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Literature / The Great Gatsby

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Since the copyright to this work has expired, it is in the Public Domain. As such, all spoilers are unmarked, as per wiki policy. You Have Been Warned.
The classic cover illustration by Francis Cugat.

“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 portrayed as a noble illusion and millionaires as self-absorbed, emotionally bankrupt Rich Bitches. Largely because of this frank but wistful consideration of idealism vs. human nature, it has come to be regarded by many as a Great 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 buying 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 the novel was actually ghostwritten by Fitzgerald's wife Zelda. 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 you even have to ask? There's even a video game. And an opera. And at least one play. The 1974 film starring Robert Redford and the 2013 film starring Leonardo Di Caprio have their own trope pages. There's also a young adult novel that reimagines the story in high school written by Gordon Korman called Jake Reinvented.

The novel officially entered the Public Domain in the United States on January 1, 2021. The full text of the book can be found here.

Not to be confused with Gadsby.

This novel includes examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Meyer Wolfsheim is quite friendly for a gangster who wears human teeth as cufflinks.
  • The Alcoholic: Dan Cody, Gatsby's mentor as a young man, is described as a "pioneer debauchee" and reposes trust in Gatsby because "Dan Cody sober knew what lavish doings Dan Cody drunk might soon be about."
  • 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.
  • An Aesop: Chase the past all you want, but you'll never recapture it. Gatsby's inability to accept this and let Daisy go leads to his ruination and his death.
  • Anti-Hero: Gatsby is a crook, but he's more compassionate than most of the "law-abiding" characters.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: In a very cynical way, Daisy and Tom. After the confrontation in the hotel, Tom makes clear that he loves Daisy and doesn't care that she had an affair with Gatsby so long as she doesn't bring him home to dinner or force Tom to socialize with him. Daisy then chooses to stay with Tom, and accidentally kills Myrtle, Tom's mistress, by running her over with a car. Tom then tells Myrtle's husband that Gatsby was the one that ran her over (it's implied that Daisy never told him it was really her). In this way, they actually both cause the deaths of each other's lovers, then go on with their married life together.
  • Beta Couple: Nick and Jordan. Their romance isn't exactly happy-go-lucky, but in comparison to the epic Love Dodecahedron they're playing off, they're positively ecstatic.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Dr. T.J. Eckleburg. Though only symbolically to represent the characters' guilt.
  • Big Fancy House: Like the rest of his possessions, Gatsby's mansion is built for display and spectacle. It's seen mostly in the context of Gatsby's enormous parties.
  • A Birthday, Not a Break: Nick suddenly remembers it's his 30th birthday right after Gatsby and Daisy's relationship goes to hell.
  • 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.
  • Blood Is Squicker in Water: When Gatsby dies in his swimming pool, "a thin red circle in the water" fans out.
  • Bookshelf of Authority: Jay Gatsby fills his library with books he doesn't read, both to appear cultured and to show he can afford them. The Owl-Eyed Man says that lots of rich people do this, and Gatsby is a cut above the rest because he uses real books rather than fakes with blank pages. There's proof that he doesn't read: the pages aren't cut note .
  • Brainless Beauty: Subverted. Daisy is no fool and really knows how miserable her life is, it's only that she invokes this trope as a Stepford Smiler:
    Daisy: 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."
  • Byronic Hero: Gatsby. Charismatic, polite, and charming, but obsessed with self-image and fixated on a Tragic Dream.
  • Cast Full of Rich People: The book and its film adaptations are about the lives of a cast of wealthy New Yorkers who live extravagantly in The Roaring '20s. The book in particular explores the idea of the American Dream and the conflict between the "Old Money" and "New Money" subclasses of rich people. The only significant characters who appear to be genuinely lower-income are George and Myrtle Wilson.
  • Catchphrase: Gatsby calls everyone "old sport." Lampshaded by Tom:
    Tom: That's a great expression of yours, isn't it?
    Gatsby: What is?
    Tom: All this "old sport" business. Where'd you pick that up?
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Wilson and Myrtle. They've 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.
  • Consummate Liar: Nick suspects Gatsby of this. He has a Multiple-Choice Past, and one that has every cliche of the Great White Hunter thrown in, at that. However, some evidence Nick finds later suggests that perhaps Gatsby isn't making it all up. It's ultimately not clear how much Gatsby is lying, but he's certainly not being completely honest about everything.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Nick keeps up a running commentary throughout the narrative about 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 some 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.
  • Crapsaccharine World: The world of the Idle Rich is depicted as hollow and depressing despite the pretty trappings.
