The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby is a 1925 novel written by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald that follows a cast of characters living in the fictional town of West Egg on prosperous Long Island in the summer of 1922. The story primarily concerns the young and mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and his quixotic passion and obsession for the beautiful former debutante Daisy Buchanan. Considered to be Fitzgerald’s magnum opus, The Great Gatsby explores themes of decadence, idealism, resistance to change, social upheaval, and excess, creating a portrait of the Jazz Age or the Roaring Twenties that has been described as a cautionary tale regarding the American Dream.
Fitzgerald—inspired by the parties he had attended while visiting Long Island’s north shore—began planning the novel in 1923, desiring to produce, in his words, “something new—something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned.” Progress was slow, with Fitzgerald completing his first draft following a move to the French Riviera in 1924. His editor, Maxwell Perkins, felt the book was vague and persuaded the author to revise over the next winter. Fitzgerald was repeatedly ambivalent about the book’s title and he considered a variety of alternatives, including titles that referenced the Roman character Trimalchio; the title he was last documented to have desired was Under the Red, White, and Blue.”
First published by Scribner’s in April 1925, The Great Gatsby received mixed reviews and sold poorly; in its first year, the book sold only 20,000 copies. Fitzgerald died in 1940, believing himself to be a failure and his work forgotten. However, the novel experienced a revival during World War II, and became a part of American high school curricula and numerous stage and film adaptations in the following decades. Today, The Great Gatsby is widely considered to be a literary classic and a contender for the title “Great American Novel.” In 1998, the Modern Library editorial board voted it the 20th century’s best American novel and second best English-language novel of the same time period.
The main events of the novel take place in the summer of 1922. Nick Carraway, a Yale graduate and veteran of the Great War from the Midwest—who serves as the novel’s narrator—takes a job in New York as a bond salesman. He rents a small house on Long Island, in the fictional village of West Egg, next door to the lavish mansion of Jay Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire who holds extravagant parties but does not participate in them. Nick drives around the bay to East Egg for dinner at the home of his cousin, Daisy Fay Buchanan, and her husband, Tom, a college acquaintance of Nick’s. They introduce Nick to Jordan Baker, an attractive, cynical young golfer with whom Nick begins a romantic relationship. She reveals to Nick that Tom has a mistress, Myrtle Wilson, who lives in the “valley of ashes”, an industrial dumping ground between West Egg and New York City. Not long after this revelation, Nick travels to New York City with Tom and Myrtle to an apartment Tom keeps for his affairs with Myrtle and others. At Tom’s New York apartment, a vulgar and bizarre party takes place. It ends with Tom breaking Myrtle’s nose after she annoys him by saying Daisy’s name several times.
The Plaza Hotel in the early-1920s
As the summer progresses, Nick eventually receives an invitation to one of Gatsby’s parties. Nick encounters Jordan Baker at the party, and they meet Gatsby himself, an aloof and surprisingly young man who recognizes Nick from their same division in the Great War. Through Jordan, Nick later learns that Gatsby knew Daisy through a purely chance meeting in 1917, when Daisy and her friends were doing volunteer services’ work with young Officers headed to Europe. From their brief meetings and casual encounters at that time, Gatsby became (and still is) deeply in love with Daisy. And even more, he became obsessed with the idea of her, and the ideal of living in the world he saw her living in, as the fulfillment of all the possible dreams he could ever have.
Gatsby spends many nights staring at the green light at the end of Tom and Daisy’s dock, across the bay from his mansion, hoping one day to rekindle their lost romance. Jordan confides in Nick that the only reason he bought the mansion is that it was across the bay from Tom and Daisy’s home. And Gatsby’s extravagant lifestyle and wild parties were an attempt to impress Daisy and raise her curiosity about her “anonymous” neighbor across the bay. Gatsby had hoped that one day curiosity would have brought the unsuspecting Daisy to appear at his doorstep, and thereby he’d be able to present himself as a “new man”, now of wealth and position, and now able to join her at her side and within her world. That however never played out, and although Tom had been invited (as a guest of Jordan’s) to a Gatsby party and had attended more than one of them, both he and Daisy had (for different reasons) never responded affirmatively to an RSVP to attend as the Buchanans (Mr. and Mrs.). The deeper reasons behind this fact are expanded upon later in the story by Daisy. His research of Nick, who has so fortuitously rented the small cottage next door to Gatsby’s mansion, results in a wholly new approach to his problem of how to introduce Daisy to the “new” J. Gatsby.
The whole purpose of the “invitation” to Nick to attend a Gatsby party was to develop a relationship with him so that Gatsby could later ask Nick to arrange a reunion between himself and Daisy. Nick invites Daisy to have tea at his house without telling her that Gatsby will also be there. After an initially awkward reunion, Gatsby and Daisy reestablish their connection. They begin an affair and, after a short time, Tom grows increasingly suspicious of his wife’s relationship with Gatsby. At a luncheon at the Buchanans’ house, Daisy speaks to Gatsby with such undisguised intimacy that Tom realizes she is in love with Gatsby. Though Tom is himself involved in an extramarital affair, he is outraged by his wife’s infidelity. He forces the group to drive into New York City and confronts Gatsby in a suite at the Plaza Hotel, asserting that he and Daisy have a history that Gatsby could never understand. In addition to that, he announces to his wife that Gatsby is a criminal whose fortune comes from bootlegging alcohol and other illegal activities. Daisy realizes that her allegiance is to Tom, and Tom contemptuously sends her back to East Egg with Gatsby, attempting to prove that Gatsby cannot hurt him.
When Nick, Jordan, and Tom drive through the valley of ashes on their way home, they discover that Gatsby’s car has struck and killed Tom’s mistress, Myrtle. Nick later learns from Gatsby that Daisy, not Gatsby himself, was driving the car at the time of the accident but Gatsby intends to take the blame anyway. Myrtle’s husband, George, falsely concludes that the driver of the yellow car is the secret lover he recently began suspecting she has, and sets out on foot to locate its owner. After finding out the yellow car is Gatsby’s, he arrives at Gatsby’s mansion where he fatally shoots Gatsby and then himself. Nick stages an unsettlingly small funeral for Gatsby, ends his relationship with Jordan, and moves back to the Midwest, disillusioned with the Eastern lifestyle.