The Great Gatsby Summary
The Great Gatsby is a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald that follows narrator Nick Carraway’s friendship with the enigmatic Jay Gatsby. Here are some key plot points:
- Nick learns that his married cousin Daisy and his neighbor Gatsby were once in love, and he agrees to help Gatsby meet with Daisy. Gatsby and Daisy begin an affair.
- After Tom confronts Daisy and Gatsby, Daisy accidentally kills Tom’s mistress with Gatsby’s car. Gatsby takes the blame for the accident.
- Tom identifies Gatsby to his mistress’s husband, who proceeds to hunt Gatsby down and kill him for revenge.
Last Updated July 18, 2023.
At the beginning of The Great Gatsby, the narrator, a young man by the name of Nick Carraway, returns from World War I in a state of restless excitement. His family owns a successful wholesale hardware business in the Midwest, but Nick, longing for the grandeur and tumult of city life, moves to New York to work in finance.
He rents a cheap little house in West Egg, the less fashionable neighborhood of Long Island, and lives there among the nouveau riche, or “new money.” Shortly after arriving in New York, he visits his cousin Daisy Buchanan, who lives in fashionable East Egg with her husband Tom, a Yale alum from “old” money.
Their first dinner together is interrupted by a phone call from Tom’s mistress, Mrs. Myrtle Wilson, which embarrasses Daisy and heightens tensions in her already strained marriage. It’s clear by the end of the first chapter that Daisy is unhappy and that her failing marriage will supply much of the drama in the novel.
Following this first dinner, Nick spends more time with the Buchanans and their friend, Jordan Baker, whom Nick casually dates throughout the summer. Notably, Tom takes Nick to a small party in the city where Nick meets Myrtle. Nick finds her to be a restless and superficial person. This party seems both quick and interminable and sets the stage for the other parties in the novel, which grow bigger, grander, and more absurd with time.
This is the Jazz Age, a period characterized by jazz music, increased sexual freedom, and excessive alcohol consumption. A nationwide ban on liquor instituted during the Prohibition Era has made serving and bootlegging liquor all the more thrilling. Nick quickly gets swept up in the revelry and becomes intrigued by his neighbor, the mysterious Jay Gatsby, who hosts lavish parties at his estate in West Egg.
Over time, Nick learns that Gatsby isn’t who he claims to be and that his wealth and status are a result of his dealings with a certain Mr. Wolfshiem, an underworld figure who has gotten Gatsby involved in the bootlegging business (and, it’s implied, in other illegal activities). What’s more, Gatsby has been in love with Daisy for years and wants Nick to arrange a meeting between them.
It’s Jordan Baker who fills Nick in on the details of the affair, telling him about the young military officer (Jay Gatsby) who charmed Daisy with his good looks and white uniform when she was eighteen and still living at home with her parents. If not for the fact that Gatsby stayed in Europe after the war, the two of them might have gotten married. Instead, Daisy married Tom, and Gatsby went about amassing a fortune to try to win her back. His lavish parties are part of an elaborate plan to meet Daisy again and seduce her away from her husband. He almost succeeds.
On a broiling hot day, Nick and Jordan drive into the City with the Buchanans and Gatsby and spend the afternoon drinking in a hotel. Tom confronts Daisy and Gatsby about the affair. He berates Daisy into admitting that she loved him once, and accuses Gatsby of bootlegging and other crimes, rattling Gatsby’s careful composure and forcing him to admit his criminal connections.
Daisy, obviously shaken by this confrontation and unsure what to do, drives back to Long Island with Gatsby, in his distinctive yellow car, and Jordan and Nick follow with Tom in his coupé. As they pass the Wilsons’ garage, they see that there has been an accident: Myrtle has been hit and killed by a...
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yellow car driving away from the city. Waiting for his taxi outside the Buchanans’ house, Nick finds Gatsby standing under Daisy’s window, hoping for her to give him a sign to show that Tom isn’t harassing her about the events of the afternoon.
Nick realizes—and Gatsby confirms—that it was actually Daisy who was driving when Myrtle was killed. However, Gatsby is resolved to protect Daisy and take the blame, unaware that, contrary to his expectations of further conflict, she’s sitting at her kitchen table calmly talking with Tom.
Much later that night, filled with a sense of foreboding, Nick goes to meet Gatsby at his house and learns the true story of Gatsby’s past and his dreams regarding reuniting with Daisy.
The next day, while Nick is at work, Myrtle’s grief-stricken husband, George Wilson, leaves his house and tries to trace the owner of the yellow car. (Nick will learn later that Tom gave George Wilson the name "Gatsby," knowing what that would mean.) Gatsby is found murdered in his pool and Wilson’s body is discovered nearby.
Nick stays in West Egg just long enough to arrange Gatsby’s funeral, but none of Gatsby’s many supposed “friends” attend. Nick does get to meet Gatsby’s father, Mr. Gatz, “a solemn old man” who thinks the world of his son. Mr. Gatz shows Nick a book where a young Gatsby (then called “Jimmy”) wrote out his daily schedule and his “resolves”: drink less, save money, and be nicer to his parents.
Seeing this, Nick understands how a young Jimmy Gatz could be propelled by a dream of wealth and status. It was this dream that led Gatsby in his youth to row up beside a yacht and convince its owner to give him a job. Jay Gatsby was born then, well before he met Daisy, and was driven by his certainty and ambition until the day of his death.
In the novel’s final passages, Nick ruminates on Gatsby’s life and his inability to shape his future, concluding: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Estimated reading time: 4-5 hours
Timeline of the Great Gatsby
- 1907: Jimmy Gatz meets Dan Cody and assumes the name Jay Gatsby.
- October 1917: Gatsby meets Daisy; she’s eighteen.
- 1918: Gatsby and Daisy almost marry, then break up.
- June 1919: Daisy marries Tom Buchanan.
- August 1919: Tom starts cheating on Daisy.
- April 1920: Daisy’s daughter Pammy is born.
- Autumn 1921: Nick comes back from the war.
- Spring 1922: Nick moves to West Egg, Long Island to become a bondman.
- Summer 1922: the main action of the novel takes place.
- Autumn 1922: Nick returns to the Midwest.