Study Guide

The Great Gatsby Quotes

  • Isolation

    Chapter 1
    Daisy Buchanan

    "It'll show you how I've gotten to feel about – things. Well, she was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling, and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. 'All right,' I said, '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.'" (1.116-118)

    Daisy gives birth to her child alone—the nurse is there, but her husband is nowhere to be found. Apparently, he's not even pacing the hall with a cigar, the way dads were supposed to back in the 1920s. And that poor little girl, born alone into a lonely world. It's enough to make us reach for the tissues.

    Nick Carraway

    Why they came East I don't know. They had spent a year in France for no particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together. (1.16-17)

    Daisy and Tom's crowd may be "rich together," but this sounds an awful lot like loneliness to us.

    Chapter 2
    Nick Carraway

    About half way between West Egg and New York the motor road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile, so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is a valley of ashes -- a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air. (2.1)

    West Egg is connected to New York by a road and a set of train tracks. It's not isolated: in fact, the things that happen in the city end up having effects back at West Egg. Trains and other technology like automobiles seemed to decrease isolation throughout the nineteenth century—but did they? Or, like Facebook, do they just give the appearance of togetherness while making us all more and more isolated?

    Chapter 3
    Nick Carraway

    At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others – poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner – young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life. (3.156)

    You know all those clichés about big cities being lonely places? Fitzgerald thought so, too. He sees New York as being like one of Gatsby's parties, only less glamorous: full of people, and full of loneliness.

    As soon as I arrived I made an attempt to find my host, but the two or three people of whom I asked his whereabouts stared at me in such an amazed way, and denied so vehemently any knowledge of his movements, that I slunk off in the direction of the cocktail table – the only place in the garden where a single man could linger without looking purposeless and alone. (3.10)

    Actually, this is good advice: if you head to a party without knowing anyone, head for the snacks.

    The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside, until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other's names. (3.4)

    Talk about isolation. These parties are full of people who instantly forget each other, or never even knew each other to begin with. Trying to meet someone at one of Gatsby's parties would be like trying to have a meaningful conversation at a rave: no one's there to make connections. Well, not the meaningful kind, anyway.

    Chapter 5
    Nick Carraway

    "Your place looks like the World's Fair," I said.

    "Does it?" He turned his eyes toward it absently. "I have been glancing into some of the rooms. Let's go to Coney Island, old sport. In my car."

    "It's too late."

    "Well, suppose we take a plunge in the swimming-pool? I haven't made use of it all summer."

    "I've got to go to bed."

    "All right." (5.3-8)

    Gatsby has a house full of people, and all he wants is one friend to go swimming with him. Talk about lonely.

    Chapter 7
    Nick Carraway

    Thirty – the promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning brief-case of enthusiasm, thinning hair. But there was Jordan beside me, who, unlike Daisy, was too wise ever to carry well-forgotten dreams from age to age. As we passed over the dark bridge her wan face fell lazily against my coat's shoulder and the formidable stroke of thirty died away with the reassuring pressure of her hand. (7.308)

    Having seen the wrong end of thirty, Shmoop can assure Nick that it really isn't that bad. But at least he has someone to keep him company, right? Well, yeah—until things start going south and she's out. (But Nick is totally right about all the thirty-something men being married. Just saying.)

    Chapter 8
    Nick Carraway

    He stayed there a week, walking the streets where their footsteps had clicked together through the November night and revisiting the out-of-the-way places to which they had driven in her white car. (8.28)

    Once Daisy leaves him, Gatsby walks the streets alone. Probably in the rain. And in rags. Sorry, dude: we know how this scene ends.

    Chapter 9
    Nick Carraway

    After a little while Mr. Gatz opened the door and came out, his mouth ajar, his face flushed slightly, his eyes leaking isolated and unpunctual tears. He had reached an age where death no longer has the quality of ghastly surprise, and when he looked around him now for the first time and saw the height and splendor of the hall and the great rooms opening out from it into other rooms, his grief began to be mixed with an awed pride. (9.40)

    How weird is this description of Gatsby's dad? He's "leaking isolated" tears, as if he can't quite process that his son is dead—or that this mansion belonged to his kid.

    Next morning I sent the butler to New York with a letter to Wolfsheim, which asked for information and urged him to come out on the next train. That request seemed superfluous when I wrote it. I was sure he'd start when he saw the newspapers, just as I was sure a there'd be a wire from Daisy before noon—but neither a wire nor Mr. Wolfsheim arrived; no one arrived except more police and photographers and newspaper men. When the butler brought back Wolfsheim's answer I began to have a feeling of defiance, of scornful solidarity between Gatsby and me against them all. (9.20)

    After Gatsby's death, Nick realizes just how alone Gatsby is. What's weird is he begins to identify with Gatsby, as though they're suddenly BFFs. We bet Gatsby would have appreciated that; too bad it's too late now.

    A little before three the Lutheran minister arrived from Flushing, and I began to look involuntarily out the windows for other cars. So did Gatsby's father. And as the time passed and the servants came in and stood waiting in the hall, his eyes began to blink anxiously, and he spoke of the rain in a worried, uncertain way. The minister glanced several times at his watch, so I took him aside and asked him to wait for half an hour. But it wasn't any use. Nobody came. (9.113)

    Everyone dies alone—and some of us are buried alone, or almost alone. Besides the owl-eyed man, Nick, and Gatsby's dad, no one comes to the funeral. Is it the rain? Or is the heartless, selfish crowd who was happy to come to the feast but won't come to the funeral?

  • Gender

    Chapter 1
    Nick Carraway

    The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor. (1.27)

    Ah, the sweet smell of foreshadowing. Here, Tom literally—or is it metaphorically?—deflates the women, just like (SPOILER) he's going to do later on.

    At any rate, Miss Baker's lips fluttered, she nodded at me almost imperceptibly, and then quickly tipped her head back again—the object she was balancing had obviously tottered a little and given her something of a fright. Again a sort of apology arose to my lips. Almost any exhibition of complete self-sufficiency draws a stunned tribute from me. (1.32)

    Complete self-sufficiency—or complete self-sufficiency from a woman? We get the feeling that Nick is half in love with and half repulsed by Jordan because he can't deal with the fact that, unlike Daisy, she doesn't need a man. After all, she's got a phallic symbol of her own: that golf club.

    I looked back at my cousin, who began to ask me questions in her low, thrilling voice. It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again. Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered "Listen," a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour. (1.33)

    We're not saying that Daisy Buchanan was the first Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but we're also not saying that she wasn't.

    Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water, and the history of the summer really begins on the evening I drove over there to have dinner with the Tom Buchanans. Daisy was my second cousin once removed, and I'd known Tom in college. And just after the war I spent two days with them in Chicago. (1.15)

    Oh, fun. Notice how Nick doesn't even say "the Buchanans," just the "Tom Buchanans"? This is evidence that the girl Gatsby was in love with—Daisy—no longer exists.

    Daisy Buchanan

    "It'll show you how I've gotten to feel about – things. Well, she was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling, and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. 'All right,' I said, '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.'" (1.116-118)

    Daisy thinks that the best a girl can do is to be dumb enough not to realize how awful her life is. Awesome. No wonder she cries.

    Chapter 2
    Myrtle Wilson

    Some time toward midnight Tom Buchanan and Mrs. Wilson stood face to face discussing, in impassioned voices, whether Mrs. Wilson had any right to mention Daisy's name.

    "Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!" shouted Mrs. Wilson. "I'll say it whenever I want to! Daisy! Dai –– "

    Making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand. (2.125-127)

    Women have words. Men have fists. Guess who wins? (Hint: sticks and stones can break your bones, and … yeah. It pretty much ends there.)

