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The Great Gatbsy Chapter Summaries
Read our summary of all nine chapters and example essays to help get a better understanding of the text.
The novel opens with a number of general, rather abstract comments from the narrator- Nick Carraway- including some about “reserving judgements”, although he goes on to praise Gatsby for his “extraordinary gift for hope.”
Like many of the characters, Nick has come to New York from the Midwest, following, like Gatsby, his experiences in World War 1. He finds himself renting a house in a part of Long Island, known in the novel as West Egg. Next door, on a much grander scale, is Gatsby’s mansion. One summer evening, Nick drives to see his cousin, Daisy who is now married to the “enormously wealthy” Tom Buchanan, and with a three year old child. Also present is Jordan Baker, who is the first person to mention the name Gatsby. This name is clearly significant for Daisy.
Phone calls interrupt Tom’s rants about racial purity, and Jordan tells Nick that Tom has “some woman” in New York. On his return, Nick sees the figure of Gatsby in the neighbouring garden.
Nick describes the “valley of ashes”, a desolate area between West Egg and New York. Overlooking this strange place is a huge advertisement showing the eyes of Dr T. J.Eckleburg. While passing through on a train Nick is introduced by Tom to his “girl”, Myrtle Wilson, who lives with her husband George - “a blond, spiritless man” – running a garage. They take Myrtle with them to New York, her husband thinking she is going to see her sister. Myrtle gets Tom to buy her a dog en route.
A party develops at the apartment, involving Myrtle’s sister, Catherine, and their neighbours, the McKees. Nick gets drunk and hears rumours about Gatsby from Myrtle’s sister. Catherine is convinced that Tom and Myrtle will marry. Myrtle tells the story of how she met Tom. As the evening progresses, Myrtle mocks Tom by repeating Daisy’s name, until Tom hits her, breaking her nose.
There is another party, but on much grander scale – at Gatsby’s house. No expense is spared and Nick is one of the few guests actually invited. Nick meets Jordan again and hears more rumours about Gatsby, who he has been trying to find. In the library they find a man with “owl-eyed spectacles”, who tells them that the books are real, but the pages are uncut, meaning they’ve never been read!
Discussing the war “with a man of about my age” Nick is amazed to discover that this is Gatsby! He muses amidst all the conflicting rumours about their host that “young men didn’t...drift coolly out of nowhere and buy a palace on Long Island Sound.” People get drunker and the party gets wilder. Gatsby asks to speak to Jordan alone. He also receives several phone calls. There is a car crash involving Owl-Eyes, and Nick is aware of a “sudden emptiness” surrounding their host as he waves goodbye.
Nick talks of his liking for New York – “the racy, adventurous feel of it.” His relationship with Jordan Baker develops and he recalls that she was accused of cheating in a golf tournament.
Essays on Chapter 3
Nick lists the various families who attend Gatsby’s parties that summer. Gatsby takes Nick for a ride in his car, giving an account of his life which sometimes seems deliberately misleading (e.g. San Francisco being in the Midwest), but at other times has the ring of truth- like when he shows Nick a medal for war service from Montenegro, and a photograph from Oxford.
As they enter New York Nick comments: “The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty of the world.”
Gatsby introduces Nick to Meyer Wolfshiem, a gangster who has cufflinks made from human molars, and who, Gatsby tells him, “fixed the World’s Series back in 1919.” For his part, Nick introduces Gatsby to Tom Buchanan.
Jordan Baker tells Nick about the romance between Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, dating back to when Gatsby was in the army in 1917. It would seem that her family intervened and Daisy married Tom Buchanan soon after the end of the war. He gave her a string of pearls “valued at three hundred and fifty thousand dollars.” even then, Tom was involved with other women. Only when Nick mentioned his neighbour Gatsby, had both Daisy and Jordan realised it was the same man. Jordan tells Nick, “Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay.” And Gatsby wants Nick to invite Daisy to his house so that Gatsby can meet her again.
The chapter ends with another romance blossoming- that of Nick and Jordan.
Returning home Nick meets Gatsby and tells him he’s inviting Daisy over the following day. Gatsby tries to give Nick some financial tips but Nick declines the offer. Gatsby, clearly very nervous, turns up as arranged, soon after the astonished Daisy. After the meeting, Nick observes of Gatsby that: “He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation a new well-being radiated from him.”
Gatsby takes Daisy and Nick on a tour of his house, now largely empty except for Klipspringer the “boarder.” Gatsby flings a pile of his beautiful shirts into the air, bringing Daisy to tears.
Klipspringer plays a song for them in which “the rich get richer and the poor get – children.” Nick wonders at “the colossal vitality of [Gatsby’s] illusion.”
We learn the true story of James Gatz, who has re-invented himself as Jay Gatsby. Taken up “in a vague personal capacity” by the extremely wealthy businessman, Dan Cody, Gatsby is swindled out of an inheritance but has acquired “a singularly appropriate education.”