  • Cringe Comedy: The entirety of the reunion between Gatsby and Daisy, at least until five years of lingering awkwardness are done away with.
  • Daydream Believer: Gatsby really believes that millionaires are Gentleman Adventurers and his Multiple-Choice Past are stories everyone thinks are ridiculous… at first. But given Gatsby is The Charmer, he manages to make others believe, even for a little while, in his story. In chapter 4, he is confessing his past to the skeptical Nick:
    "After that I lived like a young rajah in all the capitals of Europe--Paris, Venice, Rome--collecting jewels, chiefly rubies, hunting big game, painting a little, things for myself only, and trying to forget something very sad that had happened to me long ago."
    With an effort I managed to restrain my incredulous laughter. The very phrases were worn so threadbare invoked 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 Doncaster, when they were at Oxford, Nick was forced to believe:
      Then it was all true.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Nick, in proportion as his cynicism grows. He keeps it largely to himself, though, save a few moments in the opening scenes:
      Daisy: Do they miss me?
      Nick: The whole town is desolate. All the cars have the left rear wheel painted black as a mourning wreath and there's a persistent wail all night across the North Shore.
      Daisy: I'll tell you a family secret. It's about the butler's nose. Do you want to hear about the butler's nose?
      Nick: It's why I came over tonight.
  • Deconstruction: Of the American Dream lifestyle, of the Idle Rich, and of the idea of everlasting love.
  • 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 outright rejects him and proves that all of his work towards winning her heart had been for nothing.
    • 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 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's heart. The trouble is, it's a Tragic Dream. Gatsby is certain that he can win Daisy's heart and recreate the past, when it's perfectly clear that Gatsby can do no such thing. The entire plot is about how all of Gatsby's attempts at Daisy, while determined, are futile.
  • Did Not Think This Through: Essentially one interpretation of the novels entire theme. Jay Gatsby idealizes Daisy to a ridiculous extent but this is far from the limit of his problems. He, for example, does not think about directly making his position to Daisy clear. It requires Nick to even set up a meeting with them. He refuses to think Daisy might have changed (let alone was never the person he imagined). He won't acknowledge that divorce is almost impossible in their social circles, even if she was so inclined, or how he might destroy his life (and does) by taking a manslaughter charge for her. The closest Jay comes to being forced to confront the reality of his situation is when he meets Pamela, and it momentarily makes him realize his romance is dead on arrival. His response? Try to get Daisy to abandon her.
  • 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: 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 both 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.
  • Drives Like Crazy:
    • Jordan, who insists she won't have a problem until she meets another bad driver.
    • Daisy turns out to be a bad driver too, driving over Myrtle—although Myrtle did run right out in front of the car.
    • Tom and his first affair partner were discovered when they got into a car accident during his and Daisy's honeymoon.
    • The theme of bad driving recurs, and it is laden with symbolism.
  • Empathic Environment: All over the book.
    • 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.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: The "epigraph" is from an "author" named Thomas Parke D'Invilliers. Thomas Parke D'Invilliers wasn't a real author, and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote the piece himself. Interestingly, though, this isn't the only time in Fitzgerald's works that the name is mentioned.
    Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
    If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
    Till she cry "Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
    I must have you!"
  • 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. Few have seen the 1949 version (because it's unavailable), which conversely is a loose adaptation. Baz Luhrmann's faithful but 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). Additionally, the films struggle depicting Fitzgerald's symbolism like T.J. Eckelberg's billboard and the flashing green light without seeming forced.
  • 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. Also in Chapter 7, the argument with Tom and Gatsby really didn't need Nick and Jordan around and they attempt to leave, but both Tom and Gatsby insist on them staying in the room, which Nick does for the purpose of seeing the whole argument through even though that's his only part to play in the whole thing.
  • The Flapper: The majority of the women in the novel.
    • Jordan especially, who is the modern woman of the 1920's by working (she is a pro-golf player), whose name is taken from brands of cars, and who fits the ideal appearance of a flapper by being small-chested and slim.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • 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 Wild Mass Guessing to that level.
  • Flower Motifs: The biggest example being Daisy's name.
    At his lips' touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.
  • Gold Digger:
    • Daisy. She married Tom for his money and 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.
    • Gatsby's mentor Dan Cody is said to have attracted many of these. The most persistent, a "newspaper woman" named Ella Kay, found him again after he took a young Gatsby under his wing, then wheedled her way into his will a week before his death.
  • Glory Days:
    • Tom Buchanan 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 "the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game."
    • 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.
