The novel begins with Nick Carraway introducing himself to the reader, telling the audience that because he tries to reserve negative judgments about other individuals, he has often served as confessors for many who need someone to listen to their problems without dealing with ensuing criticism. Nick, who is from Minnesota but had moved to New York in search of adventure and excitement, has left the East to return to his home state because he is running away from painful memories of the eventful summer of 1922, when he had met and befriended a man named Gatsby. Nick admits that even though he scorned everything that Gatsby represented, he never stopped admiring his "romantic readiness" - an endless well of hope that inspired Gatsby to believe that absolutely anything was within his easy grasp. Nick mysteriously declares that at the end of everything, Gatsby was all right; what had killed his dreams were the jealousy and pettiness of those who surrounded him and refused to let him win happiness and satisfaction for himself.
Like his father, Nick had enrolled at Yale but was forced to enlist during World War I. After the war was over, he decided to drop out of college, move to the East, and try his hand at the bonds business. He lives in West Egg, which is the less fashionable side of Long Island where the citizens are members of the nouveau riche - people who had quickly acquired tons of money and toys but lacked the social connections to be a part of the "in" crowd. Nick's second cousin, Daisy, and her husband, Tom Buchanan, who went to Yale with Nick, live in the more fashionable, "old-money" East Egg.
The Buchanans, Nick reveals, are wealthy, globe-trotting young aristocrats who traveled all over the world in pursuit of some ideal that they had not yet realized. According to Nick, Tom's pockets have always been bottomless, and even when they were in college together, his spending habits were cause for reproach. When Nick has dinner in the beautiful Buchanan home, he meets Jordan Baker, a professional golfer and Tom and Daisy's close friend, and is as charmed - but baffled - as ever by Daisy's ditzy giddiness.
During their stilted dinner conversation, Tom mentions a book called "The Rise of the Coloured Empires" and asserts that the white race should remain supreme over the black race because science has proven that whites are superior. Tom is not exactly the smartest - or the most p.c. - character, which makes it even easier for Nick (and the reader) to hate him. Tom leaves the room to take a telephone call during dinner, and Nick finds out that almost everyone, including Daisy, knows that Tom has long been carrying on an extramarital affair. Later, Daisy tells Nick that because she has traveled all around the world and seen everything, she is sophisticated and knowledgeable, but Nick believes that he hears insecurity in her voice. When he turns to look at her, though, he sees upon her face an expression of smugness, which suggests that she believes that she and Tom are members of a secret society to which Nick is denied membership.
As he is about to leave the Buchanans' home, Tom and Daisy imply that they would love for him to start dating Jordan. They sympathetically mention that they had heard that he had been engaged to a girl back home, but (in a pattern that repeats throughout the book) Nick is reluctant to talk about himself and his past. When Nick returns to his West Egg home, he sees Gatsby standing on the lawn of his gigantic mansion and realizes that there is a single green light directly across the bay from Gatsby's house. Nick calls out to him, but by that time, Gatsby has disappeared back into the house.
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