Fiction Classic

The Great Gatsby – Summary

F. Scott Fitzgerald
Rating: 7.8

“Fantastic proof that Chivalry, of a sort, is not dead.”
― Life Magazine

The Great Gatsby is an American Fiction Novel and a masterpiece by F. Scott Fitzgerald. First published in 1925, it’s an absorbing portrait of Jazz Age New York society in all its decadence and frenzied partying. The novel exposes the cynicism and inner emptiness of a class of people who seem to have it all but are empty. Jay Gatsby, who has gone from rags to riches via shady dealings, chases a materialistic dream which he mistakes for romantic love, only to lose everything when his fragile house of cards finally comes crashing down.

The Great Gatsby is considered one of the finest accomplishments in American literature – a painfully beautiful and gripping testimony of wasted opportunities. Recent history underlines its continuing relevance and the urgency of its central themes.

“Angry, and half in love with her, and tremendously sorry, I turned away.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

Arrival on Long Island

In the spring of 1922, Nick Carraway relocates from the Midwest to New York to earn a living as a stock broker. Nick comes from a well-off merchant family, yet he’s less affluent than his new neighbors in West Egg, Long Island. He moves into a run-down bungalow, the only $80 a month rental in the midst of extravagant mansions. Nick also differs from the other West Egg residents in that he has a family contact in the staid, old-money community of East Egg across the bay.

“I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

The country’s long-established elite live there, enjoying a status that the nouveau riche of West Egg – no matter how wealthy they become – will never be able to attain. One night, Nick drives over to East Egg to have dinner with his cousin Daisy and her husband Tom Buchanan. Nick is greeted by Tom, who affects a commanding presence, his massive frame arrayed in riding attire, at the entrance of his elegant house. Inside, Daisy lounges on a luxurious couch with her striking friend, professional golfer Jordan Baker. Both women seem bored; the immense wealth surrounding them fails to impress.

“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

Over dinner, Tom talks about a book, The Rise of the Colored Empires. Its theory that the “white race” is under threat fascinates him; Daisy can only mock his interest. When Tom leaves the room to take a phone call, Daisy follows him. Jordan tells Nick that Tom is having an affair with a woman in New York City. The mood sours and the dinner party disperses. Jordan wants to be well-rested for a golf tournament the next day. Back home in the West Egg, Nick sees his neighbor for the first time: Mr. Gatsby stands in the moonlight on his lavish estate, staring at a strange green light at the end of the bay.

“In his blue gardens, men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

New York Society

“Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

A menacing billboard towers above a destitute neighborhood wedged between New York and Long Island. The board, which advertises the services of an oculist named T. J. Eckleburg, displays a looming pair of hovering eyes. Tom Buchanan takes Nick to visit a nearby garage, belonging to George B. Wilson. Ostensibly, Tom has come to negotiate the sale of his car to Wilson, but his secret objective is to arrange a rendezvous with the car dealer’s wife, Myrtle Wilson. In fact, she is Tom’s mistress. They talk Nick into spending the afternoon at their secret apartment, bingeing on whiskey along with other guests including the photographer Mr. McKee and his wife.

“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” (Nick)

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

While chatting with Myrtle Wilson’s sister, Nick hears one of many rumors circulating about his neighbor, Gatsby: He’s said to be Emperor Wilhelm’s nephew and therefore fabulously wealthy. Myrtle complains loudly about her husband, the car dealer, who couldn’t even afford his own suit for their wedding. Contrary to his custom, Nick drinks too much. The pretentiousness of the afternoon repels him as its relentless energy attracts him. The party comes to an abrupt end when Myrtle mentions Daisy, Tom’s wife. Infuriated, he strikes Myrtle with an open-handed blow, breaking her nose.

“You see I usually find myself among strangers because I drift here and there trying to forget the sad things that happened to me.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

Fabulous Garden Parties

“There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

On weekends, Nick’s neighbor Gatsby throws spectacular parties, sparing nothing to lure members of New York’s high society to his palatial estate. One Saturday, Nick receives a written invitation. He expects to meet the infamous Gatsby when he arrives, instead, Jordan Baker introduces Nick around. Rumors about Gatsby swirl: One girl says he was a spy in Germany, another claims he murdered someone. When Nick eventually meets his host, he doesn’t realize at first that this is the infamous Gatsby – a fact Gatsby dismisses with a friendly smile. The butler calls Gatsby to take a phone call and the mysterious man disappears. Later, Jordan spends a secretive hour in the library with the host.

