Are you looking for a book summary of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald? You have come to the right place.
I jotted down a few key insights from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book after reading it.
You do not have to read the entire book if you don’t have time. This book summary provides an overview of everything you can learn from it.
Let’s get started without further ado.
In this The Great Gatsby book summary, I’m going to cover the following topics:
What is The Great Gatsby About?
The Great Gatsby is a 1925 novel by American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. This novel, set in the Jazz Age on Long Island, describes Nick Carraway’s interactions with mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and Gatsby’s desire to reunite with his former lover, Daisy Buchanan.
The novel was inspired by Fitzgerald’s youthful romance with Ginevra King, and the riotous parties he attended on Long Island’s North Shore in 1922. Following a move to the French Riviera, he completed a rough draft in 1924. Fitzgerald sent his draft to editor Maxwell Perkins, who persuaded Fitzgerald to revise it over the winter.
Despite his revisions to the text, Fitzgerald remained ambivalent about the book’s title and considered several options. His final title choice was Under the Red, White, and Blue. Francis Cugat’s final cover design impressed Fitzgerald, who incorporated a visual element from the art into the novel.
One of our favourite quotes from The Great Gatsby is:
“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.”
Who is The Author of The Great Gatsby?
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (1896–1940) was born in St. Paul, Minnesota into a prosperous but not wealthy family; he felt insecure for most of his life about not having real wealth.
Fitzgerald studied at a Roman Catholic boarding school in New Jersey (1911–13) and attended Princeton but never received a degree. He served in the army but never went overseas (1917–19).
His works include This Side of Paradise (1920), The Beautiful and the Damned (1922), Tender Is the Night (1934), and the unfinished The Last Tycoon (published posthumously 1941). Wrote about the Jazz Age (Roaring Twenties): high energy, big parties, wealth, bootlegging, and powerful (though often unhappy) people.
While some critics claim The Great Gatsby is a superficial work that is of interest mostly for its poetic richness, others hail it as one of the century’s greatest novels, important for its vibrant portrait of the Jazz Age and for its critical view of the American dream.
The Great Gatsby Book Summary
After years of fantasizing about the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, Jay Gatsby discovers that he is more in love with his memory of her than with the real Daisy.
After a disturbing summer on Long Island, Nick Carraway returns to his native Midwest, where, a year later, he writes about the events of that summer. Nick had graduated from Yale in 1915, fought briefly in World War I, then returned to the Midwest, where he grew restless.
With the financial backing of his father, he moves to New York in the spring of 1922 as anapprentice at a bond firm, and rents a rundown bungalow in West Egg, 20 miles outside New York City on Long Island Sound. His next-door neighbour, the millionaire Jay Gatsby, lives in a splendid mansion that looks across the bay to the more fashionable East Egg. (Note: Fitzgerald had the Hamptons in mind when he created the fictitious West Egg and East Egg.)
Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan, and her wealthy husband, Tom Buchanan, invite Nick to dinner one night at their East Egg mansion, located directly across the bay from Gatsby’s house. Nick had known Tom at Yale when the latter was a star football player, famous for his reckless spending.
When Nick arrives for dinner, he feels awkward in the presence of his charming, shallow cousin, and the stiff, affected Miss Jordan Baker, a golf champion who is the Buchanans’ house guest.
Daisy appears bored when she mentions her three-year-old daughter, Pammy, but comes to life when Jordan announces that she knows Nick’s neighbor, Gatsby. During dinner, Tom makes racist comments about blacks. Later he is called away by a telephone call from his New York mistress, Myrtle Wilson.
When Nick returns home later that night, he sees Gatsby on the lawn of his mansion, his arms stretched out toward the Buchanan house and his eyes fixed upon a green light on the Buchanans’ boat dock.
The road between West Egg and New York City runs through a bleak area that Nick calls the “valley of ashes,” watched over from above by a faded billboard advertisement featuring the enormous eyes and spectacles of the optometrist Dr. T. J. Eckleburg.
