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The Great Gatsby | Plot Summary

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Summary

At first glance, The Great Gatsby appears to be a fairly straightforward tale about Jay Gatsby's tragic pursuit of the American dream. But upon closer examination—including a deeper look at the novel's use of symbolism and intent—the story becomes a commentary on social classes, the pursuit of the American dream, and determining what really matters. Thus, while the novel is set in the 1920s, its story and characters are timeless.

The Great Gatsby has five settings:

  1. The Midwest, from which many of the main characters originate.
  2. West Egg, a fictional city on Long Island, New York, where up-and-coming residents with new money reside.
  3. East Egg, a fictional city also on Long Island, where the aristocratic wealthy of old money reside.
  4. The Valley of Ashes, a third Long Island setting characterized as a bleak locale where the suburbs intersect with the city and where those less fortunate—the have-nots—live.
  5. New York, where Nick Carraway works in the bond business and where Tom Buchanan rents an apartment in which he meets with his mistress, Myrtle Wilson.

The story begins with Nick Carraway's move to West Egg on Long Island in New York, where he happens to rent a house next door to Jay Gatsby, a wealthy businessman known for his elaborately lavish parties. Gatsby appears to be well-liked and popular, although where he came from and how he made his fortune remain matters of mystery—and much speculation.

As Nick settles into his new surroundings, he visits his cousin Daisy and her husband, a well-to-do couple living in old money East Egg. They and their friend Jordan Baker, a young, single, and wealthy professional golfer, introduce Nick to their life in the East, which is characterized by abundant free time, flowing money, and luxury in all forms. Nick is attracted by this lifestyle even as he begins to consider its shallowness—particularly when he comes to understand that Daisy's husband Tom has "some woman in New York" and that Daisy is aware of it. By the time Tom takes Nick to meet Myrtle Wilson—who owns a gas station in the valley of ashes with her husband George—he is committed to what he sees as the East Coast way of life.

Nick and Gatsby soon become friends. Even after Nick realizes Gatsby is pursuing the friendship in part so that he can reconnect with Daisy—who happens to be the woman he'd fallen in love with before the war—he is intrigued. At Gatsby's request Nick arranges for Daisy and Gatsby to reunite at his home. While the first meeting is awkward for the former lovers, it becomes apparent they still care for one another, and Gatsby and Daisy continue to see each other secretly.

Eventually, Nick's two social groups from East Egg and West Egg intersect. Upon meeting him, Tom immediately dislikes Gatsby and later senses there is something going on between Daisy and Gatsby. While the group is in New York one afternoon, Tom confronts Gatsby, who informs Tom his suspicions are correct and that Daisy loves him.

Meanwhile, in the "valley of ashes," George Wilson learns of his wife's infidelity but he does not discover her lover's identity. George locks Myrtle upstairs in their home to keep her "safe" until they can move away. When Myrtle escapes she is struck and killed by Gatsby's car, which Daisy is driving back from New York. Instead of stopping to help, Daisy drives away from the scene of the accident.

Distraught, George is determined to find the driver of the car. This presents an opportunity for Tom, still reeling from Daisy and Gatsby's revelation, to tell George that the car belongs to Jay Gatsby. George sets out to find Gatsby in West Egg, eventually locating Gatsby's mansion and murdering him in his pool before taking his own life.

Nick learns of Gatsby's death and becomes a contact point for the details of wrapping up Jay Gatsby's life. He tries to contact Gatsby's many "friends" and is saddened to discover that no one seems to care. When Gatsby's father turns up, Nick learns the true story of James Gatz—the young man from the Midwest—and his rise to become the great Jay Gatsby, all in pursuit of wealth and his vision of the American dream. At the conclusion, Nick becomes disillusioned with all that the East represents, a disappointment deep enough to lead him back to the Midwest.

The Great Gatsby Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction

Introduction

1 Nick moves to New York.

Rising Action

2 Nick attends first of Gatsby's parties.

3 Gatsby befriends Nick; the two grow close.

4 Tom introduces Nick to his mistress, Myrtle.

5 Rumors about Gatsby's past; Nick meets Wolfsheim.

6 Daisy, Tom attend Gatsby's party; have a bad time.

7 Daisy and Gatsby appear to be in love.

8 Tom discovers Daisy and Gatsby's affair.

Climax

9 Gatsby, Tom battle over Daisy; Daisy chooses Tom.

Falling Action

10 Myrtle is killed by Gatsby's car, driven by Daisy.

11 George Wilson kills Gatsby.

Resolution

12 Almost no one attends Gatsby's funeral.

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