WARNING: Spoiler Alert!
F. Scott Fitzgerald
’s The Great Gatsby
was published in 1925, and it still is read and revered today. It is a classic of historical fiction
, emerging from the time period of the roaring twenties
It tells the story of a mysterious rich man and his former sweetheart. Narrarated by a young man, the story winds eloquently around the decadence and materialism that faced the affluent-particularly in Upstate New York, in the 1920’s before the Great Depression. All the drama that is illustrated in the novel inspired a film in 1975, and seemingly the invention of the Soap Opera. Along with Ernest Hemingway, Fitzgerald was one of those writers who always had it all in their writings- drama, romance, murder, lust, and other little quirks of fate.
Nick Carraway, who is narrarating the story, is a man who comes from a semi-affluent family, living easy most of his life besides fighting in the War. He knew Tom Buchanan, an "enormously wealthy" (10) young man, in college, and Daisy is Nick’s second cousin.
Daisy Buchanan is a young woman- in her early twenties-who is naïve and submissive- she knows Tom, her husband, is cheating on her and not speaking up for her own good. Myrtle, Tom’s mistress, is a brash and annoying character. She is older than Daisy, yet she is much more immature and stupid. She and Tom cause a main conflict in the story-they fight against all that is good and draw attention to themselves. Nick and Daisy seem to be passive, standing by, yet we root for them.
Jordan Baker is a professional female golf player, a modern woman with a touch of cosmopolitan flair. Jordan is the one who connects Nick and Gatsby, and consequently, Gatsby back to Daisy.
Jay Gatsby, however, is a different story altogether. You never know, until the end, if he’s a "good guy" or a "bad guy." He’s very mysterious- no one seems to know where his wealth comes from, or where he went to school, or even his real name. Mystery shrouds his whole being – even at the end, the picture of Jay Gatsby is not completely painted.
The Great Gatsby begins with Nick condemning judgments and investigating the human psyche. A big surprise, since most books begin with "I’m so-and-so, and this is my story." That’s the great thing about The Great Gatsby- it’s so very unpredictable.
He explains that it was "a matter of chance" (9) that he should end up in the West Egg of upstate New York, 50 yards across the bay from Daisy and Tom, and next to Jay Gatsby, who he did not know at the time. Upon meeting Tom again, his impression of him changes perspective from how he felt about him in college days. Instead of the young, vibrant Tom, he is now gruff and racist. Here, we are introduced to Jordan Baker, who becomes the fancy of Nick later on. Even as this is a flashback, nothing is told as to what will happen ahead.
Tom and Nick quickly renew their friendship, and Nick quickly discovers Myrtle. Tom doesn’t hesitate to introduce Myrtle to Nick as his "girl". It becomes obvious here that Tom is no good. Daisy is very aware of it all. Her prediction for her daughter-
"And I hope she'll be a fool-- that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool" (21) sums up her passive and boring feelings about women.
Soon after, Nick is invited to one of Gatsby’s grand parties. There are about three pages just describing the splendor of this get-together, down to the womens' dresses. The host himself never shows up, but rumors abound to what he does, who he is, and why he has so much money. Some say he was a bootlegger, some say he once killed a man. The whole mystery shrouding Gatsby’s existence is so profuse, not even the guests attending his part know the real him. To his surprise, Nick is called into the house for a personal introduction to Jay Gatsby. Looking back on it all, we know this is just Gatsby’s way of
getting to Daisy. Not that he’s using Nick. His whole world was destroyed when he lost Daisy, and he just wants that perfection and love back in his life. Nick, however humbled by his offer of lunch with Gatsby, is still suspicious. He demands to know who he really is.
"He’s just a man named Gatsby." (53) Jordan explains.
Nick begins to know Gatsby better, and finds that “to his disappointment, Gatsby had little to say” (68). No sooner does Nick think these thoughts than Gatsby reveals himself-or so Nick thinks-to him. He explains that he came into money because his relatives were all rich people in the west, and that he was educated at Oxford because it was a family tradition. Nick recognizes Gatsby in an Oxford photograph and subsequently believes in the glories of his past.
