Basic Plot Of The Great Gatsby Book: Short Summary & Basic Concepts

Last Updated: October 25th, 2023 by Kerry Wisby (Teacher-BA English Literature, 1920s & Great Gatsby Expert)

The Great Gatsby is a novel about love, passion, betrayal, greed, and power, just to name a few.

basic themes in The Great Gatsby Novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In his third novel, author F. Scott Fitzgerald tackles many difficult subjects with poetic phrases that leave the reader feeling as if they had traveled back in time.

Although Fitzgerald most likely didn’t imagine that his novel would be required reading in many high schools and colleges nearly 100 years later, he did provide us with a glimpse into the real lives of people living in the Jazz Age.

The Great Gatsby begins after WWI has ended, and the stock market is booming. Liquor is illegal, but that only made it cheaper and easier than ever to get.

Our narrator is Nick Carraway, who came to New York City in the summer of 1922 to learn the bond business, make a fortune, and see the exciting life that he imagined the Big Apple would bring to him.

The Great Gatsby Summary

Nick Carraway narrates in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby novel

We are introduced to Nick Carraway, the narrator of the novel, who explains what happened during the summer of 1922, two years in the past.

Nick Stays in West Egg Across the Buchanans’ Mansion

Nick rents a small cottage in West Egg, a suburb in Long Island where the newly-rich people live. Nick sees Gatsby standing at his dock but never gets to meet him until Chapter 3.

Gatsby seems to be reaching out to the green light across the bay, to the more fashionable East Egg, which incidentally is where his college friend Tom Buchanan and his wife Daisy (who happens to be Nick’s cousin) live.

Discovering the Real Nick Carraway

Nick Meets Myrtle, Tom’s Mistress

Tom invites Nick to go to lunch in the city, but they get off the train in The Valley of Ashes, where coal burns constantly to keep New York City running. There he meets George Wilson, who is a mechanic and gas station attendant, and his wife Myrtle.

Nick learns that Myrtle is Tom’s mistress. Nick attends a party at the apartment that Tom keeps for Myrtle. She brings her sister Catherine and some neighbors to meet Nick, who gets incredibly drunk.

Nick Attends Gatsby’s Party and Meets the Host

While trying to concentrate on learning the bond business, Nick is often distracted by the parties that are given by his next door neighbor, Jay Gatsby. He receives an invitation to attend a party at Gatsby’s house ( see gatsby party quotes here ), and he decides to go.

Nick Receives a formal Invitation to Gatsby's Parties

During the party, Nick tries to find his host, but no one seems to know him. He does find Jordan Baker, who tells him that she’s met Gatsby. Nick hears a lot of rumors before he finally finds Gatsby. Nick is surprised at how young the man is. Gatsby invites Nick to ride with him in his hydroplane and later invites him to lunch.

Nick Goes to Lunch with Gatsby and Meets Meyer Wolfsheim

On the ride to the city, Gatsby tells Nick quite a few stories about his past, which Nick believes are not true until Gatsby shows him a medal he received in the war, as well as a photo of him at Oxford College.

At a speakeasy, Nick meets Meyer Wolfsheim, one of Gatsby’s business associates. Nick is very surprised to also see Tom at this hidden speakeasy.

Gatsby Needs a Favor from Nick

Later, Nick meets Jordan for dinner, and she tells him a story about how Gatsby and Daisy actually know one another from 5 years earlier.

She tells Nick that Gatsby would like him to ask Daisy to tea at his house, and Gatsby will “accidentally” stop by so the couple can meet again.

Nick agrees to do this.

Daisy and Gatsby Finally Meet Again

the great gatsby - jay gatsby and daisy buchanan dancing at a party

Daisy and Gatsby meet, and Nick seems to think that the couple are truly in love. They all go to Gatsby’s house where Gatsby tells Daisy that everything he has done or bought has been with Daisy in mind.

All parties at Gatsby’s mansion abruptly stop. Daisy comes over frequently in the afternoons, and Gatsby doesn’t want people to know and talk about Daisy and their affair.

Tom and Gatsby Get in a Row

Daisy, Tom, Gatsby, Nick and Jordan Party at a Hotel

Gatsby, Jordan, and Nick all meet on the hottest day of the year at Tom and Daisy’s mansion for lunch. Gatsby wants Daisy to tell Tom that she never loved him and that she’s leaving him. However, Daisy is very nervous about doing so. Tension is in the air, so instead, she suggests that everyone go to town.

