The Great Gatsby
"Can't repeat the past?" [Gatsby] cried incredulously. "Why of course you can!"
Spoiler Warning... unless you're a current or former US high school or English college student...
The Great Gatsby is a 1925 novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic social critique, in which the American dream of Rags to Riches is exposed as a noble illusion and self-absorbed, emotionally bankrupt Rich Bitches are the reality. Largely because of this frank but wistful consideration of idealism vs. human nature, it has come to be considered the definitive American novel.
The novel opens as Nick Carraway, 'Middle Westerner' and self-professed honest man, feeling the need to make his mark on the world, moves to Long Island, New York to get into business. He takes a house just across the bay from the upper crust, including his flighty cousin Daisy and her new husband, ex-college jock Tom Buchanan. But Nick is a First-Person Peripheral Narrator, which means he is only the narrator, not the protagonist.
The true hero of the piece, in more ways than one, is his new neighbor Jay Gatsby: an enigmatic man who makes sure to flaunt his wealth to everyone close by, building a lavish mansion near Nick's home and throwing completely over-the-top weekly parties to which everyone who's anyone is invited... but seeming, himself, mysteriously detached from it all. In a darkly comic parody of celebrity culture, speculation at these extravaganzas runs rampant as to who Gatsby is and where his money came from, with the rumors getting wilder and wilder ("I heard he killed a man once!") as the guests abuse his hospitality more and more freely.
So Gatsby is only the craziest of the shallow, self-centered rich people up at Long Island, right? Not quite, as Nick finds out once Gatsby realizes his connection with the Buchanans. It turns out that long ago, when Gatsby was only a young, poor soldier, he fell hopelessly in love with beautiful socialite Daisy Faye. Unfortunately, since he was poor, he couldn't live up to his promise to take care of her, and since he was a soldier, he soon had to leave her for the battlefield.
The love of his life--as he assumed--then promptly, inevitably, left him to marry someone in her own class, namely Tom Buchanan. But Gatsby, the romantic idealist, couldn't or wouldn't accept that. He will do anything to win Daisy back-- anything. If wealth and status is what Daisy wants, a wealthy, socially prominent man is what Gatsby will become, by any means necessary. The mansion, the expensive clothes and car, the parties-- all designed solely to attract the notice of Daisy, whose presence just across the bay is symbolized by the green light that burns at the end of her dock.
Nick obligingly sets up the first meeting between Gatsby and Daisy in his home. The two reunite with sparks in the air, and Daisy is gratifyingly impressed by all Gatsby's stuff. Since Nick has excellent reason to know that Daisy's husband isn't at all faithful himself, having previously spent an evening with Tom and his mistress Myrtle, there seems to be no harm in Daisy having a reactionary affair with Gatsby.
Inevitably it all falls apart, one hot afternoon in the city, at the intersection of Gatsby's unrealistic ideals and Daisy's inability to live up to them. He demands that she reject her husband utterly; Daisy, confused and frightened, makes no protest when in response Tom reveals his rival as a common bootlegger, and declares the affair over. By way of rubbing it in Tom insists that the erstwhile lovers ride home in Gatsby's car-- and when it hits and kills Myrtle on the way, Tom leads her husband George to believe Gatsby was driving. Actually, Daisy was at the wheel, but Gatsby refuses to implicate her. Not even when the vengeful George shows up at his mansion with a gun...
Gatsby is left alone to his ultimate fate, Tom and Daisy resume their life of oblivious privilege, and Nick, honest and decent to the end, tries to make sense of it all. Disgusted by his new insight into human nature, he packs up and returns to the Middle West, famously musing that 'Gatsby turned out all right in the end'. It wasn't Gatsby's dream-- the American Dream--that was the problem; it was what floated in the wake of that dream, corrupting it, that destroyed him.
"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter; tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther... And one fine morning...
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
Some sources claim that Scott's wife Zelda actually wrote the entire novel. Comparing Zelda's bits and pieces of surviving work (she died in an insane asylum) and Scott's entire body of work with this text is an interesting experiment and tropers can draw their own conclusions.
A film version was released in 2012, directed by Baz "Moulin Rouge" Luhrmann and starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, Tobey Maguire as Nick, and Carey Mulligan as Daisy. It was not well-received by critics.
Don't mix up this work with Gadsby: Champion Of Youth, in which a dissimilar author drafts a book without using a particular symbol of our Latin syllabary. (It always sounds this awkward.) He doesn't use the letter 'e.'
- Abusive Parents: Daisy seems to not even remember how old her child is.
