The Great Gatsby

The cover of the Scribner Paperback Fiction Edition, 1995.
The cover of the Scribner Paperback Fiction Edition, 1995.

The Great Gatsby, by the American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, was first published in 1925. The story takes place in New York City and Long Island in the 1920s. It has often been described as the epitome of the "Jazz Age" in American literature.

Fitzgerald's novel was not popular when it was first published, selling fewer than 24,000 copies during his lifetime. Largely forgotten during the Great Depression and World War II, it was republished in the 1950s and quickly found a wide readership. Over the following decades it emerged as a standard text in high school and university literature classes in countries around the world. It is cited as one of the greatest English-language novels of the 20th century.



Jay Gatsby is a young millionaire with a dubious and somewhat notorious past. He has no ties to the society he circulates in and no one quite knows how he made his fortune. Some believe he is a bootlegger. Rumors circulate of his "killing a man", or being a German spy during the Great War and that perhaps he was a cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm. However, despite the glamorous parties he throws, with their countless gatecrashers whom he generously tolerates, Gatsby is a lonely man. All he really wants is to "repeat the past" – to be reunited with the love of his life and golden girl, Daisy. But Daisy is now married to the staid, respectable millionaire Tom Buchanan, and they now have a daughter. For Gatsby, this hardly constitutes a problem in conquering his love for Daisy; and Daisy, feeling trapped and bored in her marriage with the unfaithful Tom, is flattered by Gatsby's attention.

The narrator of the novel is Nick Carraway, a young Wall Street trader at the height of the rising financial market in the 1920s. He is also Daisy's cousin. Carraway moves into the small bungalow next to Gatsby's mansion (a "factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy"). Eventually, Carraway cynically realizes that the rich, as respectable as they may seem superficially, are indeed "careless people," and Tom and Daisy are no exception. Tom has a mistress, Myrtle, the wife of the gas station owner in the wasteland of ashes between the fabulous mansions on Long Island and New York City, located somewhere around present day Flushing, Queens, New York. Nick meets and quickly makes friends with Gatsby, though, and becomes Gatsby's liasion with Daisy. One afternoon, after a confrontation between Tom and Gatsby over Daisy, Daisy runs over Myrtle while driving back from the city. Tom misleads Myrtle's heartbroken husband George unintentionally, implying that the accident was Gatsby's fault, and Gatsby is consequently shot by George Wilson. Wilson commits suicide immediately afterward. Hardly anyone, not even Daisy, shows up for Gatsby's funeral, and Nick, Gatsby's sole remaining friend, must attend it alone. Gatsby was buried with the same mystery that he suddenly appeared.

Literary elements


  • Nonlinear representation of time


The main theme of the novel is:

  • The rise and fall of the American Dream. It is debatable whether Buchanan represents the American Dream, by which people obtain their wealth openly and legally, whatever their status in society, in contrast to Gatsby, for whom the acquisition of wealth has its origins in the underworld. Tom Buchanan is unfaithful; Daisy Buchanan is artificial; Gatsby himself is an enigmatic and shadowy figure.

Minor theme:

  • The novel discusses questions of racism through the character of Tom Buchanan who, on top of his loose morals, is also a white supremacist. This theme, however minor in its focus, adds to the Buchanans' corruption in contrast to Gatsby.
  • The contrast between East and West. Fitzgerald contrasts the Eastern and Western portions of the United States in many of his works (Diamond as Big as the Ritz is a prime example) but in Gatsby, the West Egg (where Nick lives) is visually the more garish of the two and of a distinctly lower class, while the East Egg is where the "old money" lives, and of a higher class. This even more obvious contrast gives the reader a clear idea of the author's opinion on social classes in America during his time.


  • The green light on the end of Daisy's dock is introduced at the end of Chapter 1, when Gatsby reaches, "trembling", out toward it across the Sound. It clearly represents Gatsby's dreams (hope), but has other, more subtle, associations such as money. This also seems to symbolize the possibility of Gatsby winning back Daisy, far away in the distance and out of reach.
  • The disembodied eyes of a giant advertisement in the slum where Myrtle lives, referred to as the eyes of "Dr. T.J Eckleburg", symbolize a brooding presence in the slum, as if God is constantly watching those who live there, a symbol which the characters themselves are aware of, George Wilson's assertion that "God sees everything" in chapter 8 being made while he is staring at Eckleburg's eyes.
  • The colors white and yellow have special significance in the novel. White is a symbol of purity and goodness, while yellow is the color of corruption and greed. This illuminates the character of Daisy, who is named after a flower that is white on the outside and yellow in the center.
  • Fitzgerald was among the American expatriates who lived in Paris in the 1920s. The name Gatsby is a close homophone of the word gaspille from the verb gaspiller ("to waste"). It also is an obvious pun on "gat," the slang term for pistol.
  • Fitzgerald also has an obssesion with flowers. Many of the female characters have names of flowers (e.g. Myrtle, Daisy)

Important quotes

“…I’m inclined to reserve all judgements…”
Nick describing himself in Chapter 1.

“I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known”
Nick describing himself.

“…there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life…”
This is Nick describing Gatsby's personality in Chapter 1.

“…an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness…”
This is Nick describing Gatsby's personality in Chapter 1.

“No — Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and shortwinded elations of men.”
Nick, illustrating the novel's narrative stance in Chapter 1.

“…a factual imitation … spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy…”
This is Nick's description of Gatsby's house in Chapter 1.

“…drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together.”
Nick describing Tom and Daisy's lifestyle.

"I hope she'll be a fool—that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool." Daisy, talking to Nick about her daughter.

“She turned to me helplessly: ‘What do people plan?’ “

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together…”
Nick's opinion of Tom and Daisy in the final chapter.

“Her voice is full of money…”
Gatsby describes Daisy's voice.

“ ’What’ll we do with ourselves this afternoon?’ cried Daisy, ‘and the day after that, and the next thirty years?’”
Daisy's aimlessness is shown here, when the main characters are deciding what to do.

“ ’Can't repeat the past?’ he cried incredulously. ’Why of course you can!’”

“ ’They're a rotten crowd’ I shouted, across the lawn. ‘You're worth the whole damn bunch put together’”
Nick, on impulse, shouts this to Gatsby, referring to the Buchanans and the Wilsons.

"Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not when he is dead. After that my rule is to leave everything alone." Meyer Wolfsheim, Gatsby's friend and business associate, commenting to Nick on why he will not attend Gatsby's funeral

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . And then one fine morning— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
The final lines of the novel.



The Great Gatsby

Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (Cliffs Notes)

The Great Gatsby – Penguin Critical Studies Guide

The Great Gatsby (Audio Editions CD)

F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby: A Literary Reference


The Great Gatsby has been filmed four times:

1974 movie version
1974 movie version
  1. In 1926 by Herbert Brenon – A silent movie of which, according to the IMDb, no copies have survived (only a trailer with a few minutes of footage remains);
  2. In 1949 by Elliott Nugent – Starring Alan Ladd;
  3. In 1974 by Jack Clayton – Often considered the definitive screen version, starring Robert Redford in the title role and Mia Farrow as Daisy Buchanan, with a script by Francis Ford Coppola;
  4. In 2001 by Robert Markowitz – A made-for-TV movie starring Toby Stephens and Mira Sorvino.

See also

de:Der groe Gatsby fr:Gatsby le magnifique sv:Den store Gatsby zh:了不起的盖茨比


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