The Great Gatsby Chapter 1 Summary & Annotations: In Simple Terms

Last Updated: December 11th, 2023 by Kerry Wisby (Teacher-BA English Literature, 1920s & Great Gatsby Expert)

For anyone reading The Great Gatsby, you may quickly wonder what the first chapter is really all about.

Sometimes, a summary of a chapter can tell you the main points without getting bogged down with flowery language.

The Great Gatsby Chapter 1 Summary and Annotations

In this article, you will find a summary of what happens and the characters that Chapter 1 introduces us to. You will also discover that not everyone is who or what they appear to be.

Nick Carraway will be our narrator and is also a fascinating character all on his own.

Keep reading and discover more about what happens in the opening chapter of The Great Gatsby.

Summary for the Great Gatsby Chapter 1

The narrator of this novel is a young midwestern man by the name of Nick Carraway. He starts off by making comments about himself and telling the reader that his father told him to always reserve judgment since others may not have had the same opportunities he has had.

Carraway describes himself as the only truly honest person he knows and that he has high moral standards coming from the Midwest.

Characters Introduced in Chapter 1


Leonardo Di Caprio as Jay Gatsby in the 2013 movie version

This chapter is where we first hear about someone named Gatsby, whom Carraway describes as everything he disdains about the East but who is exempt from his judgment since Gatsby’s personality is nothing short of “gorgeous”.

Nick continues to tell us more about himself. That he served in France in World War One, and he was bored with the Midwest so he attended Yale University, where he met Tom Buchanan. Nick says the reason he came to the East Coast was to learn the bond business and enjoy the excitement of New York City.

Tom & Daisy Buchanan

Tom and Daisy Buchanan

While describing his own little cottage in West Egg, “the less fashionable” side of the bay, Nick goes to visit his college friend, Tom Buchanan, who had married his cousin, Daisy. Tom and Daisy, both coming from old money, live in the wealthy enclave of East Egg.

Jordan Baker

During his visit, Nick not only introduces us to his cousin Daisy but also her friend Jordan Baker (read Jordan Bake Quotes ). Jordan is a well-known golf pro who Nick recalls was involved in a cheating scandal.

Despite this, Nick finds himself attracted to Jordan, who is aloof and doesn’t seem to return the feeling at first.

Jordan Baker

Tom tries to interest everyone in a racist book he is reading called “The Rise of the Colored Empires” ( read more on color in Great Gatsby ), but no one else seems to care.

Pammy Buchanan

Daisy tells Nick that they have a 3-year old daughter named Pammy and that she feels jaded and unhappy with her life.

1920 Portrait of Young Girl

Jordan is the first to mention Gatsby. When Nick tells her where he lives, she tells him that he must know Gatsby. Nick says that he’s heard the name but has never met the man. Daisy seems to perk up at the name “Gatsby”, but then everyone is called to dinner.

During dinner, the phone rings incessantly, causing Tom to leave the table to answer it. When Daisy follows him, Nick tries to interest Jordan in a conversation, but she shushes him saying that she wants to hear what is going on.

Tom’s Mistress

This is when Jordan explains to Nick that Tom is having an affair with some woman in New York and that it is Tom’s mistress who keeps calling.

Jordan goes to her room soon after supper since she’s “in training”, and both Daisy and Tom hint that they would love to see Jordan and Nick together as a couple.

Nick returns home and gets his first glimpse of his neighbor, Jay Gatsby. He is standing in the fog at the end of his boat dock, reaching out for the green light on the end of another boat dock across the bay.

Nick tries to see what Gatsby is reaching for, but he realizes that Gatsby has disappeared like a ghost.

What Major Events Happened in Chapter 1 of The Great Gatsby?

First, Nick says that he “came back from the East” last autumn and that he feels bitter and jaded by what he saw the summer before.

This tells the reader that the story Nick is about to tell us has already happened and is in his past.

The main events that occur in the first chapter are:

  1. The reader learns that Nick comes from the Midwest, fought in the war, and attended college, moving to Staten Island, New York, to learn the bond business.

  2. Nick has dinner with his cousin Daisy and her husband (also Nick’s college friend) Tom Buchanan at the couple’s mansion in East Egg.

  3. Daisy and Tom have a 3-year old daughter named Pammy, and Daisy is quite unhappy with life in general.

  4. At this dinner party, Nick meets Jordan Baker, a professional golfer.

  5. Nick learns via Jordan that Tom is having an affair.

  6. Nick sees Gatsby for the first time but only for a moment.

In this first chapter, we are introduced to several important characters, giving us an inside view of what life is like for the super-wealthy.

What Was Gatsby Staring at in Chapter 1?

As Nick returns home from Tom and Daisy’s house in East Egg to his modest cottage in West Egg, he sees a man standing on the edge of the boat dock.