    Chapter 3
    Nick Carraway

    It made no difference to me. Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply – I was casually sorry, and then I forgot. It was on that same house party that we had a curious conversation about driving a car. It started because she passed so close to some workmen that our fender flicked a button on one man's coat. (3.159)

    Women. Just remember to lower your expectations and you'll never be disappointed, right?

    Chapter 7
    Jay Gatsby

    "Yes," he said after a moment, "but of course I'll say I was. You see, when we left New York she was very nervous and she thought it would steady her to drive – and this woman rushed out at us just as we were passing a car coming the other way. It all happened in a minute, but it seemed to me that she wanted to speak to us, thought we were somebody she knew. Well, first Daisy turned away from the woman toward the other car, and then she lost her nerve and turned back. The second my hand reached the wheel I felt the shock – it must have killed her instantly." (7.396-398)

    Gatsby immediately says that he'll take the blame. This is chivalry at work—great, right? Well, maybe, until you realize that it means women never having to take responsibility for their actions, and never having to grow up. Personally, we'll take the responsibility.

    Chapter 8
    Nick Carraway

    It was after we started with Gatsby toward the house that the gardener saw Wilson's body a little way off in the grass, and the holocaust was complete. (8.112-114)

    Myrtle's already dead, but we have to wonder: would Wilson have killed her, too? Is he avenging his wife's honor—or her death?

    Through this twilight universe Daisy began to move again with the season; suddenly she was again keeping half a dozen dates a day with half a dozen men, and drowsing asleep at dawn with the beads and chiffon of an evening dress tangled among dying orchids on the floor beside her bed. And all the time something within her was crying for a decision. She wanted her life shaped now, immediately – and the decision must be made by some force – of love, of money, of unquestionable practicality – that was close at hand. (8.19)

    You get the feeling that Fitzgerald thinks that women are fundamentally incapable of making up their minds, and so they have to have some dude do it for them. In that way, The Great Gatsby is really about the fight between Gatsby and Tom: whose vision of America is going to win?

  • Wealth

    Chapter 1
    Nick Carraway

    In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

    "Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had." (1.1-3)

    It's a lot easier to be morally upright when you're not pinching and scraping to make a living… which makes the immorality of the wealthy even more unforgivable. Every advantage in the world, and they can't even be nice people? Nick may forgive them, but we're not sure we do.

    Why they came East I don't know. They had spent a year in France for no particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together. (1. 17)

    Okay, hilarious. Isn't playing polo basically the definition of "being rich together"?

    His speaking voice, a gruff husky tenor, added to the impression of fractiousness he conveyed. There was a touch of paternal contempt in it, even toward people he liked—and there were men at New Haven who had hated his guts. (1.20)

    Wealth makes Tom "paternal," as though it gives him the right to tell the entire world how to behave. But remember—he didn't earn the wealth. He's literally done nothing to deserve it. So why does he get to be mean-dad to everyone?

    Chapter 3

    "I like to come," Lucille said. "I never care what I do, so I always have a good time. When I was here last I tore my gown on a chair, and he asked me my name and address – inside of a week I got a package from Croirier's with a new evening gown in it."

    "Did you keep it?" asked Jordan.

    "Sure I did. I was going to wear it tonight, but it was too big in the bust and had to be altered. It was gas blue with lavender beads. Two hundred and sixty-five dollars." (3.23-25)

    Lucille seems more impressed with the price of the gown than the gown itself. And notice how she says "I never care what I do": just one more example of the careless wealthy. Why would you care, when you know that your host will just replace whatever you break? (Unless, of course, it's your heart.)

    Jay Gatsby

    "See!" he cried triumphantly. "It's a bona-fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me. This fella's a regular Belasco. It's a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop, too - didn't cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?" (3.49-50)

    Gatsby can buy the things that rich people have, but he can't buy the education or experience. But from what the owl-eyed man says, it doesn't sound like anyone else is reading them, either. (See "Gatsby's Books" for an explanation.)

    Nick Carraway

    There was music from my neighbor's house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and he champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his motor-boats slid the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. On week-ends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains. (3.1)

    All that wealth can't fill the hole in Gatsby's heart—but it probably makes it a little easier to bear. Also, notice the insect imagery? The men and girls like "moths"; the station wagon like a "brisk yellow bug"? What's up with that?

    Chapter 4
    Nick Carraway

    The idea staggered me. I remembered, of course, that the World's Series had been fixed in 1919, but if I had thought of it at all I would have thought of it as a thing that merely happened, the end of some inevitable chain. It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people – with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe. (4.113)

    Meyer Wolfsheim fixed the World Series, an enormous crime that Nick thinks is like "a burglar blowing a safe." But the burglar gets caught; Wolfsheim uses his wealth and underworld connections to stay squeaky clean. Apparently you don't have to be high class to benefit from your wealth.

    Chapter 7
    Nick Carraway

    "Her voice is full of money," he said suddenly.

    That was it. I'd never understood before. It was full of money – that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it… high in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl […]. (7.99)

    What would a voice full of money sound like? Maybe something like this. Whatever it sounds like, the point is that money isn't something you can separate from the body. If you're born with money, you're actually born with money. That's why everyone knows Gatsby's faking it.

    Tom Buchanan

    "Self-control!" Repeated Tom incredulously. "I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife. Well, if that's the idea you can count me out […] Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions, and next they'll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white." (7.229)

    Um, okay, Tom. (1) Pot, meet kettle. (2) We see just how important wealth isn't. All the money in the world can't make Gatsby "worth" Daisy.

    P.S. This is dated and totally racist. In case you didn't catch that.

    Chapter 9
    Nick Carraway

    I couldn't forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. 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 […]. (9.136-145)

    There's a reason they call it white-collar crime: rich people's crimes just don't seem to count as much as poor people's crimes.

  • Lies and Deceit

    Chapter 1

    "Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had." He didn't say any more, but we've always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I'm inclined to reserve all judgments […]. (1.2)

    Really, Nick? Because this entire book seems like one big judgment. But maybe that's okay, because he's only judging them after the fact. Either way, it sets us up to be particularly attentive to Nick's trustworthiness.

    Chapter 2

    "You see," cried Catherine triumphantly. She lowered her voice again. "It's really his wife that's keeping them apart. She's a Catholic, and they don't believe in divorce." Daisy was not a Catholic, and I was a little shocked at the elaborateness of the lie. (2.98)

    It's an elaborate lie, but it probably never even occurred to Tom to tell the truth. He seems to hold one standard for people like Gatsby, and another for himself. It's fine for Tom to lie to get a girl, but not for anyone else.

    Chapter 3

    "Somebody told me they thought he killed a man once."

    A thrill passed over all of us. The three Mr. Mumbles bent forward and listened eagerly.

    "I don't think it's so much that," argued Lucille sceptically; "it's more that he was a German spy during the war."

    One of the men nodded in confirmation.

    "I heard that from a man who knew all about him, grew up with him in Germany," he assured us positively.

    "Oh, no," said the first girl, "it couldn't be that, because he was in the American army during the war." As our credulity switched back to her she leaned forward with enthusiasm. "You look at him sometimes when he thinks nobody's looking at him. I'll bet he killed a man." (3.30-35)

    The funny thing about this exchange is that Gatsby doesn't spend too much time weaving elaborate lies. Yeah, he deceives, but not in the same way that someone like Tom does. You get the sense that he doesn't really care if anyone believes him—and that leads to speculation much wilder than anything he's said.

