The Great Gatsby Summary

Overview

The Great Gatsby

Summary of the Novel
The narrator of the story, Nick Carraway, has just returned from war and, restless in the West, goes East to work. In flashbacks he reveals the story of Jay Gatsby, his next-door neighbor, as he learns it. The nine chapters develop around seven parties interspersed with flashbacks.

Immediately after Nick moves to West Egg, he visits Daisy Buchanan, his second cousin “once-removed,” and her husband Tom, a fellow Yale graduate, for dinner. Here Nick meets Jordan Baker, Daisy’s friend from Louisville, who reveals that Tom is having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, the wife of a garage owner in the Valley of Ashes. Nick is shocked at the lack of morality in every level: the nouveau riche, the “old money,” and those with no money at all.

Not long after, at the second party, Tom introduces Nick to Myrtle, who invites her sister Catherine and the McKees, residents in the hotel where the party takes place in New York City, to complete the guest list. At Gatsby’s first party in West Egg, Nick meets a myriad of high-profile guests, most of whom have not been invited, all of whom ignore the statute concerning prohibition. The atmosphere is much like that of “an amusement park.” The next party is lunch in town with Meyer Wolfsheim, one of Gatsby’s business “connections,” and obviously an underworld character.

Next, Tom and Daisy attend one of Gatsby’s parties. By this time, Gatsby has used Nick, his next-door neighbor and Daisy’s cousin, to set up a rendezvous with this young lady he had wanted to marry five years before. Daisy had married Tom Buchanan because of his immense wealth. Through the intervening years, Gatsby had managed to amass a fortune greater than Tom’s and idealistically believes Daisy will leave Tom for him. Another party at Gatsby’s mansion includes Tom and Daisy and a litany of diverse guests. The final catastrophic party at the Plaza Hotel in New York provides Tom the opportunity to confront Gatsby about his obsession with Daisy and Gatsby’s alleged underworld activities.

Driving home from New York City, Daisy strikes and kills Myrtle Wilson with Gatsby’s car. Gatsby, however, tells Nick he was driving the car. After tracing the yellow car to Gatsby, George Wilson shoots Gatsby to death in his pool and turns the gun on himself.

After Gatsby’s poorly-attended funeral, Nick returns to the Midwest, disillusioned and disgusted by the experience.

In the following Sections:

  • The Life and Work of F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Historical Background
  • Master List of Characters
  • Structure of the Novel
  • Estimated Reading Time
  • Timeline of The Great Gatsby

The Life and Work of F. Scott Fitzgerald
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, now regarded as the spokesman for the “Lost Generation” of the 1920s, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1896. His childhood and youth seem, in retrospect, as poetic as the works he later wrote. The life he lived became “the stuff of fiction,” the characters and the plots a rather thinly-disguised autobiography. Like Jay Gatsby, the title character of his most famous novel, Fitzgerald created a vision which he wanted to become, a “Platonic conception of himself,” and “to this conception he was faithful to the end.”

Fitzgerald was educated at parochial prep schools where he received strict Roman Catholic training. The religious instruction never left him. Ironically, he was denied burial in a Catholic cemetery because of his rather uproarious lifestyle, which ended in depression and alcoholism. In the fall of 1909, during his second year at St. Paul Academy, Fitzgerald began publishing in the school magazine. Sent East for a disciplined education, he entered The Newman School, whose student body came from wealthy Catholic families all over the country. At The Newman School he developed a friendship and intense rapport with Father Sigourney Webster
Fay, a trustee and later headmaster of the school and the prototype for a character in This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald’s first novel, published in 1920.

Upon his grandmother’s death, Fitzgerald and the family received a rather handsome inheritance, yet Scott seemed always to be cast into a society where others enjoyed more affluence than he. However, like Gatsby, a self-made man, Fitzgerald became the embodiment of the American Dream—an American Don Quixote.

