The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925.
Setting, Time Period, Atmosphere:
The story takes place on Long Island, in two areas nicknamed West Egg and East Egg, and in New York City. The time period is the early 1920’s, during prohibition. The atmosphere shifts between light-hearted and fun to gloomy and menacing.
Plot Summary (On Page Two):
Nick Carraway moves to New York in 1922. He moves into an area known as the, “West Egg,” an area full of those who had recently obtained great wealth. Nick quickly discovers his neighbor, Jay Gatsby, to be prone to throwing grandly elaborate parties Saturday nights. A few days after Nick’s arrival, he visits his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, in East Egg. It is here that Nick meets Jordan Baker, whom he will go on to have a romantic relationship with. At this meeting, Jordan tells Nick that Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband, is having an affair. A few days later Nick and Tom travel to New York City, where they meet with Tom’s mistress, Myrtle. They attend a party, at which Tom breaks Myrtle’s nose after she taunts him about his wife. Later, Nick is personally invited to a party at Gatsby’s house. He meets up with Jordan, and after a short time the two are confronted by Jay Gatsby himself. Gatsby asks to talk to Jordan alone, and they walk off together. When Jordan and Nick meet again, she tells him that Gatsby had revealed to her an intense love for Daisy Buchanan, and that it was Gatsby’s wish that Nick set up a meeting between Daisy and himself (Gatsby). Nick obliges, and a few days later Daisy and Gatsby are reunited. They fall in love, and begin an affair. After a time, Tom becomes suspicious of Daisy and Gatsby’s relationship. Gatsby and Nick are invited to lunch at the Buchanan household, and Gatsby is unable to hide his love for Daisy. Tom is outraged, but blames his mood on the heat. It is suggested that the party travel to New York City, and the party agrees. In New York City, Tom confronts Gatsby and Daisy, and Daisy is forced to pick Tom and security over Gatsby. Tom sends Daisy back home with Gatsby, but on the way home, a distressed Daisy runs over Myrtle. A day later, Tom tells Myrtle’s husband, George, that it was Gatsby that killed his wife. George visits Gatsby’s house and shoots him in his swimming pool, before shooting himself. Nick holds a small funeral for Gatsby, unable to find many people willing to attend, before moving back to the Midwest in disgust.
Nick Carraway: The narrator of the novel, Nick is a reliable, sincere, and non-judgmental young man. Nicks insights and perceptions help to shape the atmosphere and tone of the novel. Throughout the story, Nick plays as confidant for those with troubling personal secrets (Tom, Gatsby, Daisy). The only character in the story that possessed the ability to see past the corruption of wealth and Jazz Age society in Long Island.
Jay Gatsby: The protagonist of the novel. Gatsby is an extremely wealthy man, although it is confirmed that his wealth is obtained via criminal methods. Although he is dishonest in his choice of work, Gatsby shows great honesty and integrity in his quest for Daisy. It is his ability to surpass his defects and to constantly reach for his dreams that makes Gatsby, “Great.”
Daisy Buchanan: Daisy is Nick’s cousin. She is noticeably superficial and slightly dim-witted, as well as largely cynical. Daisy is in love with wealth, luxury, and comfort. While she seems capable of affection, she shows a serious lack of loyalty.
Tom Buchanan: An arrogant, hypocritical, amoral man, Tom Buchanan is the antagonist of the novel. He is enraged after hearing of Daisy’s unfaithfulness, yet has had multiple open affairs himself.
Jordan Baker: Jordan is one of Daisy’s friends. She is cynical, dishonest, and largely superficial. She has a brief relationship with Nick.
Myrtle Wilson: A energetic, optimistic woman, Myrtle is Tom’s mistress throughout the novel. As with the other women in the story, Myrtle is shallow and unscrupulous.
George Wilson: A plain, hard working, simple man, George is unable to satisfy his wife Myrtle. When Myrtle dies, George becomes frenzied, and murders Gatsby.
The Great Gatsby is a novel about the American dream. Like other members of the, “lost generation,” Fitzgerald had a much different view of American society than influential authors prior to world war one. In Fitzgerald’s mind, America was not the land of freedom and opportunity it was assumed to be.
