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The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

-Chapter 1-


    The Great Gatsby begins with the narrator's description of his childhood, including advice that his father has given him. This narrator, a man in his late twenties named Nick Carraway, who grew up in the Midwestern United States, inheriting the moral upstanding that correlates with that region. Nick's self-described demeanor and his father's advice are similarly linked in strong morality, as his father warns Nick that "whenever you feel like criticizing any one, just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had." As a result, Nick states that one of his greatest assets as a moral human being is the ability to reserve and restrain his judgments of other people. He is not a man that assumes things based on an objects surface, he instead bases information on the deeper substance of the object. Another piece of advice he has received from his father is the belief that "a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth," warning Nick that not everyone in the world has the high moral understanding that Nick and his family have.

    However, Nick admits that even his high morals have a limit, and the time that he spent on the East coast ahs reached that limit and he no longer wanted to see the moral desolation he found in the East. However, a man who represents everything Nick despised, was exempt from Nick's wish for complete morality. This man was Gatsby, the namesake for the book and the one morally desolated easterner in whom Nick saw a true beauty. Nick's fascination with Gatsby arises from sympathy for the way in which Gatsby's dreams have died right before his eyes.

   Nick then goes on to describe his family history and his individual progression from a Midwestern city boy to a Long Island resident. He describes how he comes from a large extended family, calling the Carraways something of a clan and how his grandfather's brother came to the United States in 1851 and established the Carraway name. Nick has never seen this great-uncle, but his relatives tell him that he bears his resemblance.

    Nick then goes on to describe how he attended his father's alma mater in New Haven, graduating from Yale in 1915, twenty-five years after his father. Following college, Nick goes to Europe and fights in World War I, and upon his return he finds the Midwest to be a boring, ragged edge of civilization and decides to move the East coast and learn the bond business, something in which many of his friends had been successful. After his relatives approve of his decision, Nick moves east in the spring of 1922.

    At first he considers renting an apartment in the city, but then one of his coworkers suggests renting a small run down house out on Long Island for eighty dollars a month. The colleague is called away by the company to Washington and Nick stays in the house by himself. His possessions consist of a dog, which runs away after a few days, an old Dodge and a Finnish woman he hired out as a servant.

    One day, a man stops Nick in the street and asks him how to get to West Egg Village, and the ability to be a guide and helper to someone less informed than himself gives Nick a sense of new life and a renewed outlook on the rest of his summer. He describes how he has much read and engrosses himself in the writings of the great businessmen of the day, and recounts how he had been somewhat of a bookworm in college, writing for the Yale News

    Nick then goes on to describe his residence in "one of the strangest communities in North America," out on Long Island, in a spot twenty miles from the city. In this spot there are two identical geological structures that bear a shocking resemblance to eggs. Both jut out into Long Island Sound and are separated by a bay, creating the towns of West Egg and East Egg.

    Nick lives in the less prestigious West Egg, only fifty yards from the tip, with his small house cramped in between two monstrous houses. The house to his right was an extremely grand mansion modeled after the Hotel de Ville in Normandy France, with a tower on one side, ivy along the walls, a marble swimming pool, and over forty acres of property. This is Mr. Gatsby's mansion, which dwarfs Nick's small home

    Across the bay, the beautiful mansions of East Egg are clearly visible. One of these white homes belongs to Tom Buchanan, who Nick has dinner with one early summer evening. Tom’s wife is named Daisy and she is Nick’s second cousin once removed, while Nick and Tom were classmates in college.

    Tom is a physical, imposing person and was well known for being one of the most powerful ends in the history of Yale football. This greatness was the high point of his life and anything afterward has paled by comparison. Even with enormous riches, his life seemed dull, and so he had moved east from Chicago. This move was carried out in dramatic fashion as he transported a significant group of polo ponies to East Egg.

    Nick has no idea what brought Tom and Daisy east, he only knows how they have constantly been moving around. They spent a year in France and then were moving here and there wherever they could rich, polo-playing friends. Daisy thinks the move to East Egg is permanent, but Nick believes that Tom will be continually moving, searching for something to replace the hole in his being that football has left behind.

    Nick then goes to their house for dinner, describing their house as even grander than he had expected, a beautiful red and white Georgian Colonial mansion. Nick described the grounds, stretching majestically from the house all the way down to the beach.

    He finds Tom standing on the veranda, still dressed in his riding clothes. Nick observes that he has changed since their college days; Tom now has a strong, imposing, dominant and aggressive atmosphere about him. However, his body is still as powerful as ever, seemingly bursting out of his clothes and boots, straining the fabric with powerful muscles. Nick describes it as “a body capable of enormous leverage—a cruel body.”

