As a student who has had The Great Gatsby doled out as assigned reading, your first thought may be “Why?!”
As an avid reader since early childhood, I found nearly all books interesting, but a few caused me to give the teacher an eye-roll as well (Chaucer! Ugh!).
I admit that I was skeptical when I was assigned The Great Gatsby in school. The title didn’t mean anything to me at the time, but I was willing to give it a go.
Little did I know that this book would become one of my passions in life!
If you’re looking for some cliff notes ( see our Great Gatsby Study Guides ), I hope this article will help you find the fascinating story that lies between the pages of this book.
What Is the Basic Summary of The Great Gatsby?
The Great Gatsby is a novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald and published in 1925. The story follows Nick Carraway ( learn more about Nick Carraway ), a young Midwesterner who moves to New York City in the summer of 1922, after World War I, seeking his fortune as a bond salesman.
Here’s The Great Gatsby summary in a few paragraphs:
Nick Talks about Jay Gatsby and His Lavish Parties
Nick Carraway rents a small house on West Egg, Long Island, next door to a gigantic mansion owned by the mysterious Jay Gatsby. Gatsby throws extravagant parties every weekend, but no one knows who he is, where he came from, and why he hosts these parties.
Nick is eventually invited to one of Gatsby’s parties. When he attends his first party, he meets Jordan Baker ( read Jordan Baker Famous Quotes ), a professional golfer, with whom he begins a romantic relationship.
Nick also learns more about Gatsby himself. Gatsby originally tells Nick that his fortune comes from his family and that he is the sole living heir. The truth is that Gatsby earned his cash through bootlegging and other illegal activities.
Gatsby and Daisy, Together Again After 5 Years
Gatsby is obsessed with Daisy Buchanan, a beautiful young woman whom he met and fell in love with five years earlier. Gatsby believes that if he can win Daisy back, he can erase the past and start over.
Nick arranges a meeting between Gatsby and Daisy, and the two rekindle their romance. However, Daisy is already married to Tom Buchanan ( Learn about Tom Buchanan traits ), a wealthy and powerful man who is having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, wife of George Wilson, a mechanic.
Tom Discovers His Wife’s Affair
Tom discovers Gatsby and Daisy’s affair, causing the two men to have a row. Gatsby reveals to Tom that Daisy never loved him and that she only married him because he was wealthy and she got tired of waiting for Gatsby to return from the war.
Daisy, unable to choose between her husband and her love, gets upset and wants to go home.
The Great Gatsby Ends with Three People Dead
Gatsby and Daisy leave New York City and drive home to the Buchanan’s East Egg mansion in Gatsby’s car, which hits and kills Myrtle Wilson by accident.
Nick discovers that it was actually Daisy driving the car that night, but Gatsby tells Nick he is going to take responsibility for it. Gatsby is sure that Daisy is going to call him in the morning and that they can make plans to run away together.
Tom Buchanan tells the husband of Myrtle, George Wilson, who owned the car that killed his wife and where the owner lives. George kills Gatsby then kills himself.
No One Wants to Attend Gatsby’s Funeral
No one seems interested in mourning Gatsby. Despite all the people who went to his parties and did business with him, no one but Nick, a few servants, Owl Eyes, and Gatsby’s father attend his funeral.
Nick cannot stand New York City after this incident. He meets Tom in New York one day, and the sight of this man disgusts him. Nick decides that New York is now a haunted city for him, so he sells everything he has and decides to return to his hometown in Missouri.
What Are the Three Main Points of The Great Gatsby?
While this complex book delves into several subjects and themes, the three main theses or subjects in this novel that stands out are:
- The American dream
- Wealth and social status
- Love and relationships
The American Dream
The American dream is the belief that anyone, regardless of their background or current income, can achieve success in America through hard work and determination.
Gatsby is a self-made man who did find great wealth, but he is ultimately unable to achieve his dream of finding love and winning Daisy back. The novel suggests that the American dream is an illusion and that wealth is not the key to happiness.
