The Great Gatsby is a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald published in the American “Jazz Age” that describes the fruitless and desperate attempts of two wealthy socialites to relive the past.
In the story, the title character of Gatsby tries desperately to finally secure the beautiful yet unattainable Daisy as his partner. Ultimately, his love is doomed for tragedy. The Great Gatsby has become a defining work of American literature from the 20th century, speaking to issues like love, wealth, social status, and reckless hope.
The novel follows narrator Nick Carraway as he observes the desperate Jay Gatsby’s attempts to win over his love Daisy Buchanan. Daisy thwarts Gatsby’s efforts to convince her to leave her husband Tom because Daisy has become comfortable in her lifestyle and is unwilling to let it go, pointing to the hollowness of wealth and status.
The Great Gatsby Literary Elements
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Type of Work: Fiction/novel
Genres: Social satire, tragedy, realism, modernism
Published Date: 1925
Setting: New York City and its suburbs West and East Egg (which are fictional stand-ins for neighborhoods of Long Island).
Main Characters: Nick Carraway, Tom Buchanan, Daisy Buchanan, Jay Gatsby. See full character list.
Protagonist/Antagonist: Protagonist – Jay Gatsby / Antagonist – Tom Buchanan, and (to a lesser extent) Daisy Buchanan. See character descriptions.
Major Thematic Elements: The unattainable “American Dream,” emptiness of wealth, class struggles, love and marriage.
Motifs: Geography (West Egg represents new money and East Egg represents old money), weather.
Major Symbols: The green light, the Valley of Ashes (represents lower class), The eyes on the billboard for Doctor T.J. Eckleburg. See Great Gatsby Major Symbols.
Exposition: Nick becomes wrapped up in Gatsby’s life as he tries to win the affections of his former love Daisy Buchanan. Readers learn that despite all of Gatsby’s wealth and successes, all he really wants is Daisy.
Conflict: Although Daisy and Gatsby have a brief and happy affair, it is quickly learned that Daisy will not leave her husband Tom, even though everyone knows she loves Gatsby.
Plot: linear narrative.
Climax: While Daisy is driving Gatsby’s car, she hits her husband’s lover, Myrtle Wilson, by accident. Myrtle is killed and Gatsby takes the blame, angering everyone including Myrtle’s husband, George.
Literary Significance of The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby touches on what Fitzgerald calls the “Jazz Age” of America. This was a time where the economy was soaring, bringing prosperity to the nation. Many people saw wealth they had not previously anticipated and because of this there were parties, celebrations, and extravagance all around.
Fitzgerald, who, like his characters, rose quickly to fame and wealth through his writing, notice a hollowness to this period of exuberance and although the lifestyles of the rich and famous were appealing to him, he couldn’t help but feel burdened by the moral emptiness and hypocrisy beneath the surface of all the glamor. The Great Gatsby represents Fitzgerald’s attempts to confront such conflicting feelings about this unique time in United States history.
To this day, The Great Gatsby is widely regarded as one of the most significant works of American literature because of its relevant issues that most people can relate to in some way or another. His skillful use of the modernist and realist styles of writing help to enhance this quality. Modernism grew as a response to rising technology and urbanization that resulted after the Industrial Revolution. Realism came about from a desire on the part of artists to depict the world as it really is rather than through the preferred rose-colored glasses. Human nature, in both modernism and realism, is depicted a complex, flawed, and imperfect. The lessons and insights that come from The Great Gatsby thanks to this style of writing have proven to be timeless even though the story is so loudly a reflection of the social context of the Roaring 20s.
The Great Gatsby Book Summary
Great Gatsby Chapter 1 Summary
Chapter one of the novel introduces the readers to the narrator, Nick Carraway. Not only is he the narrator, but he reveals himself as the supposed author as well. He introduces himself as both highly moral but also tolerant and patient. Nick has just arrived in New York’s Long Island neighborhood West Egg where he is renting a house and connects with Jay Gatsby. Nick sets himself apart from his neighbors because he lacks “pedigree”, but he ultimately is there for a chance to reconnect with his cousin, Daisy Buchanan and see through some business.
Great Gatsby Chapter 2 Summary
In chapter two, the readers are introduced to the Valley of the Ashes which is halfway between West Egg and New York City. This is described as the place where all of New York’s ashes are dumped and is full of the lower income working class. Nick accompanies his cousin’s husband Tom into the Valley of the Ashes to visit his mistress Myrtle at her husband’s garage. Tom takes Nick and Myrtle into the city for an impromptu party. During the party, Myrtle becomes drunk and loud and begins to chant Daisy’s name. This angers Tom and he punches her in the face. Nick decides to leave.
