The Great Gatsby
The book cover with title against a dark sky. Beneath the title are lips and two eyes, looming over a city.
The cover of the first edition
AuthorF. Scott Fitzgerald
Cover artistFrancis Cugat
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreTragedy
PublishedApril 10, 1925 (US)
PublisherCharles Scribner's Sons (US)
Media typePrint (hardcover & paperback)
Pages218 (Original US Edition)
Preceded byThe Beautiful and Damned (1922) 
Followed byTender Is the Night (1934) 

The Great Gatsby is a 1925 novel by American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. Set in the Jazz Age on Long Island, the novel depicts narrator Nick Carraway's interactions with mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and Gatsby's obsession to reunite with his former lover, Daisy Buchanan.

A youthful romance Fitzgerald had with socialite Ginevra King, and the riotous parties he attended on Long Island's North Shore in 1922 inspired the novel. Following a move to the French Riviera, he completed a rough draft in 1924. He submitted the draft to editor Maxwell Perkins, who persuaded Fitzgerald to revise the work over the following winter. After his revisions, Fitzgerald was satisfied with the text, but remained ambivalent about the book's title and considered several alternatives. The final title he desired was Under the Red, White, and Blue. Painter Francis Cugat's final cover design impressed Fitzgerald who incorporated a visual element from the art into the novel.

After its publication by Scribner's in April 1925, The Great Gatsby received generally favorable reviews, although some literary critics believed it did not hold up to Fitzgerald's previous efforts and signaled the end of the author's literary achievements. Despite the warm critical reception, Gatsby was a commercial failure. The book sold fewer than 20,000 copies by October, and Fitzgerald's hopes of a monetary windfall from the novel were unrealized. When the author died in 1940, he believed himself to be a failure and his work forgotten. After his death, the novel faced a critical and scholarly re-examination amid World War II, and it soon became a core part of most American high school curricula and a focus of American popular culture. Numerous stage and film adaptations followed in the subsequent decades.

Gatsby continues to attract popular and scholarly attention. The novel was most recently adapted to film in 2013 by director Baz Luhrmann, while contemporary scholars emphasize the novel's treatment of social class, inherited wealth compared to those who are self-made, race, environmentalism, and its cynical attitude towards the American dream. As with other works by Fitzgerald, criticisms include allegations of antisemitism. The Great Gatsby is widely considered to be a literary masterwork and a contender for the title of the Great American Novel.

Historical and biographical context

Set on the prosperous Long Island of 1922, The Great Gatsby provides a critical social history of Prohibition-era America during the Jazz Age.[a] Fitzgerald's fictional narrative fully renders that period—known for its jazz music,[2] economic prosperity,[3] flapper culture,[4] libertine mores,[5] rebellious youth,[6] and ubiquitous speakeasies. Fitzgerald uses many of these 1920s societal developments to tell his story, from simple details like petting in automobiles to broader themes such as his discreet allusions to bootlegging as the source of Gatsby's fortune.[7][8]

Fitzgerald educates his readers about the hedonistic society of the Jazz Age by placing a relatable plotline within the historical context of "the most raucous, gaudy era in U.S. history,"[1] which "raced along under its own power, served by great filling stations full of money".[3][9] In Fitzgerald's eyes, the 1920s era represented a morally permissive time when Americans of all ages became disillusioned with prevailing social norms and had a monomaniacal obsession with self-gratification: "[The Jazz Age represented] a whole race going hedonistic, deciding on pleasure."[10] Hence, The Great Gatsby represents Fitzgerald's attempt to communicate his ambivalent feelings regarding the Jazz Age, an era whose themes he would later regard as reflective of events in his own life.[11]

The Great Gatsby reflects various events in Fitzgerald's youth.[12] He was a young Midwesterner from Minnesota. Like the novel's narrator who went to Yale, he was educated at an Ivy League school, Princeton.[13] There the 19-year-old Fitzgerald met Ginevra King, a 16-year-old socialite with whom he fell deeply in love.[14][15] Ginevra's family discouraged his pursuit of their daughter because of his lower-class status, and her father purportedly told him that "poor boys shouldn't think of marrying rich girls".[16]

Rejected by Ginevra as a suitor because of his lack of financial prospects, a suicidal Fitzgerald enlisted in the United States Army and was commissioned as a second lieutenant.[17][18] While awaiting deployment to the Western front, he was stationed at Camp Sheridan in Montgomery, Alabama, where he met Zelda Sayre, a vivacious 17-year-old Southern belle.[19] Zelda agreed to marry him, but her parents ended their engagement until he could prove his financial success.[20] Fitzgerald is thus similar to Jay Gatsby in that he fell in love while a military officer stationed far from home and then sought success to prove himself to the woman he desired.[21][20]

After his success as a novelist and as a short-story writer, Fitzgerald married Zelda in New York City, and the newly wed couple soon relocated to Long Island.[22] He found his new affluent lifestyle in the exclusive Long Island social milieu to be simultaneously both seductive and repulsive.[23][24] Fitzgerald—like Gatsby—had always exalted the rich and was driven by his love for a woman who symbolized everything he desired, even as he was led towards a lifestyle that he loathed.[24][20]

Plot summary

George Wilson and his wife Myrtle live in the "valley of ashes," a refuse dump (shown in the above photograph) historically located in New York City during the 1920s. Today, the area is Flushing Meadows–Corona Park.
George Wilson and his wife Myrtle live in the "valley of ashes," a refuse dump (shown in the above photograph) historically located in New York City during the 1920s. Today, the area is Flushing Meadows–Corona Park.

