"Can't repeat the past?" [Gatsby] cried incredulously. "Why of course you can!"
The Great Gatsby is a 1925 novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic social critique, in which the American dream of Rags to Riches is exposed as a noble illusion and self-absorbed, emotionally bankrupt Rich Bitches are the reality. Largely because of this frank but wistful consideration of idealism vs. human nature, it has come to be considered the definitive American novel.The novel opens with Nick Carraway, 'Middle Westerner', First-Person Peripheral Narrator and self-professed honest man. Feeling the need to make his mark on the world, Nick moves to Long Island, New York to get into business. He takes a house just across the bay from the upper crust, including his flighty cousin Daisy and her new husband, ex-college jock Tom Buchanan.He ends up next-door neighbors with Jay Gatsby: an enigmatic man who makes sure to flaunt his wealth to everyone by building a lavish mansion near Nick's home and throwing completely over-the-top weekly parties to which everyone who's anyone will come... but seeming, himself, mysteriously detached from it all. However, Gatsby has a long past with Daisy Buchanan, and many other, murkier secrets; and Nick finds himself continually thrust into the middle of a highly charged romantic triangle where money, passion, and sheer force of will battle it out, with lives lost and wasted as the result.Required reading in high school for a lot of people.Some sources claim that Scott's wife Zelda ghostwrote it. Comparing Zelda's bits and pieces of surviving work (she died in a mental hospital fire) and Scott's entire body of work with this text is an interesting experiment and tropers can draw their own conclusions.Does The Great Gatsby have screen adaptations? Do youevenhavetoask? There's even a video game. And an opera. And at least one play. The latest film version, directed by Baz Luhrmann, was released in 2013. It can be found here.Not to be confused with Gadsby.
Affably Evil: Meyer Wolfsheim is quite friendly for a gangster who wears human teeth as cufflinks.
Adaptation Dye-Job: In most film versions, Daisy will be blonde and Jordan will be brunette. It's the other way around in the book.
Ambiguous Innocence: After Nick confronted Tom about what he said to Wilson that made him kill Gatsby and himself, Tom answers that he accused Gatsby of running over Wilsons wife with his car. Then Nick realizes Tom is sincerely incapable of understanding why this is an evil act:
I shook hands with him; it seemed silly not to, for I felt suddenly as though I were talking to a child. Then he went into the jewelry store to buy a pearl necklace—or perhaps only a pair of cuff buttons—rid of my provincial squeamishness forever.
Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men
Animal Reaction Shot: In the movie, after Tom and Myrtle have a fight in the middle of the party, the scene cuts to the dog they bought alert and whimpering.
Anti-Hero: Gatsby is a crook, but he's more compassionate than most of the "law-abiding" characters.
Blank Book: Owl-eyes suspects that Gatsby's impressive library is full of fake wood facades of book spines, to give the appearance of shelves stacked full of books. He discovers to his surprise that the library is actually filled with real books. However, the pages of the books are still bound together and uncut, meaning Gatsby has never actually read any of them. They're still for show, but it's a much more expensive show.
Same with Wilson and Myrtle. They've basically been put into the story as a means of killing off Gatsby; Myrtle gets hit by Daisy when she is driving Gatsby's car. Wilson thinks Gatsby killed his wife, so he goes off to get his revenge.
Color Motif: There's color symbolism throughout the book, associating white with purity and yellow with corruption.
The girls wore yellow dresses at Gatsby's party.
Early in the book, Gatsby can be seen looking out across a large body of water towards a blinking light located on the end of the dock where Tom and Daisy live. Interestingly enough, the light is green.
Nick Carraway tends to wear blue. He's probably the character with the most integrity of them all.
Gatsby himself wears yellow and has a gold car, which can either represent corruption, as stated above, or things like luxury and grandeur.
The three most prominent colors in the book are green, white, and yellow - the colors of a daisy.
Contemplate Our Navels: Nick keeps up a running commentary throughout re: how this experience is changing his attitudes, and not for the better. It comes to a head in his conclusion, which is more or less: real life sucks, but at least in some places people are more honest about it than others.
Cool Car: Possibly parodied with Gatsby’s car: The car attracts attention, but Fitzgerald’s narration is ambiguous. We don’t know if it’s because of its coolness or only because it reflects Gatsby's crass tastes:
He saw me looking with admiration at his car.
"It's pretty, isn't it, old sport." He jumped off to give me a better view. "Haven't you ever seen it before?"
