Study Guide for The Great Gatsby

By F. Scott Fitzgerald

Chapter 8 (154-170)

It's the end of the summer. Nick has known Gatsby for only three months, yet they have become fast friends. Compare this description of Gatsby's mansions (ie Gatsby's brain) with earlier ones (particularly the night before he reunites with Daisy (86-87)):

His house had never seemed so enormous to me as it did that night when we hunted through the great rooms for cigarettes. We pushed aside curtains that were like pavilions, and felt over innumerable feet of dark wall for electric light switches--once I tumbled with a sort of splash upon the keys of a ghostly piano. There was an inexplicable amount of dust everywhere, and the rooms were musty, as though they hadn't been aired for many days. I found the humidor on an unfamiliar table, with two stale, dry cigarettes inside. Throwing open the French windows of the drawing-room, we sat smoking out into the darkness. (154-55)

Gatsby Tells His Own Story (155-162)

Now that his relationship with Daisy is over, now that "'Jay Gatsby' had broken up like glass against Tom's hard malice" (155), James Gatz can tell the story of his original courtship of Daisy in Louisville five years before. What was their 'first love' really like?

[H]e knew that he was in Daisy's house by a colossal accident. However glorious might be his future as Jay Gatsby, he was at present a penniless young man without a past, and at any moment the invisible cloak of his uniform might slip from his shoulders. So he made the most of his time. He took what he could get, ravenously and unscrupulously-- eventually he took Daisy one still October night, took her because he had no real right to touch her hand.

He might have despised himself, for he had certainly taken her under false pretenses. I don't mean that he had traded on his phantom millions, but he had deliberately given Daisy a sense of security; he let her believe that he was a person from much the same stratum as herself-- that he was fully able to take care of her. As a matter of fact, he had no such facilities-- he had no comfortable family standing behind him, and he was liable at the whim of an impersonal government to be blown anywhere about the world.

But he didn't despise himself and it didn't turn out as he had imagined. He had intended, probably, to take what he could and go-- but now he found that he had committed himself to the following of a grail. He knew that Daisy was extraordinary, but he didn't realize just how extraordinary a "nice" girl could be. She vanished into her rich house, into her rich, full life, leaving Gatsby-- nothing. He felt married to her, that was all.

When they met again, two days later, it was Gatsby who was breathless, who was, somehow, betrayed. Her porch was bright with the bought luxury of star-shine; the wicker of the settee squeaked fashionably as she turned toward him and he kissed her curious and lovely mouth. She had caught a cold, and it made her voice huskier and more charming than ever, and Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes, and of Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor.

"I can't describe to you how surprised I was to find out I loved her, old sport. I even hoped for a while that she'd throw me over, but she didn't, because she was in love with me too. She thought I knew a lot because I knew different things from her. . . . Well, there I was, way off my ambitions, getting deeper in love every minute, and all of a sudden I didn't care. What was the use of doing great things if I could have a better time telling her what I was going to do?" (157-58)

What makes Tom Buchanan a better match for Daisy? Does Gatsby ever accept that? What does Gatsby mean when he describes Daisy's love for Tom as 'just personal' (160)?

"I don't think she ever loved him." Gatsby turned around from a window and looked at me challengingly. "You must remember, old sport, she was very excited this afternoon. He told her those things in a way that frightened her-- that made it look as if I was some kind of cheap sharper. And the result was she hardly knew what she was saying."

He sat down gloomily.

"Of course she might have loved him just for a minute, when they were first married-- and loved me more even then, do you see?"

Suddenly he came out with a curious remark.

"In any case," he said, "it was just personal." (159-60)

Nick asks, "What could you make of that, except to suspect some intensity in his conception of the affair that couldn't be measured?" (160)

What are the last words Nick says to Gatsby? (162) Why does it make Gatsby so happy?

Paragraph: What ultimately separates Gatsby from Daisy? Is it class? Or is the barrier something else?  To what extent could any real woman live up to the dreams Gatsby spins about Daisy and her wealthy lifestyle?

George Wilson's Long Walk (163-170)

As George Wilson pieces together the evidence (the yellow car, the dog-collar, the broken nose) which will lead him to conclude that Gatsby murdered his wife, he stares out the window at the billboard of  Dr. T. J. Eckleburg and mutters to himself, "God sees everything." (167)

"I spoke to her," he muttered, after a long silence. "I told her she might fool me but she couldn't fool God. I took her to the window."-- with an effort he got up and walked to the rear window and leaned with his face pressed against it----" and I said 'God knows what you've been doing, everything you've been doing. You may fool me, but you can't fool God!'"

Standing behind him, Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, which had just emerged, pale and enormous, from the dissolving night.

"God sees everything," repeated Wilson. (167)

What is Fitzgerald up to? Unpack his use of imagery. Are we meant to understand the coming catastrophe as the just vengeance of God? Or are we in the presence of another kind of fatality?

