Free Study Guide-The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald-Book Notes
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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS - AUTHOR'S STYLE AND TONE
Gatsby, considered by many critics to be one of the most well written and
tightly structured novels in American literature, is an extremely complex story
about a totally interesting character, an absolute dreamer named Jay Gatsby. The
novel is really a story within a story, for Nick Carraway, the frame narrator
of Gatsby’s plot, is really a protagonist himself. Additionally, there is another
subplot revolving around the triangle of Myrtle, Wilson, and Tom. Much of the
story is also told as flashbacks, so the chronological order of the plot is constantly
interrupted. Fitzgerald, however, masterfully intertwines all the plots and all
the flashbacks into a wonderfully unified whole.
Nick’s plot is a simple
one. A moral and conservative young man raised in the Midwest, he feels limited
by the mentality and lifestyle of his small hometown; he is not even sure about
the young lady he is supposed to marry. As a result, he seeks to find freedom
and himself on the East coast. He takes a job in New York City to learn the bond
business and rents a small bungalow on the fashionable island of West Egg. The
rising action for him begins when his distant cousin, Daisy Buchanan, invites
him to have lunch at her house with her husband Tom, her friend Jordan Baker,
and herself. From that point forward, Nick is pulled into the tangled web of the
careless lifestyle of the extremely wealthy from East Egg. He soon begins to date
Jordan, whom he finds to be a shallow and selfish female and an incurable liar.
He is taken by Tom to meet Myrtle, his mistress, and is drawn into a wild party
at her apartment, that ends with Tom breaking her nose.
He is taken to
lunch by his neighbor, Jay Gatsby, and meets his business associate, Meyer Wolfsheim,
a racketeer who fixed the World Series. He is innocently ensnared in the affair
between Gatsby and Daisy and is in the hotel room when Tom confronts Gatsby about
the affair. Ironically, the day of the Gatsby/Tom argument happens to be Nick’s
thirtieth birthday, a mark of the passing of youth. It is also the day that marks
the climax of Nick’s plot, for he realizes that the lifestyle in the East is too
shallow and careless for him. He does not want to be associated with people as
uncaring and immoral as the Buchanan’s; it is on this climatic day that Daisy
kills Myrtle in a hit-and-run accident and acts like nothing has happened. Nick
makes the decision, unconsciously at first, to return to the Midwest and marry
his hometown sweetheart. When Gatsby is needlessly shot by Wilson and no one shows
up at his funeral, Nick knows he has made the correct decision. His story ends
in comedy, for he has found his true self, which definitely belongs to the moral
Gatsby’s plot is much more complex, for it unfolds through a
series of flashbacks and really begins long before the chronology of the actual
story told in the novel. As a poor, young soldier stationed in Louisville, he
meets and falls in love with Daisy Fay, the most popular and wealthy girl in town.
Attracted to Gatsby herself, Daisy plans to run away and marry him, but her parents
step in to prevent it. After Gatsby is sent to fight the war in Europe, Daisy
remains faithful to him for a while; but she soon grows restless and impatient
for Gatsby to return. When he does not come home, she meets, falls in love with,
and marries Tom Buchanan, a very wealthy young man from Chicago. Gatsby is crushed
at the news and determines he will devote his life to winning Daisy back for himself.
It is an impossible dream, but one to which he is totally committed. When the
plot actually begins in the book, Gatsby has amassed a fortune through bootlegging
and other illegal means. He buys an ostentatious mansion, directly across the
bay from Daisy Buchanan. He gives extravagant parties on a regular basis to which
everyone is invited, in hopes that Daisy my some day show up at one of them.
When Nick Carraway moves into the bungalow next door, Gatsby befriends him. He
soon finds out that Nick is a distant cousin to Daisy, and he thinks his dream
is a step closer to reality. He has Nick invite Daisy over for a tea, to which
Gatsby is also invited. The affair between Gatsby and Daisy develops from that
point forward. Gatsby feels like he has found his holy grail; unfortunately, the
affair for Daisy is just a relief to her boredom in life. She ha no intention
of leaving the security of her lifestyle with Tom to be with Gatsby. What she
would really like is to have both men in her life. Tom, however, will not allow
that. When he realizes that Daisy is involved with Gatsby, he confronts her lover.
Gatsby naively tells Tom that Daisy does not love him and has never loved him.
