The Great Gatsby is a novel by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald. The story takes place in 1922, during the Roaring Twenties, a time of prosperity in the United States after World War I. The book received critical acclaim and is generally considered Fitzgerald’s magnum opus. It is also widely regarded as a “Great American Novel” and a literary classic, capturing the essence of an era. The Modern Library named it the second best English language novel of the 20th century. Gatsby has been adapted numerous times, in various media. An early draft of the novel is now available as Trimalchio: An Early Version of “The Great Gatsby”.
Set in the prosperous Long Island of 1922, The Great Gatsby provides a critical social history of America during the Roaring Twenties within its narrative. That era, known for unprecedented economic prosperity, the evolution of jazz music, flapper culture, and bootlegging and other criminal activity, is plausibly depicted in Fitzgerald’s novel. Fitzgerald utilizes these societal developments of the 1920s to build Gatsby’s stories from simple details like automobiles to broader themes like Fitzgerald’s discreet allusions to the organized crime culture which was the source of Gatsby’s fortune. Fitzgerald educates his readers about the garish society of the Roaring Twenties by placing a timeless, relatable plotline within the historical context of the era.
Visiting Long Island’s north shore and attending parties at mansions is said to have inspired Fitzgerald’s setting for the Great Gatsby. Today there are a number of theories as to which mansion was the inspiration for the book. One possibility is Land’s End, a notable Gold Coast Mansion where F. Scott Fitzgerald may have attended a party.
With The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald made a conscious departure from the writing process of his previous novels. He started planning it in June 1922,after completing his play The Vegetable and began composing The Great Gatsby in 1923. He ended up discarding most of it as a false start, some of which resurfaced in the story “Absolution.”Unlike his previous works, Fitzgerald intended to edit and reshape Gatsby thoroughly, believing that it held the potential to launch him toward literary acclaim. He told his editor Maxwell Perkins that the novel was a “consciously artistic achievement” and a “purely creative work — not trashy imaginings as in my stories but the sustained imagination of a sincere and yet radiant world.” He added later, during editing, that he felt “an enormous power in me now, more than I’ve ever had.”
After the birth of their child, the Fitzgeralds moved to Great Neck, New York, on Long Island, in October 1922; the town was used as the scene for The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald’s neighbors in Great Neck included such prominent and newly wealthy New Yorkers as writer Ring Lardner, actor Lew Fields, and comedian Ed Wynn. These figures were all considered to be ‘new money‘, unlike those who came from Manhasset Neck or Cow Neck Peninsula, places which were home to many of New York’s wealthiest established families, and which sat across a bay from Great Neck. This real-life juxtaposition gave Fitzgerald his idea for “West Egg” and “East Egg.” In this novel, Great Neck became the new-money peninsula of “West Egg” and Manhasset the old-money “East Egg.”
Progress on the novel was slow. In May 1923, the Fitzgeralds moved to the French Riviera, where the novel was finished. In November 1923 Fitzgerald sent the draft to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, and his agent, Harold Ober. The Fitzgeralds then moved to Rome for the winter. Fitzgerald made revisions through the winter after Perkins informed him that the novel was too vague and Gatsby’s biographical section too long. Content after a few rounds of revision, Fitzgerald returned the final batch of revised galleys in the middle of February 1925. He had received a $3939 advance in 1923 and $1981.25 upon publication.
Original cover art
The cover of The Great Gatsby is among the most celebrated pieces of art in American literature.It depicts disembodied eyes and a mouth over a blue skyline, with images of naked women reflected in the irises. A little-known artist named Francis Cugat was commissioned to illustrate the book while Fitzgerald was in the midst of writing it. The cover was completed before the novel; Fitzgerald was so enamored with it that he told his publisher he had “written it into” the novel.
Fitzgerald’s remarks about incorporating the painting into the novel led to the interpretation that the eyes are reminiscent of those of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg (the novel’s erstwhile optometrist, depicted on a faded commercial billboard near George Wilson’s auto repair shop) which Fitzgerald described as “blue and gigantic — their irises are one yard high. They look out of no face, but instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a non-existent nose.” Although this passage has some resemblance to the painting, a closer explanation can be found in the description of Daisy Buchanan as the “girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs.”