  • Great White Hunter: One of Gatsby's Multiple Choice Pasts paints him as one of these. Nick initially scoffs at it, as Gatsby's backstory sounds like something he'd read in a magazine about the Gentleman Adventurer stories that were popular at the time. However, a photo suggests that at least some of it is true.
  • Greedy Jew: Meyer Wolfsheim is a shady Jewish gangster who's said to have fixed the 1919 World Series. Although he's apparently based on the real-life Jewish gangster Arnold Rothstein, he's generally considered to be a fairly antisemitic caricature.
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Myrtle drinks herself into a stupor more than once, which is implied to be done as a way to distract herself from how boring her Idle Rich life is.
    • A woman attending the party at Gatsby's house that Tom and Daisy come to talks about how she frequently gets so drunk her friends have to dunk her head in the pool to sober her up.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: It was published in 1925, after all. But it doesn't help that there's also a healthy dose of Ho Yay.
    • "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.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • Tom talking about being a superior "Nordic" despite his last name being "Buchanan", a Scottish surname.
    • Tom again, who has been cheating on Daisy for a while, flips out when he discovers she could cheat on him with Gatsby:
    "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.
    • And yet again, when he condemns Gatsby as a bootlegger despite drinking whiskey several times throughout the story — which takes place in 1922, during Prohibition.
  • Idle Rich: Deconstructed with Tom and Daisy. Sure, they don't work, but they are constantly chased by all kinds of con men (Biloxi), freeloaders (Klipspringer), and Nouveau Riche (Gatsby). Without a job, they have plenty of time for Rich Boredom. Both of them are Lonely at the Top, they cheat on each other, Tom is clinging to his Glory Days as a football star because he knows deep down that it was the high point of his life, and Daisy is a Stepford Smiler.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Jay's only moment where he seems to realize just how far Daisy is from his ideal is when he sees Pamela (her daughter) for the first time and can't quite make himself believe she's real.
  • Indulgent Fantasy Segue:
    "The master's body!" the butler roared into the telephone. "I'm sorry madam but we cannot furnish it. It's too hot to touch this noon!"
    What he really said was, "Yes… yes… all right."
  • Inter-Class Romance:
    • Gatsby and Daisy. He became an Idle Rich man in an attempt to impress her, since he was born into poverty. It doesn't work out the way he hoped it would.
    • Tom and Myrtle. They're much like Gatsby and Daisy, but not married, and it's obvious that their marriages are loveless and bothersome, hence why they're cheating on their spouses.
    • Nick and Jordan downplay this. It's safe to assume she is from a higher economic bracket—she's a professional golfer, grew up friends with Daisy and is able to share in the Buchanans' rich carelessness, whilst he is from the Midwest, works in finance and lives in a bungalow in "the comforting proximity of millionaires"—but there's no canon discussion of their monetary status.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Most of his characters have them in one way or another, excepting Gatsby (and that's arguably his Fatal Flaw). Nick's Character Development over the course of the story is about learning to wear them.
  • Jerk Jock: Tom is a former athlete and a total jerk. He was a former football player at Yale, and Nick describes him as a man looking for another football game to win. Nick postulates that this is because Tom knows, deep down, that his football days were the highlight of his life.
  • 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: Zig-zagged. When his mistress is killed, Tom directs her suicidally mournful husband to Gatsby. Meanwhile, Tom and Daisy drift off back to Chicago, leaving the entire unholy mess behind. This is one of the themes of the novel: That the rich make a huge mess and leave others to clean it up. However, it is implied that their already rocky relationship has been further ruined by the whole experience.
    • Daisy as well: She's driving the car when it kills Myrtle. Gatsby offers to lie that he was at the wheel instead, which she lets him do.
  • 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. Also, they're second cousins once removed—not a super close relation.
    "Are you in love with me," she said low in my ear, "or why did I have to come alone."
  • Kosher Nostra: Meyer Wolfsheim, based on Arnold Rothstein.
  • Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club: Gatsby's "pharmacies", which he purchased to sell illegal alcohol through.
  • Lonely at the Top:
    • 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 is either Daisy or close to her at one of his parties.
    • Tom rightly suspects nobody really likes him and only has his Glory Days as a Jerk Jock.
    • Daisy is a Stepford Smiler. Both she and Tom are trapped in a loveless marriage.
  • Lonely Funeral: Three people come. Nick, Owl-Eyes, and Gatsby's father, who is pathetically trying to justify to himself the fact that Gatsby ran away and never came back.
  • 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 to get to know the real thing. It's one reason why Gatsby's dream of being with Daisy is a Tragic Dream — he doesn't really care about Daisy as a person, more as the prize at the end of a race.
