The Great Gatsby


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Book Review

This modernist novel of manners by F. Scott Fitzgerald is published by Scribner Classics, a division of the MacMillan Reference Library (but is licensed to other publishers and is in the public domain, but only in countries outside of the United States). This book is written for adults, yet it is often studied in high school during 11th grade.

Plot Summary

After graduating from college and serving in the first World War, Nick Caraway, the narrator of this story, gets a job as a bonds broker in New York City. He rents a bungalow outside of the city, on the less fashionable side of Long Island Sound called West Egg. His second cousin Daisy who lives with her husband, Tom, in East Egg is unhappy in her marriage, but she enjoys being rich. Daisy introduces Nick to Jordan Baker, a famous golf star, but Jordan has a problem with lying.

Nick travels to work by train. One day Tom introduces Nick to his mistress, Myrtle Wilson, who is married to a mechanic in the area. They go to the city on the train and end up at an apartment Tom owns. Nick meets the neighbors, and they all get drunk.

Nick is eventually invited to one of the many parties thrown by his neighbor Jay Gatsby. Nick finds Jordan at the party and decides that he doesn’t mind her dishonesty, even though he is a very honest person. Before he becomes involved with her, Nick decides he must first break off his relationship with a girl back home.

Gatsby, as everyone calls his neighbor, changed his name from James Gatz when he was 17. He is extremely wealthy, and there are rumors about his background, but no one knows exactly where he’s from or how he got his money. Nick later learns that Gatsby worked for Dan Cody, who made millions, and he was promised $25,000 at the man’s death. Gatsby never received a penny, though, because Cody’s wife finagled the situation. The story hints that Gatsby is a bootlegger.

Gatsby throws extravagant parties most nights during the summer. Rich and famous people come from all over the state to attend. Gatsby’s parties are so well known that one day a reporter appears on his porch and asks for a comment. The man doesn’t know exactly who Gatsby is or what he does but, because his name is bandied about by all the right people, the reporter believes he’s on the edge of something newsworthy — though he has no idea what that might be.

Gatsby and Nick slowly get to know each other. Jordan tells Nick how Gatsby used to know Daisy before she married Tom. Gatsby is still in love with Daisy, and he asks Nick to invite Daisy over to Nick’s house for tea. When Nick does, Gatsby and Daisy slowly become reacquainted, first at Nick’s house and then at Gatsby’s. Gatsby has waited five years to see Daisy again; he has to adjust his thoughts to the reality of her presence.

Daisy and Tom are invited to one of Gatsby’s parties. Daisy is fascinated by it, but she doesn’t seem to have a good time. Soon after, Gatsby no longer throws parties and lets his staff go. He hires a tougher, smaller crowd to take care of his house so Daisy can visit in the afternoons.

Nick and Gatsby are invited to Tom’s house one afternoon. When Tom leaves the room, Daisy kisses Gatsby and says she loves him. Jordan says that Tom is talking to his mistress, Myrtle. In the midst of this, Daisy and Tom’s daughter is introduced to the guests.

Later, Nick, Gatsby, Tom, Jordan and Daisy go for a drive to the city. When they fill up with gas, Nick learns that Mr. Wilson (Myrtle’s husband) is upset with his wife. He thinks she has been having an affair, but he doesn’t know with whom. At the same time, Tom realizes that Daisy has a life beyond her life with him. He doesn’t like this idea.

Once in the city, Nick, Jordan, Tom, Gatsby and Daisy rent a parlor at The Plaza and make mint juleps. Gatsby tells Tom that Daisy has never loved him. Tom responds that Daisy loves him (Tom) — only sometimes she is foolish, so he goes off with a mistress. But whenever his time with other women comes to an end, he always comes back to her and tells her he loves her. Tom talks about Gatsby as a commoner because of how he made his money, and Daisy wavers in her conviction that she has only loved Gatsby. Tom orders Daisy and Gatsby to drive home together. As they do, Daisy, who is driving, drives so fast that she hits Myrtle, when Myrtle runs into the road to stop the car. Daisy does not stop to see what happened to Myrtle, but continues driving.