Fitzgerald expertly uses conflict between characters to portray the corruption of the so called, “Jazz Age.” The numerous affairs and tragedies throughout the story portray the corruption within the characters’ very hearts.
Three Important Themes:
• The American Dream: In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald depicts the corruption and amorality contained within the “American Dream” during the post World War One era. This corruption can be witnessed through the behavior of the novels main characters. The numerous affairs going on throughout the novel, the bootlegging, murder, and overall lack of feeling about any of these behaviors are excellent examples. These men and woman abuse the freedoms given to them by their country, and are careless of the consequences.
• Society and Class: Throughout the novel, it is apparent that class plays a large role in the lifestyle of the novels characters. Being in the upper class, these characters do not worry themselves with politics or government, often viewing themselves as above the law. They spend most of their time in comfort and relaxation. There is little difference between the lifestyle’s of those from East and West Egg.
• Love: Fitzgerald appears to hold a cynical view on love. He depicts those in love to be in a dream, a dream destined to end. For example, Gatsby believes himself to be in love with Daisy, but in reality is in love with a memory of time he had spent with Daisy in the past. This dream drove the actions of Gatsby’s whole life, until he was harshly shocked into awakening.
The tone of the story is cynically ironic. Nick is the narrator of the story, and it is through Nick’s eyes that we witness the events unfold. Nick holds very cynical views on life and society. He refuses to be sucked into the emptiness of the upper class, viewing it for what it really is. Nick’s tone throughout the story adds a very important dimension to the conflict. Through his eyes, we look at Tom in disgust, and empathize with Gatsby.
Structure and Point of View:
The story is told in chronological order, with one or two flashbacks. New events in the story often take place on the change of a day, or week. The story is told from a first person subjective point of view. Nick Carraway is the narrator, and the story is told with bias and half-understanding, based on what Nick is aware of.
Symbols (On Page Four):
• The Green Light: The green light symbolizes the yearnings and hopes Gatsby holds regarding Daisy. After Gatsby is reunited with Daisy, the green light becomes hidden by a mysterious mist, likely symbolizing his realization that Daisy cannot possibly reach his hopes and idealizations, and the confusion this creates.
• The Valley of Ashes: The valley of ashes represents the moral decay that coincides with a reckless and uninhibited pursuit of wealth and luxury. It is a desolate land, and it is here that Tom has his affair with Myrtle, that Daisy runs over Myrtle with Gatsby’s car, and where George Wilson decides to murder Gatsby.
• Eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg: This billboard is given relevant significance after George discovers Myrtle’s unfaithful behavior, and brings her to the window, referring to the billboard as the, “Eyes of God.”
Motifs, Images, and Allusions:
Motifs: Geography, Weather, Parties, Alcohol, Crime, and Cars.
Images: Fitzgerald uses fantastic imagery throughout the novel. A great example of such imagery would be Fitzgerald’s description of the valley of ashes.
Allusions: Fitzgerald makes many allusions to the work of T.S Elliot, as well as an allusion to the Greek myth King Midas.
“I hope she’ll be a fool-that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” – Daisy
This quote offers readers an important insight into Daisy’s personality. Although Daisy is not entirely a fool, she lives in a society in which intelligence in women is undervalued. She believes her daughter will be best off if she is beautifully simple-minded, devoid of opinion. If this became a reality, Daisy’s daughter would be destined to become subservient to a man in exchange for security, much like Daisy herself.
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter-tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” – Nick
This quote stresses the importance Nick places on the past in relation to dreams of the future. He believes that it is possible to transcend ones past, but that it is a rarity. He finds that most people are bound to their past, and that it is the rare few who are able to remain optimistic about their futures that become truly great.
“He had one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced, or seemed to face, the whole external world for an instant and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself.” – Nick
This quote depicts Nick’s initial judgment of Gatsby. This judgment turns out to be false, a description of a mask Gatsby has constructed for years. The reader slowly learns Gatsby’s true character as the novel progresses.