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Free Study Guide-The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald-Book Notes

 

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CHAPTER SUMMARY WITH NOTES / ANALYSIS


CHAPTER I


Notes

Nick Carraway, the narrator of the book, tells the story from his memory in the first person point of view, participates in the action of the plot from time to time, and evaluates the events occurring in the story. He also tells his own story, which serves as the frame narrative to Gatsby’s own plot. It is significant to note that Nick, after he has returned to the Midwest, opens the first chapter with a reflection about Gatsby, before the main character is ever seen or even introduced:

When I came back from the East last autumn, I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction -- Gatsby who represented everything for which I have unaffected scorn....There was something gorgeous about him....it was an extraordinary
gift for hope; 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 short winded elations of men.

This early foreshadowing (about the outcome of the plot that is soon to unravel) serves several purposes. It builds dramatic effect and emphasizes that Nick’s experience in New York has profoundly changed him, that he is capable of making a moral judgement, and that Gatsby is judged to be a romantic who is better than all of the others in the East who suffer from foulness and meaninglessness.


After these opening comments, Nick explains his Midwestern background and ethics in some detail. The action of the entire novel, set mainly on the flashy islands of East and West Egg, New York, is in total contrast to Nick’s stable background; and yet Fitzgerald makes Nick’s participation in the story plausible by creating him as a well-to-do young man with social graces. He happens to be the cousin of Daisy Buchanan and the neighbor of Jay Gatsby. He also prides himself in not judging people, therefore, often serving as a confidante.

The contrast between Nick’s background and the East is the first of many in this chapter. West Egg, peopled by the “nouveaux riches” is contrasted to East Egg, home of the old money. Gatsby’s gaudy mansion, full of flash, imitation, and newness, is contrasted to the stately Georgian mansion belonging to Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Tom’s dark, sturdy, powerful image is in stark contrast to the airy, floating, white image of his wife Daisy. Nick’s purpose and planning in life (he is all business between soldiering and learning bonds) is in contrast to the aimlessness and drifting of Tom and Daisy.

Not surprisingly, Nick is uncomfortable with the contrast to the Buchanans that he feels. His decent Midwestern upbringing is shaken by Daisy’s wanting to bring her daughter up to be a fool, by Tom’s having a mistress who is bold enough to call his home, by Tom’s open hostility to his wife in conversation, and by their drifting nature and inability to plan. It is no wonder that when he leaves the Buchanans after dinner, he feels unsettled - -“confused” and “disgusted.” Fitzgerald is already developing the theme that “money corrupts.” Daisy and Tom have unlimited wealth, but limited inner strength or purpose.

Ironically, when Nick returns home from East Egg, he receives his first glimpse of his neighbor, Jay Gatsby, and it is a symbolic image. Gatsby, already defined as a romantic, is outside in the dark, staring at the stars, almost in the appearance of worship. He then stretches out his hands toward a green light on the shore of East Egg. The green light, which is at the end of the Buchanans’ dock, is the visible representation of Gatsby’s unattainable vision - - to be something he can never be, to have something he can never have. The light, significantly, is green -- the color for “go,” the color of new life, and the color of hope. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of the identical Egg Islands, the color of green is also money, a corrupting influence in life.


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