Great Gatsby Chapter 3 Summary
In chapter three, it is revealed that Gatsby has a name for himself, socially speaking, because he throws elaborate parties on the weekend. Many people covet an invitation to his spectacular events. Gatsby extends an invitation to Nick and he attends the party where he hears all kinds of rumors about who Gatsby might be and how he has amassed his wealth. Later during the party, Nick meets Gatsby and finds him sober and quite pleasant to have a conversation with. After the party, Nick walks home and sees a party-goer has crashed his car into a ditch and decides he can’t be bothered to take care of the situation.
Great Gatsby Chapter 4 Summary
Chapter four sees Nick listing out attendees of Gatsby’s parties, wealthy socialites containing America’s most powerful citizens. He recalls a trip to New York City with Gatsby during which they had lunch together and Gatsby tells Nick about his past. He claims to have inherited his parents’ fortune and to be from a Midwestern town and otherwise makes several wild claims which Nick finds to be improbable. On the way to the city, Gatsby speeds and is pulled over. However, the cop lets him off once he realizes who he is. Nick begins to suspect that the origins of Gatsby’s wealth may be related to crime. After lunch, Nick sees Jordan Baker who reveals that she has learned that Gatsby is in love with Daisy and that they were past lovers before Gatsby served in the war. She reveals that Gatsby bought his mansion in West Egg solely to be close to Daisy.
Great Gatsby Chapter 5 Summary
Chapter five sees the action pick up as Gatsby tries to convince Nick to help him in his plan to see Daisy. Nick agrees to have both Daisy and Gatsby over for tea. On the day of the meeting, it is rainy, and Gatsby is consumed by nervousness. At first, the reunion is awkward and Gatsby worries that the meeting was a mistake. Gatsby invites everyone over to his house and Daisy is overwhelmed and becomes emotional once she is there. Gatsby confesses his love and Nick wonders how Daisy could possibly live up to the idea that Gatsby has created of her in his head and leaves them alone.
Great Gatsby Chapter 6 Summary
In chapter six, Nick interrupts the linear flow of the narrative to reveal Gatsby’s real past. Gatsby’s story is a rags-to-riches account of a young man who tasted the luxury of wealth and fought hard to make a future for himself full of money and success. Back in the regular storyline, Nick arrives at Gatsby’s house for a visit and finds him awkwardly chatting with Tom, who is critical of the amount of time Daisy has spent there alone. The following week, Tom attends a Gatsby party with Daisy to keep an eye on her. Tom and Daisy argue and leave and Gatsby seeks solace in his friend Nick, wishing that things could be as they were when he and Daisy were together long ago. Nick suspects that it will all end badly.
Gatsby becomes irritate and preoccupied as Daisy refuses to leave her husband and stops holding his weekend parties which were only ever a means to see Daisy. Nick visits Daisy and Tom in East Egg and finds Gatsby and Jordan at their house as well. Daisy and Gatsby’s behavior and desire to be alone makes Tom furious as he becomes convinced of an affair. Tom suggests that everyone go into the city together. Stopping for gas along the way, Nick, Tom, and Jordan learn that George Wilson has learned of his wife’s affair but does not know who her lover is. Nick notices that Tom and George are in the same predicament, ironically.
In the city, tensions rise as Tom seeks to provoke Gatsby. Tom sends Daisy and Gatsby back to Long Island in Gatsby’s car and the rest follow in Tom’s car. Nick realizes on the drive that he has forgotten in all the drama that it is his thirtieth birthday. Later, the group runs into a horrible scene along the highway where they learn that Myrtle has been struck by a car and has died. However, it was a hit and run and all anyone knows is that it was a yellow car, like Gatsby’s. Gatsby tells Nick that Daisy was driving the car when it hit Myrtle but that he intends to take the blame.
The next day, Tom tries to convince Gatsby to forget about Daisy as she is starting to ruin his life. Gatsby feels defeated and admits that he has loved her for so long that he does not know how to do anything else. The entire life he built was to prove that he could be worthy of her love. Tom leaves and later George Wilson, consumed by rage, shows up at Gatsby’s house. Gatsby is floating in the pool and Wilson shoots and kills Gatsby and then himself. Nick finds Gatsby’s body back in West Egg and imagines what Gatsby’s final thoughts might have been.
Great Gatsby Chapter 9 Summary
In the final chapter, Nick is writing two years after Gatsby’s death. He describes the funeral and the wild gossip that resulted. Tom and Daisy have moved away with no forwarding address and most of Gatsby’s friends disappeared after his death so Gatsby’s funeral did not wind up being as large as Nick had hoped.
Nick is entirely fed up with the events of the summer and moves back home after Gatsby’s death to the Midwest. Before leaving, Nick runs into Tom in New York City. Tom admits that he was the one who told George Wilson that Gatsby killed his wife. He suffered greatly for this in the aftermath having lost Myrtle but he maintains that Gatsby deserved to die. Nick decides that the Buchanans are cold and uncaring people and their money shields them from facing any consequences.