novel begins with Nick Carraway, a young man from the Midwest, introducing
himself as a graduate of Yale and a veteran of World War I. He recalls
the events of the summer of 1922 when he moved to New York to learn
the bond business. He tells us that he's tolerant, inclined to reserve
judgment about people, and a good listener. People tell him their
secrets because they trust him; he knows the Story of Gatsby. If
you read closely, you'll see that Nick has ambivalent feelings toward
Gatsby. He both loves Gatsby and is critical of him. Nick is tolerant,
but that toleration has limits. He hates Gatsby's crass and vulgar
materialism, but he also admires the man for his dream, his "romantic
readiness," his "extraordinary gift for hope."
Nick makes the distinction between Gatsby, whom he loves because
of his dream, and the other characters, who constitute the "foul
dust" that "floated in the wake of his dreams." Nick has such scorn
for these "Eastern" types that he has left the East, returned to
the Midwest, and, for the time being at least, withdraws from his
involvement with other people.
Having told us about his relationships, Nick now introduces us to
the world in which he lived during the summer of 1922: the world
of East Egg and West Egg, Long Island.
The story opens in East Egg on the night Nick drives over to have
dinner with Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Daisy is Nick's cousin and Tom
had been in the same senior society a Yale. Their house is "a cheerful
red-and-white Georgian Colonial Mansion" overlooking the bay. And
the owner is obviously proud of his possessions.
Our first view of Tom Buchanan reveals a very powerful man standing
in riding clothes with his legs apart on his front porch. He likes
his power, and like the potentates of Eastern kingdoms, he expects
the obedience of his subjects.
We are ushered into the living room with its "frosted wedding cake"
ceiling, its wine-colored rug, and its enormous couch on which are
seated two princesses in white: Jordan Baker and Tom's wife, Daisy
Buchanan. Fitzgerald controls the whole scene through his use of
colors--white and gold mainly--that suggest a combination of beauty
Yet underneath this magical surface there is something wrong. Jordan
Baker is bored and discontented. She yawns more than once in this
very first scene. There is something cool and slightly unpleasant
about the atmosphere--something basically disturbing. Tom talks
about a book he has read, The Rise of the Colored Empires by Goddard.
It is a piece of pure Social Darwinism, advocating that the white
race preserve its own purity and beat down the colored races before
they rise up and overcome the whites. Daisy, who seems not to understand
what Tom is talking about, teases him about his size and about the
big words in the book. The telephone rings, and Tom is called from
the room to answer it. When Daisy follows him out, Jordan Baker
confides to Nick that the call is from Tom's woman in New York.
The rest of the evening is awkward and painful as Tom and Daisy
try unsuccessfully to forget the intrusion. Daisy's cynicism about
life becomes painfully clear when she says about her daughter's
birth: "'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.'"
When Nick returns home, he sees his neighbor standing alone and
staring across the water at a "single green light, minute and far
away." He was tempted to speak to him but then changed his mind.
first chapter introduces the main characters of the novel and identifies
Nick as not only being the narrator of the story but also being
deeply involved in the action. He starts the novel by relaying his
father's advice, "Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just
remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages
that you've had." This thought causes him to hold back in formulating
opinions about people that he meets.
It is interesting to note the sharp contrast between Tom Buchanan
and the women, Daisy and Jordan. Tom is described as a "big, hulking
physical specimen" who likes to domineer others. Daisy and Jordan
are presented as being demure and dressed in white, a sign of purity.
This is in complete contrast of their character as the story later
Fitzgerald designed The Great Gatsby very carefully, establishing
each of the locations in the novel as a symbol for a particular
style of life. West Egg, where Nick and Gatsby live, is essentially
a place for the nouveau riche. There are two types of people living
here: those on the way up the social ladder who have not the family
background or the money to live in fashionable East Egg; and those
like Gatsby, whose vulgar display of wealth and connections with
Broadway or the New York underworld make them unwelcome in the more
dignified world of East Egg. Nick describes his own house as an
eyesore, but it is a smaller eyesore than Gatsby's mansion, which
has a tower on one side, "spanking new under a thin beard of raw
ivy." Words like new, thin, and raw describe some of the reasons
Gatsby's house is a monstrosity.
By contrast, East Egg is like a fairyland. Its primary color is
white, and Nick calls its houses "white palaces" that glitter in