Thanks to another relative’s money, Fitzgerald was able to enroll in Princeton in 1913. He never graduated from the Ivy League school; in fact, he failed several courses during his undergraduate years. However, he wrote revues for the Triangle Club, Princeton’s musical comedy group, and “donned swishy, satiny dresses to romp onstage” alongside attractive chorus girls. Years later, after enjoying some literary fame, he was asked to speak at Princeton, an occasion which endeared the school to him in new ways. Today, Princeton houses his memoirs, including letters from Ernest Hemingway motion picture scripts, scrapbooks, and other mementos.

He withdrew from Princeton and entered the war in 1917, commissioned as a second lieutenant in the army. While in Officers Candidate School in Alabama, he met and fell in love with Zelda Sayre, a relationship which is replicated in Jay Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy and her fascination with a military man. He never made it to the European front, but he did come to the attention of New York publishers by the end of the war. Despite Zelda’s breaking their engagement, they became re-engaged that fall. Their marriage produced one daughter—Scottie, who died in 1986. In 1919 his earnings totaled $879; the following year, following the publication of This Side of Paradise, an instant success, his earnings increased to $18,000.

By 1924 it was clear that Fitzgerald needed a change. He, Zelda, and Scottie moved to Europe, near the French Riviera, where he first met Ernest Hemingway Gertrude Stein and Edith Wharton. Before long, Zelda met and had an affair with Edouard Josanne, a relationship which Fitzgerald at first ignored but ultimately forced to a showdown. His writing may have profited because of her affair—according to biographer Andrew Turnbull, Fitzgerald’s jealousy “sharpened the edge of Gatsby’s and gave weight to Tom Buchanan’s bullish determination to regain his wife.”

To increase earnings he wrote some 160 short stories for magazines, works which, by his own admission, lacked luster. After Zelda’s alcoholism had several times forced her commitment to an institution, Scott went to Hollywood to write screenplays, and struggled unsuccessfully to complete a final novel, The Last Tycoon. He died in December of 1940 after a lifelong battle with alcohol and a series of heart attacks.

As early as 1920, Fitzgerald had in mind a tragic novel. He wrote to the president of Princeton that his novel would “say something fundamental about America, that fairy tale among nations.” He saw our history as a great pageant and romance, the history of all aspiration—not just the American dream but the human dream—and, he wrote, “If I am at the end of it that too is a place in the line of the pioneers.” Perhaps because of that vision, he has been called America’s greatest modern romantic writer, a purveyor of timeless fiction with a gift of evocation that has yet to be surpassed. His works reflect the spirit of his times, yet they are timeless.

One cannot fail to notice how much of himself Fitzgerald put into all his work; he spoke of writing as a “sheer paring away of oneself.” A melange of characters replicate or at least suggest people in his acquaintance. Gatsby seems almost to be an existential extension of Fitzgerald’s posture, a persona created perhaps as a premonition of his own tragic end.

The almost poetic craftsmanship of Fitzgerald’s prose, combined with his insight into the American experience, presented an imperishable portrait of his age, securing for him a permanent and enviable place in literary history.

Structure of the Novel

In the tradition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, this novel is structured as a frame tale. From as early as the Middle Ages writers of English have employed the device of framing a story with another story. The experience in The Great Gatsby is actually Nick Carraway’s, not Jay Gatsby’s. He relates Gatsby’s story. Because Nick is a moral exemplar from start to finish, the reader sees him as a reliable narrator; we can believe his account of Gatsby.

By the second page of the novel, the story becomes an account of Gatsby’s story as told in flashbacks through Nick’s point of view. This flashback structure can make it difficult to place the events of the novel in their proper time sequence. For an explanation of the proper sequence of events, see the timeline of The Great Gatsby below.

