by Roz S-L.
Hello, and welcome back to Roz’s Cliffsnotes! Today I’ll be summarizing The Great Gatsby, one of my all-time favorite novels in the OES curriculum. Beautifully written and painstakingly revised by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby is a story about the American dream and the uncrushable nature of the human spirit. Sound intimidating? Never fear, dear reader, my razor-sharp intellect is here for you again. Get your notepad out and ready your pencils, ‘cause we’re diving right in.
Our protagonist, Nick Carraway, speaks at length about the greatest struggle in his life: people instinctively trust him. That’s rough, Nick.
We also learn about our setting and time period, which is 1920’s America. The jazz age is ticking steadily along, so Nick is headed to New York from his quiet home state of Michigan; he plans to become an oil bondsman and do some social climbing. Strong summer plans.
Nick rents a small house in West Egg, which is presumably the best of all the eggs you can live in. While adjusting to New York, he goes to visit his cousin Daisy and her husband, Tom, and also meets a charmingly apathetic young woman named Jordan. I will be straight with you, reader. I love Jordan. She’s funny. She’s good at golf. She’s incapable of sincerity. What a role model, you know? #Goals. Nick is equally enamoured and hopes to see her again, but the main focus of this chapter is Daisy, Tom and their dumb baby, who’s named Pam and appears only in this chapter. Why bother, baby? Your attempts to humanize this awful couple are not working. Daisy and Tom are the idle rich of the story, constantly miserable in an abstract kind of way. Nice family, Nick. Really glad you spend so much time with them.
Speaking of spending time with Tom and Daisy, Tom invites Nick out to the city the next day, and takes him to a noisy little party hosted by his mistress. Naturally. Naturally you have a mistress, Tom. Whatever. He ends the night by punching her in the nose and winning second place in the the prestigious “least likable character in a novel” awards, just barely losing the grand prize to Joffrey Baratheon.
Nick’s house in…West Egg… happens to be next to a grand mansion owned by the enigmatic Jay Gatsby. Gatsby is a handsome young man who hosts huge parties every weekend, but doesn’t appear to do much else. Additionally, no one knows how he gets his money. Mysterious!
Gatsby visits Nick and invites him to that night’s party. It’s nuts. Dancing, drinking (remember, it’s prohibition, so alcohol is illegal and hard to get), and discussion of who Gatsby actually is. No one seems to know him, and in the socially shifting world of the 1920s, this means he could only be an investor or a criminal. Jordan makes an appearance later on and I clap like a delighted seal.
Gatsby meets privately with Nick and asks him to set up a rendezvous between himself and Daisy in Nick’s house. Nick goes home in the early hours of the morning, a little drunk and contemplating the various theories he’s heard about Gatsby’s true identity. Personally, I suspected him of being several fish in a trenchcoat at this point, which wasn’t a bad guess; I seem to remember Kara Tambellini being overcome with awe by my insight when I shared it in class discussion.
Nick arranges Gatsby’s meeting with Daisy at his cottage. Gatsby micromanages every element of the situation, sending over servants to tidy the house and panicking as the hour of Daisy’s arrival draws near. When she finally makes it to West Egg– Okay, you know what? I can’t ignore this anymore. Why does this story take place in an egg? And why West one, specifically? Aren’t we on the East coast? Where is this monstrously large egg and why is no one doing anything about it??
I’m ashamed to be so confused, readers. I’m supposed to be answering questions for you, not asking them. We’ll just have to continue with our bizarre egg-based story without understanding the most simple elements of setting. I know, I know, I’m sorry. Perhaps it’s a metaphor that has somehow flown over my razor-sharp head.
Anyway. Back to business. Gatsby reveals himself to be utterly in love with Daisy, which is pretty awkward for her because he’s kind of embarrassing to hang out with. He’s that guy who brings a guitar to your house party, you know? Or an entire jazz band. “Here’s Wonder Wall, as played by my five-part chamber orchestra. Scottie’s great on the sax, just wait, you’ll love this.”
Tom and Daisy are invited to one of Gatsby’s parties. It’s awkward. Nick starts to suspect that everyone around him sucks, and I’m inclined to agree. At least Jordan’s here. One day, Jordan. One day I will be as cool as you.
Things get worse. It’s beautifully described.
It is revealed that Gatsby is actually the son of an elite super-farmer and his wife, who, in order to protect their child from the dangers of their social rank, arranged for him to grow up as a lowly Oxford student, ignorant of his true identity and responsibilities. The green light across the bay is in fact a complex system of morse code sent by his parents, who are attempting to send him advice such as “wear your jacket today, honey, it’s gonna be a cold one.” Because Gatsby does not know his relation to these people, he remains baffled by the messages; hence his nightly contemplation of the light. But that’s just the reality. What does the light really represent? Metaphorically, like. It’s up to you, reader.
Chapter 11 or so:
Cloistered in a high-class New York lounge, Tom and Gatsby have a disagreement about the nature of mortality and end up in a month-long debate. “Please,” Jordan murmurs, “Can’t we all just go home?” “No!” Tom cries, “This idiot thinks that the afterlife is predestined!” “Think of the baby,” Daisy sobs. Gatsby hands her another mint julep. It is all the staff has left to feed them. They have been here for so long. The silk curtains sway in a gust of New York summer heat with the grace of sailing ships, promising a cooler night and softer days to come. Nick considers eating Jordan’s hat.
On the way home, Daisy runs into Tom’s mistress and befriends her, both of them agreeing that Tom’s opinions on Calvinistic morals in the fifteenth century are simply ridiculous.
As revenge for the month and a half he spent trapped listening to a meandering theological debate, Nick pushes Gatsby off the pier, but immediately regrets it when he learns that Gatsby has not taken a single swimming lesson in his life. Soon after, Daisy runs off with Tom’s mistress and Tom is left as a single dad with their baby, who presumably grows up to also have idiotic views about Calvinism. What a tragic waste of life.
Nick, sickened by the narcissism he has seen in the big city and traumatized by the revelation that Jordan cheats at golf like, all the time, returns to the Midwest.
For the next year-and-a-half his clothes smell strongly of egg and everyone avoids him.
So there you have it. The moral of The Great Gatsby? Don’t go to New York. Everyone’s selfish and miserable and you’ll probably end up killing somebody at some point. You can keep that idea; make it your thesis! Mine was a rather more complex one concerning the green light; I hypothesized that it is actually the egg-timer of the universe, ticking down towards the moment when all of West Egg will inevitably be lightly salted and consumed by a titan the size of galaxies. (Don’t steal that one, guys. Plagiarism is a serious violation of our community’s academic policies.) This idea was so compelling that Kara’s only note on my essay was “please see me after class”; unfortunately, I could not join her for the in-depth discussion that was sure to follow, as I had a golf lesson to go to.
Join me next week for a summary of the Medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight! Ah man, what a great work of literature. Love the part where Gawain realizes everyone around him has been gnomes the whole time.