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Synopsis of The Great Gatsby

Detailed synopsis of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, New York, 1925, 1974, Bantam Books, Charles Scribner's Sons.

Nick Carraway, the narrator, lives in a small rented home in New York, West Egg (Great Neck), a peninsula on Long Island, the locale favored by the nouveau riche. He lives next to the gaudy Gatsby mansion, which stands directly across the bay from the more fashionable, old-moneyed East Egg (Manhasset Neck), a conjoined peninsula on Long Island. There his second cousin once removed, Daisy (nee Fay) Buchanan lives with her football star and terribly rich husband, Tom.

Soon after he arrived in New York from Chicago, Daisy invited him over. Jordan Baker, a golf star, was there. She generally stayed with the Buchanans when she was in town. The only time she showed interest in anything was when the telephone rang. The butler said it was for Tom, who left the room to answer. Daisy soon followed. Nick, feeling self-conscious, tried to make small talk but Jordan shushed him: 'He has a mistress, don't you know?' They came back together, cordially. Later, when Daisy and Nick were alone, she confided in him, in a disinterested way.

On another occasion, Tom invited Nick to accompany him to the city. Tom and Nick attended college together. They took the train and on their way Tom said, "I want you to meet my girl." They disembarked at a small, ashen town (Flushing/Queens area of Long Island), where a huge set of spectacles, the business sign of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, a long gone optometrist, stared down at all who passed by. They walked to a small, dirty garage, proprietor, George Wilson, and entered. Wilson greeted them and his wife, Myrtle, a slightly heavy but sensuous woman entered. She sent him for chairs for their guests and while he was gone, Tom told her he wanted to see her. Tom and Nick went back and waited at the train station. She arrived, on her way, presumably, to visit her sister in New York. They sat separately until they arrived. They then took a cab to the small apartment Tom had rented for their rendezvous. Nick, uneasy, attempted to leave but they insisted he stay and visit with them. They invited some neighbors and they all sat around and drank. Nick learned from the neighbors that neither Tom nor Myrtle loved their spouses and they planned to leave them and marry each other.

Jay Gatsby, Nick's next door neighbor, held lavish parties at least every two weeks. Luminaries of the business and entertainment worlds mingled. Cars piled up two and three deep in the driveway. Shortly after moving in, Gatsby's chauffeur delivered to Nick an invitation to the next soiree. There were people everywhere, some invited but most just showed up. He asked around for Gatsby, feeling it was proper to introduce himself to his host, but no one had seen him. There he again met Jordan Baker. He found from her and others that Gatsby's history was quite unknown but speculation grew to complete what was lacking. Some said he killed a man once, some that he was a bootlegger, and others that he worked for the Germans in the war (WW I). He found himself sitting at a table with Jordan and others when one man looked at him and said he looked familiar -- wasn't he in the Third Division? Yes, he was. 'I was in the Seventh Infantry.' He invited Nick to go with him on his new hyrdoplane the next day. But it still bothered Nick that he had not yet met his host and he said as much, to which the man said, "I'm Gatsby ... I thought you knew, old sport."

That was his introduction to his famous neighbor. He, at various times, discovered Gatsby's past. Although he told Nick that he was born of wealthy parents in the Midwest, was educated at Oxford and lived in many of the capitals of Europe, he was actually born in North Dakota as James Gatz, the son of shiftless and unsuccessful farm people. At seventeen, already Jay Gatsby, he ingratiated himself with Dan Cody, a rich silver miner, who saw in him the exuberance and ambition he himself had exhibited in his youth. When Cody died, the twenty five thousand (of Cody's millions) that Jay was to inherit was legally swindled from him by Cody's mistress.

Next he found himself in Louisville, this was October, 1917. America entered World War I in April of that year. A young socialite named Daisy Fay was holding court, granting favors to many of the handsome, young officers barracked at Camp Taylor. When she met Gatsby, she changed. Her young friend Jordan was surprised. When he shipped out, she stopped entertaining. Eventually, though, her gaiety returned. She was not meant to be alone. By next autumn, she was again the life of the party. It was then that Tom Buchanan appeared, swept her off her feet with his wallet and come next June, they were married in Chicago. A half hour before her wedding dinner, Jordan came into her room and found her "drunk as a monkey." She was clutching a letter from Gatsby -- we never learned its contents. Jordan put her in a bath to sober her up and the day was saved. But she never got over Gatsby. Tom and Daisy moved to New York.

When the war ended some of the officers were given the opportunity to take some classes at Oxford in England. Through some mix-up, Gatsby, though he longed to return home thinking he could somehow win Daisy back, was shipped to Oxford for five months. He finally made his way back to the U.S. and hooked up in New York with Meyer Wolfsheim, the man who fixed the 1919 World Series. He did odd jobs for Wolfsheim and soon built up several businesses, including a chain of "drug stores." These were actual neighborhood drug stores but they augmented their income by providing their customers with what Prohibition, which started in July of 1919, couldn't otherwise procure.

With his new-found wealth, he bought the garish mansion next to Nick's rented bungalow and gave fabulous parties for anyone who was anyone. He drove a canary yellow roadster and wore loud clothes. Always, though, there was one motive. With all of the notoriety these parties gave him, he was sure that sooner or later Daisy would find him. She would see him and remember how much she loved him. She would leave her husband and marry him and his life would be complete. The trouble was that the East Eggers were contemptuous of West Eggers and Daisy had never even heard Jay Gatsby's name until Nick first came to dinner and Jordan asked him about his neighbor. Jordan did attend his parties but had only met Gatsby once back in Louisville and never connected him with the young officer for whom Daisy pined those months before her wedding.

