"Can't repeat the past?" [Gatsby] cried incredulously. "Why of course you can!"
Spoiler Warning... unless you're a current or former US high school student or college English major...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 as Nick Carraway, 'Middle Westerner,' First Person Peripheral Narrator and self-professed honest man, feeling the need to make his mark on the world, 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 is invited... but seeming, himself, mysteriously detached from it all. In a darkly comic parody of celebrity culture, speculation at these extravaganzas runs rampant as to who Gatsby is and where his money came from, with the rumours getting wilder and wilder ("I heard he killed a man once!") as the guests abuse his hospitality more and more freely.So Gatsby is only the craziest of the shallow, self-centered rich people up at Long Island, right? Not quite, as Nick finds out once Gatsby realizes his connection with the Buchanans. It turns out that long ago, when Gatsby was only a young, poor soldier, he fell hopelessly in love with beautiful socialite Daisy Faye. Unfortunately, since he was poor, he couldn't live up to his promise to take care of her, and since he was a soldier, he soon had to leave her for the battlefield.The love of his life — as he assumed — then promptly, inevitably, left him to marry someone in her own class, namely Tom Buchanan; but Gatsby, the romantic idealist, couldn't or wouldn't accept that. He will do anything to win Daisy back — anything. If wealth and status is what Daisy wants, a wealthy, socially prominent man is what Gatsby will become, by any means necessary. The mansion, the expensive clothes and car, the parties — all designed solely to attract the notice of Daisy, whose presence just across the bay is symbolized by the green light that burns at the end of the Buchanans' boat dock.Nick obligingly sets up the first meeting between Gatsby and Daisy in his home. The two reunite with sparks in the air, and Daisy is gratifyingly impressed by all of Gatsby's stuff. Since Nick knows firsthand that Tom isn't at all faithful himself, having previously spent an evening with Tom and his mistress Myrtle Wilson, there seems to be no harm in Daisy having a fling with Gatsby.Inevitably it all falls apart, one hot afternoon in the city, at the intersection of Gatsby's unrealistic ideals and Daisy's inability to live up to them. He demands that she reject her husband utterly; Daisy, confused and frightened, makes no protest when in response Tom reveals his rival to be a common bootlegger, and declares the affair over. By way of rubbing it in Tom insists that the erstwhile lovers ride home in Gatsby's car... but then it hits and kills Myrtle on the way. Tom leads her husband George to believe Gatsby was driving. Daisy was at the wheel but Gatsby refuses to implicate her. Not even when the vengeful George shows up at his mansion with a gun...Gatsby is left alone to his ultimate fate, Tom and Daisy resume their life of oblivious privilege, and Nick, honest and decent to the end, tries to make sense of it all. Disgusted by his new insight into human nature, he packs up and returns to the Middle West, famously musing that 'Gatsby turned out all right in the end'. It wasn't Gatsby's dream — the American Dream — that was the problem; it was what floated in the wake of that dream, corrupting it, that destroyed him.
"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter; tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther... And one fine morning...
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
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 an 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 you evenhavetoask? There's even an opera. There's even a video game.A new film version, directed by Baz Luhrmann, was released in 2013.Don't mix up this work with Gadsby, in which a dissimilar author drafts a book without using a particular symbol from our Latin syllabary. (It always sounds this awkward.) He doesn't use the letter 'e.'
Daisy seems to not even remember how old her child is. She's not actively abusive, she's just completely detached.
Tom isn't very interested in his daughter either. Poor kid has two parents who are only vaguely aware she exists. Hopefully her nanny loves her. What baby? Parodied here.
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 Wilson’s 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 blank books. He discovers to his surprise that the library is actually filled with real books that have never even had their pages cut. 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.
As for Gatsby's eternal love Daisy, what kind of flower is white on the outside but yellow on the inside?
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.
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.
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:
Delusions of Eloquence: Meyer Wolfsheim, Gatsby's "gonnegtion" in the bootlegging business, sometimes speaks in this.
Despair Event Horizon: Gatsby crosses this line when Daisy rejects him. 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.
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).
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.
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.
Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: Tom Buchanan seems to genuinely 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.
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 in their oblivious wake. 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, of course, 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. This also shows how big of a flirt Daisy is, therefore leading to the conclusion that her flirting with Gatsby does not hold to the romantic value that Gatsby believes it to be.
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...
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. The tragedy is, of course, that he expected too much from Daisy, and Daisy was never the perfect woman 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 Faye. In addition to the color symbolism already mentioned, "Faye" has unpleasant connotations too... 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.
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.
Rich Bitch: Well, when the whole point is to satirize the rich...
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.
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.
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."
"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 from July 5th: 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.
Women in Refrigerators: If George Wilson were the protagonist... (Note that it is just ugly coincidence: while Daisy is driving, she doesn't know the significance of the woman running out into the road. That she doesn't stop is kind of a big deal in itself, but it was hardly pre-meditated.)
Would Hit a Girl: Tom breaks Myrtle's nose during a spat in the middle of a party. It's implied that he's hit Daisy as well—the scene where she blames him for the bruise on her finger.
Write What You Know: It's believed that Daisy was based off of Genevra King, Fitzgerald's ex-girlfriend who was also a rich Chicago socialite. Likewise, Tom is believed to have been based off of William Mitchell, the man who Genevra eventually married. Fitzgerald himself confirmed that Jordan was based off of Edith Cummings, one of Genevra's friends.
Wrong Genre Savvy: Gatsby thinks he's in a beautiful epic romance with his dream girl, and believes she will leave her awful husband and fly away with him. Unfortunately, his dream girl is just that.