The Great Gatsby

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald - Barron's Booknotes from

SAMPLE NOTES for "The Great Gatsby"
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The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald

by Anthony S. Abbott, Professor of English,Davidson College


Have you ever felt that there were two of you battling for control of the person you call yourself? Have you ever felt that you weren't quite sure which one you wanted to be in charge? All of us have at least two selves: one who wants to work hard, get good grades, and be successful; and one who would rather lie in the sun and listen to music and daydream. To understand F. Scott Fitzgerald, the man and the writer, you must begin with the idea of doubleness, or twoness.

Fitzgerald himself said in a famous series of essays called The Crack Up, "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." Everything about Fitzgerald is touched by this idea. For example, he both loved and hated money. He was attracted to the life of the very rich as an outsider who had very little, and……..



Nick Carraway, the narrator, is a young Midwesterner who, having graduated from Yale in 1915 and fought in World War I ("The Great War"), has returned home to begin a career. Like others in his generation, he is restless and has decided to move East to New York and learn the bond business. The novel opens early in the summer of 1922 in West Egg, Long Island, where Nick has rented a house. Next to his place is a huge mansion complete with Gothic tower and marble swimming pool, which belongs to a Mr. Gatsby, whom Nick has not met.

Directly across the bay from West Egg is the more fashionable community of East Egg, where Tom and Daisy Buchanan live. Daisy is Nick's cousin and Tom, a well-known football player at Yale, had been in the same senior society as Nick in New Haven. Like Nick, they are Midwesterners who have come East to be a part of the glamour and mystery of the New York City area. They invite Nick to dinner at their mansion, and here he meets a young woman golfer named Jordan Baker, a friend of Daisy's from Louisville, whom Daisy wants Nick to become interested in.

During dinner the phone rings, and when Tom and Daisy leave the room, Jordan informs Nick that the caller is a "woman of Tom's from New York."

The woman's name is Myrtle Wilson, and she lives in a strange, fantastic place half way between West Egg and New York City that Fitzgerald calls the "valley of ashes." The valley of ashes consists………



    Nick Carraway is the narrator of The Great Gatsby; he is also a character in the novel. When you think about him, you have to think about what Fitzgerald is using him for. You also have to look at him as a person.

Nick, is first of all, Fitzgerald's means of making his story more realistic. Because Nick is experiencing events and telling us about them in his own words, we're more likely to believe the story. After a while we almost begin to experience the events as Nick does; the I of each of us as readers replaces……..


The title of this novel is The Great Gatsby. If you like paradoxes, start with this one: he is neither great nor Gatsby (his real name was Gatz). He is a crook, a bootlegger who has involved himself with Meyer Wolfsheim, the man who fixed the 1919 World Series. He has committed crimes in order to buy the house he feels he needs to win the woman he loves, who happens to be another man's wife. Thus……..


Tom Buchanan, Nick tells us, "had been one of the most powerful ends that ever played football at New Haven- a national figure in a way, one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anticlimax." He is also very wealthy, having brought a string of polo ponies from Lake Forest to Long Island. This double power- the size of his body and his bankroll- colors our feelings about Tom Buchanan.

Because he is both very strong and very rich, Tom is used to having his own way. Nick describes…….


She was born Daisy Fay in Louisville, Kentucky, and her color is white. When Jordan Baker, in Chapter IV, tells Nick about the first meeting between Gatsby and Daisy in October 1917, she says of Daisy, "She dressed in white, and had a little white roadster, and all day long the telephone rang in her house and excited young officers from Camp Taylor demanded the privilege of monopolizing……….


Jordan Baker's most striking quality is her dishonesty. She is tough and aggressive- a tournament golfer who is so hardened by competition that she is willing to do anything to win. At the end of Chapter IV, when Nick is telling us about Jordan, he remembers a story about her first major tournament. Apparently she moved her ball to improve her lie (!), but when the matter was being investigated, the caddy…….



The setting in The Great Gatsby is very important because in Fitzgerald's world setting reveals character. Fitzgerald divides the world of the novel into four major settings: 1. East Egg; 2. West Egg; 3. the valley of ashes; and 4. New York City. Within these major settings are two or more subsettings. East Egg is limited to Daisy's house, but West Egg incorporates both Gatsby's house and Nick's. The ……..


A good novel has a number of themes. The following are important themes of The Great Gatsby.