    "See!" he cried triumphantly. "It's a bona-fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me. This fella's a regular Belasco. It's a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop, too – didn't cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?" (3.41-49)

    Even the books are a lie. They're real, but they've never been read. (See "Gatsby's Books" for an explanation.) At the same time, maybe we can see this as honesty. He's not actually trying to pretend that he's read them; if he were, he'd have cut the pages—you know, the way you crack the binding to make it look like you've read your copy of The Great Gatsby? (We kid, we kid.) In the end, Gatsby actually comes across as pretty honest.

    Nick Carraway

    It made no difference to me. Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply – I was casually sorry, and then I forgot. It was on that same house party that we had a curious conversation about driving a car. It started because she passed so close to some workmen that our fender flicked a button on one man's coat. (3.159)

    Whew. Ladies, breathe a sigh of relief. There are different standards: you don't have to be as honest as men. Of course, you also don't get to hold the same jobs or make the same wages or have the same freedoms, so, you know. It's a trade-off.

    Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known. (3.170)

    Well, don't strain anything trying to pat yourself on the back, Nick.

    Chapter 5
    Jay Gatsby

    "I thought you inherited your money."

    "I did, old sport," he said automatically, "but I lost most of it in the big panic – the panic of the war."

    I think he hardly knew what he was saying, for when I asked him what business he was in he answered, "That's my affair," before he realized that it wasn't the appropriate reply.

    "Oh, I've been in several things," he corrected himself. "I was in the drug business and then I was in the oil business. But I'm not in either one now." (5.97-103)

    Gatsby may lie a lot, but he's not very good at it—and that, in Nick's eyes, makes him more honest than half the fakers who come to his parties.

    Chapter 6
    Nick Carraway

    I suppose he'd had the name ready for a long time, even then. His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people—his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all. The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God – a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that – and he must be about His Father's business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty. 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. (6.6-7)

    "Jay Gatsby" may be a deception in the eyes of the world, but to James Gatz, "Gatsby" is the truth about him. Is it really a lie if you believe it with all your heart?

    Chapter 7
    Tom Buchanan

    "I found out what your 'drug-stores' were." He turned to us and spoke rapidly. "He and this Wolfsheim bought up a lot of side-street drug-stores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter. That's one of his little stunts. I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him, and I wasn't far wrong."

    "What about it?" said Gatsby politely. "I guess your friend Walter Chase wasn't too proud to come in on it." (7.284-85)

    When he's caught lying, Gatsby doesn't care. As he sees it, everyone is engaged in some kind of deception, including Tom's friends. But Tom has different standards—double standards.

    Chapter 9
    Tom Buchanan

    He broke off defiantly. "What if I did tell him? That fellow had it coming to him. He threw dust into your eyes just like he did in Daisy's, but he was a tough one. He ran over Myrtle like you'd run over a dog and never even stopped his car."

    There was nothing I could say, except the one unutterable fact that it wasn't true. (9.142-43)

    Sometimes honesty isn't the best policy. Gatsby's dead, and Nick has to protect Daisy; he has to lie to keep her safe. Busted! Guess Nick isn't so honest after all. Or, is this actually the more honest and moral choice? Tricky.

    Jordan Baker

    "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 thought you were rather an honest, straightforward person. I thought it was your secret pride."

    "I'm thirty," I said. "I'm five years too old to lie to myself and call it honor." (9.134-35)

    (1) What is Nick lying to himself about? Loving Jordan? Having honest intentions toward her? Or something else? (2) Why do you have to stop lying to yourself at 25? And, if 30 is the new 20, does that mean we get an extra decade of deceit?

  • Dissatisfaction

    Chapter 1
    Daisy Buchanan

    "It'll show you how I've gotten to feel about – things. Well, she was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling, and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. 'All right,' I said, '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.' "(1.118)

    Daisy pretends that she's happy she's had a girl, but she's not. Girls of any class seem to be the losers in this world (thanks, 1920s!), and Daisy, as you could imagine, isn't psyched about that.

    Nick Carraway

    Why they came East I don't know. They had spent a year in France for no particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together. This was a permanent move, said Daisy over the telephone, but I didn't believe it – I had no sight into Daisy's heart, but I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game. (1.17)

    Tom's problem is that he peaked too early, playing football at Yale. It's hard to be satisfied with a normal life of playing polo and yachting when you've been a gridiron star.

    Instead of being the warm center of the world, the Middle West now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe—so I decided to go East and learn the bond business. (1.6)

    You'd think that returning from war would make Nick satisfied to live a quiet life with his family—but it doesn't. It just makes him restless and, yep, dissatisfied.

    Chapter 4
    Nick Carraway

    James Gatz – that was really, or at least legally, his name. He had changed it at the age of seventeen and at the specific moment that witnessed the beginning of his career – when he saw Dan Cody's yacht drop anchor over the most insidious flat on Lake Superior. (4.6)

    There's being dissatisfied with your clothes or your haircut, and then there's being dissatisfied with your entire existence. James Gatz is dissatisfied with his whole being, and we're pretty sure this isn't going to end well.

    I suppose he'd had the name ready for a long time, even then. His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people – his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all. (4.7)

    James Gatz isn't just embarrassed of his parents like a normal teen; he seems to have fantasies of having different parents entirely. Like secretly being a prince—or belonging to a family that owns polo horses?

    Chapter 6
    Nick Carraway

    He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was… (6.132)

    Gatsby can't deal with what his life's become, but instead of wanting to change it going forward, he wants to head back to the past. Hint: it doesn't work like that.

    Chapter 7
    Nick Carraway

    Tom talked incessantly, exulting and laughing, but his voice was as remote from Jordan and me as the foreign clamor on the sidewalk or the tumult of the elevated overhead. Human sympathy has its limits, and we were content to let all their tragic arguments fade with the city lights behind. (7.308)

    Well, Tom seems pretty satisfied with himself—but no one else is. They're all unhappy with what's just happened, but Tom has control of this situation.

    Chapter 8
    Nick Carraway

    "They're a rotten crowd," I shouted across the lawn. "You're worth the whole damn bunch put together." (8.44-45)

    Finally, right before Gatsby dies, Nick realizes that all the people he's been hanging around with are no good. Gee, took you long enough, Nick.

    Usually her voice came over the wire as something fresh and cool, as if a divot from a green golf-links had come sailing in at the office window, but this morning it seemed harsh and dry. (8.49-51)

    Talk about dissatisfied. Jordan is the queen of discontent, but now she seems really put out. No wonder—things have taken a very sudden turn for the serious. Plus, without Gatsby, who's going to throw the parties?

    Chapter 9
    Nick Carraway

    I couldn't forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. 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 […]. (9.145)

    Nick may understand Tom, but he's not happy about it: he's dissatisfied with the way Tom and Daisy are dealing with this tragedy, and it's enough to send him scurrying back West in search of something else to be dissatisfied about.

  • The American Dream

    Chapter 1
    Nick Carraway

    I lived at West Egg, the—well, the less fashionable of the two, though this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them. [...] Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water, and the history of the summer really begins on the evening I drove over there to have dinner with the Tom Buchanans. Daisy was my second cousin once removed, and I'd known Tom in college. And just after the war I spent two days with them in Chicago. (1.14-15)

    Nick sees two kinds of America: the hard-working Chicago, part of a "Middle-West" culture; and the "white," fashionable East Egg. Nick may be able to make it in the Middle-West, but he's not cut out for East Coast life.

    I decided to call to him. Miss Baker had mentioned him at dinner, and that would do for an introduction. But I didn't call to him, for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone—he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward—and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness. (1.152)

    We never see Gatsby's version of America directly; we just get glimpses of it through Nick's narrative and through ephemera like his childhood notebook. But, judging from the way he's staring across the water, Gatsby has a pretty spectacular vision.