The dominant effect of this literary convention is veracity: the reader can believe that what Nick says is truth. The end of the story appears in the beginning, for immediately the reader becomes aware that Nick is disenchanted with the immorality of the East and wants to return to the West. After his “privileged glimpse into the heart,” a journey he does not wish to repeat, the story turns to Nick’s perceptions of Gatsby and of Long Island. Gatsby’s dream almost replicates that of the “Dutch sailors” who, in their discovery of the New World, found a latter-day Camelot. Such a similarity justifies Nick’s belief that Gatsby’s dream made him “worth more than the whole damn bunch put together.” He had “an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness,” that almost justified his illegal doings in the eyes of Nick.

Built upon the conventional rags-to-riches motif, this novel fits the mold of a Horatio Alger story. Typically, the poor boy risks himself to save the “damsel in distress” in a wagon pulled at breakneck speed by a runaway horse. As a result of saving the young lady, he works for her father, usually a man of means, and ultimately inherits her father’s business and marries her. In a sense he raises himself by his “own bootstraps.” Such is the ideal American Dream—an innocent, pure form of Thomas Jefferson’s “pursuit of happiness.” In Fitzgerald’s parallel, “the poor boy,” Gatsby, naïvely determines to amass wealth in whatever ways necessary, the implication being that nothing can preclude or obstruct his winning the damsel’s hand. Like the archetypal Cinderella story, the most deserving must always win Prince Charming and become heir to a massive fortune. Tragically, Gatsby had learned well from American society that dishonesty and illicit means of procuring a fortune will win what pure love and resolve cannot.

Estimated Reading Time
An average reader can complete the novel in four to five hours. A close reading will take longer perhaps, but even reading critically, the reading should not require much more than five hours.

Timeline of The Great Gatsby
Age 17—Gatsby meets Dan Cody and learns about the leisure class.

October 1917—Gatsby meets Daisy. She is 18; Jordan is 16.

1918—She almost marries him.

1918—By fall “she is gay again.”

June 1919—Daisy marries Tom Buchanan after receiving a $350,000 necklace. Gatsby is at Oxford.

August 1919—Tom is already having an affair.

April 1920—Daisy and Tom's daughter Pammy is born.

Augumn 1921—Nick comes back from the war.

Spring 1922—Nick comes to the East and sets up residence in West Egg, Long Island.

Summer 1922—The main action of the novel takes place.

Autumn 1922—Nick returns to the Midwest.

The Great Gatsby Summary (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

In a sense, The Great Gatsby is a novel about identities, as each of its major characters struggles to find or create himself or herself as an independent figure in twentieth century American life. In these efforts the characters reveal themselves either as fully rounded, authentic individuals, or as hollow shells, devoid of personality and reality. Taken together, the group portrait Fitzgerald paints in his novel is a fitting representation of the false prosperity of post-World War I America and, more important, is perhaps the most perfectly constructed fiction of its time.

Nick Carraway, the narrator, comes from the Midwest to New York to work as a stockbroker. Taking a home in the Long Island community of West Egg, he makes the acquaintance of his rich neighbor Jay Gatsby, who is the subject of myriad rumors. Gatsby is reputed to have dubious connections, to have been a German spy during the war, and perhaps to have killed a man. While some of this is true (Gatsby has connections with the criminal world, and he served in the war, but was a hero for the Allies), the most salient fact is that Gatsby remains, after many years, in love with Daisy Buchanan, Nick’s cousin, who lives across the bay. Through Nick, Gatsby reestablishes a relationship with her and seeks to rekindle the long-dead flame. The attempt fails and, in the end, Gatsby is dead, Daisy left in her loveless marriage, and Nick wiser and less hopeful.

Much hope is lost as identity is gained or revealed, and Nick is honest in his chronicle of those events. Daisy and Tom Buchanan are like the Bourbons of French history, for they forget nothing and learn nothing. They enter the novel as self-centered, essentially uncaring persons, obsessed with their own concerns and indifferent to the feelings and the existence of other people. Tom is having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, wife of a garage owner on Long Island. Daisy rather easily decides to renew her connection with Gatsby, begun years ago while he was in army training on a military base in her home town in the South. When Myrtle Wilson’s death places their world in jeopardy, husband and wife quickly abandon their “loves” and retreat into the safety of money and privilege. The identities of the Buchanans are shaped, Fitzgerald clearly indicates, by social status, not personal worth.