Ernest Hemingway recorded in A Moveable Feast that when Fitzgerald lent him a copy of The Great Gatsby to read, he immediately disliked the cover, but “Scott told me not to be put off by it, that it had to do with a billboard along a highway in Long Island that was important in the story. He said he had liked the jacket and now he didn’t like it.”
Fitzgerald was ambivalent about the title, making it hard for him to choose. The title may have originally been borrowed from Alain-Fournier‘s Le Grand Meaulnes, a novel he admired.  He entertained many choices before settling on The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald shifted between Gatsby; Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires; Trimalchio; Trimalchio in West Egg; On the Road to West Egg; Under the Red, White, and Blue; Gold-Hatted Gatsby and The High-Bouncing Lover. Initially, he preferred Trimalchio, after the crude parvenu in Petronius‘s Satyricon. Unlike Fitzgerald’s protagonist, Trimalchio participated in the audacious and libidinous orgies that he hosted. Fitzgerald refers to Gatsby by the proposed title once in the novel, which reinforces the view that it would have been a misnomer. As Tony Tanner observed, there are subtle similarities between the two. A notable difference between Trimalchio and The Great Gatsby is a less complete failure of Gatsby’s dream in Trimalchio. In Trimalchio, the argument between Tom Buchanan and Jay Gatsby is much more even, although Tom still wins in that Daisy returns to him.
On November 7, 1924, Fitzgerald wrote to Perkins. — “I have now decided to stick to the title I put on the book […] Trimalchio in West Egg” but was eventually persuaded that the reference was too obscure and that people would not be able to pronounce it. His wife and Perkins both expressed their preference for The Great Gatsby and the next month Fitzgerald agreed. A month before publication, after a final review of the proofs, he asked if it would be possible to re-title it Trimalchio or Gold-Hatted Gatsby but Perkins advised against it. On March 19, Fitzgerald asked if the book could be renamed Under the Red, White and Blue but it was at that stage too late to change. The Great Gatsby was published on April 10, 1925. Fitzgerald remarke
d that “the title is only fair, rather bad than
The main events of the novel take place in the summer of 1922, narrated by Nicholas “Nick” Carraway, a Yale gr
aduate and World War I veteran from the Midwest who takes a job in New York as a bond salesman. He rents a small house on Long Island, in the (fictional) village of West Egg, next door to the lavish mansion of Jay Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire who holds extravagant parties.
Across the bay, Nick’s second cousin Daisy lives with Tom Buchanan, her old-money husband who attended Yale at the same time as Nick. The Buchanans ask Nick to dinner at their home, where they introduce him to Jordan Baker, a well-known but emotionally evasive golfer whom Nick finds attractive, despite her unscrupulous sporting record. The atmosphere of the dinner is spoiled when Tom answers a telephone call that Jordan suggests is from his mistress, Myrtle Wilson.
Myrtle is the discontented wife of George Wilson, who owns an unsuccessful garage in the “Valley of Ashes” on the outskirts of New York City. One day, Tom takes Nick privately to a flat in Manhattan where they rendezvous with Myrtle and have a small party, but Tom again ruins the occasion, this time by breaking Myrtle’s nose following an argument regarding whether Myrtle should be allowed to speak Daisy’s name.
Nick eventually gets an invitation to one of Gatsby’s extravagant parties next door, where he soon spots Jordan.
Most guests seem to be uninvited and do not know their host, who keeps himself aloof. Nick, however, is coincidentally recognized by Gatsby from their having served in the same division in the war and the two instantly take a liking to each other. For the remainder of the novel, Nick revels in the enigma of Gatsby’s larger-than-life persona, soon accentuated by a lunch in Manhattan shared among Gatsby, Nick, and Meyer Wolfshiem, a close business associate of Gatsby’s, described as a notorious Jewish gangster.
