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|F. Scott (Francis Scott Key) Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby
Summary by Michael McGoodwin, prepared 1998
Acknowledgement: This work has been summarized using the Scribner 1995 edition. Quotations are for the most part taken from that work, as are paraphrases of its commentary.
Overall Impression: This is a great American tragedy.
The Novel is narrated by Nick Carraway, c. 30 y/o, a poor bonds trader from the Midwest, graduated Yale 1915, served in WWI, living on West Egg on Long Island (which borders Long Island Sound) beginning in 1922.
He has dinner c. 6/7/1922 with his second cousin once removed Daisy Fay Buchanan and her husband Tom Buchanan (a wealthy polo player and "brute of a man" with a "cruel body") & Miss Jordan Baker (a sportswoman and golfer from Louisville). The have a nice home on East Egg, across the Manhasset Bay from Nick. Tom and Daisy's marriage is troubled-- he has a woman in New York. He is hypocritical and thinks civilization is going to pieces. Daisy is sophisticated but cynical, and disturbed about Tom's infidelity. She hopes her daughter will grow up to be a fool. Jordan mentions to Nick that she knows Gatsby, raising Daisy's interest momentarily, but the conversation is diverted. Later that night Nick sees his neighbor Jay Gatsby outside his mansion apparently watching the stars, but they do not speak.
Nick accompanies Tom to New York in early July on the train. They stop near a "valley of ashes" at an auto garage to fetch Tom's mistress Myrtle Wilson, who lives with her husband George over their auto garage. Tom buys her a dog and various gifts and they go to the apartment they keep in N.Y. Her sister Catherine (a "worldly" girl) is invited to visit along with photographer Chester McKee & his wife Lucille. Myrtle tells Nick how she met Tom. The photographer wants to do more work on Long Island and they exchange misinformation and rumors about Gatsby. Tom resents Myrtle's insistent mentioning of Daisy and breaks her nose.
Nick attends one of Gatsby's large and lavish summer parties by invitation, though most of the attendees are random dropins who do not know Gatsby. Various guests discuss (mostly false) ideas on who Gatsby is and how he got his wealth-- he has killed a man, was a German spy, was in the army, is an Oxford man, etc. Nick and Jordan Baker visit the library, encountering a drunk. Dancing begins. Nick meets a fellow army veteran (who says he was in the Seventh Infantry until 1918)-- he proves to be Jay Gatsby. Gatsby calls Jordan away for a private talk. The guests depart, one running off the road. In July, Nick begins dating Jordan, though she is "incurably dishonest" and a bad driver. Nick works to extricate himself with an entangling relationship back home.
A catalog of Gatsby's guests is presented. In late July, he takes Nick to N.Y. in his gorgeous car. Gatsby provides some more misinformation about his background, about which Nick is suspicious. A policeman pulls them over but backs off when Gatsby shows his Christmas letter from the commissioner. He says Jordan has something to tell Nick. They lunch with Meyer Wolfshiem, a Jewish gambler who "fixed the 1919 World Series" and has connections to gangsters. Tom Buchanan arrives at the bar but Gatsby disappears to avoid an introduction. That afternoon, Jordan tells Nick about Jay's love affair with Daisy Fay in 1917 in her home town of Louisville (she was 18, Jordan 16, Jay about 27) before he went off to war, her disappointment on his leaving, her parents disapproval of him, her hesitation but eventual marriage to Tom, Tom's subsequent philandering, the birth of her daughter Pammy. Gatsby wants Jordan to ask Nick to invite Daisy to his house, without Tom, so she can observe Gatsby's mansion next door and accidentally meet him-- something he has longed for 5 years. That is why he bought the house across the bay from the Buchanans. Nick and Jordan enjoy their romance.
Gatsby comes by Nick's. They arrange the "tea" for Daisy to take place in a few days in early August. Gatsby alludes to helping Nick financially, but he declines. Jay sends over a man to mow along with many flowers. Daisy arrives, curious as to why Nick did not want Tom to come with her. Jay arrives, acutely embarrassed, as is she. They gradually recover and warm to each other. Gatsby gives more misinformation and is evasive about how he acquired his wealth. They tour his lavish house. He describes the green light at the Buchanan's dock that he always views across Manhasset bay. His "boarder" Ewing Klipspringer is reluctantly recruited to play the piano. The lovers are reunited, Gatsby has realized his dream of 5 years, and Nick quietly leaves them to each other.
A reporter arrives at Gatsby's snooping about his rumored activities.