    The Carraways are something of a clan, and we have a tradition that we're descended from the Dukes of Buccleuch, but the actual founder of my line was my grandfather's brother, who came here in fifty-one, sent a substitute to the Civil War, and started the wholesale hardware business that my father carries on to-day. (1.5)

    Nick self-deprecatingly punctures the illusion that his family comes from nobility—but instead, he makes himself into another kind of nobility: a family that actually has achieved the American Dream of wealth and respectability through hard work.

    Jay Gatsby

    "Meyer Wolfsheim? No, he's a gambler." Gatsby hesitated, then added coolly: "He's the man who fixed the World's Series back in 1919."

    "Fixed the World's Series?" I repeated. […] "Why isn't he in jail?"

    "They can't get him, old sport. He's a smart man." (112-118)

    This New America may not have room for pure-hearted dreamers like Gatsby, but it certainly does have room for corrupt, smarty-pants criminals like Meyer Wolfsheim.

    Chapter 4
    Nick Carraway


    He was balancing himself on the dashboard of his car with that resourcefulness of movement that is so peculiarly American—that comes, I suppose, with the absence of lifting work or rigid sitting in youth and, even more, with the formless grace of our nervous, sporadic games. This quality was continually breaking through his punctilious manner in the shape of restlessness.

    He was never quite still; there was always a tapping foot somewhere or the impatient opening and closing of a hand. (4.12-13)

    Gatsby is one version of America—the resourceful, athletic, restless young nation striving to make itself better. The problem is, America as Nick sees it isn't like that anymore. It's beaten down, like George Wilson; or it's rich and careless, like Tom. Does that make Nick the happy (or unhappy) medium?

    Chapter 5
    Jay Gatsby

    "If it wasn't for the mist we could see your home across the bay," said Gatsby. "You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock." Daisy put her arm through his abruptly, but he seemed absorbed in what he had just said. Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one. (5.121-122)

    When Gatsby and Daisy finally get together, the dream vanishes. Does this mean that the American Dream has to stay forever a dream? That it loses its meaning if we actually achieve it—or that, once we achieve it, we find out that it wasn't so great to begin with?

    Chapter 9
    Nick Carraway

    And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night. 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 – to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther...and one fine morning– (9.149)

    If there's anything more American than apple pie, it's the belief in self-improvement: that we're all capable of achieving our dreams, if we just hope and work hard enough. Unfortunately for Gatsby, that dream ends in tragedy.

    That's my Middle West – not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns, but the thrilling returning trains of my youth, and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow. I am part of that, a little solemn with the feel of those long winters, a little complacent from growing up in the Carraway house in a city where dwellings are still called through decades by a family's name. (9.121-122)

    This is one of the few times we see anything rural in The Great Gatsby—Nick dismissing the "wheat" and "prairies" of what we'd call the mid-west. But the wheat and prairies he's dismissing are partly the basis of American wealth. All that money they spend on the East Coast has to come from somewhere.

    One of my most vivid memories is of coming back West from prep school and later from college at Christmas time. Those who went farther than Chicago would gather in the old dim Union Station at six o'clock of a December evening, with a few Chicago friends, already caught up into their own holiday gayeties, to bid them a hasty good-by.

    I remember the fur coats of the girls returning from Miss This-or-That's and the chatter of frozen breath and the hands waving overhead as we caught sight of old acquaintances, and the matchings of invitations: "Are you going to the Ordways'? the Herseys'? the Schultzes'?" and the long green tickets clasped tight in our gloved hands. And last the murky yellow cars of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad looking cheerful as Christmas itself on the tracks beside the gate. (9.120)

    Nick may be from Chicago, but it sounds like all the rich people send their kids off East to prep school. What is it about the East in comparison to the West? Are the two regions really that different?

    Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes – a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby's house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder. (9.182)

    Now this is a passage to linger over. Before any big houses or valleys of ashes or even lost Swede towns, America in the "Dutch sailors' eyes" was a green, empty land. (They'd apparently never read 1491.) This vision of possibility is the same vision that Gatsby has—but it's no longer possible.

  • Marriage

    Chapter 1
    Daisy Buchanan

    Before I could answer her eyes fastened with an awed expression on her little finger.

    "Look!" she complained. "I hurt it."

    We all looked – the knuckle was black and blue.

    "You did it, Tom," she said accusingly. "I know you didn't mean to, but you did do it. That's what I get for marrying a brute of a man, a great, big, hulking physical specimen of a– "

    "I hate that word hulking," objected Tom crossly, "even in kidding."

    "Hulking," insisted Daisy. (1.67-72)

    That poor bruised little finger is like a symbol of Tom and Daisy's marriage: he hurts it unintentionally, and Daisy just cannot stop talking about it. You get the feeling that Fitzgerald kind of wants her to stop whining already.

    Tom Buchanan

    "Did you give Nick a little heart-to-heart talk on the veranda?" demanded Tom suddenly.

    "Did I?" She looked at me. "I can't seem to remember, but I think we talked about the Nordic race. Yes, I'm sure we did. It sort of crept up on us and first thing you know–"

    "Don't believe everything you hear, Nick," he advised me. (1.137-143)

    The first rule of marriage is: Don't talk about marriage. Tom is worried that Daisy's been airing their dirty laundry—which is its own form of betrayal.

    Chapter 2
    Nick Carraway

    The fact that he had one [a mistress] was insisted upon wherever he was known. His acquaintances resented the fact that he turned up in popular restaurants with her and, leaving her at a table, sauntered about, chatting with whomever he knew. (2.3-4)

    Tom is just the worst. It's one thing to have a mistress; it's quite another to embarrass your wife and friends by rubbing that mistress in their face. Right? Right.

    Chapter 4
    Nick Carraway

    I saw them in Santa Barbara when they came back, and I thought I'd never seen a girl so mad about her husband. If he left the room for a minute she'd look around uneasily, and say: "Where's Tom gone?" and wear the most abstracted expression until she saw him coming in the door. She used to sit on the sand with his head in her lap by the hour, rubbing her fingers over his eyes and looking at him with unfathomable delight. It was touching to see them together – it made you laugh in a hushed, fascinated way. That was in August. A week after I left Santa Barbara Tom ran into a wagon on the Ventura road one night, and ripped a front wheel off his car. The girl who was with him got into the papers, too, because her arm was broken – she was one of the chambermaids in the Santa Barbara Hotel. (4.143)

    Girls who go with Tom seem to get in trouble, whether it's Daisy's bruised fingers, this girl's broken arm, or Myrtle's mutilated chest. Yeah, we'll be avoiding this guy.

    Chapter 7
    Tom Buchanan

    "You're crazy!" he exploded. "I can't speak about what happened five years ago, because I didn't know Daisy then—and I'll be damned if I see how you got within a mile of her unless you brought the groceries to the back door. But all the rest of that's a God damned lie. Daisy loved me when she married me and she loves me now." (7.246)

    Notice how Daisy's love is like a possession to Tom? He sees marriage as a system of ownership, and he's all about controlling access. Gatsby can bring groceries to the back door and drive her around, but he can't have anything more.

    "Self-control!" repeated Tom incredulously. "I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife. Well, if that's the idea you can count me out […] Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions, and next they'll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white."

    Flushed with his impassioned gibberish, he saw himself standing alone on the last barrier of civilization. (7.222-230)

    Uh-huh. Tom is definitely the last bulwark of family values. You know, values like abusing your wife, taking mistresses, and then callously ignoring their brutal deaths.

