How Does the Great Gatsby End in the Book & Movie?

Last Updated: October 24th, 2023 by Kerry Wisby (Teacher-BA English Literature, 1920s & Great Gatsby Expert)

How does The Great Gatsby End in the book and the movie

Whether you read the book in high school or you saw the movie first, it’s fairly apparent that there are several differences in the way that the book ends to how the movie ends.

There have been 4 movie adaptations of this novel, and in this article, we are going to talk about the latest movie released in 2013, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Toby McGuire.

In fact, you may notice that the beginning of the movie adds a hint that can’t be implied (and isn’t talked about) in the book at all.

Whether or not movies should strictly follow a book and not make creative film adaptations or changes has long been a matter discussed by both literary fans and movie buffs. Today, however, we want to address the changes between these mediums and not the moral (if there is one) aspect of change.

How the Great Gatsby Book Differs from the Movie

The Beginning of The Great Gatsby

In the first pages of the book, Nick Carraway starts by recalling something his father had said to him. He goes on to talk about relatives, his family’s social standing, and other aspects of his life.

The book doesn’t say if Nick is speaking to anyone in particular or even if he is just talking to himself. Nick’s narrative simply starts and while it does bounce around, this is where he reveals his thoughts about Jay Gatsby and the rich people and how heartless they can be.

The Implied Beginning in the Movie

Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby

The movie begins in a similar manner, with Nick speaking, but the person that he is speaking to appears to be an older gentleman. As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that Nick is speaking to a therapist or psychiatrist who encourages him to write about what happened that summer.

While the book makes no mention of the person Nick might be speaking to, or writing to, one could easily imagine that Nick wrote the book or was speaking to a doctor. He makes it plain that he has no desire to return to his rented West Egg home, or East Egg for that matter, and that he hopes to forget all that he learned that summer.

He writes, “No- Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.”

Differences Regarding Some Characters

In the movie, we find out right away that Jordan Baker is a competitive golf player. Her character is inspired by Edith Cummings, better known as the Fairway Flapper.

In the book, it hints at an affection between Carraway and Jordan, but nothing more since Nick believes her to be dishonest.

The book definitely delves more into Jordan Baker – what she is like, what her past is – than the movie does.

In the film, Baker is really nothing more than a means to an end. Gatsby asks Jordan to ask Nick to ask Daisy to tea (read more on Jordan Baker from The Great Gatsby ). After Baker tells Nick about Jay Gatsby and Daisy and relays Gatsby’s request, we see or hear very little from Jordan again.

Daisy Buchanan ending in the great gatsby

In the movie, Daisy is also reduced to a few lines and long, romantic stares at Gatsby. It’s difficult to love or hate Daisy in the movie version because you discover so little about her.

Daisy’s husband also takes on a different persona in the movie. In the book, Tom Buchanan is a rude, arrogant man that readers will dislike, but he isn’t evil.

In the movie, however, Tom becomes more of an evil, heartless villain that makes one want to slap him at the very least and punch him in the face at worst.

The Scene Where Tom Cries

There is one small change between the book and the movie in the scene where Tom cries while talking to Nick .

In the book, there is a description of Myrtle and how she wanted a little dog in her apartment, including how they searched for dog food or dog biscuits for the little dog.

What Does Tom Say that Makes Him Cry Like a Baby?

When Nick finally finds Tom, the latter tells him that he also suffered. Tom went to clean out and give up the apartment where he had his affair with Myrtle (read more on how did Tom and Myrtle meet in The Great Gatsby ). When Tom saw the dog biscuits in the kitchen, he says he cried like a baby, remembering the dog he had bought her.

In the movie, we see Nick listening to Myrtle and Tom making love as he watches a small dog eating dinner on a very expensive chair. After Myrtle dies, Tom says he saw the dog’s leash, which made him cry.

This is a small difference, but one that should be noted. Whether it was dog biscuits or a dog’s leash, Tom failed to say Myrtle’s name.

How The Great Gatsby Ends – Book vs Film

Perhaps the most glaring difference between the book and the movie is in the end. The film adaptation changed (learn more on where The Great Gatsby Movie was filmed here) some details that we all knew from the book. Of course, the big question about Gatsby and Daisy didn’t change.

