The narrator of the story, Nick puts the story of Gatsby's life together for the audience. Born in the Midwest and a Yale grad, Nick gets involved in the bonds business and moves to West Egg in the summer of 1922. He becomes intrigued by his next-door neighbor, the enigmatic Jay Gatsby, who owns a huge mansion and hosts huge parties there each weekend. Nick later discovers that his wealthy cousin Daisy Buchanan, who lives on East Egg, had once been involved with Gatsby while he was a soldier. After more investigation into Gatsby's life, Nick realizes that Gatsby attained his wealth and possessions not only to impress Daisy but also to attempt to fulfill the American Dream of rising from rags to riches. While he admits that he is disgusted by Gatsby's Machiavellian actions, Nick nonetheless admires his optimism, ambition, and grand schemes.
Because Nick is the narrator of the story, we actually learn very little about his personality except for the few tidbits that Fitzgerald purposely allows to slip out. He tells us at the beginning of the book that he is inclined to reserve making judgments about people, a habit which encourages many people to confide in him and tell him secrets that they are too afraid to tell anyone else. We find out through Daisy and Tom that he had once been engaged to a girl out West but for some unknown reason, they had broken up. During his Gatsby summer, he dates Jordan Baker but abruptly breaks it off with her when Gatsby is murdered. At the end of the story, he moves back to the Midwest because he is completely disgusted by the conscience-less and coldhearted people who he has met in the East.
Jay Gatsby/James Gatz
The protagonist of the work, Jay Gatsby attempts to live out the American Dream but instead meets a tragic death because he cannot survive without his dream. Gatsby is unique - one of the most memorable characters. Gatsby's goal is to attain as much money as he can because money has limitless power. He believes that money can buy him friends, social status, and even love. Although Gatsby has told almost everyone that he is an Oxford grad who has traveled the world and inherited his wealth from his blue-blooded family, Nick later discovers that Gatsby was really just another Midwestern kid named James Gatz who stumbled upon the yacht of the wealthy Dan Cody, a bootlegger who taught him the tricks of the trade. By the time that Nick meets Gatsby, he has made a huge fortune as a bootlegger during Prohibition and dealing in other criminal activities.
Like Fitzgerald, who had fallen in love with Zelda Sayre while he had been a soldier during the war, Gatsby had met the beautiful and unattainable Daisy Fay while he had been stationed in the South. When he is sent to Europe to fight, he and Daisy promise that they will remain faithful to each other, and even after she marries Tom Buchanan, he believes that she still loves him. He buys a house in West Egg directly across the bay from her East Egg home and finally meets her five years after their farewell in Nick's home. They begin to carry on an affair parallel to Tom's affair with Myrtle Wilson, but Daisy cannot make a final decision between him and Tom. Gatsby's dream goes up in smoke before he can carry out its completion when he is killed by the crazed George Wilson, who mistakenly believes that it is Gatsby, not Tom, who is having an affair with Myrtle.
The object of Gatsby's limitless love, Daisy Buchanan is nothing more than a combination of unimaginable wealth and unattainable beauty - and that is why Gatsby loves her. She is unarguably a ditz and feels little moral responsibility for her actions, but because her husky voice and lovely face have no equal, men have always been drawn to her. As Gatsby remarks to Nick, her voice is "full of money" because it symbolizes the ultimate fulfillment of his American Dream - he believes that if he wins her, he will win the wealth and beauty that she symbolizes.
Daisy had grown up as the most beautiful and privileged young girl among the elite of Louisville, but she had a fetish for young soldiers, and when she met Gatsby while he was stationed in the South, they fell madly in love. But when he was sent off to Europe during the war, she became engaged to the wealthy and muscular Tom Buchanan. When she meets Gatsby years later in Nick's home, she is immediately drawn to the novelty, secrecy, and passion of their affair, but when she is asked to make a choice between her husband and Jay, she cannot choose. When she and Gatsby drive away in the "death car" that kills Myrtle Wilson, Nick discovers that it is Daisy who is driving, but she is willing to allow Gatsby to take the blame. After both Myrtle and Gatsby are killed, she and Tom leave New York and forget about their crimes and their marital unhappiness.
