. People struggle against life like boats against a current, he muses, but they are inexorably whisked into the past.

Detailed Summary

Two years after Gatsby's death, Nick tells the story of Gatsby's funeral. Nick calls Daisy immediately after discovering Gatsby is dead, but she and Tom have already fled together. Nick feels obligated to find people to attend Gatsby's funeral,but, athough he tries earnestly, his search is fruitless. He sends a letter to Meyer Wolfsheim, explaining Gatsby's death and requesting his presence at the funeral. Wolfsheim's formal written reply expresses his sympathy, but says that he cannot get "mixed up" in Gatsby's at the moment.

Three days after Gatsby's death, a telegram arrives from Henry C. Gatz, Gatsby's father, who says to postpone the funeral until he can get to New York from Minnesota. Gatsby's father is a humble old man with a solemn demeanor, and arrives in West Egg dressed modestly in cheap clothing. He tells Nick that he learned of his son's death by reading about it in a Chicago newspaper. Mr. Gatz is saddened by his son's death, but is full of pride for his accomplishments. Nick helps Mr. Gatz to his room in Gatsby's mansion, whereupon the exhausted Mr. Gatz promptly falls asleep.

Klipsringer, who disappeared from Gatsby's mansion immediately after his death, calls to inquire about a pair of tennis shoes he thinks he's left there. Nick, who has been answering Gatsby's telephone, invites him to the funeral, but Klipsringer ignores Nick and urges that his shoes be mailed to a new address. Nick feels shame for Gatsby because of his lack of friends; no one but his father will agree to attend his funeral. On the day of the funeral, Nick goes to see Meyer Wolfsheim at his office. Wolfsheim's secretary tells Nick that he can't see Wolfsheim because he is in Chicago, but upon Nick's mention of Gatsby, she leads him immediately inside. Once more, Wolfsheim insists that he cannot come to the funeral because he does not want to get "mixed up" in the business of Gatsby's death. Wolfsheim advises, "Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead." When Nick leaves his office, the weather has turned ominously dark and rainy.

Mr. Gatz shows Nick a picture of Gatsby's mansion that Gatsby had sent to him, which he keeps in his wallet. Gatz had not seen his son in two years, since Gatsby had returned to the Mid-West to visit his father and buy him a house. Gatz, swelling with pride for his son, shows Nick a copy of the book Hopalong Cassidy which had belonged to the young Gatsby. In the back of the book, Gatsby had written a stringent daily schedule to follow, as well as resolutions for self-improvement. Gatz tells Nick that his son was "bound to get ahead."

The only people to attend Gatsby's funeral are Nick, Gatsby's father, and, unexpectedly, Owl Eyes, who Nick recognizes as the drunken man in Gatsby's library, the man with the enormous glasses who had admired Gatsby's books for their authenticity in Chapter III. Nick hears someone say, "Blessed are the dead that the rain falls on." He considers that he has not yet heard from Daisy, that she has not sent even a flower or a telegram.

Nick recalls taking the train home to the Chicago from college in the winter. He reflects that he has told a "story of the West," for all of the featured characters were Westerners, and therefore inadaptable to Eastern life. In his mind, the East is somewhat distorted; he imagines West Egg as a skewed dream: a drunken woman in a white dress is taken from her house on a stretcher, her arm hanging limply over the side, sparkling with "cold jewels." "No one knows the woman's name, and no one cares," says Nick.

After Gatsby's death, Nick feels as though the East is "haunted" for him, and thus decides to return home, to the Mid-West, as fall turns to winter. Before he departs, he feels he must see Jordan Baker. He does so, and learns that she is engaged to another man. Jordan reminds Nick of a conversation they'd once had, about Jordan's tactless driving. Mockingly, she says that in dating Nick, she had made the mistake of "meeting another bad driver," and that she had though he was an honest and straightforward man. Nick tells her that he is too old to lie to himself, and turns away, "angry, half in love with her, and tremendously sorry."

In late October, before his departure from New York, Nick had seen Tom on Fifth Avenue. When Tom extends his hand in greeting, Nick refuses to shake it; he disapproves of Tom, and tells him so. Nick asks Tom what he said to Wilson on the afternoon of the car accident. Tom reveals that he had directed Wilson to Gatsby. Nick thinks that Tom and Daisy are "careless people," and pities Tom's foolishness and immaturity. He shakes Tom's hand and leaves.

Gatsby's mansion is still empty when Nick leaves for the Mid-West. He finds an obscene word scratched into the white steps of the mansion and erases it. Most of the homes on Long Island are closed for the winter season, and the once bustling landscape now seems abandoned. Nick recalls the green light at the end of Daisy's dock, and how it had fed Gatsby's grandiose ambitions for the future. He muses that people struggle against life like boats against a current, and that, despite their struggle, they are carried, inexorably, into the past.

Analysis

The final chapter of The Great Gatsby illustrates the emotional and social void in a life spent pursuing material wealth. Although Gatsby dies an extraordinarily wealthy man, he dies alone. Nick feels shame for Gatsby, and pities him for his absolute lack of friends. The affect of Gatsby's death on most of the people Nick asks to attend the funeral is minimal; Gatsby's life, therefore, has had little affect on humankind. This point is summarized by Wolfsheim, who says "Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead."

Gatsby's father, Mr. Gatz, is the only person who appears genuinely distraught by Gatsby's death, despite his distant relationship with his son. Mr. Gatz represents the traditional values of the American Mid-West; unlike Gatsby, Gatz is genuine, humble, and honest. By contrast, Gatsby represents the values of the fast-paced, urban East; he is greedy, flamboyant, and deceptive. Throughout the novel, Gatsby vehemently denies his Mid-Western background and embraces the Eastern lifestyle.

In The Great Gatsby , Fitzgerald continuously calls attention to the differences between conflicting Eastern and Western values, thus developing one of the novel's primary motifs. In Chapter IX, Fitzgerald features the motif of geography most explicitly. Nick asserts that the story he has told is a "story of the west, after all-Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us unadaptable to Eastern life." Nick's assertion explains why each of the central characters fails to succeed, ultimately, in the East.

Since his first encounter with Tom in Chapter I, Nick has expressed unerring disgust at Tom's brutish behavior, though he remains cordial during their personal encounters. In Chapter IV, however, Nick shows his disgust openly when he sees Tom on Fifth Avenue, first refusing to shake his hand, then relenting when he realizes how pitiful a man Tom truly is. Nick equates Tom's behavior with that of a child who does not know better, who lacks any moral knowledge. He concludes that Tom and Daisy are "careless people," people who have little, if any, regard for their affect on those who enter into and out of their lives. Tom and Daisy are inherently selfish, and thus reckless in their relationships. Nick's ultimate judgment of Tom and Daisy recalls his introduction in Chapter I, when he describes himself as one of the few honest people he has ever known. Alas, at the conclusion of the novel, Nick stands apart from all of the other characters; he is the only one of them who has managed to maintain his dignity as an honest man who has not succumbed to the greed and corruption that surrounds him.

The final scene of the novel, in which Nick muses about the boats struggling against the current, features one of the novels most omnipresent, remarkable themes: continuous, unsuccessful struggle against the past. The boats struggle against the strong current, trying ceaselessly, however unsuccessfully, to move forward, just as Gatsby struggles to deny his humble Mid-Western past, though his efforts ultimately backfire.

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