Nick is a more difficult identity to define, and, much as the seed his name implies, he is constantly changing and emerging. Throughout the novel he is a figure in transition. During one critical passage—as he, Gatsby, and the Buchanans motor into town on the drive that will lead to Myrtle Wilson’s death—Nick suddenly realizes that it is his birthday, and that he has just turned thirty. “Before me stretched the portentous, menacing road of a new decade.” In a sense, there is no single narrator for this novel, for the Nick who begins the book is clearly not the same man who ends it after a summer of carnivals and carnage.

Yet Nick’s change is more than one of experience; it is one of understanding. At the novel’s beginning, fresh from the experience of the war, he says he is ready for the world to stand “at moral attention.” Clearly, this is not the sort of person who would accept, much less become a friend with, a questionable character such as Gatsby. However, by the end of the novel, Nick is able to tell Gatsby: “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.” Gatsby’s romanticism is, in the end, innocent, despite his criminal connections. Compared to the hypocrisy that the Buchanans and the various partygoers represent, Gatsby is admirable.

Gatsby is not Gatsby but Jimmy Gatz, a poor boy from the Midwest—like Nick Carraway—who happened upon a chance that took him away from his life and gave him the opportunity to move into a different world. That world included Daisy, whom Gatsby romanced while he was a military officer in training. Later, on Long Island, after he has re-created himself, Gatsby tries to win her, and all she represents, again. Gatsby fails, and Nick is the sole honest witness to Gatsby’s heroic effort.

In the end, identity is the central message of The Great Gatsby. Is Gatsby a war hero or a gangster? Is he Jimmy Gatz or Jay Gatsby? Is Daisy Buchanan a happily married woman or one enamored with a love from her past? Is Nick Carraway really the honest narrator or a special advocate for his friend, who might be either a romantic hero or a successful, but common, thug? The answer, Fitzgerald implies, lies in human memory. People are not what they are but what they think they used to be.

The Great Gatsby Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Young Nick Carraway decides to forsake the hardware business of his family in the Midwest in order to sell bonds in New York City. He takes a small house in West Egg on Long Island and there becomes involved in the lives of his neighbors. At a dinner party at the home of Tom Buchanan, he renews his acquaintance with Tom’s wife, Daisy, a distant cousin, and he meets an attractive young woman, Jordan Baker. Almost at once he learns that Tom and Daisy are not happily married. It appears that Daisy knows her husband is unfaithful.

Nick soon learns to despise the drive to the city through unkempt slums; particularly, he hates the ash heaps and the huge commercial signs. He is far more interested in the activities of his wealthy neighbors. Near his house lives Jay Gatsby, a mysterious man of great wealth. Gatsby entertains lavishly, but his past is unknown to his neighbors.

One day, Tom takes Nick to call on his mistress, a dowdy, plump, married woman named Myrtle Wilson, whose husband, George Wilson, operates a second-rate automobile repair shop. Myrtle, Tom, and Nick go to the apartment that Tom keeps, and there the three are joined by Myrtle’s sister Catherine and Mr. and Mrs. McKee. The party settles down to an afternoon of drinking, Nick unsuccessfully doing his best to escape.

A few days later, Nick attends another party, one given by Gatsby for a large number of people famous in speakeasy society. Food and liquor are dispensed lavishly. Most of the guests have never seen their host before. At the party, Nick meets Gatsby for the first time. Gatsby, in his early thirties, looks like a healthy young roughneck. He is offhand, casual, and eager to entertain his guests as extravagantly as possible. Frequently he is called away by long-distance telephone calls. Some of the guests laugh and say that he is trying to impress them with his importance.

That summer, Gatsby gives many parties. Nick goes to all of them, enjoying each time the society of people from all walks of life who appear to take advantage of Gatsby’s bounty. From time to time, Nick meets Jordan there and when he hears that she has cheated in an amateur golf match, his interest in her grows.