    P.S. If ever a quote were going to date a book, this would be it. We just don't think this way anymore. And thank goodness for that.

    He nodded sagely. "And what's more, I love Daisy too. Once in a while I go off on a spree and make a fool of myself, but I always come back, and in my heart I love her all the time."

    "You're revolting," said Daisy. She turned to me, and her voice, dropping an octave lower, filled the room with thrilling scorn: "Do you know why we left Chicago? I'm surprised that they didn't treat you to the story of that little spree." (7.251-252)

    Tom expects a lot more from Daisy than he does from himself, but this was just par for the course in upper class marriages of the time (and a lot of time previously, too). Men got to play around; women got to produce heirs. It's a bargain.

    "She's not leaving me!" Tom's words suddenly leaned down over Gatsby. "Certainly not for a common swindler who'd have to steal the ring he put on her finger."

    "I won't stand this!" cried Daisy. "Oh, please let's get out." (7.275-281)

    And one last proof that Tom sees marriage as an economic exchange: he's "bought" Daisy honestly, but Gatsby would have to buy her dishonestly. No word on what Daisy wants, of course.

    Daisy Buchanan

    "Oh, you want too much!" she cried to Gatsby. "I love you now – isn't that enough? I can't help what's past." She began to sob helplessly. "I did love him once – but I loved you too." Gatsby's eyes opened and closed.

    "You loved me TOO?" he repeated. (7.264-266)

    Gatsby seems more upset by this confession than by the fact that Daisy's actually married to someone else. Marriage doesn't mean much of anything; it's just a dying social system. The feeling is what matters.

    Nick Carraway

    He had discovered that Myrtle had some sort of life apart from him in another world, and the shock had made him physically sick. (7.160)

    George Wilson can't deal with the fact that Myrtle has a lover. It's not the sex that seems to bother him so much, but the fact that she has some sort of independent existence. Marriage is supposed to be about joining your lives, and so having a separate life is a total betrayal.

  • Society and Class

    Chapter 1
    Nick Carraway

    I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parceled out unequally at birth. (1.3)

    Here, Nick says that money isn't the only thing that some people are born to. Some people are naturally just nicer and more honest: they have more "sense of the fundamental decencies." But does Nick believe that poor people can be born with these fundamental decencies, too, or do you have to be rich to have natural class?

    When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction—Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. (1.4)

    Gatsby may be low-class, but Nick still manages to see something good in him, anyway. Maybe he has the "natural decencies" that other members of high society don't. Except, we think this might be a little like the, "but I have a lot of ______ friends" excuse to make someone not sound racist or xenophobic.)

    I lived at West Egg, the – well, the least fashionable of the two, though this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them. My house was at the very tip of the egg, only fifty yards from the Sound, and squeezed between two huge places that rented for twelve or fifteen thousand a season. The one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard … My own house was an eyesore, but it was a small eyesore, and it had been overlooked, so I had a view of the water, a partial view of my neighbor's lawn, and the consoling proximity of millionaires—all for eighty dollars a month. (1.14)

    It may be a small house, but at least Nick gets to live near millionaires. He's joking, but this is the same logic that makes people buy designer sunglasses: you may not be able to afford the actual clothes, but you still get to have a little reflected glamour. Hey, no judgment here.

    Chapter 2
    Myrtle Wilson

    "I told that boy about the ice." Myrtle raised her eyebrows in despair at the shiftlessness of the lower orders. "These people! You have to keep after them all the time." 

    She looked at me and laughed pointlessly... (2.69-70)

    Myrtle thinks that acting like a snob makes her sound fancy—but it just makes her sound even more like herself: a vulgar, common, cheating woman. You're not fooling anyone, honey.

    Chapter 3
    Nick Carraway

    There was music from my neighbor's house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and he champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his motor-boats slid the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. On week-ends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains. And on Mondays eight servants, including an extra gardener, toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden-shears, repairing the ravages of the night before. (3.1)

    Okay, so the parties sound fabulous. These people are definitely partying like it's 1999, or whatever. But what we're really into is that Nick actually notices the servants—the people who end up cleaning up the mess. Remember that Nick has to clean up after Daisy and Tom. Maybe he identifies a little bit with the servants.

    Chapter 4
    Nick Carraway

    By the next autumn she was gay again, gay as ever. She had a debut after the Armistice, and in February she was presumably engaged to a man from New Orleans. In June she married Tom Buchanan of Chicago, with more pomp and circumstance than Louisville ever knew before. He came down with a hundred people in four private cars, and hired a whole floor of the Seelbach Hotel, and the day before the wedding he gave her a string of pearls valued at three hundred and fifty thousand dollars. (4.135)

    Money might not make you happy, but there's some consolation in a $350K string of pearls. If you have to be depressed, you might as well be depressed on a yacht, right?



    Chapter 7

    "About Gatsby! No, I haven't. I said I'd been making a small investigation of his past."

    "And you found he was an Oxford man," said Jordan helpfully.

    "An Oxford man!" He was incredulous. "Like hell he is! He wears a pink suit." (7.130-132)

    Apparently, Latin isn't the only thing you learned at Oxford in the 1910s: you also learned not to wear pink suits. The point here is that education isn't just about reading the classics; it's also about learning to act (and dress) like a member of your class. And you can't learn that from a book.

    Chapter 8
    Nick Carraway

    We shook hands and I started away. Just before I reached the hedge I remembered something and turned around.

    "They're a rotten crowd," I shouted across the lawn. "You're worth the whole damn bunch put together." (8.44-45)

    Check out that use of the word "worth." Daisy and Tom may have been born with money, but they're not "worth" anything. But Gatsby—despite his ill-gotten money—is.

    Chapter 9
    Nick Carraway

    I called up Daisy half an hour after we found him, called her instinctively and without hesitation. But she and Tom had gone away early that afternoon, and taken baggage with them.

    "Left no address?"

    "No."

    "Say when they'd be back?"

    "No."

    "Any idea where they are? How I could reach them?"

    "I don't know. Can't say." (9.4-10)

    Money can't buy you love, but it can buy you a lot—like the ability to have other people clean up your messes, whether we're talking about toilets or a string of murder/ suicides. (Personally, we'd be satisfied with someone coming to clean up our toilets.)

  • Love

    Chapter 1
    Nick Carraway

    I decided to call to him. Miss Baker had mentioned him at dinner, and that would do for an introduction. But I didn't call to him, for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone—he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward—and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness. (1.152)

    Love the one you're with, or love the one you were with? Gatsby reaches forward, but he's really reaching back into the past to a Daisy who doesn't exist anymore. Yeah, this relationship is doomed.

    Chapter 3
    Nick Carraway

    [Jordan's] gray, sun-strained eyes stared straight ahead, but she had deliberately shifted our relations, and for a moment I thought I loved her. But I am slow-thinking and full of interior rules that act as brakes on my desires, and I knew that first I had to get myself definitely out of that tangle back home. I'd been writing letters once a week and signing them: "Love, Nick," and all I could think of was how, when that certain girl played tennis, a faint mustache of perspiration appeared on her upper lip. Nevertheless there was a vague understanding that had to be tactfully broken off before I was free. (3.169)

    Nick takes things pretty seriously: he won't even flirt with Jordan before breaking things off with his girl in Chicago. We have serious beef with this, though, because Nick's major problem seems to be that his ladyfriend is, well, real: she sweats. Pro tip: it's a lot better to fall in love with a real woman, sweat and all, than some hard golden statue. Ahem, Jordan.

    Chapter 4
    Nick Carraway

    "It was a strange coincidence," I said.

    "But it wasn't a coincidence at all."