    The American Dream- as it arose in the Colonial period and developed in the nineteenth century- was based on the assumption that each person, no matter what his origins, could succeed in life on the sole basis of his or her own skill and effort. The dream was embodied in the ideal of the self-made man, just as it was embodied in Fitzgerald's own family by his grandfather, P. F. McQuillan.

The Great Gatsby is a novel about what happened to the American dream in the 1920s, a period when the old values that gave substance to the dream had been corrupted by the vulgar pursuit of wealth. The characters are Midwesterners who have come East in pursuit of this new dream of money, fame,……..


Style refers to the way a writer puts words together: the length and rhythm of his sentences; his use of figurative language and symbolism; his use of dialogue and description.

Fitzgerald called The Great Gatsby a "novel of selected incident," modelled after Flaubert's Madame Bovary. "What I cut out of it both physically and emotionally would make another novel," he said. Fitzgerald's stylistic method is to let a part stand for the whole. In Chapters I to III, for example,……

Style and point of view are very hard to separate in a novel that is told in the first person by a narrator who is also one of the characters. The voice is always Nick's. Fitzgerald's choice of Nick as the character through whom to tell his story has a stroke of genius. He had been reading Joseph Conrad and had been particularly struck by the way in which Conrad uses the character of Marlow to tell both the story of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness and the story of Jim in Lord Jim. In those novels,…….


Form and structure are closely related to point of view. Before writing a novel, an author has to ask himself: who is to tell the story? And in what order will events be told? The primary problem in answering the second question is how to handle time. Do I tell the story straight through from beginning to end? Do I start in the middle and use flashbacks?

As many critics have pointed out, the method Fitzgerald adopts in The Great Gatsby is a brilliant one. He starts the novel in the present, giving us, in the first three chapters, a glimpse of the four main locales of the novel: Daisy's house in East Egg (Chapter I); the valley of ashes and New York (Chapter II); and Gatsby's house in West Egg (Chapter III). Having established the characters and setting in……….


The opening paragraphs teach us a lot about Nick and his attitude toward Gatsby and others. Nick introduces himself to us as a young man from the Midwest who has come East to learn the bond business. He tells us that he's tolerant, inclined to reserve judgment about people, and a good listener. People tell him their secrets because they trust him; he knows the Story of Gatsby.

If you read closely, you'll see that Nick has ambivalent feelings toward Gatsby. He both loves Gatsby and is critical of him. Nick is tolerant, but that toleration has limits. He hates Gatsby's crass and vulgar materialism, but he also admires the man for his dream, his "romantic readiness," his "extraordinary gift for hope."

Nick makes the distinction between Gatsby, whom he loves because of his dream, and the other characters, who constitute the "foul dust" that "floated in the wake of his dreams." Nick has such scorn for these "Eastern" types that he has left the East, returned to the Midwest, and, for the time being at least, withdraws from his involvement with other people.

Having told us about his relationships, Nick now introduces us to the world in which he lived during the summer of 1999: the world of East Egg and West Egg, Long Island.

Fitzgerald designed The Great Gatsby very carefully, establishing each of the locations in the novel as a symbol for a particular style of life. West Egg, where Nick and Gatsby live, is essentially a place for the nouveau riche. There are two types of people living here: those on the way up the social ladder who have not the family background or the money to live in fashionable East Egg; and those like Gatsby, whose vulgar display of wealth and connections with Broadway or the New York underworld make them unwelcome in the more dignified world of East Egg. Nick describes his own house as an eyesore, but it is a smaller eyesore than Gatsby's mansion, which has a tower on one side, "spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy." Words like new, thin, and raw describe some of the reasons Gatsby's house is a monstrosity.

By contrast, East Egg is like a fairyland. Its primary color is white, and Nick calls its houses "white palaces" that glitter in the sunlight. The story actually opens in East Egg on the night Nick drives over to have dinner with Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Since Daisy is his cousin and Tom, a friend from Yale, Nick has the credentials to visit East Egg. Their house is "a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial Mansion" overlooking the bay. And the owner is obviously proud of his possessions.

Our first view of Tom Buchanan reveals a very powerful man standing in riding clothes with his legs apart on his front porch. He likes his power, and like the potentates of Eastern kingdoms, he expects the obedience of his subjects. We are ushered into the living room with its "frosted wedding cake" ceiling, its wine-colored rug, and its enormous couch on which are seated two princesses in white: Jordan Baker and Tom's wife, Daisy Buchanan. Fitzgerald controls the whole scene through his use of colors- white and gold mainly- that suggest a combination of beauty and wealth. Yet underneath this magical surface there is something wrong. Jordan Baker is bored and discontented. She yawns more than once in this very first scene. There is something cool and slightly unpleasant about the atmosphere- something basically disturbing. Tom talks about a book he has read, The Rise of the Colored Empires by Goddard. It is a piece of pure Social Darwinism, advocating that the white race preserve its own purity and beat down the colored races before they rise up and overcome the whites. Daisy, who seems not to understand what Tom is talking about, teases him about his size and about the big words in the book. The telephone rings, and Tom is called from the room to answer it. When Daisy follows him out, Jordan Baker confides to Nick that the call is from Tom's woman in New York.

