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


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The Great 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 Midwest.

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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