What Happens in The Great Gatsby?

Midwest native Nick Carraway moves to New York to become a bond man. Nick's next door neighbor is the enigmatic Jay Gatsby, a bootlegger who once had an affair with Daisy Buchanan, Nick's cousin. When Nick first arrives in New York, he has dinner with Daisy and her husband Tom.

  • Nick thinks Tom and Daisy are "careless people." During dinner, Tom's mistress, Myrtle Wilson, calls him, and Daisy expresses her unhappiness with her marriage. Despite Nick's misgivings about Daisy's character, he agrees to help Gatsby win her back.
  • Nick arranges a secret meeting between Daisy and Gatsby at his house. Their affair lasts most of the summer, until, on a stifling hot day in July, Tom confronts them. This upsets Daisy, causing her to accidentally hit Myrtle with Gatsby's car.
  • Gatsby takes the blame for the Myrtle's death. He waits for Daisy to call him, unaware that she and Tom are planning to leave town. Meanwhile, George Wilson, Myrtle's husband, walks across Long Island, searching for Myrtle's killer. He eventually finds Gatsby and shoots him. Nick leaves New York, disillusioned with the Jazz Age.

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The narrator, a young man by the name of Nick Carraway, returns from World War I in a state of restless excitement, invigorated by the battles and disappointed with life in the little Midwest town where he grew up. His family owns a successful wholesale hardware business, but Nick, longing for the grandeur and tumult of city life, moves to New York to become a bond man. He rents a cheap little house in West Egg, the less fashionable version of East Egg, 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 East Egg with her husband Tom, a Yale alum with old money. Their first dinner together upon Nick’s arrival in New York is interrupted by a phone call from Tom’s mistress, Myrtle, which embarrasses Daisy and heightens tensions in their already strained marriage. It’s clear by the end of the first chapter that Daisy is a flighty, unhappy, and insincere person, and that her failing marriage will supply much of the drama in the novel.

Following this first dinner, Nick attends a series of parties with the Buchanans and their close friend, Jordan Baker, whom Nick casually dates throughout the summer. Their first stop is to a small party in the City where Nick meets Mrs. Myrtle Wilson and realizes that she’s a vain and superficial person (just before the party, Tom took her to Fifth Avenue and bought her a bunch of gifts, including a little dog; Daisy, of course, stayed home). 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, sexual freedom, and excessive alcohol consumption, and 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 fascinated with his neighbor, the titular 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 newfound wealth and status are a result of his dealings with the shady Mr. Wolfsheim, an underworld figure who has gotten Gatsby involved in the bootlegging business (and, it’s implied, in other illegal activities). What’s more, Gatsby is in love with Daisy and wants Nick to arrange a meeting between them at his little summer house. It’s Jordan Baker who fills Nick in on 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 he was poor and had no connections and no future that Daisy could see, the two of them might have gotten married. Instead, Daisy married Tom,...

(The entire section is 2,800 words.)