    "Why not?"

    "Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay." (4.137-140)

    This is the rich-people equivalent of getting your contact in the office to rearrange the lockers so you can be near your crush. Not so much coincidence as, yep, creepy and stalker-ish. Or beautifully romantic. Your pick.

    Daisy Buchanan

    "Here, deares'." She groped around in a waste-basket she had with her on the bed and pulled out the string of pearls. "Take 'em down-stairs and give 'em back to whoever they belong to. Tell 'em all Daisy's change' her mind. Say: 'Daisy's change' her mine!'" (4.129)

    Talk about cold feet. Daisy knows that the fabulously expensive string of pearls that Tom gave her is about to become a chain. When she's drunk, she wants to change her mind and marry the man she truly loves. In the cold and sober (and probably a little hungover) light of day, however, she does what she was born to do: marry the rich guy.

    "When I said you were a friend of Tom's, he started to abandon the whole idea. He doesn't know very much about Tom, though he says he's read a Chicago paper for years just on the chance of catching a glimpse of Daisy's name." (4.152)

    Love? Or stalker-ish obsession? Do you think he has some creepy stalker wall in a secret room of his house? We wouldn't be surprised.

    Chapter 5
    Daisy Buchanan

    Suddenly, with a strained sound, Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily.

    "They're such beautiful shirts," she sobbed, her voice muffled in the think folds. "It makes me sad because I've never seen such – such beautiful shirts before." (5.118-119)

    Talk about love. Daisy is so in love with Gatsby that she can't even handle being near his shirts. Or is something else going on here?

    Nick Carraway

    He hadn't once ceased looking at Daisy, and I think he revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes. Sometimes, too, he stared around at his possessions in a dazed way, as though in her actual and astounding presence none of it was any longer real. Once he nearly toppled down a flight of stairs. (5.112)

    We've all been there, right? (Or we can imagine it.) Your crush finally agrees to go out with you, and somehow everything is different. The whole world seems to disappear, and it's just the two of you prancing through fields and ignoring the imminent destruction of the universe. Or the stairs.

    Chapter 7
    Tom Buchanan

    He nodded sagely. "And what's more, I love Daisy too. Once in a while I go off on a spree and make a fool of myself, but I always come back, and in my heart I love her all the time." (7.251-252)

    It's totally okay for Tom to have his little affairs, because he really loves Daisy. Yeah, we're so sure that excuse works for her.

    Daisy Buchanan

    "Who wants to go to town?" demanded Daisy insistently. Gatsby's eyes floated toward her. "Ah," she cried, "you look so cool."

    Their eyes met, and they stared together at each other, alone in space. With an effort she glanced down at the table.

    "You always look so cool," she repeated.

    She had told him that she loved him, and Tom Buchanan saw. He was astounded. His mouth opened a little, and he looked at Gatsby, and then back at Daisy as if he had just recognized her as some one he knew a long time ago. (7.79-82)

    Rich people—they can't say anything directly. Everything is done through innuendo and suggestion—like Daisy's bizarre confession of love.

    Chapter 9
    Jordan Baker

    "Nevertheless you did throw me over," said Jordan suddenly. "You threw me over on the telephone. I don't give a damn about you now, but it was a new experience for me, and I felt a little dizzy for a while." (9.129)

    You know how text messaging and online dating have supposedly changed dating? Well, new technologies like cars and telephones were doing the same thing at the beginning of the twentieth century. Can you imagine if Daisy had had Snapchat?

  • Mortality

    Chapter 2
    Nick Carraway

    It was on the two little seats facing each other that are always the last ones left on the train. I was going up to New York to see my sister and spend the night. He had on a dress suit and patent leather shoes, and I couldn't keep my eyes off him, but every time he looked at me I had to pretend to be looking at the advertisement over his head. When we came into the station he was next to me, and his white shirt-front pressed against my arm, and so I told him I'd have to call a policeman, but he knew I lied. I was so excited that when I got into a taxi with him I didn't hardly know I wasn't getting into a subway train. All I kept thinking about, over and over, was 'You can't live forever; you can't live forever.' (2.121)

    YOLO: just as dumb in the 1920s as it is now.

    Chapter 7
    Daisy Buchanan

    "What'll we do with ourselves this afternoon?" cried Daisy, "and the day after that, and the next thirty years?"

    "Don't be morbid," Jordan said. "Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall." (7.74-75)

    Daisy sees life as an unending round of boredom that eventually ends in death; Jordan sees it as a constant cycle of renewal. Too bad they're both miserable.

    Nick Carraway

    So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight. (7.306-309)

    Ouch. We just got hit over the head with a serious case of foreshadowing.

    Michaelis and this man reached her first, but when they had torn open her shirtwaist, still damp with perspiration, they saw that her left breast was swinging loose like a flap, and there was no need to listen for the heart beneath. The mouth was wide open and ripped at the corners, as though she had choked a little in giving up the tremendous vitality she had stored for so long. (7.313)

    When Nick first meets Myrtle, he notices how "alive" she seems—which we're pretty sure is code for "sexy." Maybe that's why she's so disgusting in death, like, the more you live the worse you die? We're not sure. But we do know that this is pretty gruesome.

    I stared at (Wilson) and then at Tom, who had made a parallel discovery less than an hour before—and it occurred to me that there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well. (7.158)

    Nick seems to be making the connection here between Tom and George realizing that their wives are cheating and discovering that they have some sort of terminal disease. Is that because some cherished idea is dying? Or does he suspect that this is all going to end badly?

    Chapter 8
    Nick Carraway

    It was after we started with Gatsby toward the house that the gardener saw Wilson's body a little way off in the grass, and the holocaust was complete. (8.112-114)

    Notice that Nick calls this a "holocaust." We're two decades before the World War II holocaust, so that's not a reference point here, but the word still means "mass destruction." The thing is, three bodies is tragic, but it's not exactly mass destruction. We think that something metaphoric is being destroyed here: a way of life? Nick's innocence? The American Dream?

    Chapter 9
    Nick Carraway

    Most of those reports were a nightmare – grotesque, circumstantial, eager, and untrue. When Michaelis's testimony at the inquest brought to light Wilson's suspicions of his wife I thought the whole tale would shortly be served up in racy pasquinade – but Catherine, who might have said anything, didn't say a word. She showed a surprising amount of character about it too – looked at the coroner with determined eyes under that corrected brow of hers, and swore that her sister had never seen Gatsby, that her sister was completely happy with her husband, that her sister had been into no mischief whatever. She convinced herself of it, and cried into her handkerchief, as if the very suggestion was more than she could endure. So Wilson was reduced to a man "deranged by grief," in order that the case might remain in its simplest form. And it rested there. (9.2)

    The whole sordid story almost blows up in everyone's face, but Myrtle's sister saves it. George Wilson gets a kind of dignity in death that he didn't have in life: instead of a cuckold, he's a grieving husband.

    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 – to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning –

    So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. (9.152-153)

    The problem with chasing the future is that you just end up chasing your own death. Andrew Marvell even wrote a poem about it.

    Owl Eyes and Klipspringer

    We straggled down quickly through the rain to the cars. Owl-eyes spoke to me by the gate.

    "I couldn't get to the house," he remarked.

    "Neither could anybody else."

    "Go on!" He started. "Why, my God! They used to go there by the hundreds." He took off his glasses and wiped them again, outside and in.

    "The poor son-of-a-bitch," he said. (9.114-122)

    Owl-eyes is the one person who seems to feel sorry for Gatsby, besides his father and Nick. Why? What does he see that everyone else doesn't?