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

The party ends in drunkenness and chaos. Gatsby is the only sober man left standing. After the party, Nick and Jordan meet more often, becoming somewhat closer. However, since Nick hasn’t officially ended his romance back in the Midwest, he delays advancing the relationship.

“Reserving judgements is a matter of infinite hope.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

Old Love

“All I kept thinking about, over and over, was ‘You can’t live forever; you can’t live forever.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

Gatsby invites Nick to accompany him into the city. On the drive in, Gatsby delivers a version of his backstory: He claims he inherited his money, studied at Oxford, collected jewels in Europe and earned several decorations during the First World War. The fantastic story doesn’t convince Nick, yet Gatsby shows him a photograph of himself in Oxford and an authentic-looking medal from Montenegro.

“Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.” (Nick)

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

Later, Nick meets Gatsby at a restaurant where he’s dining with an older man, Meyer Wolfsheim, who is Jewish unlike Gatsby’s high society friends. Gatsby introduces Meyer as his business partner, though he’s actually Gatsby’s contact with organized crime. After Meyer leaves, Gatsby proudly declares that he is a gambler and was responsible for the notorious fixing of the 1919 World Series. Meyer later tries to vouch for Gatsby’s character, but Nick finds him crass and vulgar. As he pays the bill, Nick spots Tom Buchanan and insists on introducing him to Gatsby.

“I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others–young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

Gatsby is visibly embarrassed and ill at ease. In the afternoon, Nick has tea with Jordan who tells him the reason: Gatsby and Daisy once were lovers before Daisy married the wealthy Buchanan in Gatsby’s absence. At the time, Gatsby sent a letter that almost persuaded Daisy to break off her engagement. Now that Tom is involved in extramarital affairs, and Daisy has discovered the true identity of Nick’s neighbor, her old attraction for Gatsby appears to be resurfacing. Through Jordan, Gatsby asks Nick to invite his cousin Daisy for tea so that he could meet her seemingly by chance.

“No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

The Reunion

“I wasn’t actually in love, but I felt a sort of tender curiosity.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

Gatsby offers Nick a well-paying job in return for the arranged meeting with Daisy, but Nick declines. Gatsby is very nervous about seeing his old love again and behaves bashfully, like a schoolboy. Daisy, too, barely manages to keep her composure. Nick leaves them alone in his living room for half an hour and finds them entirely changed when he returns. The awkwardness has disappeared and the lovers are happily reunited.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

Gatsby wants to show Daisy his mansion, and Nick joins them for the tour. Daisy is thrilled, admiring Gatsby’s wealth. Gatsby, who amassed his fortune only for her, is overwhelmed with joy. Yet his ecstasy is ambiguous. After years of working and planning toward the dream of seeing Daisy again, his success brings the vision into stark reality. The green light at the end of the bay loses its luster as a metaphor for insatiable longing, and becomes simply a lamp on a dock.

“It takes two to make an accident.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

The Truth About Gatsby

“If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

Nick finds out that Jay Gatsby’s real name is James Gatz and that he grew up as a poor farm boy in North Dakota. As a footloose 17-year-old, Gatz invented his current image when he met Dan Cody – a hard-drinking millionaire – and saw his glamorous yacht. Gatz entered Cody’s employ as his personal assistant.

“There is no confusion like the confusion of a simple mind…”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

One Saturday night, Tom shows up at one of Gatsby’s opulent parties, bringing Daisy along. Tom quickly becomes more interested in Gatsby’s past than in the fantastic display of his present. He announces that he will make inquiries. On this particular evening, the vulgar revelry on her lover’s estate puts Daisy off.

“Life is much more successfully looked at from a single window.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

Later that night, Gatsby tells Nick about a growing a friction between himself and Daisy. He demanded that she repudiate her marriage to Tom, get a divorce and declare that she never loved him. However, Daisy won’t – or can’t – agree to do it. Nick demurs that you can’t repeat the past, to which Gatsby, taken aback, responds: “Why of course you can!”