Later, Jordan reveals to Nick that in 1917, Gatsby, originating from a penniless Midwestern family, had courted Daisy and hoped to marry her, but was sent to Europe to fight during the war, briefly studying at Trinity College, Oxford, during which time Daisy married Tom. Gatsby’s goals are now made clear: he has reinvented himself, become rich through self-mad
e efforts, bought a house near Daisy, and thrown his enormous parties in the hope that she would, by chance, find her way there one night so that the two can resurrect their former romance. Jordan, whom Nick casually begins dating, now asks Nick on Gatsby’s behalf to arrange a reunion between Gatsby and Daisy. Nick agrees to have both Gatsby and Daisy to tea. Although this reunion is initially awkward, Daisy and Gatsby soon rekindle their affair.
Daisy ultimately asks Gatsby, Jordan, and Nick to a lunch date at her house, even though Tom is present. At the lunch, Daisy suggests that they all go into Manhattan, and Tom, who is clearly suspicious of Gatsby, drives Gatsby’s yellow car with Jordan and Nick, while he encourages Daisy and Gatsby to follow in Tom’s own car. At Wilson’s garage, Tom stops to fill the car and an unhappy Wilson reveals that he knows Myrtle has a secret lover. Although Wilson does not know who the lover is, he has temporarily locked Myrtle in their home above the garage.
Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, Jordan, and Nick continue onward to the Plaza Hotel, where Tom angrily confronts Gatsby about his relationship with Daisy and his alleged criminal activities. Gatsby and Tom argue in front of the whole group, Gatsby telling Daisy to come with him, her first love, and to deny that she ever loved Tom. She avoids both men’s appeals and, overwrought, begs to go home. By the end of the altercation, Tom, believing himself victorious and therefore assuming that Gatsby is no longer a threat, scornfully orders Daisy and Gatsby to shamefully go home in the same car. The two leave, taking Gatsby’s yellow roadster. Nick suddenly remembers that it is his birthday and he is now thirty years old. He, Tom, and Jordan then ride off in Tom’s coupé.
Meanwhile, as Daisy and Gatsby race past Wilson’s garage, a frenzied Myrtle, who has just been let loose by her husband, recognizes the yellow roadster and runs into the road, where the car, driven by Daisy, strikes and kills her. Daisy panics, Gatsby takes the wheel, and they quickly drive on, but Tom soon arrives with the other two and discovers Myrtle’s corpse. Back home, Tom and Daisy achieve a reconciliation, pack up, and hastily leave town. Gatsby later tells Nick that Daisy was the driver responsible for Myrtle’s death, but that he is prepared to take the blame for her. Nick advises Gatsby to flee, but Gatsby refuses. He finally straightens out some facts about his life story to Nick and how he—born James Gatz—came to assume the name Jay Gatsby. The next day, Tom tells a distraught Wilson that Gatsby was the driver on the night of the accident, leading Wilson to believe it was Gatsby with whom Myrtle was having an affair. Wilson tracks down Gatsby’s address and arrives at the mansion to find Gatsby relaxing on a mattress in his pool; Wilson shoots Gatsby dead and then turns the gun on himself.
Flustered by Gatsby’s sudden death, Nick arranges his friend’s funeral, which is attended only by Nick, Gatsby’s elderly father, a single former party guest whom Nick never got to know, and servants. Nick is disgusted by the small turnout at the funeral, given his repeated attempts to get in touch with any of Gatsby’s previous party guests or associates, who all selfishly avoid the funeral. Nick runs into Tom on the street and later meets up with Jordan, openly revealing his dissatisfaction with both. Nick effectively ends all of his relationships in New York and decides to give up his job and his house. He resolves to return to the Midwest, acknowledging that the five main characters of the novel—Gatsby, Tom, Daisy, Jordan and himself—were all westerners who, in some fundamental way, failed to adapt to the standards of the East.
