The Great Gatsby Chapter 2 Summary & Annotations: In Simple Terms

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

If you would like to read the entire novel The Great Gatsby, and we recommend that you do so, but if you don’t have the time, a summary of the chapters is one way to get an idea about who everyone is and what happens.

We will meet some new people in this chapter who are quite important, plus we discover a lot about who Tom Buchanan really is in this chapter summary.

The Great Gatsby Chapter 2 Summary and Annotations

The Great Gatsby Chapter 2 Complete Summary

Tom invites Nick on a train ride to New York City.

There is a commuter train that takes people from the suburbs in and around Staten Island to the big city of New York.

The train makes several short stops, one of which is in a place that Nick calls the Valley of Ashes.

Nick goes to great lengths to describe this train stop, describing the city as grey looking with no vegetation and only a huge billboard advertising the Eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg, which he describes as “blue and gigantic — their retinas are one yard high.”

For reasons unknown to Nick, Tom suddenly tells him to get off the train. Nick cannot imagine why they are getting off in such a desolate place, but Tom seems to know where he is going.

What Happens in Chapter 2 of Gatsby?

Tom leads Nick to a gas station and auto repair garage. He speaks to a man named George Wilson (read The Great Gatsby George Wilson Quotes ), a beaten-down-looking man who is the owner of the station.

George and Tom discuss a car that Tom is apparently going to sell to George when a woman walks down from the upstairs apartment.

George Wilson, as gas station owner

George introduces his wife, Myrtle Wilson, whom Nick describes as “thick”, 30-ish, loud and brash, the complete opposite of Daisy.

When George leaves to get some chairs, Tom whispers to Myrtle to catch the next train and meet him at the station.

Tom, Nick, and Myrtle all meet again at the train station in Manhattan. On the walk to the apartment that Tom keeps for his trysts, Myrtle spots a dog and insists that Tom buy it for her, which he does.

Once in the apartment, Myrtle calls her sister Catherine and her friends the McKees to join them to a party (Read more on Mr McKee From The Great Gatsby ).

These new-found friends spend the afternoon playing music, dancing, and drinking heavily.

As the liquor begins to take affect, Myrtle changes clothes and tries to take on a more sophisticated air, as if she were Tom’s wife and not Tom’s mistress.

Myrtle and Catherine tell Nick about Myrtle’s life. Nick discovers that Myrtle met Tom on the train and went off to have an affair with him, despite not knowing who he was. She also talks about how unhappy she is in her marriage and with her husband George.

Catherine tells Nick that Tom, Daisy, Myrtle, and George all hate the person they are married to, and she can’t understand why they just don’t divorce and remarry.

Myrtle tells Nick that it’s because Daisy is a Catholic, and Catholics don’t believe in divorce. Nick is shocked to hear this lie and believes that Tom must have told Myrtle this lie to prevent any talk about leaving Daisy.

Catherine also asks Nick if he’s met Gatsby. Nick tells her that he has not, and Myrtle’s sister says that she’s afraid of Gatsby, despite never having met the man. She has heard rumors about him that she finds terrifying.

Everyone at the party gets rip-roaring drunk, including Nick, who is disgusted by everyone’s behavior and the conversation in general, but at the same time, he can’t seem to tear himself away from the spectacle he is entangled in.

Myrtle becomes more and more belligerent, finally yelling Daisy’s name over and over, even after Tom tells her to shut up.

Tom stops Myrtle’s outbursts by backhanding her so hard that he breaks her nose.

This puts an end to the party. Nick takes Mr. McKee home, then he heads home himself.

What Happens to Nick at the End of Chapter 2?

Nick Carraway narrates in The Great Gatsby

This party leaves Nick with some difficult feelings to deal with. Now he knows for certain that Tom is having an affair and cheating on Daisy. Although he doesn’t mention it, he may be tempted to tell Daisy about it, but Nick says nothing in the end.

The description of the Valley of Ashes is quite different from the descriptions of other places in the novel, such as Tom’s mansion. The Valley of Ashes is nothing short of extreme poverty surrounded by a lack of hope or dreams of any kind.

George and Myrtle Wilson both dream of a better life (read about Myrtle Wilson Character Traits )but have different ideas about how to obtain that. George wants to sell Tom’s car and move, while Myrtle simply hopes that she can latch onto a better (richer) husband.

Nick gets to see another side of Tom’s character. He’s a brute, just as Daisy described him, violent, and has no morals at all. Tom seems to feel no shame or guilt for having an affair, but he also doesn’t want his wife talked about. He controls Myrtle through force, and Myrtle appears to be OK with it.

This chapter also adds a bit of mystery to the already mysterious Jay Gatsby. The rumor of his being related to a German Kaiser Wilhelm makes Nick all the more curious about his neighbor, and like Myrtle’s sister, he, too, is just a bit frightened of the man he has yet to meet.

How Does Chapter 2 of the Great Gatsby End?