Nick as narrator provides some true history about Gatsby. He was actually James Gatz until 17 y/o (in c. 1907). His parents were unsuccessful farmer people. He tried to go to St. Olaf's College but left after 2 weeks. He earned his living then clam digging and fishing etc. along the banks of Lake Superior. He was discovered by wealthy miner Dan Cody, who spotted him and invited him aboard his yacht. Jay worked for him for 5 years until the man died-- Jay was cheated by a woman out of a bequest Dan tried to make him.
Tom arrives at Nick's on horseback accompanied by Sloane and a pretty woman. Gatsby mentions he knows Daisy, distressing Tom. The woman invites Gatsby to their dinner party but, after the men protest, she backs out. Next Saturday, Tom and Daisy come to one of Gatsby's parties. Tom is suspicious of Daisy. He is introduced as the polo player. Daisy and Jay dance-- Tom is occupied with a girl. Daisy is "appalled" at the West Egg scene. Tom wants to know who Jay is, thinks he is a bootlegger. Daisy defends Jay to him. Later, Jay worries to Nick that Daisy did not like the party. He wants to fix everything. He recounts sentimentally an evening 5 years earlier in 1917 when they kissed.
Gatsby fires his help to stop gossip about him and Daisy, replacing them with Wolfshiem's rude but close-mouthed people. The parties stop. In late August, Jay asks Nick to join him and Jordan at the Buchanans-- Nick senses something is up. There, as Tom leaves the room, Daisy indiscreetly tells Jay that she loves him and kisses him. Her daughter Pammy is brought out. The atmosphere is very hot and tense-- Tom has seen the bond between the lovers. Daisy proposes to drive to New York. Tom drives Daisy in Jay's car, gassing up at Wilson's garage-- Wilson confides he wants to move away, suspects his wife (but doesn't know who her lover is), and has imprisoned her upstairs. Tom fears he is losing both of his women. Nick, Jordan, and Jay are in Tom's car. They go to the Plaza Hotel. Tom confronts Jay about Jay's claim to have been at Oxford-- he acknowledges he was there only 5 months, in 1919. Tom demands to know what is going on with his wife. Jay says Daisy loves him and has never loved Tom. Daisy is revolted to recall Tom's past sprees and says she couldn't have ever loved him. But on Tom's questioning, she acknowledges that in fact she also loved Tom and says Jay asks too much of her to deny this. She says she will leave Tom. But Tom then divulges Jay's bootlegging and gambling activities. Daisy is terrified and loses her convictions and withdraws from the distraught Jay-- the "pretentious little flirtation is over." She drives Jay home at dusk in his car. As they pass the auto garage, Myrtle Wilson sees them and runs into the road, thinking it is Tom and probably trying to get away from her husband. The car strikes and kills her. Daisy drives on. Tom stops and lets the distraught Mr. Wilson, witness and neighbor Michaelis, and the others there know that it was not his car but a yellow car owned by a friend that killed her. Later, Jay, lurking outside their house to protect Daisy, discloses to Nick that Daisy, not he, was driving when the accident occurred. Daisy and Tom seem to be conspiring together to cover up her involvement in the accident.
Jay is clutching to forlorn hope, and Nick advises Jay to get away. Jay tells him more of his true history: his courtship of Daisy, how he unscrupulously misled her about his wealth and background and took her when they were courting. They wrote during the war, then she resumed dating and dumped him while he was at Oxford. When he returned to the U.S, he was penniless [and was eventually employed by Wolfshiem]. Nick compliments Jay and leaves. Wilson is becoming obsessed with the car and presumed murderer of his wife. Jordan dumps Nick. Wilson finds out where Gatsby lives and shoots him in his pool, then shoots himself.
Catherine, Myrtle's sister, keeps quiet and Mr. Wilson is portrayed as a man deranged simply by grief. Tom and Daisy have left town. Meyer Wolfshiem will not be coming to the funeral. At Jay's house, Nick receives a call intended for Jay describing a crooked bond deal gone bad. Jay's father Mr. Gatz arrives and recalls his son, how he bought the old man a house. Klipspringer wants his shoes but won't come to the funeral. Nick goes to and appeals to Wolfshiem to come to the funeral but he flatly refuses to be seen there. He describes how he made Jay from nothing. Only Nick, the father, some servants, and the man in the library attend the funeral. No word or flowers come from Daisy.
In October, Jordan has become engaged. Nick runs into Tom in N.Y. and demands to know what he said to Wilson that day. Tom says Wilson came to his house with a revolver and Tom told him that Jay had run over Myrtle. Tom laments his own loss of Myrtle. Nick regards Tom and Daisy as careless people.
Nick visits Gatsby's house, now overgrown, one final time before moving away for good.