- Ambition is Tragic
- American Dream: Heavily Deconstructed.
- An interpretation is that the true American Dream is that any person could be exactly whom she wants to be, free of the constrictions and prejudices of the old world. Gatsby’s error was that even when he has the skills to be whoever he wanted, he only settled to be rich:
Gatsby turned out all right at the end; 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 relations of men
- Animal Reaction Shot: In the movie, after Tom and Myrtle have a fight in the middle of the party, the scene cuts to the dog they bought alert and whimpering.
- Anti-Hero: Gatsby is a crook, but he's more compassionate than most of the "law-abiding" characters.
- Ate His Gun: George Wilson in the movie.
- Beta Couple: Nick and Jordan. Their romance isn't exactly happy-go-lucky, but in comparison to the epic Love Dodecahedron they're playing off, they're positively ecstatic.
- Big Brother Is Watching: Dr. T.J. Eckleburg.
- A Birthday, Not a Break: Nick's 30th right after Gatsby and Daisy's relationship goes to hell.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing; Daisy only cared about Gatsby and Tom because she thought they were rich, and when Gatsby dies, Daisy doesn't even attend his funeral! She just forgets about the effort Gatsby put into winning her over and moves on with Tom, the man she doesn't love.
- Blank Book: Owl-eyes is amazed that Gatsby's library contains actual books.
- Blood Is Squicker in Water: When Gatsby dies in his swimming pool, "a thin red circle in the water" fans out.
- Bottle Fairy: Myrtle.
- Brainless Beauty: Subverted. Daisy is no fool and really knows everything what's going on… only that she invokes this trope as a Stepford Smiler:
It'll show you how I've gotten to feel about--things. Well, she was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. 'All right,' I said, 'I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope she'll be a fool--that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool."
- Byronic Hero: Gatsby.
- Catch Phrase: "...old sport."
- Chekhov's Gunman: Owl-Eyes.
- Same with Wilson and Myrtle. They've basically been put into the story as a means of killing off Gatsby; Myrtle gets hit by Daisy when she is driving Gatsby's car. Wilson thinks Gatsby killed his wife, so he goes off to get his revenge.
- Color Motif: There's color symbolism throughout the book, associating white with purity and yellow with corruption, such with the girls with yellow dresses at Gatsby's party. As for his eternal love Daisy, what kind of flower is white on the outside but yellow on the inside?
- Completely Missing the Point: Supposedly, one of the most common complaints from high schoolers is that most of the characters aren't very likable. They're not supposed to be.
- Consummate Liar: Jordan. Nick suspects Gatsby of this.
- Contemplate Our Navels: Nick keeps up a running commentary throughout re: how this experience is changing his attitudes, and not for the better. It comes to a head in his conclusion, which is more or less: real life sucks, but at least in some places people are more honest about it than others.
- Crap Saccharine World: The world of the Idle Rich is ultimately hollow and depressing despite the pretty trappings.
- Daydream Believer: Gatsby really believes that millionaires are Gentleman Adventurers and his Multiple Choice Past are stories everyone thinks are ridiculous… at first. But given Gatsby is The Charmer, he manages to make others believe, even for a little while, in his story. In chapter 4, he is confessing his past with the skeptical Nick:
"After that I lived like a young rajah in all the capitals of Europe--Paris, Venice, Rome --collecting jewels, chiefly rubies, hunting big game, painting a little, things for myself only, and trying to forget something very sad that had happened to me long ago."
With an effort I managed to restrain my incredulous laughter. The very phrases were worn so threadbare that they evoked no image except that of a turbaned "character" leaking sawdust at every pore as he pursued a tiger through the Bois de Boulogne … My incredulity was submerged in fascination now; it was like skimming hastily through a dozen magazines.
- And after Gatsby produces a medal from Montenegro Republic and a photo of him with the actual Earl of Dorcaster, when they were at Oxford, Nick was forced to believe:
Then it was all true.
- Deadpan Snarker:
- Nick, in proportion as his cynicism grows. He keeps it largely to himself, though, save a few moments in the opening scenes:
Daisy: Do they miss me?
Nick: The whole town is desolate. All the cars have the left rear wheel painted black as a mourning wreath and there's a persistent wail all night across the North Shore.
Daisy: I'll tell you a family secret. It's about the butler's nose. Do you want to hear about the butler's nose?
Nick: It's why I came over tonight.
- His girlfriend Jordan also qualifies.
- Deconstruction: Of the American Dream lifestyle.
- Delusions of Eloquence: Meyer Wolfsheim, Gatsby's "gonnegtion" in the bootlegging business, sometimes speaks in this.