I'd seen it. Everybody had seen it. It was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hatboxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of windshields that mirrored a dozen suns. Sitting down behind many layers of glass in a sort of green leather conservatory we started to town.
With an effort I managed to restrain my incredulous laughter. The very phrases were worn so threadbare that they evoked no image except that of a turbaned "character" leaking sawdust at every pore as he pursued a tiger through the Bois de Boulogne … My incredulity was submerged in fascination now; it was like skimming hastily through a dozen magazines.
And after Gatsby produces a medal from Montenegro Republic and a photo of him with the actual Earl of Dorcaster, when they were at Oxford, Nick was forced to believe:
George Wilson also crosses this line after Myrtle dies, and this ultimately culminates in the deaths of the two men at the hand of Wilson.
Daisy has crossed this since before the events of the book, and spends her time either trying to climb out of it or deny it entirely.
Determinator: Say what you will about the lengths he went to to pursue it, Gatsby never gives up on his dream of winning Daisy.
Dogged Nice Guy: Gatsby is presented as such, completely affable to everyone he meets and steadfast in his pursuit of Daisy since they first dated. The novel deconstructs this as time goes on, largely in exploring how his devotion leads him to let Daisy get away with murder and lose his spirit when she chooses Tom over him and shatters everything he'd been working for his whole life. It's also implied his goals led him to take certain shady shortcuts to get the wealth he needed to impress her quickly, and he's not quite as noble as he'd like to let on.
Downer Ending: In the end, Gatsby is framed by Tom for Myrtle's death and is in turn killed by her vengeful husband. Daisy decides to stay with Tom, and Tom gets away with being indirectly responsible for Gatsby's death, while they are doomed to be stuck in a loveless marriage. Nick becomes so disgusted with the whole affair that he essentially cuts ties with Tom and Daisy and leaves New York.
The brutally hot weather on the day that the love triangle between Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom climaxes, along with George Wilson discovering his wife Myrtle's infidelity and subsequent death.
Followed by the cool weather the day afterwards, representing the end of Gatsby and Daisy's affair. What's more Gatsby remains in complete denial of both—he insists on swimming in his pool despite the cool weather, just as he insists that Daisy will come to him even though it's painfully obvious to Nick (and the reader) that she will not.
The Film of the Book: Several, although none have been hailed as masterpieces. The 1974 version with Robert Redford is the best-regarded, though many criticize it as too literal an adaptation. Baz Luhrmann's heavily stylized 2013 take has proven extremely polarizing. The introspective nature of the book is hard to translate onto film, and some of Gatsby's grand romantic gestures tend to come off as incredibly affected. His habit of calling his friends 'old sport' is affected, especially notable when he's nervous or feeling downtrodden (especially in the scene where he's reunited with Daisy by Nick). And most people have never seen the 1949 version (because it's unavailable).
First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Nick is the first person narrator, telling a story about Gatsby. This is especially evident in Chapter 5 where Gatsby and Daisy meet for the first time in years, and Nick is essentially there to comment on them in the narration.
Jordan especially, who is the modern woman of the 1920s by working (she is a pro-golf player) and whose name is taken from brands of cars, and fits the ideal appearance of a flapper by being small-chested and slim.
When a man Nick dubs "Owl-Eyes" wrecks his car. Guess what happens to another character later on, involving a car?
The other (minor) car crash mentioned - Tom Buchanan was involved in a car accident... with a chambermaid in the passenger seat. These incidents tend to reveal adultery, don't they?
The valley of ashes itself has a foreshadowing meaning if you're going to take a Wild Mass Guessing to that level.
Four-Temperament Ensemble: Jay Gatsby (leukine), Tom Buchanan (choleric), George Wilson (melancholic), Nick Carraway (phlegmatic), Myrtle (sanguine), Jordan (choleric/melancholic), Daisy (sanguine/choleric), and Meyer Wolfsheim (phlegmatic/sanguine).
Getting Crap Past the Radar: In the iconic cover painting, the woman's eyes reflect nude female figures. The book is assigned to just about every high school student in America.
Daisy. She married Tom for his money and Old Money status, which makes him an equivalent of aristocracy.
Myrtle abuses her love affair with Tom, quickly buying perfume and a dog with his money although she also genuinely seems to like Tom. She is from a working class background and was never wealthy in the first place unlike Daisy, and would never else be able to afford luxuries.
Glory Days: See page quote. Most characters, but especially Tom Buchanan, who used to be a star football player for Yale. Nick's impression of Tom is as a restless man who goes about his entire life looking for another football game to win. Gatsby himself inverts this. He never had such pure happiness in his past, but he's ignoring reality in order to try and make the future glorious and perfect and lovely.
