The Great Gatsby is filled with life. The narrator, Nick Carraway, described lavish mansions, fancy parties, and the lives of the wealthy citizens of East Egg and West Egg. The book is essentially a love letter to the Gilded Age. All of that belies the fact that it has a tragic ending, one that sees Jay Gatsby dying, shot, by George Wilson.
Who Was Jay Gatsby?
Jay Gatsby was the main character, the protagonist, to use a literary term, of The Great Gatsby. He lived in a house in West Egg, New York, out on Long Island. This particular city isn’t as fashionable as nearby East Egg, and Gatsby spends a lot of his time hanging out with his wealthy friends and wishing he had as much money as they possessed.
In reality, although he inherited some money from a mentor ($25,000, which was quite a lot during the 1920s), Gatsby lost the funds to an ex-girlfriend. He made a living, it’s implied throughout the book, as a bootlegger. If this is true, Gatsby not only socialized with the wealthy residents of East Egg, but he also hung out with dangerous gangsters and members of the mafia, who ran bootlegging gigs at the time.
During the 1920s, Prohibition was in full force. The 18th Amendment went into effect in 1920, thus banning the creation and sale of alcohol. In many areas of the United States, it was illegal to possess and drink any form of booze as well. So, those who wanted a drink turned to illegal means.
Speakeasies, illegal underground bars sprang up in secretive locations. Members of the mafia, like Al Capone, controlled bootleggers, people who made illegal liquor. Booze came in over the Great Lakes from Canada, and people, most of whom worked for gangsters, delivered it. If Gatsby was one of these bootleggers, then he had dangerous ties to the criminal underworld.
Sordid Life in East Egg and West Egg
On top of the number of illegal activities going on in East Egg and West Egg, from flappers heading to speakeasies and wealthy characters drinking banned liquor at parties, there were plenty of secretive affairs going on.
It’s clear that Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, wife of Tom Buchanan, had a deep history. The two wound up spending a forbidden night together before Gatsby left for the Army. While he was enlisted, rather than wait for him to return, Daisy married Tom.
Despite the marriage, Daisy and Gatsby remained in love with each other, and begin an affair. Meanwhile, her husband, Tom, is involved with Myrtle Wilson, wife of George Wilson. The pair lived in a very unfashionable part of town nicknamed the Valley of Ashes, due to the manufacturing plants and other things in the area.
This means nothing to Tom, who was more in love with Myrtle than he was with his own wife. Still, he felt very jealous when he realized that Daisy and Gatsby were carrying on an affair behind his back. In the end, these complicated relationships prove to be the undoing of many of the characters. The lavish setting is just a veneer for the truth.
The Death of Myrtle Wilson
The first death in the book is that of Myrtle Wilson. While in New York City, staying at the real-life Plaza Hotel, Daisy, Tom, and Gatsby get into an argument. Tom lets Daisy know about the illegal activities that fund Gatsby’s life and fancy parties, and in the end, she chooses her husband over her lover.
Tom decides to send Daisy back to East Egg in a car owned and driven by Gatsby. Described as a large yellow automobile, its symbolism – caution – is clear when Daisy, behind the wheel, hits and kills Myrtle. Rather than stop to see if she is okay, they keep on driving until reaching East Egg.
When Tom, along with Nick Carraway and Jordan Baker, a woman whose character was based on Edith Cummings, the real-life Fairway Flapper, head in the same direction, they come upon Myrtle’s body on the side of the road. Tom, realizing that his lover is now dead, sees this as a chance to get rid of Gatsby once and for all.
How Did The Great Jay Gatsby Die?
Although Gatsby tells Carraway the truth, that Daisy was driving the car at the time of the accident, he intends on taking the blame. Tom, upset that his wife was having an affair and that his lover is now dead, goes straight to Myrtle’s husband, George and tells him that Gatsby killed his wife.
Throughout the story, George is described as a man who isn’t very smart or observant. Upon hearing that his wife was dead at the hands of Gatsby, he immediately jumps to the conclusion that Gatsby was also having an affair with Myrtle. He knew that his wife was sleeping around, but didn’t know who her lover was – until that moment when he makes the wrong connections.
Upset at all of the revelations, George decides to take matters into his own hands. He heads straight to Gatsby’s home, finds the man lounging on an inflatable mattress near his pool, and shoots and kills Gatsby. Then, George turns the gun on himself.
What Happened to the Other Characters?
After holding a small funeral for Gatsby, Carraway leaves Long Island altogether. He reflects that the wealthy area he spent time in is filled with moral decay and people who care more about social status and money. Presumably, Daisy and Tom go back to their normal lives. The dreams of the Gilded Age are over.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. When did Jay Gatsby die?
Jay Gatsby dies at the end of the book, in 1922, several months after Carraway moves out to West Egg.
2. Who kills Gatsby?
Gatsby is killed by George Wilson. He believed that Gatsby was having an affair with Myrtle Wilson and that he was driving the car that hit and killed her.
3. Who got Gatsby’s money when he died?
It’s not clear who inherited Gatsby’s money. However, it also isn’t clear that he had any money to spare. He lived a very lavish life and shelled out a lot on fancy parties and other things designed to make it seem as though he was wealthier than he seemed.