- Despair Event Horizon: Gatsby crosses this line when Daisy rejects him. George Wilson also crosses this line after Myrtle dies. This ultimately culminates in the deaths of the two men at the hand of Wilson.
- Determinator: Say what you will about the lengths he went to to pursue it, Gatsby never gives up on his dream of winning Daisy.
- Dogged Nice Guy: Gatsby.
- Downer Ending: In the end, Gatsby is framed by Tom for Myrtle's death and is in turn killed by her vengeful husband. It's also all but confirmed that Daisy was never worth the effort he went through to win her affection, and she decides to stay with Tom, completely oblivious to Gatsby's efforts. Tom gets away with being indirectly responsible for Gatsby's death. As a result, Tom and Daisy are doomed to be stuck in a loveless marriage. Nick becomes so disgusted with the whole affair that he essentially cuts ties with Tom and Daisy and leaves New York.
- Drives Like Crazy: Jordan, who insists she won't have a problem until she meets another bad driver. Daisy turns out to be a worse driver, though...
- The theme of bad driving recurs, and it is laden with symbolism.
- Empathic Environment: The brutally hot weather on the day that the love triangle between Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom climaxes, along with George Wilson discovering his wife Myrtle's infidelity and subsequent death.
- Followed by the cool weather the day afterwards, representing the end of Gatsby and Daisy's affair. What's more Gatsby remains in complete denial of both--he insists on swimming in his pool despite the cool weather, just as he insists that Daisy will come to him even though it's painfully obvious to Nick (and the reader) that she will not.
- The Film of the Book: Several, although none have been hailed as masterpieces. The introspective nature of the book is hard to translate onto film, and some of Gatsby's grand romantic gestures (not to say his genial habit of calling his friends "old sport") tend to come off as incredibly affected.
- As a note, his habit of calling his friends 'old sport' is affected, especially notable when he's nervous or feeling downtrodden (especially in the scene where he's reunited with Daisy by Nick).
- First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Nick is the first person narrator, telling a story about Gatsby.
- The Flapper: The majority of the women in the novel.
- Foreshadowing: When a man Nick dubs "Owl-Eyes" wrecks his car. Guess what happens to another character later on, involving a car?
- The other (minor) car crash mentioned - Tom Buchanan was involved in a car accident... with a chambermaid in the passenger seat. These incidents tend to reveal adultery, don't they?
- The valley of ashes itself has a foreshadowing meaning if you're going to take a Wild Mass Guessing to that level.
- Gold Digger: Daisy. She only married Tom and had a relationship with Gatsby for their money.
- Glory Days: See page quote. Most characters, but especially Tom Buchanan, who used to be a star football player for Yale. Nick's impression of Tom is as a restless man who goes about his entire life looking for another football game to win. Gatsby himself inverts this. He never had such pure happiness in his past, but he's ignoring reality in order to try and make the future glorious and perfect and lovely.
- Great White Hunter: One of Jay's Multiple Choice Pasts paints him as one of these.
- Have a Gay Old Time: It was published in 1925, after all. But it doesn't help that there's also a healthy dose of Ho Yay
- Hypocrite: With Double Standard mixed in. Tom proudly shows off his mistress to Nick, then gets incredibly pissed off when he realizes that Gatsby and Daisy are ready to have an affair.
- Hypocritical Humor: Tom talking about being a superior "Nordic" despite his last name being Buchanan.
- Indulgent Fantasy Segue:
"The master's body!" the butler roared into the telephone. "I'm sorry madam but we cannot furnish it. It's too hot to touch this noon!"
What he really said was, "Yes... yes... all right."
- Inter Class Romance: Gatsby and Daisy; Tom and Myrtle
- Jade-Colored Glasses
- Jerk Jock: Tom is the embodiment of this trope.
- Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Tom Buchanan, seems to genuinely be in love with his wife, Daisy. However, Tom only really cares about himself, and it is implied that he loved Daisy as an object of affection, rather than as a person. Tom also cheats on Daisy several times.
- Karma Houdini: When his mistress is killed, Tom directs her suicidally mournful husband to Gatsby. Meanwhile, Tom and Daisy? Drift off to Chicago, leaving the entire unholy mess in their oblivious wake. However, it is implied that their relationship has been ruined by the whole experience. This is one of the themes of the novel: that the rich make a huge mess and leave, making others clean it up.
- Kissing Cousins: Daisy gives off this vibe towards Nick early in the novel.
