The story is that of Jay Gatsby, a World War I veteran that, before going to war, fell in love with one Daisy Faye, a local debutante. The main problem is that, for the most part, Gatsby (or Gatz, as Gatsby was a name he himself chose) was your everyday farm boy from the midwest, without the wealth that he would need to ever actually wed Daisy. During the war, Daisy gets married, and Gatsby is heartbroken. In an attempt to win her back he creates a life for himself out of a New York bootlegging operation, and uses the money he amasses to buy a fabulous mansion and to throw absurd parties. Fitzgerald tells the story through the mouth piece of Nick, a neighbor of Gatsby's, a cousin of Daisy's, and a college classmate of Daisy's husband, Tom, giving it an eerie, romantic, mysterious feel that builds the character of Gatsby up to that of a legend, before tearing him down to that of a lost little boy.

The novel, called by many sources the greatest american novel, has many themes: new money versus old money, the pain of lost love and the need to move on, the class struggle, reality versus illusion, the evils of materialism, the american dream, maturity, and time.