Study Guide

The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby Quotes

Important Quotations

  • Quote #1
    ch. 1, p. 2 (based on Scribner paperback edition 2004; your page # may not correspond)
    [Narrator describes Jay Gatsby.]

    If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life.… [Gatsby had] an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.

    In the introduction to the story, narrator Nick Carraway describes Gatsby as he, retrospectively, perceives him. Immediately, Fitzgerald establishes Gatsby as an exceptionally romantic hero and a hopeful dreamer. The narrator tips his hand and reveals his favoritism for Gatsby. This quote is important because it not only establishes the essence of the Gatsby character but it also foreshadows the very nature of the story and its primary themes: idealism, aspiration, and loss.

  • Quote #2
    ch. 2, pp. 23-24
    [Establishes the domain of the working poor.]

    This is a valley of ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of ash-gray men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.… [And the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg] brood on over the solemn dumping ground.

    In this dramatic description, Fitzgerald sets the scene for the world of the working poor, where George and Myrtle Wilson live. The “valley of ashes” provides a sharp, poetic contrast to the cool, lush estates of East Egg. What would normally be signs of life—wheat fields and gardens—are merely forms in a smoldering, colorless landscape. Importantly, this scene immediately follows a genteel luncheon at the Buchanan mansion. Sea breezes are replaced by “rising smoke,” extensive green lawns by “grotesque gardens.”

    This scene also establishes the class conflict that permeates the book, and is a foreboding allusion to the death that occurs here. We become aware for the first time of the symbolic eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, who watches over this “solemn dumping ground” as a God-like witness to the despair and hopelessness that emanates from the place.

  • Quote #3
    ch. 3, p. 50
    [In the midst of his own party, Gatsby is alone.]

    When the Jazz History of the World was over, girls where putting their heads on men’s shoulders … swooning backward playfully into men’s arms … but no one swooned backward on Gatsby, and no French bob touched Gatsby’s shoulder, and no singing quartets were formed with Gatsby’s head for one link.

    This passage serves to capture a sense of Gatsby’s parties, as well as his place in them. Fitzgerald references a “sensational” piece of music of the day, describes the playful, affectionate nature of the guests, and casually notes the hairstyle that practically defined the “flapper.” In the middle of this scene, a scene that Gatsby himself created (he even requested the song), he stands alone, alienated from his own guests. We are reminded that this whole performance is just that—a show put on for everyone but himself.

  • ...

(The entire section is 1472 words.)

The Great Gatsby Essential Quotes

Essential Passage by Character: Nick Carraway

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

He didn’t say any more, but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men. Most of the confidences were unsought—frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon; for the intimate revelations of young men, or at least the terms in which they express them, are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions. Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.

The Great Gatsby, pp. 1-2 (Scribner: New York, 2004)

Summary
Nick Carraway introduces himself as an open and honest individual. Through the guidance and influence of his father, Nick has learned to be tolerant of others because, as his father tells him, “…all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” Because Nick and his father can communicate openly (unlike other characters in the novel), Nick’s life has as its foundation a worldview based on compassion.

Nick admits that this level of tolerance has made him vulnerable to all sorts of people and their problems. While he is tolerant of all people, he does not necessarily find all people entertaining or even interesting on the same level. He feels that, in some way, his transparency has made him a homing beacon of the “abnormal mind,” opening him up to a wide range of individuals. This spectrum of acquaintances earned him the reputation of being a “politician” in college, a "politician" in a rather negative sense. He is privy to a variety of secret affairs, necessitating a certain level of diplomacy as well as power.

Nick confesses that his status as a confidant was unsought (and basically unwanted). He tried many times to avoid the situation, usually through deceptive means, pretending to be unavailable in some way or another. Yet he is always found and confided in.

Nick, because of his conventional upbringing, finds many of the “intimate revelations” rather too intimate. Moreover, these revelations are neither original nor genuine, but rather...

(The entire section is 1227 words.)

Essential Passage by Theme: Deception and Delusion

Wilson’s glazed eyes turned out to the ashheaps, where small gray clouds took on fantastic shape and scurried here and there in the faint dawn wind.

“I spoke to her,” he muttered, after a long silence. “I told her she might fool me but she couldn’t fool God. I took her to the window.”—with an effort he got up and walked to the rear window and leaned with his face pressed against it——” and I said ‘God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing. You may fool me, but you can’t fool God!’”

Standing behind him, Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, which had just emerged, pale and enormous, from the dissolving night.

“God sees everything,” repeated Wilson.

The Great Gatsby, pp. 159-160 (Scribner: New York, 2004)

Summary
It is the morning after Myrtle Wilson has died, struck down by the automobile driven by Daisy Buchanan. To George Wilson, despite her unfaithfulness, she was all he had, and her loss is more than he can bear. His plan, once he suspected her infidelity, was to move from the area. Myrtle, unwilling to leave, was locked in her room by her husband until such time as he could acquire money enough to leave. Managing to escape her room, Myrtle ran out into the road, hoping to stop Gatsby, whose car she recognized. She was killed instantly and brought into Wilson’s shop. It is only recently that her body has at last been taken away, leaving blood stains on the bench as well as in the road for curious bystanders to gawk at.

George, as the new day dawns, manages to move past his grief to find his revenge. Not suspecting Tom Buchanan as Myrtle’s lover, he thinks only of the man in the yellow car. George intends to find out who he is and bring justice.

George looks out at the Valley of Ashes that is his home. The ashes are billowing up in the light wind, bespeaking change and action.

Michaelis, another dweller in the Valley of Ashes, has stayed throughout the night, since George evidently has no friend to stand vigil with him. Michaelis, unaware of George’s intentions or justifications, tries to convince him it was only an accident. Yet George insists it was murder. More than that, it was retribution brought on Myrtle for her unfaithfulness.

Looking out of the window, George sees once again the billboard with the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, the occultist whose bespectacled visage haunts the Valley of Ashes. This billboard has appeared many times throughout the novel, each character passing it as he or she goes from Long Island to New York. Those eyes seem to be inescapable to no one. To George, they are the eyes of God.

George tells...

(The entire section is 1175 words.)

Ed. Scott Locklear, Michael Foster