Nick and Gatsby became friendly, though Nick never really trusted him or believed anything that he told him. One day, Gatsby invited Nick to dine with him in New York. It was there that Nick was introduced to Meyer Wolfsheim. It was also there that Gatsby asked him for a favor. Jordan Baker would tell him a story and make the request. Why did he have to go through Jordan? It perturbed Nick but he did see Jordan, of whom he was becoming quite fond. Over dinner that night she told him about the Louisville episode. The favor: would he invite Daisy over to his house and invite Gatsby over at the same time?

The date was set and Gatsby arrived early, nervous. He'd had his gardener trim Nick's lawn and a florist delivered many too many flowers. The meeting was awkward but Daisy returned for follow up meetings. Interestingly, the lavish Gatsby parties stopped at this time. They had outlived their usefulness.

Gatsby soon became a visitor in Daisy's home, ostensively as Nick's friend. Tom, while he never appreciated Gatsby for his social class and suspected underhandedness in his business dealings also saw something more. He noticed the too-long glances between him and Daisy. He wondered where Daisy was suddenly off to by herself. He saw through the eyes of one who should know.

One hot afternoon they were all at Tom and Daisy's house. Tom and Gatsby traded veiled verbal punches while Daisy and Jordan affected boredom. Finally Daisy suggested they drive into the city to escape the heat. Gatsby offered to drive them all but Tom suggested they trade cars. He would drive Daisy in Gatsby's "circus wagon" and Gatsby would drive Jordan and Nick in Tom's coupe. Daisy slipped out of Tom's grasp and climbed into the coupe with Gatsby leaving Jordan and Nick to ride with Tom. Tom took off but stopped along the way at Wilson's garage to fill the tank.

Wilson looked sickly. The pretext for Tom's stopping at the Wilson garage had been that he had a car that he might sell Wilson. Tom asked how he liked the new car he just bought. Wilson wasn't interested. He was desperate to buy Tom's old car and to buy it soon. He could make a little money on that car. He knew his wife was seeing someone but he wasn't sure who it is. With the money he could make by selling that car he could take her west. Myrtle loves him. She is a good woman. If they were living in a different place she would return to her senses. They saw her looking out the second floor window. He had her locked in their bedroom. He had to do it. At that point, Tom might even have felt some sympathy for the cuckold George Wilson. He told Wilson he would have the car sent over the next day.

They took a room in a hotel and sent down for crushed mint and ice to make mint juleps. But the room was no cooler than their home. Tempers elevated quickly. Tom made a remark to Daisy. Gatsby rose to her defense. Then he said it. Gatsby told him Daisy didn't love Tom, that she loved him. She had never loved Tom. Tom laughed at him and denied his assertion. They both looked to Daisy to defend them. Daisy trembled as she tried to light a cigarette. Yes, she loved Gatsby. No, she never loved Tom. Well, maybe she did at one time. She loved them both. "Please, Tom! I can't stand this anymore." Tom told her to go on ahead with Gatsby. They would follow behind. He was sure that, now that it was out in the open, she would see that she was better off staying with him.

When they got to Wilson's garage, there was a big commotion. Tom stopped to see what happened. Wilson was distraught. There, laying on one of his work benches lay his Myrtle, wrapped in a blanket. It was a big yellow car. It was as if Myrtle knew the owner. She ran out as if to stop the car but the car didn't stop. She fell beneath its tires and it didn't stop. No one saw it happen, only that it was a yellow car driving very fast. Tom shook him to get his attention. He told him that he only now arrived, that the yellow car he was driving earlier in the day wasn't his. Wilson may have heard. He kept saying, "Oh, my Go-ad!"

Tom drove Nick and Jordan to his house. Gatsby was gone but Daisy's bedroom window was lit. Tom apologized for not driving Nick home but told him he would call a cab for him. When Nick was alone on the porch, Gatsby stepped out from behind a bush. He was intending to wait outside, all night if need be, to be sure Tom did not harm her. What about hitting that woman? Daisy was tense when they left the hotel and thought that driving would help her. The woman came out as if to talk to them and Daisy swerved away but a car was coming from the other direction. Daisy swerved back and hit her. Was she killed? Yes. Gatsby said, of course, he would say he was driving if they were found out.

The next day, Gatsby was found in his pool, shot to death. For all the use it got during his parties, he himself had never used it. He told his butler he intended to use it before closing it up for the season. Nick had an uneasy feeling all day. He left work early, worried for some unknown reason about Gatsby. The butler told Nick where to find him, and there he was. And a little way away lay his murderer, finished by his own frenzy with his own revolver. The butler thought he remembered the shots but thought nothing of it.

George Wilson's agitated state seemed to subdue toward morning and his watcher -- he had no real friends but his neighbors thought it best that someone should stay with him during the night -- fell asleep. When he awoke, Wilson was gone. Police inquiries traced his route toward West and East Eggs. He questioned several people along the way about the whereabouts of a big yellow car. He found his way to Tom Buchanan's house and Tom answered his query truthfully.

And for all the guests Gatsby had entertained during his life, Nick could find none to attend his funeral. He called Daisy but it seemed that the Buchanans had taken a vacation and could not be reached. Not even Meyer Wolfsheim, who considered Gatsby like a son, could come -- he didn't like to get mixed up in death. Nick was able to find Gatsby's father and postponed the funeral until he could arrive. He, Nick, and one man who had been a guest at several of Gatsby's parties and arrived at the last minute were the only mourners.

Nick continued on in New York but found the east had lost its charm. His relationship with Jordan ended. He no longer visited Tom and Daisy. He spent his evenings in the city because he couldn't bear to watch the ghosts of parties long forgotten traipsing around Gatsby's empty lawn. He realized that even when the east had thrilled him most, there was still something distorted about it. So he returned to the middle west, back home, to try to regain the clarity of his youth.

? Lester L. Noll

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