- It's worth noting that this is a case not based from attraction or sexual desire. People like Nick-- in his late twenties without a wife or girlfriend to speak of-- were often assumed to be homosexual in those days. On the absence of a significant other, he kissed Daisy in order to duck any gossip that might be spread about him (considering they are at a party). None of the partygoers would be savvy about Nick's relation to Daisy. This also shows how big of a flirt Daisy is, therefore leading to the conclusion that her flirting with Gatsby does not hold to the romantic value that Gatsby believes it to be.
- Lonely At the Top: Only three people who weren't employed by Gatsby bother to show up at his funeral-- Nick (the narrator), Gatsby's father, and one party guest (out of literally hundreds). In addition, Gatsby is secluded from social life-- only bothering to converse with someone who either is or is close to Daisy at one of his parties.
- Lonely Funeral: Three people come-- Nick, Owl-Eyes, and Gatsby's father (who is pathetically trying to justify to himself the fact that Gatsby ran away and never came back).
- Love Dodecahedron: Gatsby has his heart set on Daisy, who's married to Tom, who's conducting an open affair with Myrtle, who herself is married to George, who later on believes that Gatsby is responsible for killing Myrtle...
- Love Martyr: Everything Gatsby did to raise and spend his ill-gotten money was to capture Daisy's heart. He idealizes her to the extent that he's willing to take a manslaughter rap for her. The tragedy is, of course, that she's not worth it and never was.
- George Wilson may count, too. He's entirely clueless and loves his wife very much... and then he finds out she was cheating on him at the same moment she's hit by a car. Not surprisingly he promptly shoots Gatsby, and then himself.
- Not to mention that poor George Wilson was played like a fiddle by Tom (who pointed George to Gatsby) and George never even realized it.
- Meaningful Name - Daisy Faye. There's color symbolism throughout the book, associating white with purity and yellow with corruption, and what famous flower is white on the outside but yellow on the inside? And Faye has unpleasant connotations too... Also, her daughter's name, Pamela, not only refers to a very sentimental and idealistic novel by Samuel Richardson, refers to Daisy herself - it means "honey." And then there's Gatsby himself; "Gat" is a slang term for a gun...
- MacGuffin: Gatsby's stolen securities; Daisy
- The Messiah: Gatsby, in some readings, up to and very much including the unbearable suffering... Or maybe just Messianic Archetype?
- The Mistress: Myrtle Wilson
- Mock Millionaire: Played with-- Gatsby truly is a millionaire because of his criminal activities, but he lacks the education of the rich culture (he thinks San Francisco is a Midwestern City, he really doesn’t get the subtle clues that show that he is not invited to a party). He displays an over the top show of Conspicuous Consumption with his Cool Car and Unlimited Wardrobe ("such beautiful shirts"), drops casual references to Exotic Places (Montenegro and Oxford) in his Multiple Choice Past and holds parties with The Beautiful Elite in his Big Fancy House. The sheer excess of it convinces everyone that he must be a Mock Millionaire.
- Mood Whiplash: At least in the 1974 film; after the prolonged sad Lonely Funeral and Nick monologuing about the life of Gatsby over his deserted home, the credits ironically roll to the tune of 20s era girls cheerfully singing down the pier.
- Multiple Choice Past: Gatsby
- Murder-Suicide: George Wilson shoots himself over the death of his wife Myrtle, taking Gatsby with him.
- My Girl Is a Slut: When Gatsby first met Daisy, he knew she'd been involved with many men. To him, it made her "valuable."
- Mysterious Past: Gatsby at first.
- Naive Newcomer: Nick, literally at the beginning of the novel. The entire story thereafter is dedicated to shattering his illusions.
- Nouveau Riche: Gatsby is a real millionaire that only seems a Mock Millionaire because He Was Trying Too Hard to seem rich. This is the real reason all the other Old Money riches hate him so much.
- Only Sane Man: Nick.
- Opposites Attract: Nick and Jordan. He Will Not Tell a Lie; she's a Consummate Liar.
- Parental Neglect: Daisy and Tom barely seem aware that they have a kid.
- Perfectly Cromulent Word: The word coined at the end of the book's closing paragraph, "orgastic".
- Precision F-Strike: Owl-eyed man's funeral oration briefly conveys Gatsby's life and death.
"The poor son-of-a-bitch," he said.
- Rags to Riches: Deconstructed. The truth about Gatsby's income turns out to be a whole lot less exciting than the party guests' speculations, not to mention the high-flying stories he tells Nick.
- Rash Equilibrium
- Real Men Wear Pink: Gatsby wears a pink suit a couple times in the novel.
