The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.