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

 

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OVERALL ANALYSES


CHARACTER ANALYSIS


Nick Carraway

Nick Carraway is the narrator of the entire novel, the protagonist of his own plot, and the moral judge of the events that surround him. He is a practical and conservative young man who turns thirty during the course of the story. Raised in a small town in the Midwest, he believes his hometown to be stifling and decides to move to the East Coast to learn the bond business. He hopes to find a sense of identity and freedom in New York. He rents a small bungalow out from the city on a fashionable island known as West Egg. His next door neighbor is Jay Gatsby, and his distant cousin, Daisy Buchanan, lives across the bay with her husband, Tom, on the more fashionable and wealthy island of East Egg. Nick plays an important role in the main plot of the novel, for he is responsible for reuniting Gatsby and Daisy.

During the course of the novel, the naïve and innocent Nick becomes totally disillusioned with the lifestyle of the wealthy on the East Coast. For most of the book, he is disgusted by Gatsby, with his wild parties, ostentatious dress and manners, and his shady business dealings. He is horrified when he meets Meyer Wolfsheim, a racketeer and business associates of Gatsby, who wears human molars as cuff links and who fixed the World Series. He feels shame for Jordan Baker for her incurable lying and cheating, both on and off the golf course. He is shocked that Tom has a mistress to whom he wants to introduce Nick and horrified that he hits her in the face, breaking her nose. His greatest disillusionment, however, comes with Daisy. He sees her shallowness and carelessness and knows that she is trifling with Gatsby. More shocking is the fact that she hits and kills Myrtle while driving Gatsby’s car and does not even bother to stop; she then willingly lets Gatsby take the blame for the accident. When Gatsby is killed, he is appalled that Daisy does not even bother to telephone or send flowers to the funeral. It is not surprising that in the end he judges Gatsby to be worth more than the whole bunch of the Buchanans and their wealthy friends.

Nick Carraway does indeed find his identity on the East Coast. At first he is hesitant to take a stand or to judge those with whom he comes into contact; however, as the novel progresses, he begins to find everything about New York disgusting. He realizes that he has no desire to marry the likes of Jordan Baker, or live the careless, purposeless lifestyle of the Buchanan’s, or be associated with immoral characters like Meyer Wolfsheim. As a result, on his thirtieth birthday, Nick realizes that his place in the world is in the Midwest, a symbol of morality and conservatism. In an orderly fashion, he fulfills his personal responsibilities in the East, including an explanation to Jordan of his feelings for her. He then returns to live in his small hometown and marry his old girlfriend, who has faithfully waited for him. As a result, Nick’s plot ends as a comedy, for he has found himself and his place in life; he has also matured enough to make wise, moral judgements.

Jay Gatsby (born as James Gatz)

Jay Gatsby is one of the most interesting and memorable males in fictional literature, even though he is not a dynamic and changing character during the novel. In fact, Jay Gatsby has changed little since he was a teenager. Born as James Gatz to poor farmers in North Dakota, he decided at an early age that he wanted more out of life than North Dakota could offer. He leaves home to find excitement and wealth. While lounging on the beach one day, he sees a yacht docked off the coast. He borrows a boat and rows out to introduce himself to the owner of the yacht. Dan Cody is an extremely wealthy and wildly extravagant man. He takes a liking to young James Gatz and offers him a job. When the boy boards the boat to become Cody’s assistant and protector, he leaves behind the identity of James Gatz forever; the rest of his life he will be known as Jay Gatsby, an incurable and idealistic romantic who fills his life with dreams.

After Cody dies, Gatsby joins the army and is stationed in Louisville, Kentucky, where he meets and falls in love with Daisy Fay, the most popular and wealthy young lady in town. She is also attracted to him and even thinks about marrying him and running away, but her parents stop her plans. When Gatsby is sent to Europe to fight the war, Daisy is faithful to him for a short while. She soon, however, tires of waiting for Gatsby and marries Tom Buchanan. When Gatsby receives her final letter, explaining her plans, he is crushed; he vows he will dedicate the rest of his life to winning Daisy back for himself. He is sure that if he amasses a large enough fortune, he will be able to manipulate time, erasing Daisy’s marriage and fixing her future with him.

Gatsby comes to the East Coast and makes a fortune in bootlegging and other questionable business activities due to the help of characters such as Meyer Wolfsheim. He buys an ostentatious mansion on West Egg, in order to be directly across the bay from Daisy Buchanan. He gives his wild, extravagant parties and drives his flashy automobiles in hopes of attracting Daisy’s attention. She has become his reason for being - his holy grail. Gatsby never loses sight of his dream and often reaches out to the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.

When the story begins, Nick Carraway has moved in next door to him. Gatsby befriends the young man and then learns that he is a distant cousin of Daisy Buchanan. He persuades Nick to have both Daisy and him for tea. Their reunion at Nick’s house leads to an affair. Although the level of their involvement is not indicated in the book, Gatsby does say she often comes to his house, and she kisses him on the mouth when her husband walks out of the room. Obviously to the reader and subconsciously to Nick, Daisy is simply playing with Gatsby’s heart, using him as a relief from her boredom and as a retaliation against her cruel, unfaithful husband. Gatsby, however, has put her on such a pedestal that he cannot see any of Daisy’s faults. He also naively believes that he will lure Daisy away from Tom and erase her past life with her husband.