  • Memory and the Past

    Chapter 4
    Nick Carraway

    "It was a strange coincidence," I said.

    "But it wasn't a coincidence at all."

    "Why not?"

    "Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay." (4.147-151)

    Gatsby's entire present existence—the house, the money, the pink suits—is constructed so Daisy will notice him. It may look like he's living for the moment, with his flashy parties and careless wealth, but he's actually stuck in the past.

    Well, about six weeks ago, she heard the name Gatsby for the first time in years. It was when I asked you – do you remember? – if you knew Gatsby in West Egg. After you had gone home she came into my room and woke me up, and said: "What Gatsby?" and when I described him – I was half asleep – she said in the strangest voice that it must be the man she used to know. It wasn't until then that I connected this Gatsby with the officer in her white car. (4.145)

    This "strangest voice" tips us off that Gatsby is more than some dude Daisy used to flirt with. She had some real feelings for him—and those feelings of the past are about to burst into the present.

    Chapter 5
    Nick Carraway

    He had passed visibly through two states and was entering upon a third. After his embarrassment and his unreasoning joy he was consumed with wonder at her presence. He had been full of the idea so long, dreamed it right through to the end, waited with his teeth set, so to speak, at an inconceivable pitch of intensity. Now, in the reaction, he was running down like an over-wound clock. (5.111-114)

    What happens when you finally get what you've been working toward for years? For most of us, achieving a goal comes with a letdown. Having something in the present is never quite as good as your past self imagined it would be.

    As I went over to say good-by I saw that the expression of bewilderment had come back into Gatsby's face, as though a faint doubt had occurred to him as to the quality of his present happiness. Almost five years! There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams – not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart. (5.152)

    Gatsby's vision of Daisy is way better than the real Daisy. Maybe this is one reason she ends up with Tom—she knows she can't ever live up to who she was for him. (Or maybe it was just the $350K necklace.)

    Chapter 6
    Nick Carraway

    He wanted nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: "I never loved you." After she had obliterated four years with that sentence they could decide upon the more practical measures to be taken. One of them was that, after she was free, they were to go back to Louisville and be married from her house—just as if it were five years ago. (6.125)

    Gatsby actually wants Daisy to erase the past, like in some sort of mediocre sci-fi movie. Sorry: this is real life, and it can't be done. Everyone has to live with the consequences of their past, whether they want to or not.

    Chapter 7
    Daisy Buchanan

    "Oh, you want too much!" she cried to Gatsby. "I love you now – isn't that enough? I can't help what's past." She began to sob helplessly. "I did love him once – but I loved you too." (7.261)

    Life doesn't come with take-backs or do-overs, and for all that Daisy seems a little dim, she gets it—and Gatsby doesn't. Daisy's never going to be that golden-white girl again.

    Nick Carraway

    Gatsby and I in turn leaned down and took the small, reluctant hand. Afterward he kept looking at the child with surprise. I don't think he had ever really believed in its existence before. (7.53)

    There's nothing like meeting your former lover's child to remind you that she's really moved on. While Gatsby was busy living in the past, Daisy was engaged in the ultimate form of future-building: having a child.

    Chapter 8
    Nick Carraway

    No telephone message arrived, but the butler went without his sleep and waited for it until four o'clock – until long after there was any one to give it to if it came. I have an idea that Gatsby himself didn't believe it would come, and perhaps he no longer cared. If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. (8.111)

    In the end, Gatsby does pay a high price for living too long with a single dream: death. Now, we're not saying that you'll end up dead if you don't give up your dream of have made Homecoming Court or a 2400 on the SAT—but we are saying that, at some point, you're probably going to have to move on.

    Jay Gatsby

    "I don't think she ever loved him." Gatsby turned around from a window and looked at me challengingly. "You must remember, old sport, she was very excited this afternoon. He told her those things in a way that frightened her – that made it look as if I was some kind of cheap sharper. And the result was she hardly knew what she was saying." (8.22)

    Gatsby actually rewrites the past to make it look like his version of events. This is—we hate to say it—basically the equivalent of saying that "no" means "yes." In fact, for Daisy, no really does mean no this time.

    Chapter 9
    Nick Carraway

    So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. (9.149-153)

    As a wise man once said, the term "Future Perfect" will be abandoned "[when it is] discovered not to be." In other words? The future never lives up to our expectations—and, in fact, having expectations of it just binds us to the past.

  • Education

    "About Gatsby! No, I haven’t. I said I’d been making a small investigation of his past."

    "And you found he was an Oxford man," said Jordan helpfully.

    "An Oxford man!" He was incredulous. "Like hell he is! He wears a pink suit."

    "Nevertheless he’s an Oxford man."

    "Oxford, New Mexico," snorted Tom contemptuously, "or something like that."

    "Listen, Tom. If you’re such a snob, why did you invite him to lunch?" demanded Jordan crossly.

    "Daisy invited him; she knew him before we were married – God knows where!" (7.230-236)

    Tom demonstrates that wealth alone cannot make somebody fit in the upper echelons of society. They must be educated as well.

    Gatsby’s foot beat a short, restless tattoo and Tom eyed him suddenly.

    "By the way, Mr. Gatsby, I understand you’re an Oxford man."

    "Not exactly."

    "Oh, yes, I understand you went to Oxford."

    "Yes – I went there."

    Pause. Then Tom’s voice, incredulous and insulting: "You must have gone there about the time Biloxi went to New Haven."

    Another pause. A waiter knocked and came in with crushed mint and ice but, the silence was unbroken by his "thank you." and the soft closing of the door. This tremendous detail was to be cleared up at last.

    "I told you I went there," said Gatsby.

    "I heard you, but I’d like to know when."

    "It was in nineteen-nineteen, I only stayed five months. That’s why I can’t really call myself an Oxford man."

    Tom glanced around to see if we mirrored his unbelief. But we were all looking at Gatsby.

    "It was an opportunity they gave to some of the officers after the Armistice," he continued. "We could go to any of the universities in England or France."

    I wanted to get up and slap him on the back. I had one of those renewals of complete faith in him that I’d experienced before. (7.208-221)

    Tom tries to discredit Gatsby by attacking his education.

    I graduated from New Haven in 1915, just a quarter of a century after my father, and a little later I participated in that delayed Teutonic migration known as the Great War. I enjoyed the counter-raid so thoroughly that I came back restless. Instead of being the warm centre of the world, the Middle West now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe—so I decided to go East and learn the bond business. (1.6)

    Although Nick isn’t upper-upper-class, he’s still near the top of the social ladder. He went to Yale and his father also attended an Ivy League school. His legacy status gives him extra clout. Nick was also in a secret society at Yale, along with Tom Buchanan. In addition to the top-tier education that Yale bestowed on Nick, the connections that he made while a student in New Haven were just as important. His connection to Tom alone gets him into situations where usually only the wealthiest folks would be welcome.

  • Compassion and Forgiveness

    It passed, and he began to talk excitedly to Daisy, denying everything, defending his name against accusations that had not been made. But with every word she was drawing further and further into herself, so he gave that up, and only the dead dream fought on as the afternoon slipped away, trying to touch what was no longer tangible, struggling unhappily, undespairingly, toward that lost voice across the room.

    The voice begged again to go.

    "PLEASE, Tom! I can’t stand this any more."

    Her frightened eyes told that whatever intentions, whatever courage, she had had, were definitely gone.

    "You two start on home, Daisy," said Tom. "In Mr. Gatsby’s car."

    She looked at Tom, alarmed now, but he insisted with magnanimous scorn.

