Key Plot Points
Overview: The novel unfolds during the summer of 1922, in New York and outside the city amid the mansions on Long Island’s north shore. The narrator, Nick Carraway, is a Midwesterner from a prosperous family. After graduating from Yale and fighting in World War I, he decides to move to New York and try his hand in the bond business. He rents a modest bungalow on Long Island, located next door to an opulent estate owned by Jay Gatsby. Across the bay from Gatsby’s home is the mansion of Nick’s second cousin, Daisy Buchanan, and her husband, Tom, who comes from an “enormously wealthy” Chicago family and was a college acquaintance of Nick’s.
Over the course of the summer, Nick learns that Gatsby had met and fallen in love with Daisy five years earlier in Louisville, her hometown, where he was stationed for military training. He left to fight in World War I, and by the time he returned, Daisy had married Tom. Through mysterious means, Gatsby has amassed a fortune and moved into a house that looks across the water to Daisy’s. He is convinced that she loves only him, and the crux of the novel’s plot is his attempt to win her back.
Daisy learns that Gatsby is living nearby on Long Island (chapter 1, East Egg): In the novel’s opening scene, Nick goes to the Buchanan’s for dinner. It’s clear that all is not well between Daisy and Tom. They spar verbally, and when Tom leaves the table to take a phone call, Jordan Baker, a female friend of Daisy’s, explains to Nick that it’s Tom’s “woman in New York” who is calling.
Earlier, Jordan has mentioned that she knows Nick’s neighbor, Gatsby. Daisy is startled— “Gatsby? What Gatsby?” she says—but the conversation is cut short when they’re called in to dinner. Daisy doesn’t bring him up again, but in retrospect it’s clear that the revelation of his presence is the crucial event of the evening.
Nick meets Myrtle; Tom breaks Myrtle’s nose (chapter 2, upper Manhattan): On a Sunday afternoon, Tom introduces Nick to his mistress, Myrtle Wilson, the wife of an auto garage owner. Tom takes them to an apartment in upper Manhattan that he keeps for their trysts. Myrtle’s sister and the downstairs neighbors arrive to make a small but riotous party. Nick says, “I have been drunk twice in my life, and the second time was that afternoon.”
The hours pass in a haze, with Myrtle at one point telling Nick the story of how she and Tom first met on the train in from Long Island. After they disembarked, with barely a word exchanged, he had forcefully lead her into a taxi with him. “I told him I’d have to call a policeman,” she says, “but he knew I lied.” Later, Myrtle chides Tom about Daisy, and Tom responds by striking her, breaking her nose. The chapter is at its core a demonstration of Tom’s character, showing his arrogance, his entitlement, and his brutality.
Nick attends one of Gatsby’s parties and meets Gatsby for the first time; Jordan has a long conversation with Gatsby in private (chapter 3, Gatsby’s mansion): On most weekends Gatsby hosts a lavish party, with a full orchestra, an extravagant buffet, free-flowing liquor, and scores of guests. Many attendees have never met Gatsby, and his mysterious identity leads to wild speculation, including theories that he was a German spy during the war and that he has killed a man.
Nick attends one such party, where he meets up with Jordan. At one point he strikes up a conversation with a stranger, who turns out to be Gatsby. Nick describes at length Gatsby’s smile—“one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance.” Gatsby is extremely, almost excessively, attentive to his guests’ desires, but he’s also aloof, soberly observing the revels without joining in himself. Late in the evening, a butler summons Jordan to speak with Gatsby in private. When she leaves him after an hour’s conversation, she tells Nick, “I’ve just heard the most amazing thing,” but she has sworn...
(The entire section is 2,355 words.)