- The Roaring Twenties: Has endured in the popular imagination as the iconic representation of this era. That it's also a savage satire and ultimate condemnation of the same attitudes doesn't seem to register as clearly. Quite ironically, The Great Gatsby flopped when it first came out for this very reason.
- Rich Bitch: Well, when the whole point is to satirize the rich...
- Rule of Symbolism: Most famously-- and unsubtly-- "the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg" on an abandoned billboard along the highway the characters all travel. The eyes of God! And the green light is the American Dream! And... and the ashfields represent the gaps between humanity and the evil of consumerism! And hell!
- Kate Beaton has fun sending up that and other bits of Gatsby here.
- Nick's list of Gatsby's (parasitic and moneyed) guests is from July 5th, symbolically after the hope-filled founding of America.
- Owl-Eyes, one of the few not to overlook Gatsby's funeral, just happens to wear a set of rimmed glasses that Dr. Eckleburg might wear.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money: Pretty much every rich character in the book, except for Nick. Although Nick comes from a very wealthy family, he works for his own money. Some might argue that, despite coming from old money, he is the only character who has moral values.
- Setting Update: Cena Trimalchionis recycled IN 1920S NEW YORK! F. Scott Fitzgerald even intended to call the book Trimalchio in West Egg until he was persuaded that his readers wouldn't get it.
- Single-Target Sexuality: Gatsby, in regards to Daisy.
- Shallow Love Interest: Daisy, as evidenced when she finally visits Gatsby in his mansion, the culmination of literally years spent single-mindedly dedicated to reconstructing himself into her ideal man. The chapter is a masterpiece of quiet irony; Gatsby achieves his dream in full-- in the famous scene wherein Daisy winds up crying with ecstasy into a pile of "such beautiful shirts!"-- but only by exposing her as not in the least worth the effort.
- Jordan, Nick's love interest, has this covered as well. After everything goes to pieces for Gatsby and they see Myrtle's body, Nick decides not to join her and the Buchanans. Jordan's surprised "But it's only a half past nine", as if it all was just a show they'd been out at, is the last straw. When he sees her again to finalize things (not wanting to just leave like the Buchanans), she casually mentions she's engaged (albeit she might be lying, another bad habit).
- Shipper on Deck: Daisy and Tom for Nick and Jordan.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: With those on the "idealism" side doomed and those on the "cynicism" side evil. (It's not a fun book.)
- Smug Snake: Tom and possibly Myrtle Wilson.
- Supporting Protagonist
- Useless Protagonist: Nick contributes next to nothing to the plot beyond narration. Nothing that another person couldn't accomplish just as well.
- The Thing That Would Not Leave: Ewing Klipspringer. He eventually does when Gatsby dies.
- Foreshadowed by "Blocks" Biloxy, who fainted at Daisy's wedding, they carried him into Daisy's house, and he stayed three weeks, until Daisy's dad told him he had to get out. Next day, Daisy's dad died..
- Took a Level in Jerkass: Nick, albeit a short one, and under extreme provocation.
- Trailers Always Spoil: The back cover of the most common U.S. publication of the book these days spoils Gatsby and Daisy's relationship.
- Unbalanced by Rival's Kid: Briefly where Daisy's child serves as a symbol of the reality of her marriage to Tom.
- Unfortunate Names: A few of the names from Nick's list of Gatsby's guests from July 5th: The Leeches, the Fishguards, the Ripley Snells, Mrs. Ulysses Swett, S.B. Whitebait, Maurice A. Flink, Gulick, James B. "Rot-gut" Ferret, the Scullys, S.W. Belcher, and the Smirks.
- Unreliable Narrator: Nick's narration is colored by his perception of Gatsby at this particular moment. Whether that's because he's soft-hearted or just providing some poetic embellishment is up to the reader (and/or the reader's English teacher).
- Also at one point he joins some upper class friends of Tom for drinks and, as such, tells the audience that he gets drunk and the rest of the night becomes a big blur.
- Wham! Episode: Chapter 7, literally.
- When He Smiles:
He smiled understandingly -- much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced -- or seemed to face -- the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.
- White Anglo Saxon Protestant: Tom and Daisy.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Nick. He eventually learns to be more cynical by the end of the novel.
- Will Not Tell a Lie: Nick considers himself "one of the few honest men I have ever known."
- Women Drivers: Jordan and Daisy.
- Would Hit a Girl: Tom breaks Myrtle's nose during a spat in the middle of a party. It's implied that he's hit Daisy as well--the scene where she blames him for the bruise on her finger.