One Sunday afternoon, Nick takes the train to New York with Tom. When the train stops at the ash heaps, Tom rushes Nick to a garage owned by Myrtle’s husband, George B. Wilson, and quietly arranges with Myrtle to meet her down the road.
Shortly afterward, the three of them board the train, though Myrtle sits in a separate car. On arriving in the city, the three go to Tom’s apartment on West 158th Street. They invite Tom’s neighbors, the McKees, to join them for a small party, along with Myrtle’s sister, Catherine. Myrtle changes her “costume” and begins to behave like a haughty socialite. Tom gets drunk and breaks her nose when she repeatedly mentions Daisy’s name. Nick leaves, disgusted by the brawl.
Gatsby invites Nick to one of his parties, a gala affair where cars from New York are parked five deep in the driveway. Nick sees Jordan Baker, looking bored, and strolls arm-in-arm with her to the library in search of Gatsby.
There they encounter a drunk, later known as Owl Eyes, who announces that Gatsby’s books are actually real, though the pages are uncut. This is the first implication that the “objects” in Gatsby’s life are only for show and are not “real.” At midnight, Nick finally meets the Great Gatsby, and finds his elaborately formal speech almost absurd.
When Gatsby is called away to the telephone, Jordan confides to Nick that she doesn’t believe Gatsby’s story about being an Oxford man. No one knows for sure what Gatsby does, but some people think he is a bootlegger (i.e., an illegal seller of alcohol during the period of Prohibition, 1920–33). After the party, Nick begins to date Jordan, but he considers her dishonest and recalls that at her first major golf tournament, she was accused of moving her ball.
One morning in late July, Gatsby’s luxurious car pulls up to Nick’s house and Gatsby insists on driving Nick into New York with him. On the way, he tries to impress Nick with a fabricated story of his past, claiming that his parents were wealthy, that he had been educated at Oxford, that he had been decorated as a soldier during the war, and that he had been deeply hurt by a love affair which he says Jordan will explain to Nick that afternoon.
As they drive through the valley of ashes, a hearse speeds past them, followed by a limousine driven by a white man, with three blacks in the backseat. Nick and Gatsby go to lunch at a “cellar” (restaurant) on 42nd Street, where Nick meets Meyer Wolfsheim, a 50-year-old gambler who had fixed the 1919 World Series. Nick suspects that Gatsby and Wolfsheim have shady business dealings with each other.
At tea that afternoon, Nick learns from Jordan that Gatsby and Daisy Fay had fallen in love in 1917, but that she married Tom Buchanan because he was rich and came from an acceptable family.
Gatsby, a soldier at the time, learned about the marriage in a letter from Daisy. It devastated him to lose her, and in the five years since that time, he has obsessively amassed a fortune in order to impress her and win her back. Jordan tells Nick that Gatsby wants Nick to set up a reunion with Daisy for him at Nick’s house.
As a way of thanking Nick for helping him, Gatsby begins to offer Nick a deal in which Nick can make some fast money. But Nick is so disturbed that an act of friendship would be treated on the level of a business transaction that he refuses the offer before Gatsby can fully explain it.
A few days later, when Daisy arrives for tea at Nick’s, she has no idea that Gatsby has put Nick up to arranging the meeting. Gatsby arrives, pale and nervous, and Daisy pretends that she is happy to see him again. A “new well-being” radiates from Gatsby, whose dream of a reunion with Daisy has finally become a reality.
Gatsby suggest that Nick and Daisy come see his mansion—a kind of enchanted palace—and Daisy, releasing years of pent-up emotion, sobs when she sees the opulent objects that fill it, especially Gatsby’s tailor-made silk shirts.
Gatsby, however, feels bewildered by something: over the years, his memories and imagination have magnified Daisy into a kind of goddess, and now he begins to see that the real Daisy no longer interests him.
