The Great Gatsby Summary

‘The Great Gatsby’ is generally considered to be F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. It represents a cultural period in the United States that’s now referred to as the Jazz Age.

In The Great Gatsby, readers will find themselves thrust into New York in the 1920s and the lives of Nick Carraway, Jay Gatsby, and Daisy and Tom Buchanan. The relationships between these central characters are defined by their understanding of the past, social climbing, and their desire for wealth.

The Great Gatsby Plot Summary


‘Spoiler Free’ The Great Gatsby Summary

The Great Gatsby follows Nick Carraway, a young man from the midwest who moves to New York. He meets Jay Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire, and spends time with his cousin, Daisy, and her husband, Tom. As Nick learns more about the dynamic in East and West Egg, he also learns that Gatsby is in love with Daisy and wants Nick to help him rekindle their relationship. 

What at first seems like a perfect match soon results in a tragic event that should shatter the lives of everyone involved. But, as Nick learns, the people he’s surrounded himself with are vapid and entirely without empathy. 

The Great Gatsby Summary

Spoiler alert: important details of the novel are revealed below.

The Great Gatsby opens with Nick Carraway moving to New York from Minnesota in the summer of 1922. He intends to learn the bond business. The reader learns about the difference between West Egg and East Egg, districts of Long Island. Nick moves to the former, a wealthy area in which the newly rich live. It’s not as fashionable or well established as East Egg, where the generationally wealthy and upper class live. 

Nick soon meets a mysterious man, Jay Gatsby, who is his next-door neighbor. He lives in a huge mansion and throws outrageous parties every Saturday night. He travels to East Egg soon after moving in to visit his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, and her husband, Tom. The two are socially popular and have a great deal of money. Tom is a large man with gruff habits and prone to racist comments. He also meets Jordan Baker, a professional golfer, at their home. The three live in luxury and demonstrate their disregard and lack of empathy for others on many different occasions. 

It’s that night that Nick sees Gatsby for the first time. He’s standing at the end of his dock, looking across the water. Nick spots a green light in the distance. A light he eventually learns is on the end of Daisy’s dock. 

Soon after, Nick travels with Tom to see Myrtle Wilson, Tom’s most recent mistress. He openly flaunts this relationship even though Nick is his wife’s cousin. Her husband runs a garage in a run-down section of the city. It’s an area very different from that in which the main characters live. Myrtle and Tom fight about Daisy, Tom’s wife, and the evening ends when Tom hits Myrtle, breaking her nose. 

Nick turns up to one of Gatsby’s parties after this incident, knowing that everyone who comes to his home is accepted into the gathering. No one is ever turned away, nor is anyone ever invited. Gatsby is mysterious, staying away from his guests and preferring to watch everything than participate himself. Gatsby and Jordan speak briefly, and the latter expresses amazement at what she heard.

Gatsby and Nick drive into the city where Nick meets Meyer Wolfshiem, one of Gatsby’s underworld associates. He’s linked to organized crime. At this time, the reader learns that Gatsby told Jordan that he knew Daisy in 1917 in Louisville and is in love with her still. His parties are only an opportunity to see her. He hopes every night that she shows up. The two originally met when Gatsby was in the army. He didn’t have the money to support the kind of life she wanted to have. But, in the intervening years, he’s focused on making as much money as possible so that he could win her back.

Daisy, on the other hand, found someone with more money to marry. It turns out that Gatsby even selected his home so that he’d be across the sound from her, as close as he could get. 

Gatsby asks Nick to help him reestablish his connection with Daisy. But he’s worried Daisy isn’t going to want to see him. This results in Nick inviting Daisy to his house without informing her that Gatsby was all invited. The two reconnect and start an affair, making Nick feel like the odd one out. The three go to Gatsby’s house, where he shows Daisy around to prove how far he’s come since they knew one another years earlier. 

The reader learns more about Gatsby’s past, including the time he spent working for Dan Cody on a yacht. Gatsby changed his name when he was seventeen from James Gatz and determined to make a different kind of life for himself. Now, Gatsby believes that he can recapture the love he had in the past marking a dichotomy between the type of peers Gatsby turned himself into and the person he’s trying to reclaim. 

Tom grows suspicious about the relationship between his wife and Gatsby and soon realizes that Gatsby is in love with her. Daisy doesn’t hide her affection for Gatsby either. Tom eventually confronts Gatsby in the Plaza Hotel. Gatsby tries to get Daisy to admit that she’s never loved Tom and it was always him that she cared for. She’s unable to do that. Tom then tells Daisy that Gatsby is a criminal who made his fortune from bootlegging and other illegal activities. She returns to Tom, and he sends her home. Myrtle’s husband has also learned that his wife is having an affair, but he doesn’t know who the man is. 

The climax of the novel occurs when it’s revealed that there’s been a car accident. Daisy was driving and hit Myrtle, Tom’s mistress, with the car. But, Gatsby wants to take the blame. Myrtle’s husband, George, is informed of the death and decides that Myrtle’s lover must’ve driven the car. He finds Gatsby at the mansion and shoots him, and then kills himself. Gatsby has a small funeral, one that isn’t attended by any of those who took advantage of his hospitality. No one seems especially bothered by the man’s death. Nick, who has been having a relationship with Jordan, ends it and moves back to Minnesota. He is determined to get away from the vapid people in Gatsby’s circle. 

It turns out that Tom told George that Gatsby owned the car that hit Myrtle, a roundabout way of naming him as Myrtle’s lover rather than take the blame for that himself. Nick is disgusted by the actions of those he briefly considered friends. 

The book ends with Nick contemplating what happened to Gatsby’s dream of a life with Daisy. It was corrupted by money and the desire for social climbing. He lands on the thought that the time of the American dream, just like Gatsby’s dream, is over. 

FAQs

What is the basic plot of The Great Gatsby?

The book tells the story of a self-made millionaire, Jay Gatsby, who tries and fails to reclaim a relationship from five years prior.

What is the main message in The Great Gatsby?

The main message is that American dream is impossible to obtain.

How did Gatsby kill himself?

Gatsby was killed by George Wilson who later killed himself.

What lesson can you learn from The Great Gatsby?

You can learn that the past is impossible to reclaim and that the American dream is a myth.

What did Gatsby do to get rich?

Gatsby worked bootlegging alcohol and in other miscellaneous criminal enterprises with people like Meyer Wolfsheim.

About Emma Baldwin
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues on Book Analysis.

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