In Spring 1922, Nick Carraway—a Yale alumnus from the Midwest and a World War I veteran—journeys to New York City to obtain employment as a bond salesman. He rents a bungalow in the Long Island village of West Egg, next to a luxurious estate inhabited by Jay Gatsby, an enigmatic multi-millionaire who hosts dazzling soirées yet does not partake in them.

One evening, Nick dines with a distant relative, Daisy Buchanan, in the fashionable town of East Egg. Daisy is married to Tom Buchanan, formerly a Yale football star whom Nick knew during his college days. The couple has recently relocated from Chicago to a mansion directly across the bay from Gatsby's estate. There, Nick encounters Jordan Baker, an insolent flapper and golf champion who is a childhood friend of Daisy's. Jordan confides to Nick that Tom keeps a mistress, Myrtle Wilson, who brazenly telephones him at his home and who lives in the "valley of ashes," a sprawling refuse dump.[25] That evening, Nick sees Gatsby standing alone on his lawn, staring at a green light across the bay.

Days later, Nick reluctantly accompanies a drunken and agitated Tom to New York City by train. En route, they stop at a garage inhabited by mechanic George Wilson and his wife Myrtle. Myrtle joins them, and the trio proceed to a small New York apartment that Tom has rented for trysts with her. Guests arrive, and a party ensues that ends with Tom slapping Myrtle and breaking her nose after she mentions Daisy.

One morning, Nick receives a formal invitation to a party at Gatsby's mansion. Once there, Nick is embarrassed that he recognizes no one and begins drinking heavily until he encounters Jordan. While chatting with her, he is approached by a man who introduces himself as Jay Gatsby and insists that both he and Nick served in the 3rd Infantry Division during the war. Gatsby attempts to ingratiate himself with Nick and when Nick leaves the party, he notices Gatsby watching him.

In late July, Nick and Gatsby have lunch at a speakeasy. Gatsby tries impressing Nick with tales of his war heroism and his Oxford days. Afterward, Nick meets Jordan at the Plaza Hotel. Jordan reveals that Gatsby and Daisy met around 1917 when Gatsby was an officer in the American Expeditionary Forces. They fell in love, but when Gatsby was deployed overseas, Daisy reluctantly married Tom. Gatsby hopes that his newfound wealth and dazzling parties will make Daisy reconsider. Gatsby uses Nick to stage a reunion with Daisy, and the two embark upon a sexual affair.

Photograph of the Plaza Hotel
The confrontation between Gatsby and Tom occurs in the twenty-story Plaza Hotel, a château-like edifice with an architectural style inspired by the French Renaissance.

In September, Tom discovers the affair when Daisy carelessly addresses Gatsby with unabashed intimacy in front of him. Later, at a Plaza Hotel suite, Gatsby and Tom argue about the affair. Gatsby insists Daisy declare that she never loved Tom. Daisy claims she loves Tom and Gatsby, upsetting both. Tom reveals Gatsby is a swindler whose money comes from bootlegging alcohol. Upon hearing this, Daisy chooses to stay with Tom. Tom scornfully tells Gatsby to drive her home, knowing that Daisy will never leave him.

While returning to East Egg, Gatsby and Daisy drive by Wilson's garage and their car accidentally strikes Myrtle killing her instantly. Gatsby reveals to Nick that Daisy was driving the car, but that he intends to take the blame for the accident to protect her. Nick urges Gatsby to flee to avoid prosecution, but he refuses. After Tom tells George that Gatsby owns the car that struck Myrtle, a distraught George assumes the owner of the vehicle must be Myrtle's paramour. George fatally shoots Gatsby in his mansion's swimming pool, then commits suicide.

Several days after Gatsby's murder, his father Henry Gatz arrives for the sparsely attended funeral. After Gatsby's death, Nick comes to hate New York and decides that Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, and he were all Westerners unsuited to Eastern life. Nick encounters Tom and initially refuses to shake his hand. Tom admits he was the one who told George that Gatsby owned the vehicle that killed Myrtle. Before returning to the Midwest, Nick returns to Gatsby's mansion and stares across the bay at the green light emanating from the end of Daisy's dock.

Major characters

Photographic portrait of Ginevra King
Photographic portrait of Edith Cummings
Ginevra King (left)—whom Fitzgerald romantically pursued—inspired the character of Daisy Buchanan. Edith Cummings (right) was an amateur golfer who inspired the character of Jordan Baker. Both were fêted in the press as among Chicago's most desirable debutantes.