  • The Matchmaker: Daisy pairs up Nick and Jordan as a couple right after they interact a bit in the first chapter.
    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—
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Daisy Fay. "Fay" has rather unpleasant connotations. (This can be taken still farther with her first name as a Bilingual Bonus: the French for "daisy" is "marguerite", and Marguerite is the heroine-victim in Gounod's Faust. Looked at in a certain light, this is a version of the Faust story.) 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 literally "all 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.
  • Mock Millionaire: Played with—Gatsby truly is a millionaire because of his criminal activities, but he lacks the education of the rich culture (he thinks San Francisco is a Midwestern city and that Venice is one of the "capitals of Europe", and he really doesn’t get the subtle clues that show that he is not invited to a party). He displays Conspicuous Consumption with his Cool Car and Unlimited Wardrobe ("such beautiful shirts"), drops casual references to Exotic Places (Montenegro and Oxford) in his Multiple-Choice Past and holds parties with The Beautiful Elite in his Big Fancy House. The sheer excess of it convinces everyone that he must be a Mock Millionaire.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: Gatsby loves to do this whenever anybody asks him how he became so rich, coming up with new stories all the time.
  • Murder-Suicide: George Wilson shoots himself over the death of his wife Myrtle, taking Gatsby with him.
  • Mysterious Past: Gatsby at first. He tells outrageous whoppers about being a Gentleman Adventurer, which Nick can see is obviously fake. But the truth coming out would ruin Gatsby, so it's better than the alternative.
  • Naïve 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 Goddard and his book The Rise of the Colored Empires, an allusion/Take That! to eugenicists Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard (who was a protegé of the former). (The former's Passing of the Great Race and the latter's The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy, with introduction written by the former, were highly popular books in 1920s high society, although mostly forgotten today due to their direct influence on Hitler himself.)
  • No Communities Were Harmed: The Old Money East Egg community is based on Sands Point on Long Island, while the Nouveau Riche West Egg is Kings Point.
  • Nouveau Riche: Gatsby is a real millionaire that only seems a Mock Millionaire because He Was Trying Too Hard to seem rich. This is the real reason all the other Old Money richniks in his neighborhood hate him so much.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted, albeit with minor characters. Mrs. McKee and one of the girls in yellow at Gatsby's party in chapter 3 are both named Lucille.
  • Only Sane Man / Token Good Teammate: Nick is the only rich man with any morals among the idle rich that he encounters. Nick owes it to the fact that, while he was born into money, he still had to work to earn what he has.
  • Opposites Attract: Nick and Jordan. He Will Not Tell a Lie; she's a Consummate Liar.
  • Parental Neglect: Daisy and Tom barely seem aware that they have a kid.
  • Penny Among Diamonds: Gatsby, from Oxford on.
  • Pinball Protagonist: Nick is mainly an observer and doesn't do much of anything.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: One of the early signs of Tom being a scumbag is his racism. He goes on about his "Nordic" heritage and rants about how white people are in danger of being "utterly submerged" by the "lesser races". He also shills a fictional book called The Rise of the Colored Empires, a reference to the works of Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard, who were popular eugenicists in Fitzgerald's day.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Despite being a close friend of Gatsby's, Meyer Wolfsheim chooses not to turn up to Gatsby's funeral out of concern that he might be linked to his murder.
  • Precision F-Strike: The owl-eyed man's funeral oration briefly conveys Gatsby's life and death.
    "The poor son-of-a-bitch," he said.
  • Pretender Diss: One of the themes of the novel is that Old Money East Egg would not accept Nouveau Riche Gatsby, from West Egg. (This parallels The Hamptons on Long Island.)
  • Rags to Riches: Deconstructed. The truth about Gatsby's income turns out to be a whole lot less exciting than the party guests' speculations, not to mention the high-flying stories he tells Nick.
  • Rash Equilibrium: Happens quite a bit. The rich are constantly scheming, backstabbing each other, and planning around other bits of backstabbing. When Gatsby dies taking the rap for Daisy, Nick declares it the final straw and leaves the city.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Gatsby wears a pink suit a couple times in the novel. Dismissed by Tom, of course.
  • The Roaring '20s: Has endured in the popular imagination as the iconic representation of this era. That it's also a savage satire and ultimately a hate speech on 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!
    • The green light is the American Dream.
    • 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.
  • Said Bookism: The book's not only full of these, it's full of redundant ones, like "snorted contemptuously."
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: 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 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.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Gatsby, in regards to Daisy.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Gatsby's pursuit of Daisy ends with her flatly rejecting him, thus rendering all of his work for nothing. And then he dies.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Completely cynical, with those on the "idealistic" side doomed and those on the "cynical" side evil. (It's not a fun book.)