Wealth and Social Status
Social class and wealth are major themes in The Great Gatsby. Gatsby’s newly-acquired wealth is a symbol of his desire to achieve the American dream.
However, it is also one of the reasons he can’t have Daisy back. Gatsby earned his money via illegal means, which cannot buy him social status, something Daisy needs.
Tom Buchanan is a wealthy and powerful man from old money who is threatened by Gatsby’s wealth and success ( read the best Great Gatsby Money Quotes ). In the end, Tom’s jealousy and treachery lead to Gatsby’s death. Tom and Daisy rely on their money as a buffer between them and the consequences of their actions.
Fitzgerald notes that even in death, the poor (or newly rich) are treated with contempt and as a side show, while the wealthy simply buy their way out of their circumstances.
Love and Relationships
Love and relationships are another theme in The Great Gatsby. Gatsby’s love for Daisy is the driving force behind all his actions, but it is also his undoing. Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy leads him to make reckless decisions that ultimately cost him his life. The novel suggests that love can be a powerful force, but it can also be dangerous.
In addition to these three main points, The Great Gatsby also explores themes of poverty, gender, and race. The novel is a complex and multi-layered work of literature that continues to be relevant today.
What Is So Special About The Great Gatsby?
If this is you, standing up in class, bravely asking this question, it’s a good one no matter what anyone says.
While The Great Gatsby was written nearly 100 years ago, many of the themes that Fitzgerald tries to address haven’t really changed – that’s what makes it special. It’s timeless!
Not only that, its language is easy to understand, not ancient or archaic at all. I understand that not all novels, especially those from very old books, are relevant today or easy to understand (such is the case when the language has changed so much).
The poor are still treated with disrespect. The rich still try to buy themselves out of trouble. Some believe that the American dream is nothing more than a pipe dream.
Even if the themes of this novel don’t interest you, the story is certainly a juicy one. Of course, affairs outside of marriage have been going on since time began, but this story has a twist with both spouses (Tom and Daisy) having affairs.
To have Tom’s lover killed (accidentally) by his wife is another zinger that many are not expecting, let alone that George will kill the man he believes was having an affair with his wife.
Last, the prose of the novel is interesting and beautiful. While you might be tempted to skip over the poetic descriptions of how Gatsby’s staff prepared for his parties or the stunning words that Nick uses at the very end of the novel- don’t!
I recommend reading the novel quickly once so you can get to the meat of the story, then read it again, slowly, and savor every word.
You’ll find yourself calling everyone “Old Sport” before you know it.
What Is the Major Theme of The Great Gatsby
While this complex novel has several themes, if you had to pick only one theme, it would have to be the failure or unattainability of the American dream.
The American dream is the idea that if one is willing to work hard enough, a person will find success. Fitzgerald did not necessarily believe this to be true.
Success is a difficult word to describe or pin down. Success for one person might be that they are independently wealthy and no longer have to work for a living. To another person, it might be that they are married to a wonderful spouse, have several accomplished children, and have their own home.
Still, to another person it might be having the ideal job, little or no debt, and the freedom to travel the world without worrying about children or making other people happy.
Whatever your definition of success is, Fitzgerald believed that it was beyond your grasp. Even if someone should obtain it, they would discover that it didn’t make them happy or get them what they truly wanted.
Jay Gatsby is Fitzgerald’s epitome of this theme. Coming from a penniless background as James Gatz, Gatsby finds what he thinks will be a success when he joins and goes sailing the world with Dan Cody on his yacht. After Cody’s death, Jay is cheated out of his inheritance.
Gatsby meets wealthy socialite Daisy Fay. He decides that he loves this woman so much, he will earn his fortune and come back to marry her.
Daisy cannot wait and instead marries an old-money family, the Buchanans.
After working hard for 5 years, Gatsby has enough money to equal Tom Buchanan. However, he cannot use that money to buy Tom’s social standing, something Daisy is accustomed to and needs.
Despite the fact that Gatsby did achieve the American dream (even if he earned his money illegally- the American dream never states that one must do so legally), he cannot find happiness without the love of his life, Daisy.