Greedy Jew: Meyer Wolfsheim is a shady Jewish gangster who is implied to have rigged the World Series. Although he's apparently based on the life Jewish gangster Arnold Rothstein, he's generally considered to be a fairly anti-semitic character.
"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"
Jordan tells the story of how the young Daisy had her little love affair with Gatsby and then missed her chance to say goodbye to him when he was shipped out. After that, she apparently gave up going out with soldiers, and "[b]y the next autumn she was gay again, gay as ever."
Hypocrite: With Double Standard mixed in. Tom proudly shows off his mistress to Nick, then gets incredibly pissed off when he realizes that Gatsby and Daisy are ready to have an affair.
Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: After his confrontation with Gatsby, Tom Buchanan claims to truly be in love with his wife, Daisy. However, Tom only really cares about himself, and it is implied that he loved Daisy as an object of affection, rather than as a person. Tom also cheats on Daisy several times, even directly after their honeymoon, and it's made explicit in the book that he has hurt her enough to leave bruises.
Karma Houdini: When his mistress is killed, Tom directs her suicidally mournful husband to Gatsby. Meanwhile, Tom and Daisy? Drift off to Chicago, leaving the entire unholy mess behind. However, it is implied that their relationship has been ruined by the whole experience. This is one of the themes of the novel: that the rich make a huge mess and leave, making others clean it up.
Daisy as well: She's driving the car when it kills Myrtle. Gatsby offers to lie that he was at the wheel instead, and she allows him to take the blame.
Kissing Cousins: Daisy gives off this vibe towards Nick early in the novel. It's worth noting that this is a case not based from attraction or sexual desire. People like Nick — in his late twenties without a wife or girlfriend to speak of — were often Mistaken for Gay in those days. On the absence of a significant other, he kissed Daisy in order to duck any gossip that might be spread about him (considering they are at a party). None of the partygoers would be savvy about Nick's relation to Daisy.
Only three people who weren't employed by Gatsby bother to show up at his funeral: Nick (the narrator), Gatsby's father, and one party guest (out of literally hundreds). In addition, Gatsby is secluded from social life, only bothering to converse with someone who either is or is close to Daisy at one of his parties.
Love Dodecahedron: Gatsby has his heart set on Daisy, who's married to Tom, who's conducting an open affair with Myrtle, who herself is married to George, who later on believes that Gatsby is responsible for killing Myrtle...
Love Martyr: Everything Gatsby did to raise and spend his ill-gotten money was to capture Daisy's heart. He idealizes her to the extent that he's willing to take a manslaughter rap for her. However, this doesn't excuse that Gatsby never would have been happy, for he expected too much from Daisy, wanting (and in the infamous confrontation scene, forcing) her to be the perfect memory he obsessed over.
Loving a Shadow: Gatsby really doesn't know the real Daisy; he's too obsessed with the memory of the Daisy from five years ago.
Daisy Fay. "Fay" has rather unpleasant connotations. Also, her daughter's name, Pamela, not only refers to a very sentimental and idealistic novel by Samuel Richardson, but refers to Daisy herself - it means "honey." And then there's Gatsby himself; "Gat" is a slang term for a gun...
Lost to time now, but "Jordan" and "Baker" are both the names of car companies, alluding to mobility and liberation.
Mood Whiplash: At least in the 1974 film; after the prolonged sad Lonely Funeral and Nick monologuing about the life of Gatsby over his deserted home, the credits ironically roll to the tune of 20s era girls cheerfully singing down the pier.
Naďve Newcomer: Nick, literally at the beginning of the novel. The entire story thereafter is dedicated to shattering his illusions.
No Celebrities Were Harmed: Meyer Wolfsheim is a thinly-veiled Expy of gambler and mob boss Arnold Rothstein, who, like Wolfsheim, is infamous for fixing the 1919 World Series; Gatsby himself is heavily based on Ohio bootlegger George Remus. Tom mentions a white supremacist author named Godard, an allusion/Take That to eugenicist Lothrop Stoddard.
No Honor Among Thieves: Meyer Wolfsheim refuses to turn up to Gatsby's funeral for fear of being linked to his murder, despite them both being close gangsters.
Non-Nazi Swastika: The Jewish gangster Meyer Wolfsheim operates out of the "Swastika Club" (presumably, like many older buildings, it has that design on it). There is some argument though that this wasn't an innocent usage, as Wolfsheim is something of an anti-Semitic caricature, and the Nazi movement had already adopted it as their symbol by the time the novel was written, and Fitzgerald was fairly knowledgeable of white supremacist movements.