While Nick doesn’t know if it’s Gatsby or not, he assumes it must be since that dock belongs to Gatsby’s mansion.

green light man in the background and a silhouette of a on a dock

Gatsby is staring at the green light that marks the end of the boat dock of a house across the bay. He reaches out for that light as if he could grab it and hold on to it or possess it for his own.

The reader won’t discover until later on in the novel that that green light is at the end of Daisy’s boat dock.

Gatsby knows who owns that green light, the main reason he purchased the house he lives in in West Egg. He wanted to be as close to Daisy as possible.

What Does Daisy Buchanan Tell Her Cousin Nick in the First Chapter?

Most people might believe that Daisy lives a charmed and happy life, considering all the money in the world at her disposal, but this isn’t the story that Daisy tells Nick.

After dinner, Nick and Daisy walk together outside. Nick can see that Daisy appears to feel a bit depressed or down so he tries to cheer her up and asks about her daughter.

Daisy tells Nick that she’s had a “bad time” since they last saw one another. While she expresses love for little Pammy, she tells Nick that she didn’t even know where Tom was while she was giving birth.

Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby

She explains that she’s cynical now and believes that everything in life is terrible. Speaking about the day she gave birth to a daughter, she tells Nick that she hoped her daughter would be a beautiful little fool because that was the best thing a girl could hope to be.

Nick isn’t sure what to make of this, but he doesn’t get much of a chance to think about it since Jordan says her goodnight, and the party breaks up.

Before he leaves, Tom takes Nick aside and tells him not to believe everything he hears.

Nick may not fully understand what Daisy is going through, and he doesn’t yet know that Tom is a liar and has been cheating on his wife probably since day one. What this dinner party did was give Nick a little insight into the old saying that money can’t buy happiness.

What Attitude Do Daisy and Jordan Have in Chapter 1?

Nick describes seeing both Jordan and Daisy lying on a huge white sofa, appearing to not have a care in the world.

Jordan, in particular, seems aloof, and Nick doesn’t even know if she realizes that he’s there. She makes Nick feel quite insecure. In fact, he feels so insecure he apologizes for his mere presence!

Daisy is described as beautiful, but mainly in her mannerisms. Nick talks about her beautiful voice and flowing white gown while at the same time, talking about Jordan’s posture and how attractive he found her slim, taut body.

While Daisy seems to float on air, she later tells Nick how unhappy and cynical she’s become. This doesn’t align with the devil-may-care attitude that she displayed while lying on the sofa.

Jordan seems more interested in finding out the dirty details behind Daisy and Tom’s marriage. When Daisy asks what they are going to do all afternoon, Jordan doesn’t answer, but when the phone keeps ringing throughout dinner, Jordan is all ears.

These mixed attitudes show that not everything that glitters is gold, as the saying goes. Jordan may be a well-known golf pro, but she’s much more interested in gossip than what her friend Daisy might be going through.

Daisy is also shown to be a bit of a liar or hypocrite. When she is in the group, she laughs, makes jokes, and lovingly teases her husband, but in a private conversation with Nick, she allows some of her pain and anger to show.

Why Does Nick Live in West Egg and Daisy in East Egg?

A sketch showing East Egg and West Egg in The Great Gatsby
Illustrated Map of East Egg and West Egg in The Great Gatsby by Luigi Speranza

Nick may come from old money but not the kind of super wealth that Tom Buchanan enjoys. Daisy also comes from old money and presumably also a descendant of very rich people.

Although Nick is wealthy enough to attend Yale University, he doesn’t give the impression that he is of great wealth.

Nick also does not seem like the type of person who needs to display his wealth. He describes having an old car and living in the cottage (which he was originally going to share with a roommate) suited him fine because he would have time to read and not have to take care of the property.

West Egg is where the “new money” people, such as Gatsby, come to live. West Egg is filled with those who recently made their fortunes, whether through an unexpected turn of luck, such as finding oil on their property or from illegal means, such as selling bootleg liquor.

The aristocratic East Egg, where Tom and Daisy live, is where people with old money and social connections live.

While Nick may have been able to take up residence in East Egg, he seems to feel quite comfortable in West Egg, living in what used to be a gardener’s quarters next door to Gatsby’s mansion.

Final Summary and Analysis of The Great Gatsby Chapter 1

In the first chapter, Nick makes it clear that the events have already happened and that he is attempting to make sense of it all by writing down the story of the fateful summer.

Nick gives us an introduction to Tom and Daisy, as well as Jordan Baker, and even a small glimpse of Jay Gatsby.

We get a hint that everything isn’t as wonderful as it appears on the surface, but overall, the chapter is full of hope and intrigue as the reader wonders who and what Gatsby is.

Other characters will reveal themselves in the next chapter, and you can read The Great Gatsby Chapter 2 summary here.

The Great Gatsby Chapter 1 Summary & Annotations: In Simple Terms
The Great Gatsby Chapter 1 Summary & Annotations: In Simple Terms
The Great Gatsby is a terrific read, but if you simply want a summary of the first chapter and a few annotations as well, this is the article you must read.
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