When Tom realizes that his wife has a relationship with Gatsby, he confronts “the enemy.” He calls Gatsby a Mr. Nobody from Nowhere and accuses him of not going to Oxford and making his money illegally. Daisy half-heartedly comes to his aid, encouraging Gatsby into a foolish confrontation. He tells her husband that Daisy has always loved him and never loved Tom; he even forces Daisy to repeat the words to her husband, which she says with no sincerity. When Tom questions her about whether she can really forget all of their memories, she admits she cannot. She turns to Gatsby and says that she loves him now and that should be enough. It is not enough, however, for Gatsby, for it destroys his dream. Tom knows that he has won the battle; Daisy will always be his wife. As a result, he confidently lets Daisy ride home with Gatsby in his “circus wagon” car.


Daisy insists to Gatsby that she drive in order to calm her nerves. As they approach the Valley of Ashes, Myrtle, Tom’s mistress, runs out towards the car, believing Tom to be inside. Daisy hits the woman, killing her immediately. The shallow, careless, immoral Daisy does not even stop. At this point in the novel, Gatsby begins to show his true worth. He tells Daisy to stop and return to the accident, but she refuses. He then pulls up the emergency brake and takes the driver’s seat himself. He has already made the decision that he will pretend he was driving all along and take the blame for the accident. He is still blinded by his dream and unable to see that Daisy is not worthy of any sacrifice. She fully proves this when she returns home and casually eats fried chicken and drinks ale, while conspiring with her husband how to stay out of the limelight. The next day Daisy vanishes from sight.

The naïve Gatsby, still unwilling to give up his dream, tells Nick that he is sure Daisy will soon call him. But she never calls. Even after Gatsby is needlessly shot by Wilson, who believes Gatsby to be Myrtle’s lover and murderer, Daisy does not telephone. She has casually and selfishly washed her hands of the whole matter. As a result, Gatsby, by the end of the book, is judged as a much better and more noble character than Daisy, Tom, or Jordan. In spite of his eccentricities and the corruption of his dream with money, Gatsby is seen as a tragic character who had a true purpose in life, a stark contrast to the meaningless lifestyle of the wealthy. Although his story is a tragedy, for both his dream and his life are literally shattered, Gatsby will always remain one of the most memorable fictional characters in American literature.

Daisy Fay Buchanan

Daisy is an attractive, wealthy, and shallow young lady who always dresses in flimsy white dresses, a symbol of her levity and lack of character. Both Nick and Gatsby notice her luscious voice, which seems to jingle with a sound of wealth. Indeed, Daisy is wealthy, coming from a prominent family in Louisville. Additionally, she has married the very wealthy Tom Buchanan. In spite of the wealth, Daisy is a bored and careless woman. She is incapable of entertaining herself and wonders what she will do with her life for the next thirty years. Although she is the mother of a young daughter, she is incapable of any depth of maternal feelings. She treats Pammy as if she were a toy or a plaything.

Daisy had a fling with Gatsby when he was stationed in the army in Louisville, her hometown, and fancied that she loved him. When Gatsby was sent to Europe to fight in the war, she waited for him to return for a short while. Soon bored and impatient, she began to date other men of her same social class. She met and fell in love with the wealthy Tom Buchanan, whom she married. The night before her wedding she tells Jordan Baker, her good friend, that she is not certain she is doing the right thing in marrying Tom; the crying woman holds a crumpled letter from Gatsby in her hand.

The wedding takes place as scheduled. For their honeymoon, Tom and Daisy drift through Europe for a period of time. Then the young couple moved to East Egg, where they led a meaningless and shallow existence. When Daisy meets Gatsby again at Nick’s house, she has an affair with him; it is a relief from her boredom. However, Daisy will never leave Tom for Gatsby; she enjoys the wealth and social prominence that her marriage brings. Throughout the novel, Daisy is the object of Gatsby’s dream; even in the end, he does not realize that she is not worthy of his adoration.

Tom Buchanan

Tom is Daisy’s wealthy husband whom Nick has known casually at Yale. He is a cruel, hard man and the living personification of the shallowness and carelessness of the very rich. He plays with cars and race horses, has sordid affairs, and treats Daisy shabbily. During the book, Tom’s mistress is Myrtle Wilson. He keeps an apartment for her in the city and often meets her there. Their encounters are not always pleasant. On the night of the party that Nick attends, Tom grows angry with Myrtle for saying Daisy’s name; as a result, he hits Myrtle, breaking her nose. In addition to his low standards, Tom can obviously be a very violent person. The violence almost emerges again when he confronts Gatsby about Daisy in the suite at the Plaza Hotel. The men argue, and even though Gatsby forces Daisy to say she has never loved Tom, she soon recants. She does love Tom for his wealth and will always remain with him, for he offers her security and the life style to which she is accustomed.

Myrtle Wilson

Myrtle is the gaudy and vulgar mistress of Tom Buchanan and the wife of George Wilson. Throughout the book, she is characterized as having a great sense of vitality. It is this trait that attracted Tom to the ostentatious and unattractive woman. Tom keeps an apartment for her in the city, which is the scene of a rather wild party during the book. When George realizes she is having an affair, he locks her in her room and plans to move her out West. She, however, is killed in a car accident by a hit-and-run driver, who is Daisy Buchanan.

 

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