To understand Gatsby one has to look at not only his true life, but the life that he tried to create for himself. The truth is that he came from poor beginnings and created a fantasy world where he was rich and powerful. Even in his youth Gatsby was not content with what he had. He wanted money, so he managed to get it. He wanted Daisy, and she slipped through his fingers. So even when his wealth and stature are at their greatest, he will not be content. He must have Daisy. Yes, there is love. But more than that there is a drive to posses her because that is what he wanted for all of those years. She was part of his image for the future and he had to have her. And although Gatsby seems very kind, he is not afraid to be unscrupulous to get what he wants. When he wanted money, he was more than willing to become a bootlegger. His drive is what makes him who he is, good and bad. And it is this drive that ends up ruining his life.
Daisy is a trapped woman. She's trapped in a marriage that she is unhappy in and trapped in a world where she has no chance to be free or independent. She is at the mercy of her husband, a man who takes her for granted. Daisy is also terribly clever, delivering some of the funnier lines of the book. When a reader looks at the foolishness and shallowness of Daisy they must realize that Daisy may be doing out of necessity. As she said when she delivered her daughter, "- that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool". Daisy is smart enough to understand the limits imposed on her and has become jaded and indulgent because of them.
The word careless also describes Daisy well. Many of the things that Daisy does, the accident with Myrtle in particular, show a woman who is just careless. She has become very much wrapped up in herself. Part of this is due to the fact that she had been spoiled all her life. She was born into money and had an endless assortment of men who would continue to spoil her. So she has learned to think only of herself without regard for the people that it may hurt.
Jordan faces the same problems that Tom and Daisy do. She has been born with money and has lived in a culture full of money and has been spoiled by it. She is surrounded by people like the Buchanans who perpetuate her indulgent behavior. This can be observed in the scene where she and Nick are driving in the city and calls her a careless driver. She says she doesn't worry because the other people on the road aren't as careless as her and that she makes sure she surrounds herself with people who won't "crash" into her. It can be seen that Jordan has no concept of accountability and that has been furthered by the people who allow her to go unaccountable.
Being born into a family that is wealthy has made Tom a spoiled man. He hasn't really worked his entire life and instead spends his days in indulgence and ease. This is what motivates Tom; gratification. He has a shameless affair with Myrtle because it satisfies his needs. He flaunts their relationship in public because he does not concern himself with the consequences of his actions, he's never had to. This is also why he and Daisy escape in the end of the book. There was a situation they would have to face and they didn't want to. So they ran to their money and fled the situation, leaving it to be dealt with by others. Tom will spend his whole life doing things like that because that is who he is: A careless man who won't be bothered by the suffering he causes.
Nick is the hardest character to understand in the book because he is the narrator and will therefore only give us an impression of himself that he would like to give. He tells the reader that "I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known", but we see him lie on several occasions. So it is all but impossible to get an accurate picture of Nick. By the end of the book he is very jaded, though. When he and Jordan break up he says "I'm thirty. I'm five years too old to lie to myself and call it honor". So the experience with Gatsby and the others takes it's toll on him. But in the end, the reader cannot be certain of who the real Nick is.
The following quotes are not explained here, though most of their meanings are fairly evident. The speaker of the quote is also identified here. All quotes deal with theme or symbolism.
"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."
"I waited, and sure enough, in a moment she looked at me with an absolute smirk on her lovely face as if she had asserted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged."
"- but no one swooned backward on Gatsby and no French bob touched Gatsby's shoulder and no singing quartets were formed with Gatsby's head for one link."
Nick: "Suppose you meet someone just as careless as yourself?"
Jordan: "I hope I never will."
"You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock."
"So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen year old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end."
" 'Can't repeat the past?' he cried incredulously. 'Why of course you can!' "
"His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once again return to a certain place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was..."
"Her voice is full of money"
"It excited him too that many men had already loved Daisy- it increased her value in his eyes."
"... and Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes and of Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor."
" 'They're a rotten crowd' I shouted, across the lawn. 'You're worth the whole damn bunch put together' "
Jordan: "You said a bad driver was only safe until she met another bad driver? Well, I met another bad driver, didn't I? I mean it was careless of me to make such a wrong guess. I though you were rather an honest, straightforward, person. I though it was your secret pride."
Nick: " 'I'm thirty' I said. 'I'm five years to old to lie to myself and call it honor.' "
"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made."
"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther..... And one fine morning- "
The Great Gatsby was first published in 1925. The novel would prove to be Fitzgerald's most accomplished novel, and was an immediate critical success. Despite the favorable reviews, the sales for the novel were disappointing.
Within the novel, Fitzgerald uses the character of Nick Carraway as the first-person narrator. It is through Carraway's eyes that we see the other characters and the world they live in. Carraway is the only character in the novel to exhibit, and hold onto, a sense of morals and decency throughout the novel. Symbolism is heavily used, and can be found in both the characters actions and the physical objects.
Through the novel, Fitzgerald puts across the idea that the American dream has been corrupted by the desire for materialism. We see that Gatsby had a pure dream, but became corrupt in his quest towards that dream.
Much has been made of Fitzerald's relation to his characters. Many of the characters in his novels are based on people from his life. Within the characters of Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby we can see the dueling parts of Fitzgerald's own personality. Gatsby and Fitzgerald are alike by both being self-made men who have achieved financial success. Similarly, they both achieved their financial success for the love of a woman. Gatsby felt that he needed wealth to win the hand of Daisy, and Fitzgerald felt the same about Zelda. The love of a woman was the motivating factor behind virtually all of Gatsby's actions, and many of the young Fitzgerald's. Fitzgerald would spend the majority of his career struggling to earn as much money as possible to maintain the privelaged lifestyle that Zelda desired.
Nick Carraway can be seen to represent the outsider that Fitzgerald felt himself to be. Both Fitzgerald and Carraway found themselves surrounded by high society and dishonest people. Neither of them truly fit in with those surroundings. One of the major themes within the novel is East vs. West. Carraway comes from the West, and returns to it by the novel's end. Through Carraway, Fitzgerald shows his fondness for the West, which he idealized as being a moral land. It is their dissatisfaction with their surroundings that Carraway and Fitzgerald share. It is because of such feelings, that they both feel like outsiders.
The purpose of this guide is to act as a companion to readers of the novel. Within the site you will find detailed chapter and character summaries, along with a brief biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald.