What makes up the American Dream? Writer F. Scott Fitzgerald certainly had an opinion of that dream in the 1920s. The Great Gatsby is his interpretation of it and its limitations. More specifically, he wrote about the leisure class in their 20s and 30s, of which he was a member. Perhaps this classic novel is so widely read because it also tackles the theme of American character or lack thereof. Money and power does not always equal happiness for Jay Gatsby. The reader begins to question whether the illusions Fitzgerald’s characters believe real are worth the price they pay to find out.
Set in 1920s New York, The Great Gatsby‘s scathing satire of the newly minted “nouveau riche” class is narrated by Nick Carraway, a recent Midwest transplant and neighbor of the elusive, party-throwing Gatsby.
Gatsby is secretive and filthy rich, choosing to hide how he came by his enormous wealth from most of his weekly partygoers, who really couldn’t care less anyway. Fitzgerald is a master at weaving in the details of the poshness of the time period through vivid descriptions of the mansion’s décor, the attire of its visitors, and Gatsby’s own signature yellow convertible.
The reader views the story through Nick’s Yale graduate eyes and learns that Gatsby has loved and lost and still loves a married woman named Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby convinces Nick, Daisy’s cousin, to invite Daisy to tea. The ex-couple, upon being reintroduced, start up an affair.
Daisy’s husband Tom, not being a fool, begins to suspect his wife’s infidelity and in the process digs up the unsavory source of Gatsby’s wealth. Driving back from New York with Gatsby, Daisy strikes and kills a woman during an emotional conversation about their affair. Gatsby shoulders the blame for the killing.
What happens next is the one of the many reasons this book is worth reading again and again. Will Gatsby win Daisy back and be acquitted? Will his riches and power come to his aid? Will true love and material possession last?
Major Characters in the Novel
- Nick Caraway Nick, a young Midwesterner educated at Yale, is the novel’s narrator. When he moves to the West Egg area of Long Island, he joins the lavish social world of Tom, Jordan, Gatsby, and his cousin Daisy.
- Jay Gatsby The handsome, mysterious Gatsby, who lives in a mansion next door to Nick’s cottage, is known for his lavish parties. Nick, whom he trusts, gradually learns about Gatsby’s past and his love for Daisy.
- Daisy Buchanan Beautiful, charming, and spoiled, Daisy is the object of Gatsby’s love. Her caprice and materialism lead her to marry Tom Buchanan.
- Tom Buchanan From an enormously wealthy Chicago family, Tom is a former Yale football star who sees himself at the top of an exclusive social hierarchy. He is conceited, violent, racist, and unfaithful.
- Jordan Baker Daisy’s friend Jordan epitomizes the modern woman of the 1920s. A liberated, competitive golfer, she is firmly established in high society. She both attracts and repels Nick as a romantic interest.
- George Wilson The owner of an auto garage at the edge of the valley of ashes, George finds his only happiness through his faithless wife, Myrtle.
- Myrtle Wilson Myrtle dreams of belonging to a higher social class than George can offer. Vivacious and sensual, she hopes her adulterous affair will lead to a life of glamour.