Tom agrees and tells Gatsby that he would like to take his big yellow car into town. Gatsby drives Daisy in Tom’s blue coupe.

Tom realizes that the car is almost out of gas so he stops at George Wilson’s shop. George is sick with worry and tells Tom and he and his wife want to move West because George is certain that Myrtle is having an affair.

He locked Myrtle in their apartment above the gas station. She can see Tom, the yellow car, and most likely believes that the woman in the car, Jordan, is Tom’s wife.

At the hotel in the city, Tom and Gatsby get into a shouting match. Tom reveals that much of Gatsby’s money comes from illegal deals and bootlegging alcohol. Daisy is horrified by this and needs time to think.

Tom, confident that Daisy won’t leave him after learning about Gatsby’s money, tells Gatsby and Daisy to go home and to take Gatsby’s car. He will follow in his own blue coupe.

A Car Hits Myrtle and Instantly Kills Her

silhouette of a vintage car at night but the dark background is ablaze

While driving through the night, Tom stops at The Valley of Ashes because there appears to be a road accident. He discovers that Myrtle was hit and killed by a big yellow car that sped away after striking her.

Tom is more worried about what George will say than he is about Myrtle’s death. Tom tells George that he wasn’t driving that yellow car but he knows who owns it.

George is heartbroken. His neighbor Michaelis tries to console him, but he finds out in the morning that George has left the Valley of Ashes.

Nick is disgusted with everyone, including Jordan Baker. He finds Gatsby hiding in the bushes near Daisy’s house and learns from Gatsby that it was Daisy who was driving that night.

Nick tries to convince Gatsby to leave the city for a while, but he refuses. Gatsby is certain that Daisy will call him and then the two of them can leave to start their new life together.

Gatsby asks Nick to go swimming with him, but Nick says he has to work.

Nick Finds Gatsby and George Wilson Dead

Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby 2013 movie adaptation

Nick has a bad feeling all day, so he leaves work early. He goes directly to Gatsby’s only to find that Gatsby has been shot to death in his pool. They also find George Wilson, who is dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

No One Wants to Go to Gatsby’s Funeral

Rumors fly as Nick tries to find people who will attend the funeral. No one wants to come. Daisy and Tom have left town without a word. Meyer Wolfsheim says he can’t get caught up in any scandal, and no one except for Gatsby’s father, a few servants, Owl Eyes, and Nick attend.

Nick Looks Back at His Experience with Disgust

Nick Carraway and Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby 2013 film adaptation by Baz Luhrmann

Nick meets Tom in New York City a few months later, and he’s disgusted with him. Tom claims innocence saying that he told George where to find Gatsby because George was holding a gun on him. Nick realizes that Tom lacks any true understanding of what he’s done, and he forgives him.

However, New York is now haunted for Nick. he can’t forget what happened that summer. He sells everything he owns and makes one last trip to Gatsby’s mansion before heading back home.

What Are the 5 Parts of the Plot in The Great Gatsby

This novel is mainly about the American dream, love, and happiness, but like just about any book or movie plot, it has five essential parts.

parts of the Plot in The Great Gatsby

The five parts of The Great Gatsby plot are:

1. Exposition

The novel begins with Nick Carraway, a young man from the Midwest, moving to West Egg, Long Island, to work as a bond salesman. Nick is immediately struck by the opulence of his neighbors, including Jay Gatsby, who lives in a gigantic mansion and throws lavish parties every weekend.

He sets the mood and time of the story, describing the characters and the circumstances surrounding the events in the novel.

2. Conflict

Nick eventually learns that Gatsby is in love with Daisy Buchanan, a married woman who lives across the bay in East Egg with her husband Tom and their daughter Pammy. Gatsby and Daisy had a brief affair five years earlier, but Daisy couldn’t wait for Gatsby any longer so she married Tom Buchanan.

This conflict slowly builds up as it drives the plot from chapter to chapter.

3. Rising Action

Nick, Daisy, and Gatsby party privately in Gatsby's mansion

Nick arranges a reunion between Gatsby and Daisy, and the two rekindle their love. However, their relationship is complicated by Tom’s jealousy. Besides, Daisy hesitates whether she can leave her old-money social status and easy, wealthy life with Tom for a man of questionable wealth like Gatsby.

4. Climax

The climax of the novel occurs when Gatsby and Daisy are involved in a car accident that kills Myrtle Wilson, Tom’s mistress. Tom blames Gatsby for the accident, and only Nick knows that it was Daisy who was driving. Gatsby is shot and killed by George Wilson, Myrtle’s husband, who then kills himself.

