He is enigmatic, enchanted and envied. He is known as a bootlegger, a murderer and an Oxford man. Rumors swirl about his background, yet socialites flock to his glittering soirees. “In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.” His name is Gatsby.
With a title derived from a man in search of love and success, “The Great Gatsby” is a literary masterpiece documenting the Jazz Age – a period of unrestrained materialism and moral emptiness. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s celebrated American novel was published in 1925, and contains many references that mirror the author’s own experiences.
The story opens with Nick Carraway, who moves from Minnesota to New York in 1922 to study the bond business. He narrates the novel, allowing the reader to feel as though they have too just rented a house in the West Egg district of Long Island, a wealthy but unfashionable neighborhood composed of the nouveaux riches.
Carraway’s neighbor is Gatsby, whose home is described as “a colossal affair by any standard – it was a factual imitation of some H“tel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, a marble swimming pool and more than forty acres of lawn and garden.”
Although Carraway’s own home is a very small eyesore, he is unlike most West Egg residents in that he was educated at Yale, and has connections with the Buchanan family who live in fashionable and affluent East Egg.
Tom Buchanan is a former classmate of Carraway’s from Yale and Daisy Buchanan is his cousin. When Carraway visits their Georgian Colonial mansion, they introduce him to Jordan Baker, an exquisitely sarcastic golfer. He also learns that the Buchanan’s marriage is unraveling, and that Tom has taken a lover named Myrtle Wilson.
Carraway describes Daisy Buchanan as alluringly charming. “…there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget.a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.”
By contrast, Myrtle Wilson lives in the valley of ashes, and though her face contains no beauty, “there was an immediately perceptible vitality about her as if the nerves of her body were continually smoldering.”
Carraway accompanies Tom and Myrtle to New York City one evening for a tawdry gathering at the apartment kept solely for their affair. During the evening, Myrtle taunts Tom about his wife, and he responds by breaking Myrtle’s nose out of sheer rage. That incident is Carraway’s first glimpse at the moral emptiness he is immersed in.
As the summer progresses, Carraway nets an invitation to one of Gatsby’s galas, complete with floating rounds of cocktails, casual innuendo and cocktail music. He meets Gatsby himself, discovering that the host has a rare smile “with a quality of eternal reassurance in it” and insists on calling everyone “old sport.”
Unbeknownst to Carraway, his encounters with Gatsby are simply beginning. As his romantic relationship with Jordan develops, she reveals that Gatsby met Daisy in 1917 and has been in love with her ever since. Gatsby spends most of his evenings staring at a green light at the end of her dock, which is across the bay from his mansion. His luxurious lifestyle is simply an attempt to impress Daisy.
Learning that Carraway has an established relationship with Daisy, Gatsby implores him to arrange a reunion. Carraway agrees, and Gatsby reestablishes his connection with Daisy. They enter into a complex and emotionally charged affair.
As Fitzgerald’s novel progresses, the scintillating fa‡ade of Gatsby’s life unravels. Carraway is swept in over his head, and discovers that Tom and Daisy are careless people who “smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
“The Great Gatsby” is more than a commentary on the corruption of wealth and dishonesty. Fitzgerald’s genius shines when he reflects through Carraway that the era of dreaming has ended. The enchanting novel ends simply yet candidly, with an observation that remains true today: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”