The glitz and glamour of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, written in 1925, was first challenged at Baptist College in South Carolina because of the book’s language and mere references to sex. The story chronicles the booze-infused and decadent lives of East Hampton socialites.
Yet Gatsby is so much more. It’s set in the fictional town of West Egg on prosperous Long Island in the summer of 1922. The young and mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and his passion for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan are considered to be Fitzgerald’s best work . The book explores themes of decadence, idealism, resistance to change, social upheaval, and excess, creating a portrait of the Jazz Age that has been described as a cautionary tale regarding the American Dream.
The Great Gatsby provides a critical social history of America during the Roaring Twenties within its narrative. That era, known for unprecedented economic prosperity, the evolution of jazz music, flapper culture, and bootlegging and other criminal activity, is plausibly depicted in Fitzgerald’s novel. Fitzgerald utilizes these societal developments of the 1920s to build Gatsby’s stories from simple details like automobiles to broader themes like Fitzgerald’s discreet allusions to the organized crime culture which was the source of Gatsby’s fortune. Fitzgerald educates his readers about the garish society of the Roaring Twenties by placing a timeless, relatable plotline within the historical context of the era.
The main events of the novel take place in the summer of 1922. Nick Carraway, a Yale graduate and World War I veteran from the Midwest — who serves as the novel’s narrator — takes a job in New York as a bond salesman. He rents a small house on Long Island, in the (fictional) village of West Egg, next door to the lavish mansion of Jay Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire who holds extravagant parties. Nick drives around the bay to East Egg for dinner at the home of his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, and her husband, Tom, a college acquaintance of Nick’s. They introduce Nick to Jordan Baker, an attractive, cynical young golfer with whom Nick begins a romantic relationship. She reveals to Nick that Tom has a mistress, Myrtle Wilson, who lives in the “valley of ashes”: an industrial dumping ground between West Egg and New York City. Not long after this revelation, Nick travels to New York City with Tom and Myrtle to an apartment they keep for their affair.
Nick eventually receives an invitation to one of Gatsby’s parties. Nick encounters Jordan Baker at the party, and they meet Gatsby himself, an aloof and surprisingly young man who recognizes Nick from their same division in the war. Through Jordan, Nick later learns that Gatsby knew Daisy from a romantic encounter in 1917 and is deeply in love with her. He spends many nights staring at the green light at the end of her dock, across the bay from his mansion, hoping to one day rekindle their lost romance. Gatsby’s extravagant lifestyle and wild parties are an attempt to impress Daisy in the hopes that she will one day appear again at Gatsby’s doorstep. Gatsby now wants Nick to arrange a reunion between himself and Daisy. Nick invites Daisy to have tea at his house, without telling her that Gatsby will also be there.
After an initially awkward reunion, Gatsby and Daisy reestablish their connection. They begin an affair and, after a short time, Tom grows increasingly suspicious of his wife’s relationship with Gatsby. At a luncheon at the Buchanans’ house, Gatsby stares at Daisy with such undisguised passion that Tom realizes Gatsby is in love with her.
Though Tom is himself involved in an extramarital affair, he is outraged by his wife’s infidelity. He forces the group to drive into New York City and confronts Gatsby in a suite at the Plaza Hotel, asserting that he and Daisy have a history that Gatsby could never understand. In addition to that, he announces to his wife that Gatsby is a criminal whose fortune comes from bootlegging alcohol and other illegal activities. Daisy realizes that her allegiance is to Tom, and Tom contemptuously sends her back to East Egg with Gatsby, attempting to prove that Gatsby cannot hurt him.
When Nick, Jordan, and Tom drive through the valley of ashes on their way home, they discover that Gatsby’s car has struck and killed Tom’s mistress, Myrtle. Nick later learns from Gatsby that Daisy, not Gatsby himself, was driving the car at the time of the accident but Gatsby intends to take the blame anyway. Myrtle’s husband, George, falsely concludes that the driver of the yellow car is the secret lover he recently began suspecting she has, and sets out on foot to locate its owner. After finding out the yellow car is Gatsby’s, he arrives at Gatsby’s mansion where he fatally shoots both Gatsby and then himself.
Fitzgerald, inspired by the parties he had attended while visiting Long Island’s north shore, began planning the novel in 1923 desiring to produce, in his words, “something new—something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned.”
First published by’s in April 1925, The Great Gatsby received mixed reviews and sold poorly; in its first year, the book sold only 20,000 copies. Fitzgerald died in 1940, believing himself to be a failure and his work forgotten. His work experienced a revival during World War II, and the novel became a part of American high school curricula in the following decades. The book has remained popular since, leading to numerous stage and film adaptations. The Great Gatsby is widely considered to be a literary classic and a contender for the title “Great American Novel”. The book is consistently ranked among the greatest works of American literature.