Tom forces Daisy into a decision, and she cannot say that she has never loved
Tom. As a result, Tom is the victor, for he has Daisy for a wife and Gatsby has
a shattered dream, meaning a shattered life. Even though the scene in the room
at the Plaza Hotel is the moment of climax for Gatsby, he refuses to give up.
Even after Daisy accidentally kills Myrtle and refuses to stop at the scene of
the accident, Gatsby stands by her, willing to take the blame in her place. He
goes to the Buchanan house and keeps a vigil outside her window, to make sure
she is safe. Daisy is truly unworthy of such devotion, but Gatsby never realizes
that. His dream, his ideal, is too important; it has been the motivating factor
of his entire adult life.
Although Gatsby is a defeated man, he does not
acknowledge that to Nick. He tells his neighbor that he is sure Daisy will call.
Of course, she does not. In fact, after Gatsby is needlessly and brutally shot
by Wilson, Daisy does not even telephone or send flowers to the funeral, fully
proving the shallowness of her character and the unworthiness of Gatsby’s love.
At the time of his death, however, he has proven to Nick that he is a much more
valuable character that the whole lot of the Buchanan’s and their friends put
together. Still, Gatsby’s is a tragic life, ended by a tragic death.
There are many things that help to hold the plots and subplots
of the novel together. Fitzgerald carefully weaves repetition throughout the book.
The introduction to Gatsby is the image of his standing in his back yard reaching
out to the green light (symbolic of his dream) that is located at the end of Daisy’s
dock across the bay. Throughout the book, Gatsby is reaching out to try and capture
Daisy, but she always seems just out of reach, like that green light. At the end
of the novel, before his death, Gatsby again looks across the bay and sees the
green light of Daisy’s dock; this time, however he does not reach out for it,
instinctively knowing the dream is lost forever. There is also a repetition of
party scenes, both large and small. Several of Gatsby’s parties are described,
including the debris that is left behind to be cleaned up each time. Additionally,
there is the small party at Myrtle’s apartment that ends in the shattering of
Myrtle’s nose and the small party in the suite at the Plaza Hotel that ends in
the shattering of Gatsby’s dream and Nick’s belief in the East. A third repetition
is the Valley of Ashes, the symbol of the moral decay. Each time one of the characters
from East or West Egg goes into the city, he/she must pass by the ashheaps guarded
by the knowing eyes of T.J. Eckelberg. Nick notices the advertisement during his
first visit to Wilson’s garage, when he meets Myrtle; Michaelis notices it when
he is trying to comfort Wilson after Myrtle’s death. There are also many other
repeated images. Daisy is always dressed in white, her voice always sounds like
money, and she is referred to as the golden girl. Any image of Gatsby is in terms
of vulgarity and ostentation, whether it is his clothing, his mansion, his parties,
or his cars.
Additionally, Fitzgerald masterfully weaves the three plots
together. Nick conveniently lives next door to Gatsby and becomes friendly with
him. Nick is also a distant cousin to Daisy Buchanan, the object of Gatsby’s dream.
As a result, Nick really becomes the facilitator to the Daisy/Gatsby affair. Tom
befriends Nick because they have gone to college together. As a result, Nick is
drawn into the Myrtle, Tom, Wilson triangle. Wilson, who is naïve about his
wife’s affair through most of the book, believes that Tom comes into his garage
only because he is interested in selling his coupe to Wilson; this gives Wilson
a reason to call the Buchanan household, a number that his wife calls frequently.
Gatsby is pulled into the triangle because of his yellow automobile, which Tom
calls the circus wagon but insists upon driving into New York. He stops for gas
at Wilson’s garage, and Myrtle sees the car. When she sees it later in the evening,
she assumes that Tom is driving it rather than Daisy. Wilson goes to Tom to find
out who really owns the yellow car; when he is told that it belongs to Gatsby,
Wilson shoots and kills Gatsby, officially ending the dream. He then turns the
gun on himself to further destroy the Wilson, Tom, Myrtle triangle. It is only
the careless, despicable Daisy and Tom that emerge unaffected by the relationships
between the plots. Even Nick, though not directly touched, becomes so disillusioned
with life in the East that he makes the decision to move back home to the Midwest.
All loose ends of all the plots are masterfully tied up and ended.
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