At this point, Nick tells the true story about Gatsby’s past. Born as James Gatz to poor farmers in North Dakota, he attended St. Olaf’s College in Minnesota for two weeks, but quit because of the college’s “ferocious indifference” to his talents.
He drifted to the shores of Lake Superior, where he changed his name to “Gatsby,” invented an imaginary “unreality of reality” for himself, and was hired by the 50-year-old millionaire yachtsman Dan Cody to work in a “vague personal capacity.”
For five years, before meeting Daisy, Gatsby traveled around the world with Cody, devoting himself to his fantasies about future wealth and glamour. Nick tells the reader these details about Gatsby’s past so as to explode some of the untrue stories about him.
Nick visits Gatsby’s house one Sunday afternoon, and Tom Buchanan arrives unexpectedly. When Tom learns that Gatsby has met with Daisy, he becomes jealous. The following Saturday night, Tom takes Daisy to Gatsby’s party, and Daisy dances with Gatsby. Though Gatsby seems detached from Daisy, he still believes that the past can be relived.
It is clear, however, that Gatsby’s dream about Daisy has been shattered. He dismisses his servants, and the following Saturday night the lights fail to go on. Gatsby, Jordan, and Nick have lunch with the Buchanans one Sunday, after which they all decide to go to New York for the afternoon.
Gatsby drives Tom’s blue coupé, and Tom drives Gatsby’s yellow car, stopping for gas at Wilson’s garage. In New York, they rent a room at the Plaza Hotel and promptly get drunk in the warm, stuffy room. Before long, tensions grow among them and Tom accuses Gatsby of causing a row in his house.
Gatsby shouts back that Daisy doesn’t love Tom, whereupon Tom claims that Gatsby is crazy and is a racketeer. Daisy tells Tom that what Gatsby is saying is true; but she feels sorry for Tom and begs to leave.
Tom orders her to drive home with Gatsby, claiming that nothing more will come of Gatsby’s “flirtation.” Daisy leaves with Gatsby, driving Gatsby’s yellow car. As she speeds through the valley of ashes, she runs over and kills Myrtle Wilson, who had frantically run out to the street thinking that Tom was again driving the yellow car, as he had earlier in the day.
Daisy does not even stop to see what has happened. Nick, Jordan, and Tom soon arrive on the scene, and Tom explains feverishly to Wilson that the “death” car did not belong to him, even though he had driven it earlier that day. On arriving at the Buchanan house, Nick notices Gatsby standing in the bushes outside the house; he is ready to defend Daisy in the event that Tom becomes angry or violent.
In the morning, Nick urges Gatsby to go away for a while, but Gatsby says this is impossible until he knows what Daisy’s plans are. Hearing this, Nick goes off to work. Wilson tells his Greek friend Michaelis, who witnessed the accident, that he had been aware of Myrtle’s infidelity and had warned her that though she might fool him, she could not fool God.
Wilson, convinced that his wife was killed by her lover, sets out to find the man. He learns from Tom Buchanan that Gatsby owned the yellow car, arrives at Gatsby’s house, finds Gatsby alone by the pool, and shoots him to death—then kills himself.
Tom and Daisy leave town as Nick makes plans for Gatsby’s funeral. Wolfsheim tells Nick that he will not attend the funeral because he does not want to be associated with a murder victim. Henry C. Gatz, Gatsby’s father, comes East for the burial and shows Nick his son’s childhood copy of Hopalong Cassidy, in which Gatsby, as a boy, had meticulously inscribed his daily schedule.
It rains during the funeral and no one attends. Later, at the graveside, only Owl Eyes makes an appearance.
Shortly after the funeral, Nick returns to the Midwest; he has seen the moral decay of the East, and wants to live in a place that still has moral integrity. He bids farewell to Jordan and to Tom, who remains unaware that Daisy killed Myrtle.