Do Gatsby and Daisy End up Together in the End?

the great gatsby - gatsby and daisy

The tragedy of this book (and the movie) is that no, they do not.

While Daisy Buchanan may have loved Gatsby at one time, it appears that she realized she was not strong enough to leave Tom. She enjoyed her fantasy while she spent the day with Gatsby at his home. She loved the idea that she could run away from her cheating husband, but she knew in her heart that she could not leave Tom.

The Scene Where Jay Gatsby Dies

Jay Gatsby was not so lucky as Daisy – he never gave up on his dream. Right up until his death, he believed that Daisy would call him. That she would say she was ready to leave her husband, that she never really loved Buchanan, and that she had loved only Jay Gatsby.

One difference between the movie and the book is that in the movie, just as Jay was diving into the pool, he hears the phone ring. A servant answers the phone, and Jay is certain that it’s Daisy. It wasn’t. It was Nick, who hears the gunshot.

In the book, there is no phone call. Gatsby dives into the pool and is shot by Myrtle’s husband George Wilson (read more on George Wilson in The Great Gatsby here).

The Scenes Surrounding Gatsby’s Funeral

Here is one event that is quite different between the book and the movie.

Gatsby’s father comes, disproving what Gatsby has told everyone that his parents were dead. Mr. Henry C Gatz believed his son was “destined for great things”. He brought a book all the way from Minnesota to show people in which Gatsby had written notes about his daily schedule. No one sees it, of course, except for Nick.

This part of the book implies that, in the end, only your family will be there for you, although Nick wasn’t family but a loyal friend.

In the movie version, the father is completely left out of the story. Only Nick sits with Gatsby’s body during his wake and attends the funeral.

Who Refuses to Attend Gatsby’s Funeral?

how does the book the great gatsby end

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, although Nick calls and visits everyone he can, Fitzgerald wrote that no one save Gatsby’s father, a few servants, and Nick attends the funeral. Even Gatsby’s business partner Meyer Wolfsheim refuses to attend, saying he’s too old to get involved in Gatsby’s death.

It bothers Nick more than any other event, perhaps even more than Gatsby’s death, that hundreds of people attended Gatsby’s parties, but not a single person would attend his funeral.

Where Are Tom and Daisy Buchanan During Jay Gatsby’s Funeral?

In both the book and the movie, Nick calls Daisy repeatedly, trying to reach her. He is convinced that Daisy must have heard about the murder. He cannot believe Daisy would be so cold as to not at the very least send flowers and a card of condolences to the man she once loved.

Where are Daisy and Tom? In the book, Nick is told by a servant that the couple has left town. The servant doesn’t know where they went or when they will be back, if ever.

In the movie, the servant is saying the same words, but you can clearly see Tom Buchanan, Daisy, and their daughter getting ready to get in the car. Daisy looks at the servant talking on the phone, but she doesn’t ask who it is or what they want.

Gatsby believed that he and Daisy shared true love. A love that would last their whole life. However, in the end, it appears that Daisy had lost her love for Gatsby or was concerned for her future.

What Happens to Nick Carraway at the End of the Great Gatsby?

In the novel, Nick is writing this piece of American literature a full 2 years after Gatsby was murdered. In the movie, they don’t really give a time frame, they only show that Nick is troubled by what he experienced that summer.

In the book, after Gatsby’s funeral, Nick finds that he is disgusted by Easterners, New York City, and the rich in general. Jordan Baker breaks off any relationship Nick may have imagined he had with her as she tells him that she is engaged to someone else.

Nick spends one last day walking through Gatsby’s house, which was stripped clean by Wolfsheim.

As he walks down Gatsby’s dock and remembers that day when he saw Jay reach his arms towards Daisy’s green light on the dock. He knows that Daisy’s love was not as true as Jay’s was for her. He muses that Gatsby could not have known that his dream was already behind him.

In Fitzgerald’s novel, Nick makes these observations and states that he is returning to the Midwest, where he was born and raised.

In the movie, Nick has finished the novel. As he sleeps, the doctor picks up pages off the floor and puts a pen next to the typewriter, which has the title page still inserted.