- Nick Carraway — a man from the Midwest, a Yale graduate, a World War I veteran, and a newly arrived resident of West Egg. He also serves as the narrator of the novel. He is Gatsby’s next-door neighbor and a bond salesman. Easygoing though occasionally sarcastic and initially optimistic, though this latter quality fades as the novel progresses.
- Jay Gatsby (originally James Gatz) — a young, mysterious millionaire with shady business connections (later revealed to be a bootlegger), originally from North Dakota. He is obsessed with Daisy Buchanan, whom he had met when he was a young officer stationed in the South during World War I. The character is based on the bootlegger and former World War I officer Max Gerlach, according to Some Sort of Epic Grandeur, Matthew J Bruccoli’s biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Gatsby is said to have briefly studied at Trinity College, Oxford in England after the end of World War I.
- Daisy Buchanan (née Fay) — an attractive and effervescent, if shallow and self-absorbed, young woman, identified as a flapper. She is Nick’s second cousin, once removed; and the wife of Tom Buchanan. Daisy is believed to have been inspired by Fitzgerald’s own youthful romances with Ginevra King. Daisy once had a romantic relationship with Gatsby, before she married Tom. Her choice between Gatsby and Tom is one of the central conflicts in the novel.
- Tom Buchanan — a millionaire who lives on East Egg, and Daisy’s husband. Tom is an imposing man of muscular build with a “husky tenor” voice and arrogant demeanor, a former football star at Yale. Buchanan has parallels with William Mitchell, the Chicagoan who married Ginevra King. Buchanan and Mitchell were both Chicagoans with an interest in polo. Like Ginevra’s father, whom Fitzgerald resented, Buchanan attended Yale and is a white supremacist.
- Jordan Baker — Daisy Buchanan’s long-time friend with “autumn-leaf yellow hair”, a firm athletic body, and an aloof attitude. She is Nick Carraway’s girlfriend for most of the novel and an amateur golfer with a slightly shady reputation and a penchant for untruthfulness. Fitzgerald told Maxwell Perkins that Jordan was based on the golfer Edith Cummings, a friend of Ginevra King. Her name is a play on the two then-popular automobile brands, the Jordan Motor Car Company and the Baker Motor Vehicle, alluding to Jordan’s “fast” reputation and the freedom now presented to Americans, especially women, in the 1920s.
- George B. Wilson — a mechanic and owner of a garage. Both Tom Buchanan and George’s own wife, Myrtle Wilson, the former of whom describes him as “so dumb he doesn’t know he’s alive”, dislike Wilson. When he learns of the death of his wife, he shoots and kills Gatsby, wrongly believing he had been driving the car that killed Myrtle, and then kills himself.
- Myrtle Wilson — George’s wife, and Tom Buchanan’s mistress. Myrtle, who possesses a fierce vitality, is desperate to find refuge from her complacent marriage, but unfortunately this leads to her tragic ending. She is accidentally killed after being hit by a car driven by Daisy, though Gatsby takes the blame for it.
- Meyer Wolfshiem — a Jewish man Gatsby describes as a gangster/gambler who had fixed the World Series. Wolfshiem (in some editions spelled “Wolfsheim) is a clear allusion to Arnold Rothstein, a New York crime kingpin who was notoriously blamed for the Black Sox Scandal which tainted the 1919 World Series.
- Catherine — Myrtle Wilson’s sister.
- Chester and Lucille McKee — Myrtle’s New York friends.
- “Owl-eyes” — a drunken party-goer whom Nick meets in Gatsby’s library. One of the only three characters in the novel to attend Gatsby’s funeral.
- Ewing “The Boarder” Klipspringer — a sponger who virtually lives at Gatsby’s mansion.
- Pammy Buchanan — the Buchanans’ three-year-old daughter.
- Henry C. Gatz — Gatsby’s somewhat estranged father in North Dakota. One of the only three characters in the book to attend Gatsby’s funeral.
- Mr. and Mrs. Sloane — a couple that visits Gatsby’s house with Tom.
- Michaelis — George Wilson’s Greek neighbor.
- Dan Cody — a wealthy adventurer who was Gatsby’s mentor as a youth.