The narrator of the story is Nick Carraway, who has moved to New York from the Midwest. He rents a house in the town of West Egg, Long Island. Across the bay, in the more respectable East Egg, live his cousin Daisy and her wealthy, overbearing husband Tom Buchanan, whom Nick knew at Yale.
The most interesting character he meets, however, is his next-door neighbor, a mysterious rich man known as Jay Gatsby. After attending a lavish but ostentatious party at Gatsby’s estate, Nick slowly becomes his one true friend. He discovers that Gatsby has long loved Daisy, and that he has dedicated his life to winning her from Tom. Gatsby (ne Gatz) has tried to make himself into the kind of sophisticated man he feels Daisy deserves, but his money has come from gambling and other underworld activities.
Nick recognizes the impossibility of Gatsby’s dream but admires the inspired romantic imagination that has thus reshaped his life. Following the inevitable failure of Gatsby’s quest, Nick returns to the Midwest, appalled at the sordidness and waste found beneath the alluring surface of the good life.
A perfectly constructed book, the novel is a masterpiece of narrative style. Nick reflects Fitzgerald’s conflicting attitudes toward the wealthy, whom he found both glamorous and destructive. The book is also a testament to the power of the creative will to overcome, at least for the moment, the despair of everyday life.
Brucoli, Matthew J. Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1993. Commonly regarded as the definitive Fitzgerald biography. Shows how the author became a kind of romantic archetype of the intoxicated, tragic genius. Includes an afterword by Scottie Fitzgerald Smith. See especially the section on The Great Gatsby entitled “Early Success, 1920-1925.”
Bryer, Jackson R., ed. “The Great Gatsby (1925).” In F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Critical Reception. New York: Burt Franklin, 1978. Provides an extensive, representative sampling of The Great Gatsby’s critical reception and shows how most critics did not recognize the novel’s remarkable mythic and symbolic dimensions.
Eble, Kenneth. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1977. The section on The Great Gatsby traces the novel’s literary genesis, explores the sources and consequences of Fitzgerald’s provincial moral posture, and discusses the use of structure, mood, and action in the development of Gatsby’s romantic vision.
Hook, Andrew. F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Literary Life. New York: St. Martin’s, 2002. Part of the Literary Lives series. Concise rather than thorough, but with some interesting details.
Lockridge, Ernest, ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of “The Great Gatsby”: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968. An impressive collection of critical interpretations and viewpoints on the novel. Includes commentary by Edith Wharton, Conrad Aiken, Lionel Trilling, Maxwell Perkins, and Fitzgerald himself.
Stern, Milton R. The Golden Moment: The Novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971. A very readable and fascinating analysis. The section on The Great Gatsby focuses on the biographical and mythical aspects of Fitzgerald’s adolescent moral perspective.