The Great Gatsby is a novel by the American author F. Scott Fitzgerald. First published on April 10, 1925, it is set on Long Island's North Shore and in New York City during the summer of 1922. It is a critique of the American Dream.
The novel takes place following the First World War. American society enjoyed having unprecedented levels of prosperity during the "roaring" 1920s as the economy soared. At the same time, Prohibition, the ban on the sale and manufacture of alcohol as mandated by the Eighteenth Amendment, made millionaires out of bootleggers. After its republishing in 1945 and 1953, it quickly found a wide readership and is today widely regarded as a paragon of the Great American Novel, and a literary classic. The Great Gatsby has become a standard text in high school and university courses on American literature in countries around the world, and is ranked second in the Modern Library's lists of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century.
Nick Carraway, the narrator, is a young bachelor from a patrician Midwestern family, who graduates from Yale in 1915. After fighting in World War I, he returns to the Midwest before settling in New York City to "learn the bond business." Despite his wealthy upbringing, Nick himself has a very modest living.
Nick explains that in 1922 he rented a small bungalow between two mansions in West Egg, a wealthy community on Long Island Sound. Across the bay was East Egg, inhabited by the "old aristocracy," including Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Daisy is Nick's second cousin once removed and Nick knew of Tom, a football player at New Haven. Nick describes the Buchanans in a visit to their East Egg mansion: although phenomenally wealthy, Tom's glory days are behind him; he is a dilettante. Daisy, although engaging and attractive, is pampered and superficial, largely ignoring her three-year-old daughter. Daisy's friend Jordan Baker, a well-known female golfer, shows an interest in Nick and tells him that Tom has a mistress in New York City.
One day Tom and Nick take a train ride together to New York and on the way they stop at a shabby garage owned by George Wilson, where Nick is introduced to the owner's wife, Myrtle (Tom's mistress). Nick accompanies Tom and Myrtle to their Manhattan love-nest, where Myrtle presides over a pretentious party that includes her sister and several others. Nick learns that Tom and Myrtle began their affair following a chance encounter on a train. Though he, finds the evening increasingly unbearable, he does not leave until Tom breaks Myrtle's nose in a spat.
Nick learns that his next-door neighbor, who throws lavish parties hosting hundreds of people, is the wealthy and mysterious Jay Gatsby. Nick receives an invitation one weekend and attends, finding the party wild and fun. However, he also discovers the guests do not know much about Gatsby and that rumors about the man are contradictory. Nick runs into Jordan Baker, who invites him to join her. While looking for Gatsby, they run into a man with large "Owl Eye" glasses admiring Gatsby's collection of books. Later, a man strikes up a conversation with Nick, claiming to recognize him from the US Army's Third Infantry Division. Nick mentions his difficulty in finding the host, and the man reveals himself to be Gatsby. An odd, yet close, friendship between Nick and Gatsby begins.
One day, Gatsby takes Nick to New York City for lunch. Gatsby presents a clichéd description of his life as a wealthy dilettante and war hero to an incredulous Nick, but the latter is convinced when Gatsby displays a war medal and photograph. At lunch, Gatsby introduces a bemused Nick to underworld figure Meyer Wolfsheim (based on Arnold Rothstein). Nick then sees Tom and tries to introduce Gatsby, but finds that Gatsby has disappeared.
Jordan Baker later reveals to Nick that Gatsby had fallen in love with Daisy in 1917 as an Army Lieutenant stationed near Daisy's hometown, Louisville. After the war, Gatsby came east and bought his mansion near Daisy and Tom, where he hosts parties hoping she will visit. Jordan says Gatsby would like Nick to arrange a meeting with Daisy. Nick agrees, and invites Daisy and Gatsby to his house. The reunion is initially awkward, but Gatsby and Daisy begin a love affair. An affair also begins for Nick and Jordan, but Nick predicts their relationship will be superficial.
Daisy invites Gatsby and Nick to her mansion, where Tom discovers that Gatsby loves Daisy and, accompanied by Nick and Jordan, they depart for the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. Tom insists he and Gatsby switch cars; as he stops by Wilson's garage for gas he flaunts Gatsby's roadster. At the hotel Tom confronts Gatsby about their affair. Gatsby urges Daisy to say she never loved Tom; Daisy says that although she did love Gatsby "once," she loved Tom "too." Tom mockingly tells Gatsby nothing can happen between him and Daisy. Gatsby retorts that the reason Daisy married Tom was because he (Gatsby) was too poor to marry Daisy. Tom visibly loses composure and reveals that Gatsby is a bootlegger. Gatsby tries to defend himself to Daisy. However, Tom knows Daisy's superficial nature very well and by taking away Gatsby's air of financial security, Daisy is now beyond his reach. With the situation between Tom and Gatsby tense, Daisy runs out of the hotel, with Gatsby following her, to Gatsby's car, where she insists on driving home as it will calm her nerves. Tom, believing he has bested Gatsby, leaves with Nick and Jordan.
George Wilson, also suspicious that his wife is having an affair, argues with her. Myrtle runs outside as Gatsby's roadster approaches (believing it to be Tom), only to be struck and killed by the car. Daisy and Gatsby speed away. Later, Tom, Jordan and Nick notice a commotion by Wilson's garage on their way to East Egg, and stop. While George mourns, moaning over his wife's body, a bystander tells of having seen a yellow car strike Myrtle. As George takes in this information, Tom tells George the car wasn't his, but George doesn't seem to listen and Tom, Jordan, and Nick leave.
Later that night Nick learns the truth of the accident from Gatsby — Daisy was driving when the car struck Myrtle. The next morning Nick finds Gatsby depressed, unsure whether Daisy still loves him, and awaits a call from her. Seeing himself as Gatsby's closest friend, Nick advises Gatsby to leave for a week. "They're a rotten crowd," Nick says, "You're worth the whole damn bunch put together."
Having tracked the owner of the roadster, Wilson appears at Gatsby's mansion with a gun. Wilson finds Gatsby floating in his pool and kills him before committing suicide.
Despite Nick's efforts, few people attend Gatsby's funeral. In the end, only Nick, Gatsby's father, and the "owl-eyed" man, who admired the books in Gatsby's library, show up at his funeral.
Nick severs connections with Jordan (who claims to be engaged to another man, although Nick believes she is lying). Also, Nick has a run-in with Tom, who admits that he revealed that Gatsby was the owner of the roadster to George Wilson, leading the deranged man to find and kill Gatsby.
Disgusted with Tom and Daisy, Nick returns permanently to the Midwest, reflecting on Gatsby's dreams and the sad and cyclical nature of the past.