    "Go on. He won’t annoy you. I think he realizes that his presumptuous little flirtation is over." (7.292-298)

    For Tom, forgiving Daisy for her affair is easy; because he doesn’t value their marriage or her love, he sees no need for it to exist untarnished. Gatsby, on the other hand, because of the intensity of his love for Daisy, cannot forgive her for loving Tom; he needs their love to be flawless in his mind.

    Daisy and Tom were sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table, with a plate of cold fried chicken between them, and two bottles of ale. He was talking intently across the table at her, and in his earnestness his hand had fallen upon and covered her own. Once in a while she looked up at him and nodded in agreement.

    They weren’t happy, and neither of them had touched the chicken or the ale – and yet they weren’t unhappy either. There was an unmistakable air of natural intimacy about the picture, and anybody would have said that they were conspiring together. (7.409-410)

    Do Daisy and Tom forgive each other? Perhaps not. It may be that they simply don’t care enough about their marriage emotionally to be bothered by their mutual infidelities. Yet they care about it in other ways – they choose to stay together for reasons of practicality.

    "And if you think I didn’t have my share of suffering – look here, when I went to give up that flat and saw that damn box of dog biscuits sitting there on the sideboard, I sat down and cried like a baby. By God it was awful –– "

    I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. 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... (9.144-145)

    Nick draws an interesting distinction between understanding a person’s motives and forgiving that person for his actions. By removing himself mentally from "that crowd," Nick puts himself at a psychological distance from Tom. He is then able to view the situation objectively, to comment but not to judge or criticize, just as his father recommended. This is why he can see that Tom’s actions were justified in his mind. But, by revealing that he "couldn’t forgive" Tom, Nick also makes it clear that he is slipping up, breaking from his father’s advice, closing the psychological gap between himself and "that crowd."

    "I wanted to get somebody for him. I wanted to go into the room where he lay and reassure him: "I’ll get somebody for you, Gatsby. Don’t worry. Just trust me and I'll get somebody for you–" (9.11)

    Nick has much compassion for Gatsby after he’s gone, he seems heartbroken that his friend has been abandoned by everyone. For a man who was so generous and loyal, no one is loyal or kind to him in return (besides Nick, of course, and the owl-eyed man). This says something about Gatsby’s relationships with everyone around him and the shallowness of the society he was in.

    [Klipspringer’s] tone made me suspicious.

    "Of course you’ll be there yourself." "Well, I’ll certainly try. What I called up about is—"

    "Wait a minute," I interrupted. "How about saying you’ll come?"

    "Well, the fact is—the truth of the matter is that I’m staying with some people up here in Greenwich, and they rather expect me to be with them to-morrow. In fact, there’s a sort of picnic or something. Of course I’ll do my very best to get away."

    I ejaculated an unrestrained "Huh!" and he must have heard me, for he went on nervously: "What I called up about was a pair of shoes I left there. I wonder if it’d be too much trouble to have the butler send them on. You see, they’re tennis shoes, and I’m sort of helpless without them. My address is care of B. F. –"

    I didn’t hear the rest of the name, because I hung up the receiver. (9.58-65)

    The man who was staying in Gatsby’s house, won’t even show up to the funeral. Not only that, but he has the audacity to ask Nick to ship his shoes to him. Nick’s compassion for Gatsby spurs him to hang up, and not a moment too soon.

    We straggled down quickly through the rain to the cars. Owl-eyes spoke to me by the gate.

    "I couldn't get to the house," he remarked.

    "Neither could anybody else."

    "Go on!" He started. "Why, my God! they used to go there by the hundreds."

    He took off his glasses and wiped them again, outside and in.

    "The poor son-of-a-bitch," he said. (9.114-119)

    The owl-eyed man is the only party-goer who comes through to say good-bye to his periodic host. He obviously feels some connection to Gatsby, otherwise he wouldn't have come to pay his last respects. His final comments show his compassion, albeit in somewhat abrasive form, for Gatsby’s sparsely attended funeral.

    On the last night, with my trunk packed and my car sold to the grocer, I went over and looked at that huge incoherent failure of a house once more. On the white steps an obscene word, scrawled by some boy with a piece of brick, stood out clearly in the moonlight, and I erased it, drawing my shoe raspingly along the stone. Then I wandered down to the beach and sprawled out on the sand. (9.147)

    Nick’s compassion even extends to the house that stood for everything he despised about Gatsby. He tries to keep it clean, since the house meant much to Gatsby, and he would have wanted it that way.

  • Religion

    "Have you got a church you go to sometimes, George? Maybe even if you haven’t been there for a long time? Maybe I could call up the church and get a priest to come over and he could talk to you, see?

    "Don’t belong to any."

    "You ought to have a church, George, for times like this. You must have gone to church once. Didn’t you get married in a church? Listen, George, listen to me. Didn’t you get married in a church?"

    "That was a long time ago." (8.74-76)

    Even the most religious character in the text, George, has little use for institutionalized religion.

    "I spoke to her," he muttered, after a long silence. "I told her she might fool me but she couldn’t fool God. I took her to the window" – with an effort he got up and walked to the rear window and leaned with his face pressed against it – "and I said ‘God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing. You may fool me, but you can’t fool God!’"

    Standing behind him, Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, which had just emerged, pale and enormous, from the dissolving night.

    "God sees everything," repeated Wilson.

    "That’s an advertisement," Michaelis assured him. Something made him turn away from the window and look back into the room. But Wilson stood there a long time, his face close to the window pane, nodding into the twilight. (8.103-106)

    Wilson believes that the one being that has the right to judge is God – even while he judges his own wife. This is an interesting notion to compare to Nick’s opening lines: that one should not criticize (another form of judging). Seen in this light, Nick’s father’s advice takes on a religious tone.

    "You see," cried Catherine triumphantly. She lowered her voice again. "It’s really his wife that's keeping them apart. She's a Catholic, and they don't believe in divorce." Daisy was not a Catholic, and I was a little shocked at the elaborateness of the lie.

    "When they do get married," continued Catherine, "they're going West to live for a while until it blows over." (2.97-99)

    When we read this, it hit us that religion is pretty much absent from all the characters’ lives. Here it only serves as an excuse for Tom’s not marrying Myrtle.

    But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg.

    The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are 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 nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness, or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground. (2.2)

    The T. J. Eckleburg billboard certainly stands out. Later in the novel, Wilson remarks that his wife’s wrongdoings can’t escape the eyes of God, then looks at the two gigantic eyes on the billboard outside. Eckleburg’s constant gaze is definitely ominous, since so much immoral activity is constantly going on – especially in the Valley of Ashes. For more on Eckelburg, check out "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory."

    We waited for her down the road and out of sight.

    It was a few days before the Fourth of July, and a gray, scrawny Italian child was setting torpedoes in a row along the railroad track.

    "Terrible place, isn't it," said Tom, exchanging a frown with Doctor Eckleburg.

    "Awful."

    "It does her good to get away."

    "Doesn’t her husband object?"

    "Wilson? He thinks she goes to see her sister in New York. He’s so dumb he doesn't know he’s alive."

    So Tom Buchanan and his girl and I went up together to New York – or not quite together, for Mrs. Wilson sat discreetly in another car. Tom deferred that much to the sensibilities of those East Eggers who might be on the train. (2.22-28)

    We think it’s interesting that Tom and Eckelburg exchange frowns. It’s like Tom is staring defiantly at a disapproving God, angry that anybody would dare judge him. You could interpret that as Tom being condescending even to God. Also, if that’s how you want to interpret those frowns, isn’t it ironic that Myrtle and Tom don’t share the same train to New York to avoid judgment of other East Eggers? It seems almost as if the judgments of other people are more important to them God’s.