“The exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

Open Confrontation

“His dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

The Buchanans invite Nick and Gatsby for lunch. Jordan is also present. It is unbearably hot; the mood is tense. Gatsby and Daisy exchange loving gazes; Tom sees through them. To escape the uncomfortable situation, they all decide to go to the city together. On the way, they stop for gas at George B. Wilson’s garage. Wilson has just learned of his wife’s affair, but doesn’t know that Tom is the lover in question. Wilson declares that he’ll leave town with Myrtle. Gatsby, Nick, Jordan, Tom and Daisy rent a suite for the afternoon in the Plaza Hotel, where Tom openly confronts Gatsby about the relationship with his wife.

“Thirty–the promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning brief-case of enthusiasm, thinning hair.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

Again – this time in front of everyone – Gatsby demands that Daisy declare that she never loved Tom, and again, Daisy can’t bring herself to do it. Gatsby finds himself powerless in the face of the married couple’s past. Moreover, Tom confronts him with the result of his investigations: Gatsby, he maintains, made his money through illicit business – bootlegging and worse. To humiliate Gatsby and Daisy further, Tom insists that they leave to go home together, taking Gatsby’s car. His spitefulness proves fateful: Myrtle Wilson comes rushing out of the garage after a fight with her husband and Daisy, who is at the wheel, runs over her – killing Myrtle instantly. Daisy drives off with Gatsby still in the car, fleeing the scene of the crime.

“It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made….”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

That night Gatsby maintains a vigil in front of the Buchanans’ house. He tells Nick that he’ll assume responsibility for Myrtle’s death and claim that he was driving the car. Gatsby fears that a jealous Tom could harm Daisy. But as Nick peeks into the Buchanans’ kitchen window, he sees Daisy and Tom sitting at a table over cold chicken and beer, having returned to their normal, everyday life.

“A stirring warmth flowed from her, as if her heart was trying to come out to you concealed in one of those breathless, thrilling words.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

Gatsby’s End

“The rich get richer and the poor get – children.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

At dawn the next morning, Nick tries to talk Gatsby into fleeing. The two men are alone at Gatsby’s abandoned palace. Sooner or later, Nick tells him, the authorities will trace his car and link him to the accident. But Gatsby refuses to leave town because he still hopes that Daisy will come back to him. Daisy had been his first “nice girl,” Gatsby recounts. She accepted him when he was wearing his army uniform which didn’t betray his modest background.

“Human sympathy has its limits.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

Then he was sent off to war. While he was in Europe, Daisy grew impatient and married Tom Buchanan – a good match who befitted her social status. Nick tries to cheer up his friend, saying that he’s worth more than all the rest of high society’s people put together. Although Gatsby has become part of high society, Nick finds that his sincere love of Daisy redeems him.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

In the late morning, Nick takes the train to work. By now he loathes high society and turns down a chance to meet Jordan for lunch. For Gatsby, the day takes a tragic turn. Prompted by the staring eyes on Doctor T. J. Eckleburg’s billboard, George B. Wilson proclaims, in a trance, that “God sees everything.” He vows to find out who owns the car that killed his wife and avenge her death. Later that day, Nick discovers Gatsby’s body, dead of a gunshot wound, floating in the swimming pool. Wilson, an apparent suicide, lies in the grass nearby.

“It is invariably saddening to look through new eyes at things upon which you have expended your own powers of adjustment.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

Farewell

“The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

Two years later, Nick thinks back to Gatsby’s funeral, attended only by Gatsby’s aged father and a single other guest – a man who had once attended one of Gatsby’s infamous parties. Daisy and Tom have left the city for an unknown destination. Meyer Wolfsheim has no interest in getting drawn into a murder case and New York society has forgotten Gatsby. Before leaving the East Coast, Nick meets Jordan Baker one last time. He still feels attracted to the glamorous golfer, yet he knows that he can’t keep up with her lifestyle. By chance, he runs into Tom along Fifth Avenue. Nick learns that Tom was the one who set the grief-stricken Wilson on Gatsby’s track. Tom callously accepted the risk that Wilson would kill Gatsby, however, contrary to Nick, he can’t see anything morally wrong with what he’s done.

“People disappeared, reappeared, made plans to go somewhere, and then lost each other, searched for each other, found each other a few feet away.”

-The Great Gatsby, Fiction Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Book Summary by Make Me Read

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