The night before his departure, Nick wanders down to the shore in front of Gatsby’s house. He imagines that Long Island must have seemed like a “fresh, green breast of [a] new world” to the early Dutch sailors, and that they must have had the same dreams for the future as Gatsby had when he saw the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.
The Great Gatsby Characters
JAY GATSBY (JAMES GATZ): Millionaire; age 32. Achieves wealth through bootlegging and racketeering (he is involved in illegal bond deals). Idolizes Daisy, the romantic embodiment of the American dream. Turns materialism into a religious ideal; uses money to create a new identity for himself. Though his life is superficial and morally corrupt, he is essentially romantic and goodhearted. Tragic, pathetic victim of his own illusion.
NICK CARRAWAY: Narrator, bond broker, age 29–30. Daisy’s cousin. Conservative, upper-middle-class background. Has a casual affair with Jordan Baker, but finds her shallow. Respects Gatsby’s dream, but realizes its dangers. Appalled by the moral emptiness of the Buchanans’ society. Abandons the Wasteland for the integrity of the Midwest.
TOM BUCHANAN: Wealthy; married to Daisy; age 30. Former football player at Yale; now plays polo. Strong; arrogant; physically brutal, intellectually and morally weak; prejudiced. Man of passions and flesh; believes he is entitled to whatever he wants. Restless, selfish. His brand of materialism (unlike Gatsby’s) has no romance or idealism; he indulges in it crudely by using and consuming people.
DAISY FAY BUCHANAN: Former belle of Louisville; married to Tom; age 23. Charming, but shallow. Seductive voice. Her guiding principle is money. She is the object of Gatsby’s fantasies, but falls short of his divine image of her.
JORDAN BAKER: Friend of Daisy’s since childhood in Louisville; age 21. Champion golfer, but cheated in a tournament to avoid losing. Bored, arrogant. Phony mannerisms; rootless; uses people. Spiritually empty; incapable of happiness.
MYRTLE WILSON George: Wilson’s wife; Tom’s mistress; mid-30s. Slightly overweight, sensuous, fleshy woman. Not beautiful, but has a smoldering energy. Pursues the American dream (seeks wealth and glamour in an affair with Tom) and, like Gatsby, is killed.
The Great Gatsby Analysis
1. DECAY OF THE AMERICAN DREAM
The dream includes a romantic, childlike faith in the idea that hard work and effort will lead to the “good life.” This belief in life’s unlimited opportunities had its origins in the optimism of America’s settlers, who sought material wealth and happiness in the “fresh, green breast of the new world.”
With time, the dream has become spoiled. The main theme of The Great Gatsby is that the American dream is in decay—that hope ends in disappointment, enthusiasm results in exhaustion, and the search for meaning leads to emptiness. The corruption of the American dream is shown in the character of Jay Gatsby.
At age 17, he had the “capacity for wonder” and envied the easy lifestyle of the wealthy; he fell in love with a rich woman, but could not marry her because he was poor. His vision of this “vast, vulgar, meretricious [i.e., vulgar, deceptive] beauty” caused him to pursue money as a means of obtaining his loved one. But he discovers that the “green breast” is actually a gray ash heap; that he lives in a moral Wasteland populated by fake, superficial creatures like the Buchanans and Jordan Baker.
On the surface, Gatsby’s parties celebrate the achievement of the dream, with its opulence, excitement, and good times. But underneath, they hide a moral vacuum—a world ruled by appetite, greed, and spiritual emptiness—where romance exists without love, “friends” are actually enemies, and hope for the future leads to nothingness.
2. THE WASTELAND AND MORAL EMPTINESS
It is a world where appearance is the only reality, where people have no deep or meaningful thoughts, emotions, or beliefs. The act is replaced by the gesture, and genuine emotion gives way to whatever “appearance” of emotion is most convenient at the time. Nick captures the essence of this superficial world by describing Gatsby’s life as an “unbroken series of successful gestures.”