   Tom’s speaking voice corresponds with his imposing appearance, conveying a sense of dislike even to those with whom he was well acquainted. His demeanor always seems to be overbearing and Nick senses that Tom liked him and wanted to get to know him in some harsh way. His first words to Nick are “I’ve got a nice place here,” before he leads his guest inside.

   Tom leads Nick through the house as a strong breeze blows through the open windows as they reach a sitting room. In the room sits a giant couch, one which sat two young women whose white dresses are blown around by the wind. Tom shuts the window loudly, the wind dies, and everything settles down.

   The one young lady who Nick does not know lays completely motionless on the couch while Daisy attempts to rise and greet her guest, but finds herself unable to get up. She falls back laughing and greets Nick with a whispering voice from a sitting position. Miss Baker, the other young lady, gives a very small nod before returning to her original position of balancing some invisible object on her chin.

   Daisy begins to talk to Nick again and he is enthralled by the magic of his cousin’s voice, a low rhythmic sound that his ear follows up and down. He describes her face as having bright objects, a bright mouth and bright eyes, with a voice that men can rarely forget.

   Nick begins to recount the actual conversation, as he tells Daisy how many people in Chicago miss her and Daisy’s three-year-old baby. Tom cuts in and inquires about Nick’s job, which turns out to be a bond service he does not know. Suddenly, Miss Baker awakes with a cry of “Absolutely,” startling Nick. She jumps up and has a brief, exasperated conversation with Tom.

   Nick describes how he likes Miss Baker’s looks, a skinny, small-breasted girl who stood up straight and had interesting gray eyes. She looks at Nick politely and curiously, and states that he lives in West Egg and asks if he knows Gatsby. Before Nick can answer, Tom pulls him out of the room and out onto a sun porch.

   The four of them sit down at the table and they begin a small talk conversation, discussing a possible planned event, Daisy’s hurt finger that Tom allegedly injured, and several other topics that Nick does not describe. Nick makes a seemingly innocent remark about being uncivilized and Tom jumps on the subject about how he is reading “The Rise of Colored Peoples” by Goddard and how civilization is going down the drain. Daisy believes he is in over his head, but Tom insists that these scientific books prove that whites are the dominant race and the other races are to be kept under control.

   The racist subject dies out and the phone rings, giving Daisy the opportunity to whisper the story of the butler’s nose to Nick. The butler returns and informs Tom that the call is for him and Tom leaves the table. Daisy tells Nick she is so glad to have him at her table and that he is rose; something Nick finds miles away from the truth.

   Daisy then excuses herself and goes inside while Miss Baker commands Nick to be quiet while they both listen for action inside the house. She tells a seemingly socially ignorant Nick that Tom has “some women in New York.”

   In a flourish, Tom and Daisy are back at the table and Daisy croons about the romantic conditions outside while Tom flatly tells Nick to meet him at the stables later. The phone rings again and all romance and horses are forgotten. Tom and Miss Baker head to the library while Nick and Daisy stroll along the veranda until they sit down on the front porch.

   Daisy is very emotional and she exclaims how she and Nick do not know each other very well, even if they are cousins, and how she feels rightly pessimistic about how her life has progressed so far. Nick attempts to talk about Daisy’s daughter, but even that subject is dangerous ground for Daisy. Overall, Nick does not a very satisfying evening.

   They return to the library and find Tom and Miss Baker on opposite ends of a couch while Miss Baker reads The Saturday Evening Post aloud. Miss Baker decides to go up to bed and Daisy says that Jordan, referring to Miss Baker, will be playing in the golf tournament the next day in Westchester. Nick then realizes why he had somehow recognized her, seeing her picture in various golf resorts around the country and remembers a negative story about her but cannot remember the details.

   Jordan continues to bed and says goodbye to Nick. Daisy exclaims that she plans to arrange a marriage between Jordan and Nick, while Tom confirms that she’s a nice girl. Daisy recounts how she and Jordan spent their girlhood together in Louisville.

   Nick begins to leave, but when he starts the motor to his car, Daisy stops him and they ask Nick if he is engaged to a girl out west, a rumor they have heard from three people. He denies it and drives away with somewhat of a bad taste in mouth considering how the evening had gone.

   When he arrives home in West Egg, he sits outside on his lawn for a while, admiring the summer night. While he is outside, he sees a figure out on Gatsby’s lawn admiring the sky that Nick correctly assumed to be Gatsby himself. He wants to call to him but decides against it and instead observes him stretch out his hand across the bay. The only thing Nick can see across the water is a small green light and when he looks for Gatsby again, he is gone.