Giving up everything to obtain that love and a life with Daisy, Gatsby loses everything, including his life.
Fitzgerald believed that no matter how hard one tries, the American dream is a farce and people will never be truly happy, regardless of how much money they have.
Why Did Gatsby Love Daisy So Much?
Daisy isn’t an evil character, although she does appear to lack a sense of responsibility and hates the thought of making a decision on her own.
She is charming, sophisticated, beautiful, delicate, graceful, and wealthy. Everything that Gatsby either wants to be or wants in a wife.
While Gatsby is absolutely obsessed with this woman, he doesn’t really know her. In Chapter 7, Gatsby seems shocked to discover that Daisy is a mother. He is ready for Daisy to tell Tom that she doesn’t love him and make a new life with him, but he didn’t even know she had a child.
This shows that Gatsby is in love with an idea from the past, not the flesh-and-blood woman. He wants to create a life with this woman as if he had never been poor or had to earn money. He must have unceasingly dreamt about how life would have been if he had been wealthy. He could have married Daisy and had the life he envisioned, instead of Daisy living that life with Tom.
I believe that not only did Fitzgerald want to show that money can’t buy happiness, but that one cannot repeat the past, no matter how appealing the past was.
It also appears that Fitzgerald wanted to show that the classes cannot mix, and any attempt to do so ends in disaster.
Why Do So Many People Love The Great Gatsby?
There are lots of reasons to love this novel!
This is a well-paced novel that isn’t too filled with flowery words and phrases. While it wasn’t very well received in its time, people today find themselves enamored with the tale it tells using the Roaring Twenties as a background.
For anyone who loves history, this novel perfectly describes what life was like back in the 1920s, a few years after the world war but just before the Big Crash that ushered in the Great Depression.
Reading this novel makes one feel immersed in the Jazz Age, and with a bit of scandal to go with it, this makes for good reading.
The theme of infidelity, love, obsession, social class, and money (or lack of it) are timeless subjects, and Fitzgerald somehow weaves these into an artful tale.
Everyone can find something to identify with, and some of the themes, such as how the poor and rich are treated differently, are still just as poignant today as they were 100 years ago.
What Is One Interesting Fact about the Novel
One interesting trivia is that despite its popularity now, The Great Gatsby was considered a failure when it was published.
The Great Gatsby sold only 25,000 copies in Fitzgerald’s lifetime. As of 2021, it has sold a minimum of 250,000 copies, not counting movie rights or used book sales.
First published in 1925, this was Fitzgerald’s third novel, and he saw it as a huge failure when stacked up against This Side of Paradise.
His first novel, This Side of Paradise, was a huge commercial success, selling 50,000 copies in one year. The novel had to be reprinted 8 times in its first year.
Fitzgerald may have blamed some of the failure of this novel on the title. He considered multiple titles before choosing The Great Gatsby, and even this title did not please him.
It’s hard to imagine the book with any other title today, but a century ago, Fitzgerald considered the following titles for this novel:
- Gold-Hatted Gatsby
- On the Road to West Egg
- The High-Bouncing Lover
- Under the Red, White, and Blue
F. Scott Fitzgerald died at the age of 44 in 1940 and never lived to see the tremendous staying power and popularity of his novel.
The Great Gatsby is a story with many complex themes and subjects but also one of intrigue and obsession.
Ultimately, this novel is about our inability to recreate the past, the division between the classes, the failure of the American dream, and that money cannot buy happiness.
The Great Gatsby is a pessimistic novel, which may have been part of the reason for its failure during Fitzgerald’s lifetime.
Rich in symbolism and with a lush, scandalous storyline, The Great Gatsby will probably remain on the required reading list for many schools for decades to come.
Written by Kerry Wisby – GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Owner & Founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Kerry Wisby, a former teacher with a BA in English, is the founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com. With a passion for all things 1920s, including The Great Gatsby novel, her website is the ultimate source for Roaring Twenties fashion, history, and party ideas. Read more about Kerry here.