Daisy Buchanan is like a “silver balloon”—pretty to look at, but empty inside. She has no commitments or loyalties, and changes roles according to the moment. She uses her voice, which is “full of money,” as a device to provoke whatever sentiment she desires.
Jordan Baker drifts from party to party in search of meaning, but can never find it because she too is hollow. Fitzgerald’s characters live in a world of social and personal insecurity, undefined goals, and preoccupation with status. In Gatsby’s world and the world of East Egg, there is no distinction between good and evil, right and wrong, true and false.
Potential is squandered, power is misguided, and energy is dissipated. Humans are treated as consumable items, to be devoured and discarded like the crates of orange peels after Gatsby’s parties.
Everything is white and yellow (silver and gold, the colors of wealth) in this arena of pretense: Daisy and Jordan wear white dresses; Gatsby’s porch is white;
Tom believes that white people’s skin color makes them superior to blacks. White represents a deadly lack of depth and a vacuum of personal/spiritual values, as symbolized by the white ashes in the valley—the moral Wasteland of people like the Buchanans and Myrtle Wilson.
Whiteness masks their dark side —the dirt and corruption—while yellow emphasizes their decay (Dr. T. J. Eckleburg’s yellow eyes; Gatsby’s yellow car). Love does not exist in the Wasteland; there are no roots or spiritual ideals, no intelligence or questioning of values—only false sentiment and the relentless pursuit of money.
3. THE IDEAL
Gatsby makes religion and a romance of “materialism” (i.e., the love of money and possessions). He creates for himself an image, or Ideal, of success—a false identity that he pursues with a passion.
He changes his name to Gatsby, invents a past (he claims to come from a wealthy family and to have studied at Oxford), affects the speech patterns of an English aristocrat (he calls Nick “old sport”), amasses a fortune through illegal activities (bootlegging and stolen bonds), surrounds himself with “enchanted” objects (e.g., car, mansion, silk shirts), and stages parties that resemble theatrical productions.
Gatsby places Daisy on a pedestal, worships her as a goddess, and pursues her like a knight in search of his beloved damsel. But he is tormented by the fear that the magic will be short-lived and that his enchanted world can be “real” only as long as outsiders believe in it. In his exaggerated adoration of Daisy, he transforms her from reality to unreality.
The result is that the image of Daisy no longer resembles the real Daisy Buchanan, who seems to be an intrusion into the world of the Ideal. Since Gatsby does not love the Daisy who is married and has a child, his “count of enchanted objects [diminishes] by one.”
His Ideal exists on an elevated, spiritual level from which there is no return; it is his very faith in materialism as a means of achieving the romantic Ideal that has led him astray.
He finds that the real world is nothing more than a valley of ashes. Realizing that his dream no longer serves a purpose, Gatsby fires his servants, stops giving parties, and turns off the lights in his house.
The Great Gatsby Symbols
1. THE VALLEY OF ASHES
Symbolizes the barrenness of the American dream. The god of this “gray land” is Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, a weather-worn image of degraded humankind whose eyes oversee the valley from his one-dimensional billboard. The valley is a Wasteland—a barren, washed-out stretch of land that symbolizes a morally desolate society.
Fitzgerald’s concept of the valley of ashes was inspired by T S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land” (1922), in which the poet describes the world’s decline into materialism and spiritual death.
When Gatsby and Nick drive through the valley of ashes, a hearse passes them on the road. It is a symbol of Gatsby’s decaying values and of the death that lies ahead for him.
3. GATSBY’S SILK SHIRTS
Symbols of Gatsby’s material achievements and of his shallowness; he treats them as if they have religious significance.
4. THE MIDWEST
Symbolizes a region of high moral standards—the heart and soul of America. Nick leaves the Midwest for New York in search of a more exciting life. After spending time in the East—with bootleggers, racketeers, and a shallow materialistic society—he rejects the East in favor of the Midwest, where moral integrity still exists.
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