Tom is an intimidating, powerful hulk of a man who tries to prove to any individual he meets that he has both brains and brawns, but his mind definitely doesn't match his muscles. An extremely wealthy and privileged ex-athlete who attended Yale with Nick, he proclaims to love Daisy but has had extramarital affairs throughout their relationship. In fact, many members of their fast-paced crowd know that he has had a long-term affair with a woman in New York, who turns out to be Myrtle Wilson, the wife of the man whose garage Tom uses.
Tom tries to make himself seem intelligent and well-read, but in reality, he is quite ignorant. He believes that the white race should always possess power over all minority races and worries that African-Americans have gained too much standing in society. At the end of the story, he reveals that he has discovered that Gatsby is a bootlegger and then realizes that Daisy and Gatsby are having an affair. After Gatsby and Daisy run over Myrtle in a car, he and Daisy, lacking moral scruples and any sense of responsibility, leave New York.
A friend of Tom and Daisy Buchanan, Jordan is a cynical, caustic professional golf player who is involved in a romantic relationship with Nick during the summer of 1922. She is always cool and composed, even to the point of seeming disinterested and completely bored with the company of others. Nick remembers hearing rumors that Jordan had cheated often during tournaments, moving her golf balls from bad lies out of the rough. It is never clear why Nick and Jordan begin to date, especially because their break-up is extremely sudden, but both seem to be detached from each other by the end of their relationship.
Jordan is the character who finally provides Gatsby with an opening to Daisy, for after waiting for Daisy to come to one of his extravagant parties, he finally fishes around for someone who knows her, and he stumbles upon Jordan and asks her for an introduction, which she sets up through Nick. Jordan is also the one who relates to Nick her memory of Gatsby and Daisy while they had been young lovers in Louisville.
Myrtle is the woman with whom Tom is having an extended extramarital affair. A robust, healthy woman who seems to exude sexual energy and desire, Myrtle seems to be the opposite of the delicate, childlike Daisy, but Myrtle provides Tom with a welcome escape from monogamy. Her husband, George, owns the gas station that Tom goes to, and he does not realize until the end of the story that she is having an affair. She ultimately picks her unknown lover over George, who becomes deranged with anger. Myrtle, who is much stronger and more independent than her husband, tries to run away from George but is run over by Daisy, who is driving in Gatsby's car.
The submissive, and almost idiotic, husband of Tom Buchanan's mistress, George Wilson owns the gas station that Tom attends. Nick's first impression of George is as a mindless, unintelligent man who needs others to give him affirmation in order to survive. He depends almost solely on his wife, Myrtle, for emotional comfort and psychological safety, and he slowly becomes more and more ill as he realizes that he no longer has any control over her life. When he finds out that she is having an affair, he goes insane. On the night of the fatal car accident that kills Myrtle, he sees the car that runs over her and asks Tom Buchanan who her lover was. Tom tells him that it was Gatsby to avoid Wilson's rage. Wilson then embarks on an enraged, murderous rampage, finds Gatsby's West Egg mansion, shoots Gatsby, and then kills himself because he is too weak to live without Myrtle.
A friend of Gatsby, Nick briefly meets him in a restaurant while he is with Gatsby, and Nick is shocked to learn that Wolfshiem was the sole individual who fixed the 1919 World Series. Wolfshiem briefly tries to get Nick involved in the shady business "negotiations" between himself and Gatsby, but Gatsby quickly stops him from talking before he reveals too much information about their illegal activities. When Gatsby is murdered, Nick tries to invite his friends to his funeral and goes to Wolfshiem's office to figure out why everyone is reluctant to come. Wolfshiem reveals to Nick that he had served as Gatsby's mentor and helped him to make millions by participating in various illegal activities, like gambling, bootlegging, and drug trafficking.
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