Gatsby takes Nick to lunch one day and introduces him to a man named Wolfshiem, who seems to be Gatsby’s business partner. Wolfshiem hints at some dubious business deals that betray Gatsby’s racketeering activities, and Nick begins to identify the sources of some of Gatsby’s wealth.

Later, Jordan tells Nick the strange story of Daisy’s wedding. Before the bridal dinner, Daisy, who seldom drank, became wildly intoxicated and kept reading a letter that she had just received and crying that she had changed her mind. After she became sober, however, she went through with her wedding to Tom without a murmur. The letter was from Jay Gatsby. At the time, Gatsby was poor and unknown; Tom was rich and influential. Gatsby is still in love with Daisy, however, and he wants Jordan and Nick to bring Daisy and him together again. It is arranged that Nick will invite Daisy to tea the same day he invites Gatsby. Gatsby awaits the invitation nervously.

On the eventful day, it rains. Determined that Nick’s house should be presentable, Gatsby sends a man to mow the wet grass; he also sends flowers for decoration. The tea is a strained affair at first, and both Gatsby and Daisy are shy and awkward in their reunion. Afterward, they go to Gatsby’s mansion, where he shows them his furniture, clothes, swimming pool, and gardens. Daisy promises to attend his next party. When Daisy disapproves of his guests, Gatsby stops entertaining. The house is shut up and the usual crowd turned away.

Gatsby eventually informs Nick of his origin. His true name is Gatz, and he was born in the Midwest. His parents were poor. When he was a boy, he became the protégé of a wealthy old gold miner and accompanied him on his travels until the old man died. He changed his name to Gatsby and daydreamed of acquiring wealth and position. In the war, he distinguished himself. After the war, he returned penniless to the States, too poor to marry Daisy, whom he had met during the war. Later, he became a partner in a drug business. He was lucky and accumulated money rapidly. He tells Nick that he acquired the money for his Long Island residence after three years of hard work.

The Buchanans give a quiet party for Jordan, Gatsby, and Nick. The group drives into the city and takes a room in a hotel. The day is hot, and the guests are uncomfortable. On the way, Tom, driving Gatsby’s new yellow car, stops at Wilson’s garage. Wilson complains because Tom did not help him in a projected car deal. He says he needs money because he is selling out and taking his wife, whom he knows to be unfaithful, away from the city.

At the hotel, Tom accuses Gatsby of trying to steal his wife and also of being dishonest. He seems to regard Gatsby’s low origin with more disfavor than his interest in Daisy. During the argument, Daisy sides with both men by turns. On the ride back to the suburbs, Gatsby drives his own car, accompanied by Daisy, who temporarily will not speak to her husband.

Following them, Nick, Jordan, and Tom stop to investigate an accident in front of Wilson’s garage. They discover an ambulance picking up the dead body of Myrtle, struck by a hit-and-run driver in a yellow car. They try in vain to help Wilson and then go on to Tom’s house, convinced that Gatsby had struck Myrtle.

Nick learns that night from Gatsby that Daisy was driving when the woman was hit. Gatsby, however, is willing to take the blame if the death should be traced to his car. He explains that a woman rushed out as though she wanted to speak to someone in the yellow car, and Daisy, an inexpert driver, ran her down and then collapsed. Gatsby drove on.

In the meantime, Wilson, having traced the yellow car to Gatsby, appears on the Gatsby estate. A few hours later, both he and Gatsby are discovered dead. He shot Gatsby and then killed himself. Nick tries to make Gatsby’s funeral respectable, but only one among all of Gatsby’s former guests attends along with Gatsby’s father, who thought his son had been a great man. None of Gatsby’s racketeering associates appear.

Shortly afterward, Nick learns of Tom’s part in Gatsby’s death. Wilson had visited Tom and, with the help of a revolver, forced him to reveal the name of the owner of the hit-and-run car. Nick vows that his friendship with Tom and Daisy is ended. He decides to return to his people in the Midwest.