No one knows who hit and killed Myrtle, except for Gatsby, Daisy and Nick. Tom and Jordan suspect that Gatsby is the culprit. Tom tells Mr. Wilson that the car that hit Mrs. Wilson belongs to Gatsby. Because of this, Mr. Wilson believes that Gatsby has been having an affair with his wife and has killed her. He goes to Gatsby’s house and shoots him. Gatsby falls into his pool and drowns. Then Mr. Wilson kills himself.

In the end, only Gatsby’s father, Henry C. Gatz, Nick and one business “friend” attend the funeral. Tom and Daisy leave town quietly. Nick is disgusted with those he thought were his friends. He breaks off his relationship with Jordan and wants nothing to do with the rich.

Christian Beliefs

One Sunday morning, the church bells play in the background while Gatsby holds another party. After Wilson says he doesn’t belong to a church, a neighbor tells him that he should go to church, and they will help him get through the pain caused by his wife’s death.

Other Belief Systems

Gatsby believes that money can buy everything, even love.

Authority Roles

Nick’s parents initially play a role in his decision to become a bond broker. Once he moves to New York City, he is not under anyone’s authority, and the people he lives around seem to feel that money is the only authority. In the end, Nick realizes that Tom and Daisy are careless people who wreck the lives of others and then hide behind their money and power.

Profanity & Violence

Words such as d–n, son of a b—ch and h— are used, and God’s name is taken in vain a number of times. When Tom and Myrtle are drunk, she insists on speaking about his wife, Daisy. To stop her, Tom hits Myrtle and breaks her nose. When both are drunk at one of Gatsby’s parties, Mrs. Ulysses Sweat’s car runs over Mr. Ripley Schnell’s hand. Mention is made of G. Earl Muldoon, a man at Gatsby’s party who would eventually kill his wife.

Henry L. Palmetto is mentioned as jumping in front of a subway train to kill himself. Brewer, another guest, was shot in the nose during the war. When Gatsby’s car hits Myrtle, who lunges at it, a description is given regarding how her breast is partially ripped from her body and hanging loosely.

Sexual Content

Women are sometimes described with words such as “small-breasted.” Tom has a mistress, Myrtle, and he doesn’t hide her from New York society, only from his wife. When he is out eating with Myrtle in the city, he often leaves her at the table and goes to talk to other acquaintances in the restaurant. They have an apartment in the city where they go to be together. During the summer, Nick has a brief affair with a girl at work, but no more information is given about her or the affair. Nick pulls Jordan to him and kisses her. Gatsby is described as someone who has “known” women early, which causes him to despise virgins for their lack of knowledge and hysterics about things that he thinks are not important. Tom accuses Gatsby of making trouble in his house, and Tom says that next Gatsby will want to make love to his wife. Later, Gatsby tells Nick how he first slept with Daisy on an October night.

Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • Why was Nick lonely?
  • What makes you feel lonely?
  • What caused him to feel as if he finally belonged in his community?
  • How do small acts of kindness help both the giver and the receiver?
  • How does Nick’s kind act help him?
  • What kind thing have you done for others?

  • What does Nick expect from the rich?

  • How does he end up feeling about them?
  • What makes the crimes of the rich disgusting to Nick?
  • Do you think money can hide all the things that you do wrong?

  • Why does Nick forgive Jordan of her lying?

  • How does Jordan’s lying hurt her and others?
  • Is Nick really an honest person if he chooses to have a relationship with someone who is an obsessive liar?
  • Who is he lying to?

  • Who do you think Daisy really loves?

  • When you only love yourself, how do your actions hurt others?
  • How does Daisy’s love for herself hurt others?

  • Who is Gatsby enamored with?

  • What does he do wrong?
  • What might have happened if he wasn’t killed?
  • How do you think Gatsby would have reacted to Daisy leaving him?

  • What are Tom’s ideas about races and people?

  • Why are his ideas wrong?
  • What does he gain by believing the way he does?

Additional Comments

Prejudice: Tom rails about how white people are losing control of things, and those who are not Nordic are not the dominant race. He reads a book about how black people have built their empires. The implication is that he doesn’t want them doing the same thing in his country.

Gambling: Nick meets Meyer Wolfshiem, who Gatsby says fixed the World Series in 1919.

Movie tie-in: Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and the movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In’s movie review for The Great Gatsby.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book’s inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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