The Great Gatsby | Study Guide

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Chapter 3

Professor Tony Bowers from the College of DuPage explains Chapter 3 in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby | Chapter 3 | Summary

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Summary

Jay Gatsby is well known throughout town for his lavish weekly parties. One week, Nick Carraway is surprised to receive a handwritten invitation, and nervously attends. The party guests revel in Gatsby's immense wealth—his fancy cars, swimming pools, elaborately catered menus, and full orchestra—and swap tales of how Gatsby must have made his fortune. Nick feels awkward and out of place at the party until he meets Jordan Baker. Together they mingle with other guests, and Nick is as astounded by the lavish festivities as he is by the partygoers' discussions of Gatsby's past and the source of his fortune. Whenever Nick asks where Gatsby himself is, no one seems to know. It's unclear whether anyone at the party has actually even met the host.

As Nick and Jordan continue to search for Gatsby, Nick strikes up a conversation with a handsome gentleman at a nearby table, thinking he looks vaguely familiar. The man turns out to be Gatsby himself, and the two men realize they served in the same division during the war. Nick is struck by Gatsby's easy style and the genuine interest with which he talks to his guests. When Gatsby is called away, Jordan begins to speculate about who Gatsby really is and joins the others in sharing rumors about him.

Breaking into present tense, Nick makes it clear that he didn't waste his entire summer partying. He worked hard in New York and dated a few women, but by midsummer he begins dating Jordan more seriously. He feels drawn to her even though he finds her dishonest (he knows, for example, that she cheated at her first major golf tournament), and by the end of the summer he wonders whether he is in love with her.

Analysis

Gatsby is symbolic of the new money of West Egg: people who aren't used to being rich and are thus prone to lavish displays of wealth, such as his opulent parties. No one seems to know who Gatsby is or how he got rich, but they're more than happy to take advantage of his generosity by partying into the wee hours of the morning, eating the food and drinking the wine of a host they cannot even identify. Despite having few facts, people happily swap rumors about Gatsby—that he was a German spy, or that he killed a man. The theme of superficiality versus truth or facade versus reality continues when Nick meets Gatsby. Despite Gatsby's fame, Nick is taken aback by how humble the man seems, and is surprised to learn that they served in the same military division during the war. Gatsby's accent, however, seems fake; he throws parties where he knows none of the guests, and in touring his home, it's clear that each detail has been painstakingly chosen to create the appearance of vast wealth. In the library, for example, one guest is amazed that the books are real, not just ornate cardboard fashioned to look like real books.

In this chapter Fitzgerald uses Nick's perceptions to elaborate on the superficiality of the individuals and events he is experiencing. Although he is absorbed in the exciting lifestyle that the East Coast offers, Nick is not completely won over. Nick's personal ethics can be glimpsed as he muses on what he calls Jordan's "incurabl[e] dishonest[y]." He is drawn to both Gatsby and Jordan despite their seeming dishonesty (or hidden truths). This is interesting because morality and honesty are at the core of Nick's character. He calls himself "one of the few honest people that I have ever known," yet he is willing to overlook these flaws in others—perhaps due to his father's advice at the novel's opening not to criticize anyone.

Nick also seems concerned with how his character comes across in the novel, speaking directly to readers to assure them that he didn't fritter away his summer with mindless partying—he worked hard in New York and tried to date other women. In the end, though, he was drawn back to the mystery and opulence of West Egg.

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