5. Falling Action and Resolution

The aftermath of the accident shows how alone Gatsby was. Out of the thousands of party people who took advantage of his hospitality, it was only Nick who shows concern and attends Gatsby’s funeral. (Note: Owl Eyes, Gatsby’s father, and a few servants were there during the funeral.)

He is disgusted by the emptiness and superficiality of the people in the big city, and he resolves to leave New York and return to the Midwest.

The novel has been adapted into several films, including Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 version starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby and Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway.

What Is the Main Idea Behind The Great Gatsby

Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, the main characters, and the idea of the American dream

Scott Fitzgerald’s main idea was to show the division of the classes, even between new money and old money, as well as his belief that the American dream was a sham.

Gatsby achieves the American dream working hard (although via illegal means) to earn his wealth, but he isn’t happy.

Daisy marries into the American dream, but she isn’t happy either.

George Wilson is working his hardest, along with his wife, but they not only aren’t happy, but they also can’t seem to reach the American dream. Only Myrtle has a chance if she remains Tom’s mistress.

The novel also shows how people cannot recreate the past, despite their best efforts. The past is gone, and we should enjoy the present while working for the future.

Although this isn’t mentioned much, I can’t help but believe that the novel also shows how obsession is not a good thing. It can drive us to work hard or do more, but in the end, it only smashes us on the rocks of our hopes.

The Great Gatsby is a complex and multi-layered novel that can be interpreted in many different ways. It is a novel that continues to be read and studied today because it speaks to the universal human experience.

What Are the Concepts Presented in The Great Gatsby

My personal copy of the book - The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
Copy of my book – The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

There are many key elements explored by Fitzgerald in this novel, including:

  • The American Dream or the Corruption of It. Fitzgerald seemed to feel that it was unobtainable for most. Perhaps the American dream is more about being happy and content with what one has rather than earning more money than one can possibly use.
  • Love, Marriage, and Obsession. These are three very different themes. The novel explores the nature of love and relationships, and it suggests that true love is not about material possessions or wealth. It is about finding someone who understands and accepts you for who you are and that obsession can be deadly.
  • The Decline of Traditional Morals and Values. The traditional values of the past are being challenged by new ideas and new ways of life. The characters in The Great Gatsby are struggling to find their place in this changing world. The novel suggests that the decline of traditional values can lead to moral ambiguity and a sense of loss.

It’s interesting to note that Fitzgerald observed these themes 100 years ago, but has life really changed? The concepts above are still very real today.

What Is the Moral of the Story in The Great Gatsby?

While every person who reads The Great Gatsby may find a different moral, most agree that Fitzgerald wanted to show how the American dream was nothing more than that- a dream.

Unveiling the Truth: Is the Great Gatsby a Fact or Fiction?

Other morals might include:

  • Materialism and excess can lead to emptiness and unhappiness: The characters in The Great Gatsby are obsessed with material possessions and wealth. They throw lavish parties, drink expensive champagne, and drive fast cars. The novel shows the consequences and dangers of materialism and excess.
  • The decline of traditional values can lead to moral ambiguity and a sense of loss: The novel is set in a time of great social and cultural change. The traditional values of the past are being challenged by new ideas and new ways of life. The characters in The Great Gatsby are struggling to find their place in this changing world.
  • Loyalty to marriage is vital to happiness– It appears that no one in this novel, save for George Wilson, is faithful to their spouse. In this novel, being unfaithful brings misery and even death in the case of Myrtle, George Wilson, and Gatsby.

These are universal themes and morals that apply even to today’s generation.

Final Summary

A pessimistic summary of this novel might go so far as to say that, at the end of the novel, Nick must face the fact that he was close friends with a criminal (Gatsby) and that his college friends and cousin (Tom and Daisy) aren’t everything they pretend to be.

Disgusted with what he has discovered about people, Nick decides to return to his hometown in the Midwest and see if he can reclaim his thoughts and feelings about people.

An optimist might say that, at the end of the novel, Nick discovers that not everything or everyone is who they say they are. People hide behind facades and their money. Knowing this, Nick has learned a great deal, which he will take back to his hometown and, hopefully, live a happier life without the disillusionment.

What you see in this novel is a reflection of yourself, your worldview, and the life you have lived up to this day.

Basic Plot Of The Great Gatsby Book: Short Summary & Basic Concepts
Basic Plot Of The Great Gatsby Book: Short Summary & Basic Concepts
The Great Gatsby, at its core, is a novel about love and hope, greed and hate, not in that order. Get a complete plot summary here.
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