Nick wakes up and is about to leave the room when he stops. He turns back and takes the title page out of the typewriter. Using the pen, he changes the title from “Gatsby” to “The Great Gatsby.”

There is no mention in the movie what Nick’s plan is or where he goes from there.

Why Would Nick Return to the Midwest?

In the book, as in the movie, Nick is initially excited by all the people he sees and meets in New York. He believes that people in the eastern part of the US were more interesting, more educated, and they certainly had more money than he was accustomed to.

However, his excitement and benevolent thoughts about his rich eastern neighbors fall apart quickly. Nick discovers that the American Dream isn’t always what one thinks it is.

The husband of his cousin Daisy is cheating on her. Everyone drinks too much. Although they appear to have everything one could ever hope for, there is an empty feeling, a belief that there must be something more, but no one seems to know what that is.

At the end of the day, both Daisy and Gatsby lose their dreams about true love. Nick sees all these, and worse, when Gatsby is murdered, not one person attends the funeral.

When Myrtle dies, Tom tries to shift the blame to Gatsby by implying to George Wilson (read The Great Gatsby George Wilson quotes here) that it was Gatsby who had been having an affair with Myrtle.

Disgusted by what wealth has done to people, Nick apparently believes that people in the Midwest where he grew up may be poor, but they were decent people.

What Does the Ending of the Great Gatsby Mean?

Both the movie and the book end in a similar fashion.

Nick Carraway walks through Gatsby’s house one last time and he remembers seeing Gatsby for the first time as he walks down Gatsby’s dock.

Endings are important since they put a perspective on what we just read or saw. If Gatsby had run away with Daisy, then this would have been a love story. Since this ends with Gatsby’s murder and George’s suicide, this is a tragedy.

Perhaps in order to understand the ending, one must consider the era in which the novel was written. The Roaring ’20s, as they are called, was a time of overindulgence and great upheaval. This post-war decade was witness to a huge capitalist boom, with money being made in many ways and in great quantity.

New Money Vs Old Money

Fitzgerald showed a deep disdain or distrust of the very rich. The country was split into the haves and the have-nots, but not only that. Even among the rich, there was a yawning disparity between the new money and the old-money rich.

It was “new money” that bought Gatsby’s house in West Egg, which meant that he could never compete with the old money of East Egg.

While Gatsby worked hard to achieve the American Dream, he probably realized that he would always be looked down on because he was “new money”. The book casts a harsh light on money and the supposed American Dream.

The Great Gatsby is a rags-to-riches story, buy Gatsby earned his money using illegal means. Does that mean that his wealth was somehow less valuable because of that? It appears that Fitzgerald didn’t believe so, although the characters in his book certainly did.

Meaning of the Last Line in The Great Gatsby

In the very last line of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald writes: “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

This line is also included in the movie, with a shot of a broken Nick walking down Gatsby’s boat deck, remembering how he reached out towards the green light.

The final line is poetic, but rings quite true, even today. While we believe that we are rowing towards our goals, rowing hard against the current of life to reach the future, we actually don’t make progress. At one point, we return to the same shore (the past or the present) and believe that tomorrow we will “run faster” or do better.

And so we continue to hope and believe that we will achieve our goals, but the truth is that we won’t.

Insights into the Ending of the Great Gatsby

the ending for Jay Gatsby

From the book, you could almost hear F. Scott Fitzgerald saying that we are all Jay Gatsby. That no matter how hard we work towards our goals, we will never reach all of them, and we are only beating ourselves to death in our attempts.

The movie is a bit more optimistic. We watch as Nick observes the ruins that were once Gatsby’s house. He sees the green light from Daisy’s dock that was Gatsby’s great hope. Jay Gatsby is dead, but Nick isn’t, and as he returns to the Midwest, one might believe that Nick will go on and have a better life from what he learned that fateful summer.

Jay Gatsby’s life represents all of America, perhaps even all Americans. Whether rich or poor, new money or old money, everyone strives to achieve their idea of the American dream. Few will reach their goals, but everyone will try.

How Does the Great Gatsby End in the Book & Movie?
How Does the Great Gatsby End in the Book & Movie?
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