Some weeks later, when Nick is at Gatsby’s house, Tom Buchanan turns up with some friends. Learning that Gatsby knows his wife, Tom goes with Daisy to Gatsby’s next party. Tom is not impressed by the guests, who include “a celebrity of the movies.” He asks: “Who is this Gatsby anyhow? Some big bootlegger?”
Gatsby is aware that Daisy has not enjoyed the party. “He wanted nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: ‘I never loved you.’” When Nick points out that you can’t repeat the past, Gatsby famously replies: “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!”
Daisy’s lack of enthusiasm for the guests of Gatsby’s parties causes him to abandon the parties and replace his staff with “some people Wolfshiem wanted to do something for.” We are aware that summer is approaching its end.
Daisy, Nick and Jordan are invited for lunch at the Buchanans. In “broiling” heat, the tension builds. Tom becomes aware that his wife has told Gatsby that she loves him. They drive into town – Jordan, Tom and Nick in Gatsby’s car; Gatsby and Daisy in Tom’s. Tom now knows that the other two know of Gatsby and Daisy’s relationship, and he tells them he’s been investigating Gatsby’s background. Tom stops for petrol at Wilson’s garage. Wilson is sick. He admires Gatsby’s yellow car. He has discovered that Myrtle has been unfaithful, but doesn’t know Tom is her lover, and Wilson says he will make his wife accompany him out west. Nick notices Myrtle looking “with jealous terror” at Jordan, who she takes to be Tom’s wife.
Tom feels both his wife and his mistress slipping from his control. They take a suite at the Plaza hotel. Tom interrogates Gatsby about his past. He wryly remarks, “I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr Nobody from Mr Nowhere make love to your wife.” Gatsby retorts that Daisy loves him and has never loved Tom. When Tom mentions certain intimate moments known only to his wife and himself, Daisy wilts, sobbing: “I did love him once – but I loved you too.” Nick observes, “the words seemed to bite physically into Gatsby.” Tom insults Gatsby, calling him a “common swindler”- he knows about the association with Wolfshiem. Gatsby becomes aware that “only the dead dream fought on as the afternoon slipped away.” Tom is so confident he has defeated Gatsby that he sends the two of them off in Gatsby’s car.
Nick remembers it is his 30th birthday – “the promise of a decade of loneliness.” They drive “toward death in the cooling twilight.”
The death of Myrtle is reported mainly through the words of Michaelis, a witness who runs a cafe near the Wilsons’ garage. Wilson tells him that he has locked his wife away until they can move from the area. Seeing Gatsby’s car, and thinking Tom is driving as before, Myrtle rushes out and is knocked down, “her life violently extinguished.” Nick, Jordan and Tom arrive soon after, travelling in Tom’s car. Tom is anxious to confirm to Wilson that the car he was driving earlier, “that yellow car”, didn’t belong to him. He is sure that Gatsby is responsible for the hit-and-run.
Disgusted with the whole business, Nick leaves the Buchanan house and meets Gatsby hiding nearby. From what Gatsby tells him he realises that it was Daisy who was driving the car. Gatsby is determined to wait to keep Daisy from harm, but when Nick looks through the window he sees Tom and Daisy talking quietly, as if “they were conspiring together.” Nick leaves Gatsby “watching over nothing.”
Nick meets Gatsby at his house, now dusty and empty. He tells Gatsby that he should go away because his car is bound to be traced. But Gatsby refuses. This is when he tells Nick the story of his youth, “told it to me because ‘Jay Gatsby’ had broken up like glass against Tom’s hard malice.” He also tells Nick about when he first met Daisy, finding “he had committed himself to the finding of a grail.” But when he was away at war, Daisy had married Tom Buchanan. But he still thinks she never really loved Tom.
There is now “an autumn flavour in the air.” Nick and Gatsby part for the last time. Nick calls to him: “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”
Nick reconstructs what happens. Wilson has found the dog-leash from Tom’s present to his wife. He disappears, having found out who owned the yellow car, thinking it was Gatsby who killed Myrtle. He shoots Gatsby who is swimming in his pool and then turns the gun on himself.
Nick takes upon himself the responsibility of arranging Gatsby’s funeral. He finds that Tom and Daisy have gone away. Gatsby’s father arrives. But Nick fails to find anyone else who will come to the funeral.
Gatsby’s father shows Nick his son’s youthful “schedule”. He is proud of his son’s achievements. Apart from Mr Gatz and Nick the only other person who turns up at the funeral is “Owl-Eyes”, who exclaims, “Why my God! They used to go there by the hundreds.”
Nick decides to move back west. He splits with Jordan, discovering she is engaged to someone else. He meets Tom Buchanan in the street, confirming that it was he who told Wilson about Gatsby. Tom still claims that it was Gatsby who ran over Myrtle “like you’d run over a dog.” Nick reluctantly shakes his hand, reflecting how Tom and Daisy “smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money.”
The novel ends with Nick reflecting on the arrival of the first Dutch settlers in the New World, “the last and greatest of all human dreams.”