Next we meet Meyer Wolfsheim. Though not a huge character, he is Gatsby’s connection to organized crime and general debauchery. He is a close friend of Gatsby’s, which tells us a few things about Gatsby himself…
Flashback to 1918. Daisy’s wedding day, Jordan discovers Daisy drunk in the bath, yelling out that she’s "change’ her mine" (81). Jordan eventually got her back in her senses, and she marries Tom. Daisy has their child, and went to France for a year. One thing always leads to another, and they moved to New York.
"But it wasn’t a coincidence at all." (83) Daisy explains, "Gatsby bought that house so Daisy would be right across the bay."
This becomes evident in the next chapter, when Gatsby, via Nick, invites Daisy over one afternoon. It becomes apparent that they are both still in love, and Nick watches sickeningly as Gatsby tries to impress her with his wealth and pompadour. With his toilet of gold and the incident of throwing his expensive shirts around the room, we see that even the most innocent and sweet sort of love, their real love, cannot be real in their world. It is too poisoned with materialism and greed.
"He hadn't once ceased looking at Daisy, and I think he revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes. Sometimes, too, he stared around at his possessions in a dazed way, as though in her actual and astounding presence none of it was any longer real." (96).
Eventually, it all becomes too much for Gatsby. Proclaiming "Your wife doesn’t love you. She’s never loved you. She loves me!" (137) to Tom, explaining that Daisy only married Tom for his money. Tom says that he doesn’t care, and that even though he has his "sprees" (138), he always comes back to Daisy. Gatsby and Daisy leave, and later in the evening, the others head for Long Island.
Coming back, they stumble onto a startling surprise. Myrtle, Tom’s mistress, was struck by a car and killed. After a little deliberation and description of the car, the group figures out that it was Gatsby’s car that did the deed. Gatsby explains to Nick that he was driving, and that Daisy forced him to drive on.
The scene shifts from West Egg to the valley of ashes, where George Wilson (Myrtle’s husband) has sought refuge. Wilson assumes that the driver of the fatal car was Myrtle's lover, and decides to punish this man for his sins.
He seeks out Tom Buchanan, in the hope that Tom will know the driver's identity. Tom tells him that Gatsby was the driver. Wilson drives to Gatsby's mansion; there, he finds Gatsby floating in his pool, staring contemplatively at the sky. Wilson shoots Gatsby, and then turns the gun on himself. It is Nick who finds Gatsby's body. He reflects that Gatsby died utterly disillusioned, having lost, in rapid succession, his lover and his dreams.
After his death, many revelations come of Gatsby. One of them is that he has a father, Henry Gatz, who is now an old man, left helpless and distraught by the death of his son. He, Nick, and Owl Eyes, the mysterious lurker; are the only ones present at Gatsby’s funeral. Tom and Daisy have skipped town, and Meyer Wolfsheim refuses to attend.
Nick and Jordan break up, it is soon revealed that she is a treacherous cheat at her game, and she soon claims to be engaged to another man. Months later, Nick runs into Tom Buchanan on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Tom admits that it was he who sent George Wilson to Gatsby's; he shows no remorse, however, and says that Gatsby deserved to die. Nick reflects that Tom and Daisy are capable only of cruelty and destruction; they are kept safe from the consequences of their actions by their fortress of wealth and privilege.
Nick, sickened and shocked by the whole ordeal, is determined to return to Chicago. He feels that he, Daisy and Tom, Gatsby, and Jordan are all out of place in the East, being Westerners, and that they all possess some sort of insufficiency that makes them incompatible with Eastern life. To Nick, the East; more so after Gatsby’s death, all seems gross and ghostly, while the West is idyllic and pleasurable as a scene on a postcard.
Quotes in italics, from The Great Gatsby: The Authorized Text, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, copyright 1992, Simon and Schuster.