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: One of the major themes of the story is Old Money vs Nouveau Riche — this trope, just with rich people on both sides. The Buchanans represent Old Money, those born into wealth and raised with the long-established rules of high society. They don't show off their wealth excessively, but a person can tell they're wealthy just by how they act and they way they carry themselves. Gatsby represents Nouveau Riche (New Money), the worst depiction of the Self-Made Man — those who try to flaunt their wealth as much as they can, whether by the garish, over-the-top parties like those that Gatsby throws, or through excessive spending at every available opportunity, as affirmation, both to others and to themselves, of their new status in society. The latter are the slobs, intruding on a formerly isolated class of society whose rules they care little to nothing about. The former are the snobs, people who hold themselves to an incredibly high standard despite many of them having never worked a hard day in their life.
  • 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.
  • Smug Snake: Tom and possibly Myrtle Wilson.
  • Social Climber: Gatsby is an Idealist version, despite several rumors to the contrary. He was born to dirt-poor farmers in the Midwest, 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 illegal booze.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Jay Gatsby is quite devoted to winning his love, Daisy Buchanan, over. He moved across the bay her house was located on, threw lavish parties at his mansion to draw her in and when she did came to one, he expected her to run away with him due to what she did to get close to her and was relenting even when it was made clear that Daisy didn't want him.
  • Tears of Awe: When Gatsby invites Daisy and Nick to his mansion, the latter two get dumbfounded but the luxury, but what really made Daisy burst to tears was when she sees Gatsby's silk shirts and planting her face over such beautiful shirts. Whether the added layer of Daisy masking her feelings of regret of marrying Tom over Gatsby or being a shallow, materialistic woman that she loves the shirts over Gatsby is up to the reader's interpretation.
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave:
    • Ewing Klipspringer. He eventually does when Gatsby dies.
    • Foreshadowed by "Blocks" Biloxi, 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. "There wasn't any connection."
  • The Tragic Rose: Discussed; late in the book Nick muses that Gatsby must have realized "what a grotesque thing a rose is". He compares Gatsby's doomed liaison with Daisy and high-flying dreams with a rose: Gatsby had idealized her and associated her with love and beauty, but didn't think he'd be wounded by the whole experience, and now his whole perspective on the world is warped.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass:
    • Nick, albeit a short one, and under extreme provocation.
    • Daisy herself becomes a much colder, far more bitter person after five years of being married to Tom. Gatsby can't see it.
  • 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?
  • Tragic Dream: Gatsby pays no attention to the real Daisy, because he is Loving a Shadow. His dream is to Set Right What Once Went Wrong without using Time Travel and get the Daisy that left him years ago:
    Nick: I wouldn't ask too much of her. You can't repeat the past.
    Gatsby: Can't repeat the past? 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.
  • Tragic Hero: Gatsby's Fatal Flaw, or harmartia, is his refusal to accept reality and to let go of his idealized vision of Daisy and his dream of recreating the past with her as if the last five years hadn't happened, leading to his undoing when Daisy rejects him. His perepeteia occurs during his confrontation with Tom during which Daisy is frightened into backtracking, and his anagnorisis is the realization that she will never leave Tom to be with him. Gatsby's amazing ability to dream big and work toward his dreams is ultimately wasted on something that can never be realized.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The back cover of the most common U.S. publication of the book these days spoils Gatsby and Daisy's relationship.
  • Unbalanced By Rival's Kid: Briefly where Daisy's child serves as a symbol to Gatsby of the reality of her marriage to Tom.
  • 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, a Dr. Civet, 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 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.
  • When He Smiles:
    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.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Early in the book, Tom buys Myrtle a puppy on a whim. Although a leash Myrtle buys the puppy eventually plays a minor role in the plot, the actual animal is never seen again after its first appearance.
  • White Is Pure: Subverted. Daisy Buchanan is frequently associated with the color white (such as wearing white dresses, owns a white car, and is linked with white flowers). This adds to her supposed image as a pure, innocent figure which Jay Gatsby idolizes. However, it is eventually revealed that Daisy is a selfish, careless woman whose flaws are unnoticed by Gatsby.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Nick. He eventually learns to be more cynical by the end of the novel.
  • Will Not Tell a Lie: Nick describes himself this way.
    Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest men I have ever known.
  • 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 in a scene where she blames him for the bruise on her finger.
  • 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.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Nick muses on this at the very end of the book, after Gatsby is dead and his house has been left to rot. Essentially, Nick comes to terms with what Gatsby was trying to do, but admits that it was never going to work.