The Great Gatsby Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Great Gatsby is Fitzgerald’s finest novel, an almost perfect artistic creation which is perhaps the single most American novel of its time. It should be seen as the ultimate vehicle for the themes that form the central concerns of Fitzgerald’s career, and indeed of so much of the United States’ national life: lost hope, the corruption of innocence by money, and the impossibility of recapturing the past. These elements are fused together by Fitzgerald’s eloquent yet careful prose in a novel that transcends its period and has become a touchstone of American literature.

Nick Carraway, the first-person narrator of the novel, lives on Long Island, New York, next door to the enormous mansion of a mysterious man named Gatsby, who throws gaudy, glittering parties. Wild, improbable rumors circulate about Gatsby, but when Nick meets him, he finds himself charmed and intrigued. He learns that Gatsby is in love with Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan, whom Gatsby met while stationed in her hometown in the South during World War I. Gatsby seeks to rekindle that earlier love in Daisy, now married to a coarse, brutal husband, Tom. The effort fails, and Gatsby becomes entangled in the lives of the Buchanans and is killed, shot by the confused and grieving husband of Tom’s mistress. Gatsby’s glowing dream ends in sordid confusion.

In this novel Fitzgerald relies on a narrative technique that he clearly learned from the works of the English writer Joseph Conrad: He gradually unveils Gatsby’s story as Nick pieces it together a bit at a time. Each chapter allows Nick, and the reader, more insight into Gatsby’s past and his true character. The facts are sifted from rumors and speculation until Jay Gatsby (born Gatz) is revealed as a flawed, but still great, hero.

Like so many of Fitzgerald’s heroes, Gatsby is a romantic, a man who began with a high, even exalted, vision of himself and his destiny. He aspires to greatness, which he associates with Daisy. If he can win her, then he will have somehow achieved his goal. Gatsby’s wealth, his mansion, his parties, his possessions, even his heroism in battle are but means to achieve his ultimate end. Gatsby is mistaken, however, in his belief that money can buy happiness or that he can recapture his past. His story is clearly a version of the traditional American myth, poor boy makes good, but is it a distorted version or an accurate one? Fitzgerald leaves this ambiguity unresolved, which adds to the power of his novel.

As a romantic, Jay Gatsby does not understand how money actually works in American life. He believes that if he is rich, then Daisy can be his. This is displayed most powerfully and poignantly in the scene where Gatsby shows Daisy and Nick the shirts he has tailored for him in London: He hauls them out in a rainbow of color and fabric, almost filling the room with the tangible yet useless symbols of his wealth. The shirts cause Daisy to cry, but they do not win her; they cannot let Gatsby realize his dream.

Gatsby has amassed his money by dealings with gangsters, yet he remains an innocent figure—he is a romantic, in other words. Ironically, Daisy Buchanan, his great love, is a much more realistic, hard-headed character. She understands money and what it means in American society, because it is her nature; she was born into it. Gatsby intuitively recognizes this, although he cannot fully accept it, when he remarks to Nick that Daisy’s voice “is full of money.” Even so, Gatsby will not admit this essential fact because it would destroy his conception of Daisy. In the end, this willful blindness helps lead to his destruction.

Actually, both Gatsby and Daisy are incapable of seeing the whole of reality, as he is a romantic and she, a cynic. This conflict is found in the other characters of the novel as well and is a key to The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald uses a variety of symbolic scenes and images to express the blindness that the characters impose upon themselves. Gatsby’s ostentatious material possessions are aspects of illusion. So is the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, the light that Gatsby gazes upon but cannot reach.

Other symbolic touches illuminate the book: the ash heaps which litter the landscape between Long Island and New York, for example, or the eyes of Doctor Ecleberg, found on a billboard dominating the valley of the ash heaps. The ash heaps are a reference to the vanity of life (and a nod at T. S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land, published in 1922), and the eyes a comment on the blindness of the book’s characters, who do not fully understand what they behold.

