Whats the Great Gatsby About?

Last Updated: January 25th, 2024 by Kerry Wisby (Teacher-BA English Literature, 1920s & Great Gatsby Expert)

James Gatz goes on a quest in the Great Gatsby, written by F Scott Fitzgerald. He ultimately changes his name to Jay Gatsby and his character takes readers on a journey as he searches for a wealthy lifestyle.

Fitzgerald does a great job crafting a story about a man in search of a better life who ultimately succumbs to the pitfalls and pressure of striving to be better.

F Scott Fitzgerald is the author of this classic novel, which was written around 100 years ago. Published in the roaring 20s, the Great Gatsby is still considered a classic novel today studied by scholars from America to across the globe. 

Great Gatsby Novel open on a desk with feather ink well

A heartbreaking love story, with death and a tragic ending, the book isn’t for everyone, but many love the characters as they go on a quest for money, love, and parties in West Egg on Long Island outside of New York City.

What is the Great Gatsby about Short Summary?

Fitzgerald has Nick Carraway narrate this story of fame, fortune, heartache, and parties showing the class differences on East Egg and West Egg on Long Island outside New York City.

A Vibrant Cast of Characters

With a vibrant cast of characters, there is something for everyone in this novel that is set back in the Jazz age and full of old money.

If you want a story about trying to achieve wealth and going to the ends of the earth to do so, this is the book for you. Gatsby sacrifices love in his quest for perfection and fame, a choice that he regrets throughout the book.

What is the Main Message of the Great Gatsby?

Many characters in the novel are chasing the great American dream. From Jay to Myrtle to Daisy to even the narrator, Nick, they are all on a quest to become self-made rich people.

1920s man and lady art deco style portraying Jay and Daisy from the Great Gatsby

While some characters aren’t self-made, others like Gatsby are self-made, working hard and climbing the ladder, but unfortunately, it just isn’t enough in the end, for Gatsby, as he ends up dying tragically in the midst of a dramatic love quadrangle.

Tom Buchanan’s Wealthy Parties

In one scene, at the Plaza Hotel, Tom Buchanan hosted wealthy parties that were supposed to be symbolic of America and the American Dream, but really these parties were just the rich rubbing elbows. As Tom tells it, he expected people to bow down to his power.

What did Gatsby Actually do?

Some of what Gatsby does is not clear, as he used some illegal activities to make his money when he was just starting out. A truly self-made man, the first time Jay met Daisy Buchanan he was penniless and not in her social class, but eventually, Daisy and Gatsby started an affair, and he didn’t wait to receive a green light from Tom Buchanan before wooing her again.

Bootlegging Moved Gatsby Towards His Fortune

He started out by bootlegging and started working towards a fortune by selling illegal alcohol during the prohibition. Gatsby was inspired by Dan Cody and his wealth and sought his guidance on how to become rich.

Gatsby and Daisy ended up in a love story full of heartbreak and tribulations. Gatsby ends up losing Daisy early in the book, but reuniting five years later.

Meyer Wolfsheim is a friend of Gatsby’s, but not much is known about him as Meyer Wolfshiem was believed to help Gatsby get his start as a bootlegger.

How does the Great Gatsby Start?

Nick sees Gatsby for the first time as a young man standing on a lawn full of hopes and dreams. Nick had just moved to the West Egg, which is where the new rich people live, those who don’t come from old money. Nick started out in the book working in the bond business.

Gatsby Makes Nick His Friend and Confidant

Nick Carraway begins by talking about himself but then goes on to mention Jay Gatsby and other characters. After driving to East Egg one night to have dinner with Tom and Daisy (cousin Daisy is related to Nick), Nick finds Daisy lounging with her friend Jordan Baker. Tom and Daisy encourage Nick to take an interest in Jordan romantically.

It is when he returns home that Nick sees Jay Gatsby for the first time, which starts out the book. Nick ultimately lives next door to Gatsby  (learn more on where does Gatsby live )providing him with the proximity necessary to be the narrator. Gatsby takes him in as a friend and confidant and tells him everything about his high school days through his life’s dreams.

Jay Gatsby and The American Dream

At the end of the novel, Gatsby might have thought he came close to achieving the Great American Dream, but it came with a lot of sacrifices. Gatsbys dream was to chase a good party and find new money, but he died while still pursuing all of the fame and fortune he was after.

Whether or not Daisy ever loved Tom and was meant to be with Gatsby, Gatsby ended up dying young. The last lines of the novel echoing on for all of time:

“So, we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Gatsby’s car (read more on Cars in The Great Gatsby )ends up being used by Daisy and that is what killed Myrtle Wilson. Daisy needed something to take the blame for getting rid of Myrtle to keep her away from her husband Tom.

Unfortunately, while in love with Gatsby, Daisy married Tom because of his elite status.

Gatsby’s House and Ultimate Demise

For a period of time in the book, Gatsby did achieve the American Dream, and Gatsby’s house and Gatsby’s parties were legendary. His parties were just one of Gatsby s claim to fame by the end of the book, according to Nick. While he did get to party with the wealthy, it was short-lived.

The American Dream or A Tragic Ending?

Ultimately Gatsby tries too hard to chase the American Dream and does not become a success story. In fact, most of Gatsby’s stories ended up with a tragic ending. Most of the love stories in the book end up in death, and most of the characters do not have happy endings.

George Wilson ends up shooting and killing Gatsby and the Gatsby Daisy love affair never got its happy ending. While Daisy and Tom get a happy ending, it is at the expense of other key players in the book.

Symbolism in the Great Gatsby

There is a lot of symbolism in the novel like the Valley of Ashes, where folks like George Wilson are thought to live. Climbing above the valley of Ashes was always a goal of Myrtle, but she never does see the light at the end of the tunnel. Daisy and Tom get to sail into the sunset, but Myrtle meets an untimely death.

Gatsby’s Father 

After Gatsby died, Gatsby’s father showed up at Gatsby s funeral to pay his respects. F Scott Fitzgerald shows that his father is quite proud of his son. One way he shows this is by having him travel so far to come to the funeral.

A Novel That Has Stood The Test Of Time

It is really quite amazing how this novel has stood the test of time and I am sure it will continue to be a popular novel studied and read by many for years to come! 


Whats the Great Gatsby About?
Whats the Great Gatsby About?
Click here to learn everything there is to know about the Great Gatsby - learn key plot points, insights into the lives of the main characters, and the inspiration behind this novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, inspired by his wife Zelda!
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