National Endowment for the Arts - The Big Read
The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.


Introduction to the Book

F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel The Great Gatsby is a tragic love story, a mystery, and a social commentary on American life. Although it was not a commercial success for Fitzgerald during his lifetime, this lyrical novel has become an acclaimed masterpiece read and taught throughout the world.

Unfolding in nine concise chapters, The Great Gatsby concerns the wasteful lives of four wealthy characters as observed by their acquaintance, narrator Nick Carraway. Like Fitzgerald himself, Nick is from Minnesota, attended an Ivy League university, served in the U.S. Army during World War I, moved to New York after the war, and questions—even while participating in—high society.

Having left the Midwest to work in the bond business in the summer of 1922, Nick settles in West Egg, Long Island, among the nouveau riche epitomized by his next-door neighbor Jay Gatsby. A mysterious man of thirty, Gatsby is the subject of endless fascination to the guests at his lavish all-night parties. He is rumored to be a hero of the Great War. Others say he served as a German spy. Gatsby claims to have attended Oxford University, but the evidence is suspect. As Nick learns more about Gatsby, every detail about him seems questionable, except his love for the charming Daisy Buchanan.

Jay Gatsby's decadent parties are thrown with one goal: to attract Daisy, who lives across the bay in the more fashionable East Egg. From the lawn of his sprawling mansion, Gatsby can see the green light glowing on her dock, which becomes a symbol in the novel of an unreachable treasure, the "future that year by year recedes before us."

Though Daisy is a married socialite and a mother, Gatsby still worships her as his "golden girl." They first met when she was a young lady from an affluent family and he was a working-class military officer. Daisy pledged to wait for his return from the war. Instead she married Tom Buchanan, a wealthy classmate of Nick's. Having obtained a great fortune, Gatsby sets out to win her back again.

A profound indictment of class privilege in the Jazz Age and beyond, The Great Gatsby explores the conflict between decency and self-indulgence. In the novel's conclusion, the characters collide, leaving human wreckage in their wake.

"At his lips' touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete."
— from The Great Gatsby

Major Characters in the Book

Nick Caraway
Nick, a young Midwesterner educated at Yale, is the novel's narrator. When he moves to the West Egg area of Long Island, he joins the lavish social world of Tom, Jordan, Gatsby, and his cousin Daisy.

Jay Gatsby
The handsome, mysterious Gatsby, who lives in a mansion next door to Nick's cottage, is known for his lavish parties. Nick, whom he trusts, gradually learns about Gatsby's past and his love for Daisy.

Daisy Buchanan
Beautiful, charming, and spoiled, Daisy is the object of Gatsby's love. Her caprice and materialism lead her to marry Tom Buchanan.

Tom Buchanan
From an enormously wealthy Chicago family, Tom is a former Yale football star who sees himself at the top of an exclusive social hierarchy. He is conceited, violent, racist, and unfaithful.

Jordan Baker
Daisy's friend Jordan epitomizes the modern woman of the 1920s. A liberated, competitive golfer, she is firmly established in high society. She both attracts and repels Nick as a romantic interest.

George Wilson
The owner of an auto garage at the edge of the valley of ashes, George finds his only happiness through his faithless wife, Myrtle.

Myrtle Wilson
Myrtle dreams of belonging to a higher social class than George can offer. Vivacious and sensual, she hopes her adulterous affair will lead to a life of glamour.

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