Everyone at the party is drinking heavily, and Myrtle is quite drunk. At the mere mention of Daisy’s name, Myrtle becomes enraged and begins to shout Daisy’s name.

people aprtying in Chapter 2 of the Great Gatsby

Tom warns her to never speak about his wife. This only makes the drunk Myrtle shout Daisy’s name even louder, telling Tom that she will say whatever she likes, and screaming Daisy’s name over and over.

With one quick move, Tom backhands Myrtle, breaking her nose. Bloody towels are everywhere, and the women are in the bathroom trying to fix Myrtle’s nose and her hurt feelings.

Mr. McKee wakes up and is still somewhat drunk. He decides to go home and Nick follows him, tucking him into bed before heading out to catch the 4 AM train back to his house in West Egg.

The violent nature that Tom displays only underscores the ugly side of relationships that most people would prefer to not know about.

Notice that Nick does not say anything to Tom about the incident nor does anyone else. No one stands up for Myrtle, and no one is willing to call out Tom’s awful behavior.

While most people think of the roaring twenties as a time of jazz music, good times, dancing and parties, author F. Scott Fitzgerald is clearly showing the reader that not everything is sunshine and roses, no matter how rich someone is.

What Does Nick Learn about Tom in Chapter Two of The Great Gatsby?

From the very start, Tom bullies and directs everyone, including his “friend” Nick Carraway.

Tom insists that Nick goes with him to New York. He doesn’t ask, he simply tells him what they are doing.

Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby 2013 movie version

Once on the train, again, Tom doesn’t ask Nick if he would like to meet his mistress, Tom tells Nick that they are getting off the train, and Tom takes Nick to George Wilson’s garage.

Yes, Nick could say something to Tom, tell him no, or ask him questions, but he doesn’t, he simply goes along with whatever Tom says.

Nick also does not say anything to Tom about his cheating on his wife, even though Daisy is Nick’s cousin and friend. Perhaps Nick feels that it’s none of his business, but he clearly doesn’t like the idea and can’t understand why Tom would see a lower-class woman like Myrtle.

This chapter does show numerous aspects of Tom, although Nick may not see them all.
     1. Tom is a bully.

     2. Tom believes that because he comes from money, he can order people around as he wishes.

     3. When speaking to George and the gentleman selling the puppies, Tom is quite arrogant and dismissive, knowing that he can buy anything and anyone.

     4. Nick learns for a fact that Tom is seeing another woman in New York, just as Jordan suspected.

     5. When Tom hits Myrtle, Nick can see that he is a violent man. If Tom is willing to hit a woman, what else is he capable of?

In short, Nick learns that his friend Tom is definitely having an affair, that he doesn’t care, that he’s a brutal, violent man who feels he can do anything because of his money and social status.

This chapter is an eye-opener for Nick, and it reveals so much about the dirty underside of the roaring twenties.

What Is the Primary Purpose of Chapter 2 of The Great Gatsby?

While the first chapter was light and airy, chapter two is dark and ominous.

Fitzgerald describes the great eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg overlooking the grey and somber Valley of Ashes.

While the party in Tom and Myrtle’s Manhattan apartment suggests gaiety and happiness, it’s marred by the fact that both Tom and Myrtle are married to other people, that everyone needs liquor to have a good time, and that despite the fun, it all ends in ugliness when Tom breaks Myrtle’s nose.

young people partying in the 1920s

One might say that chapter two is a precursor for the entire novel. While Daisy and Gatsby will rekindle their love, Tom will continue with his affair, and Jordan and Nick flirt with the idea of a relationship, everything falls apart after Myrtle is violently killed.

Whether Fitzgerald meant to use chapter two as a premonition of what would happen is anyone’s guess. It does appear that he intended to show that even among the wealthy, who can ignore the struggles of those living in the Valley of Ashes and avoid most complications by using their wealth and social class, the same problems that plague the poor also plague the rich.

The Great Gatsby Chapter 2 Short Summary

In Chapter Two, Nick meets Tom’s mistress Myrtle and her sister (read more on how did Tom and Myrtle meet ), and he learns firsthand that not only is Tom cheating on Daisy, but also that he is a violent man.

This chapter discusses love vs marriage. Nick finds that Myrtle married George thinking he was someone else (as in she thought he was upwardly mobile) and the fact that Tom would never even consider leaving Daisy for Myrtle.

This chapter is also about the American Dream. Fitzgerald believed that no matter how hard the poor struggle and work to achieve it, they can’t. Only the wealthy will enjoy this luxury.

Click this link for The Great Gatsby Chapter 1 summary.

We will learn more about Gatsby in Chapter 3.

The Great Gatsby Chapter 2 Summary & Annotations: In Simple Terms
The Great Gatsby Chapter 2 Summary & Annotations: In Simple Terms
No time to read the entire book? A chapter summary can give you all the details you need without the stuff you don’t. Find the complete The Great Gatsby Chapter 2 summary here.
Gatsby Flapper Girl