The rest of the evening is awkward and painful as Tom and Daisy try unsuccessfully to forget the intrusion. Daisy's cynicism about life becomes painfully clear when she says about her daughter's birth: "'I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope she'll be a fool- that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.'"

NOTE: Under the veneer of the white world, there is hollowness. Nick has said at the very beginning that "Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men." Even in this opening chapter, we are getting hints that Tom and Daisy are part of this foul dust.

In Nick's eyes, Tom and Daisy belong to "a rather distinguished secret society," whose members have powers the outside world can neither understand nor control. Nick finds both of them smug and insincere.

The evening ends early, around ten o'clock. Jordan Baker, a competitive golfer, wants to go to bed since she's playing in a tournament the next day. Before Nick leaves for West Egg, Tom and Daisy hint that they would welcome his attention to Miss Baker during the summer.

Nick arrives home, and (in the final paragraph of the chapter) gets his first glimpse of Gatsby. Gatsby is standing on the lawn, stretching out "his arms toward the dark water in a curious way." Nick, from his own house, believes that he can see Gatsby trembling. As Nick looks out at the water, he can see "...nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock."


This is the first use of one of the novel's central symbols, the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. What Fitzgerald seems to be doing is merely introducing a symbol that will gain in meaning as the story progresses. At this point, we don't even know that the light is on Daisy's dock, and we have no reason to associate Gatsby with Daisy. What we do know- and this is very important- is that Nick admires Gatsby because of his dream and this dream is somehow associated with the green light. The color green is a traditional symbol of spring and hope and youth. As long as Gatsby gazes at the green light, his dream lives……...




_____ 1. Nick Carraway was born -

A. in the Northeast
B. in the Midwest
C. in the South

_____ 2. The character who first appears "in riding clothes... standing with his legs apart on the front porch" is -

A. Gatsby
B. Tom Buchanan
C. George Wilson ………

_____ 3.

11. Is Gatsby a "hero?" Discuss. - ………….



  1. B

  2. B ……….

11. Everyone wants to admire someone. Do you admire Gatsby? Is he a hero to you? If so, why? If not, why not? This essay gives you a wonderful opportunity to take sides. From one point of view, Gatsby is a crook, a bootlegger, a vulgar materialist. From another point of view, he is a dreamer, faithful to his dream to the very end. Nick sees him as "great," despite the fact that Gatsby stands for many things that Nick doesn't believe in. …..

To write this essay you will want to look with particular care at those passages where ……..


  1. Who is the central character of The Great Gatsby, Nick or Gatsby? Why?

Examine Fitzgerald's use of Nick as narrator of the story. What are the advantages and/or problems of telling the story in this way? ……….


The Glossary is limited to proper nouns, the meaning of which might not be clear in the context of the novel. Symbolic terms such as grail or incarnation are explained in the chapter-by-chapter analysis.


A very popular song of the day, Klipspringer sings it to Gatsby and Daisy in Chapter VI.


David Belasco (1853-1931) was a very successful American actor, producer, playwright, and theater manager. Owl Eyes thinks of Gatsby as a "regular Belasco," because of his magnificent library and real books. - ………




I think you have every kind of right to be proud of this book. It is an extraordinary book, suggestive of all sorts of thoughts and moods. You adopted exactly the right method of telling it, that of employing a narrator who is more of a spectator than an actor: this puts the reader upon a point……….


The Great Gatsby is an exploration of the American dream as it exists in a corrupt period, and it is an attempt to determine that concealed boundary that divides the reality from the illusions. The illusions seem more real than the reality itself. Embodied in the subordinate characters in the novel, they .……..


Fitzgerald's dichotomy of East and West has the poetic truth of James's antithesis of provincial American virtue and refined European sensibility. Like The Portrait of a Lady and The Ambassadors, Gatsby is a story of "displaced persons" who have journeyed eastward in search of a larger and ………..

End of sample Barron's Booknotes for "The Great Gatsby"

Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc./Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
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