Real Men Wear Pink: Gatsby wears a pink suit a couple times in the novel. Dismissed by Tom, of course.
Reality Subtext: Gatsby and Daisy's relationship is not dissimilar to that of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
Though it has more in common with the relationship between Scott Fitzgerald and Genevra King (see Write What You Know below).
The Roaring Twenties: Has endured in the popular imagination as the iconic representation of this era. That it's also a savage satire and ultimate condemnation of the same attitudes doesn't seem to register as clearly. Quite ironically, The Great Gatsby flopped when it first came out for this very reason.
Rule of Symbolism: Most famously — and unsubtly — "the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg" on an abandoned billboard along the highway the characters all travel. The eyes of God! And the green light is the American Dream! And... and the ashfields represent the gaps between humanity and the evil of consumerism! And hell!
Nick's list of Gatsby's (parasitic and moneyed) guests is from July 5th, symbolically after the hope-filled founding of America.
Owl-Eyes, one of the few not to overlook Gatsby's funeral, just happens to wear a set of rimmed glasses that Dr. Eckleburg might wear.
Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Pretty much every rich character in the book, except for Nick. Although Nick comes from a very wealthy family, he works for his own money. Some might argue that, despite coming from old money, he is the only character who has moral values. A central theme of the novel is how the rich basically throw their money around and do whatever they want, and whenever a mess inevitably ensues they just run away and let someone else clean it up for them.
Setting Update: Cena Trimalchionis recycled IN ROARING-TWENTIES NEW YORK! F. Scott Fitzgerald even intended to call the book Trimalchio in West Egg until he was persuaded that his readers wouldn't get it.
Daisy: In fact I think I'll arrange a marriage. Come over often, Nick, and I'll sort of—oh—fling you together. You know—lock you up accidentally in linen closets and push you out to sea in a boat, and all that sort of thing—
Slowly Slipping Into Evil: subverted, and the subversion discussed. After Nick agrees to help Gatsby reunite with Daisy, Gatsby offers him some form of employment in his shady enterprises. Nick, in the narration, admits that this would have been a very serious What You Are in the Dark moment... if he wasn't already planning on taking the "Think Nothing of It" route.
Social Climber: Gatsby is an Idealist version, despite several rumors to the contrary. He was born to dirt-poor farmers in the Midwest who left to seek his fortune, and used the money he inherited from an old man who grew to love him like a son to start living the high life. In keeping with the Idealist version, he genuinely seems to believe that millionaires are Gentleman Adventurers and the like, and thinks that flaunting his wealth will win him Daisy's heart. He also falls under the Idealist category because he's already gotten his hands dirty, and actually gains much of his fortune selling drugs.
Foreshadowed by "Blocks" Biloxy, who fainted at Daisy's wedding. They carried him into Jordan's house, and he stayed three weeks, until Jordan's dad told him he had to get out. Next day, Mr. Baker died. "It wasn't related."
Trade Your Passion for Glory: Since his childhood, Gatsy had a lot of dreams and wanted to do a lot of great things, but his infautation with Stepford Smiler Daisy lead him to become a millionarie by being a smuggler:
Well, there I was, way off my ambitions, getting deeper in love every minute, and all of a sudden I didn't care. What was the use of doing great things if I could have a better time telling her what I was going to do?
"I wouldn't ask too much of her," I ventured. "You can't repeat the past." "Can't repeat the past?" he cried incredulously. "Why of course you can!" He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand. "I'm going to fix everything just the way it was before," he said, nodding determinedly. "She'll see." 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 once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was.
Trailers Always Spoil: The back cover of the most common U.S. publication of the book these days spoils Gatsby and Daisy's relationship.
Unfortunate Names: A few of the names from Nick's list of Gatsby's guests on a July 5th time-table: The Leeches, the Fishguards, the Ripley Snells, Mrs. Ulysses Swett, S.B. Whitebait, Maurice A. Flink, a state senator named Gulick, James B. "Rot-gut" Ferret, the Scullys, S.W. Belcher, and the Smirkes.
Unreliable Narrator: Nick's narration is colored by his perception of Gatsby at this particular moment. Whether that's because he's soft-hearted or just providing some poetic embellishment is up to the reader (and/or the reader's English teacher).
Also at one point he joins some upper class friends of Tom for drinks and, as such, tells the audience that he gets drunk and the rest of the night becomes a big blur.
He smiled understandingly — much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced — or seemed to face — the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.