While such devices add to the depth of The Great Gatsby, its true power derives from it being a quintessentially American novel, full of American characters and American themes. Nick Carraway, the midwestern narrator, encounters the sophistication of the East: New York, gangsters, the promise and hollowness of wealth. Tom and Daisy Buchanan, insulated by their money, do what they want without consequence, showing no remorse for their actions and no concern for those they have harmed. Jay Gatsby, like the hero in a story by Horatio Alger, rises from being a penniless youth through ambition and good fortune, only to discover that his wealth cannot buy what he most desires—and is, in fact, the very agent of his destruction. They are all American characters in an American setting.

Fitzgerald’s skill as a novelist was at its peak with The Great Gatsby, and this is shown best in his command of the book’s structure. By using Nick Carraway as the first-person narrator, Fitzgerald establishes a central focus for the novel, a character who is partly involved with the plot but partly a commentator upon it. Nick is presented as an honest, reliable person, and his perceptions and judgments are accepted by the reader. Nick ties the novel together, and through him it makes sense. Most important, Nick’s solid, midwestern common sense validates Gatsby as a character despite Gatsby’s outrageous background and fabulous adventures. In the end, if Nick Carraway accepts Gatsby and approves of him—and he does—so does the reader.

Nick’s approval is what allows Gatsby to be called “great,” but his greatness has a curious, puzzling quality to it, as it cannot be easily or completely defined. Gatsby certainly lacks many of the qualities and fails many of the tests normally associated with greatness, but he redeems this by his exalted conception of himself. It is to this romantic image of Gatsby that both Nick and the reader respond.

The Great Gatsby Summary

In accordance with Fitzgerald's epic ambitions to write a novel that expressed the vital spirit of his country, The Great Gatsby attempts to...

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The Great Gatsby Chapter Summary and Analysis

Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Nick Carraway: the narrator of the story

Daisy Buchanan: Nick’s cousin

Tom Buchanan: Daisy’s husband and a fellow Yale graduate of Nick’s

Jordan Baker: a friend of Daisy and, eventually, a friend of Nick Carraway

Jay Gatsby: Nick’s mysterious next-door neighbor

Summary
Soon after Nick Carraway returns from the war, he abandons his native Middle West and the hardware business of his forebears and goes East to enter the bond business. He rents a bungalow in West Egg, Long Island, the “less fashionable” of two peninsulas, and finds his house sandwiched between two huge houses that rent “for twelve or...

(The entire section is 2219 words.)

Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
George Wilson: Myrtle’s husband; owner of an automobile repair shop where cars are also bought and sold

Myrtle Wilson: George’s wife and Tom’s mistress; in her middle 30s and “faintly stout”

Catherine: Myrtle’s sister; “a slender, worldly girl of about thirty, with a solid sticky bob of red hair” who functions as Nick’s companion at Myrtle’s request

Mr. & Mrs. McKee: a couple who live in the hotel where Tom, Myrtle, and Nick go for a party

Summary
Tom invites Nick to go to the city with him. They pass through the Valley of Ashes, “a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills...

(The entire section is 1475 words.)

Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Gatsby’s chauffeur: in a uniform of “ robin’s-egg blue,” he invites Nick to one of Gatsby’s parties

A pair of stage twins: two young women, unnamed, in yellow dresses

Owl Eyes: a “stout, middle-aged man, with enormous owl-eyed spectacles” who has been drunk for a week, sitting in Gatsby’s library examining the books

Summary
In chapter 3, Gatsby’s parties in general, and one in particular, are described in poetic fashion. Motorboats, aquaplanes, cars—these sources of amusement appear in great numbers. Food, in vast quantities and garishly prepared, comes in every Friday; once every two weeks a “corps of caterers”...

(The entire section is 1876 words.)

Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis

New Character
Meyer Wolfsheim: a business connection of Gatsby’s

Summary
Another party takes place at Gatsby’s mansion, this time on a Sunday morning. The narrator crowds an artist’s canvas with his description of the guests, every possible type included, and thus creates vignettes of the time period. The chapter begins with a lengthy description of the guests, and it concludes, much as a periodic sentence does, with the summary: “All these people came to Gatsby’s house in the summer.” Nick records their names on a railroad timetable dated July 5, 1922. Young ladies at the party continue, even while guests of Gatsby, to whisper rumors about their host. All come...

(The entire section is 1634 words.)

Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis

New Character
Klipspringer: the boarder at Gatsby’s house

Summary
Nick returns home at 2:00 in the morning to find Gatsby’s house lit up “like the World’s Fair.” Gatsby is anxious concerning the meeting Nick is to orchestrate with Daisy, a long-awaited reunion. He invites Nick to go to Coney Island in his car or “take a plunge in the swimming pool,” but his neighbor, who must work the next day, demurs, saying it’s too late—he has to go to bed. This invitation to swim foreshadows the eventual demise of Gatsby.

Knowing or strongly suspicioning Nick’s meager circumstances, Gatsby offers to “set him up in business”—it wouldn’t take up much...

(The entire section is 1294 words.)

Chapter 6 Summary and Analysis

Summary
About this time, suspicions concerning Gatsby grow to such an extent that an “ambitious young reporter” attempts to get a statement from Gatsby or some story about this mysterious man’s notoriety. Stories circulating have to do with an “underground pipe-line to Canada.” As a result of such rumors, Nick chooses, at this point in the flashback, to detail Gatsby’s younger years, stories not recounted in chronological order.

Not people of means, as Gatsby had earlier told Nick, Gatsby’s parents were “shiftless and unsuccessful farm people”; in truth, he had never accepted them as his parents at all but saw himself as a son of God: he sprang from “his Platonic conception of...

(The entire section is 1440 words.)

Chapter 7 Summary and Analysis

New Character
Michaelis: friend and comforter of George

Summary
As curiosity peaks concerning Gatsby, the lights fail to go on one Saturday night. Visitors in automobiles stay a few minutes and leave. When Nick inquires about Gatsby’s welfare, the “butler” allays his concerns. The next day Gatsby explains he has dismissed his servants in order to protect Daisy’s reputation when she comes to visit him in the afternoons. He extends an invitation to Nick to join him and Jordan Baker for lunch at the Buchanans’ the next day. Unbearably hot, the train and the passengers on it emit signals and warnings of temper and passion corresponding to the intense heat of the...

(The entire section is 1905 words.)

Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Nick’s restlessness precludes sleep. When he hears Gatsby return home in a taxi, he rushes over, feeling he should warn his neighbor to go away for a while, knowing the car will be traced. Aghast, Gatsby explains that he has to stay to protect Daisy, the first “nice” girl he has ever known. He uses Nick’s visit as an opportunity to relive the Dan Cody story and his Camp Taylor experience.

Like many other officers, Gatsby had visited Daisy while in Louisville, but always he knew he was in her beautiful house by a “colossal accident.” Again, like many others, “Gatsby took Daisy one still October night” because “he had no real right to touch her hand.” Ever since that...

(The entire section is 2150 words.)

Chapter 9 Summary and Analysis

New Character
Henry C. Gatz: Gatsby’s father who comes to attend the funeral

Summary
Two years later, Nick remembers vividly the endless questioning by policemen and newspapermen in the wake of Gatsby’s murder. Wilson, thought to be a madman, “a man deranged by grief,” is found guilty, and the case is closed. When Nick calls Daisy, he learns that she and Tom have left with baggage, no destination or return date known. Subsequent calls to Wolfsheim and other “friends” are futile: no one can attend Gatsby’s funeral. Three days later Henry Gatz sends a telegram with instructions to postpone the funeral until he can get there.

Bundled up against the...

(The entire section is 2141 words.)