How did George discover that Gatsby was the owner of the yellow car?

What does Nick imagine Gatsby was thinking about as he floated in the pool, waiting for the phone call from Daisy that he must finally have realized would never come?

I have an idea that Gatsby himself didn't believe it would come, and perhaps he no longer cared. If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about . . . like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees. (169)

Consider the imagery Fitzgerald uses in his description of Gatsby's murder scene: the late summer/early autumn afternoon, leaves in the pool, Gatsby floating aimlessly on his 'pneumatic tube', and George Wilson's lifeless body in the weeds:

There was a faint, barely perceptible movement of the water as the fresh flow from one end urged its way toward the drain at the other with little ripples that were hardly the shadows of waves, the laden mattress moved irregularly down the pool. A small gust of wind that scarcely corrugated the surface was enough to disturb its accidental course with its accidental burden. The touch of a cluster of leaves revolved it slowly, tracing, like the leg of compass, a thin red circle in the water. (170)

Paragraph: Make sense of the imagery Fitztgerald uses to describe Gatsby's murder.

Chapter 9 (171-189)

Gatsby's Funeral (172- 183)

Why is it that Nick has to make the arrangements for Gatsby's funeral? How does Wolfsheim respond to Gatsby's death? How does Klipspringer respond?

How does Daisy respond when she finds out that he is dead?

What final pieces of the Gatsby puzzle fall in place when Nick goes to visit Wolfsheim on the morning of Gatsby's funeral? 

"My memory goes back to when I first met him," he said. "A young major just out of the army and covered over with medals he got in the war. He was so hard up he had to keep on wearing his uniform because he couldn't buy some regular clothes. First time I saw him was when he come into Winebrenner's poolroom at Forty-third Street and asked for a job. He hadn't eaten anything for a couple of days.'Come on,  have some lunch with me,' I said. He ate more than four dollars' worth of food in half an hour."

"Did you start him in business?" I inquired.

"Start him! I made him."


"I raised him up out of nothing, right out of the gutter. I saw right away he was a fine-appearing, gentlemanly young man, and when he told me he was an Oggsford I knew I could use him good. I got him to join upin the American Legion and he used to stand high there. Right off he did some work for a client of mine up to Albany. We were so thick like that in everything."--he held up two bulbous fingers---- "always together."  (180)

[Fitzgerald published this novel in 1925, a few years before Hitler and the Nazi movement's symbolic Swastika would become a worldwide icon. Fitzgerald's depiction of Wolfsheim is regarded by many readers to be a caricature of Arnold Rothstein, the mobster who fixed the 1919 World Series. Why Wolfsheim would choose a Nordic symbol for the name of his front business is curious, to say the least. Your comment?]

Who alone grieves for Gatsby's death?

When he was a boy, what had Gatsby scribbled in the back of his copy of "Hopalong Cassidy" (shades of Ben Franklin)? (181)   Of the resolves James Gatz made as aboy which would Ben Franklin have approved of most? What would Franklin have said about Gatsby eventual application of "The Science of Virtue"?

Then he returned the wallet and pulled from his pocket a ragged old copy of a book called HOPALONG CASSIDY.

"Look here, this is a book he had when he was a boy. It just shows you."

He opened it at the back cover and turned it around for me to see. On the last fly-leaf was printed the word SCHEDULE, and the date September 12, 1906. and underneath:

Rise from bed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .            6.00 A.M.
Dumbbell exercise and wall-scaling . . . . . . 6.15-6.30 "
Study electricity, etc . . . . . . . . . . . .           7.15-8.15 "
Work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .               8.30-4.30 P.M.
Baseball and sports . . . . . . . . . . . . .          4.30-5.00 "
Practice elocution, poise and how to attain it 5.00-6.00 "
Study needed inventions . . . . . . . . . . .       7.00-9.00 "

No wasting time at Shafters or [a name, indecipherable]
No more smokeing or chewing
Bath every other day
Read one improving book or magazine per week
Save $5.00 {crossed out} $3.00 per week
Be better to parents (181)

Who is present at the graveyard when Gatsby is buried?

Nick's Return to the West (183-189)

As Nick recalls the holidays when he returned home from the East as a college student, he thinks about how he, Daisy, Tom, Jordan, and Gatsby were all Mid-Westerners who never really fit into life on the East Coast. Why? 

What new appreciation of his home has Nick achieved by venturing East? (183-185)

I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all--Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life....

After Gatsby's death the East was haunted for me like that, distorted beyond my eyes' power of correction. So when the blue smoke of brittle leaves was in the air and the wind blew the wet laundry stiff on the line I decided to come back home.

Analyze the El Greco painting that Nick imagines whenever he thinks of his experience that summer: 
(See this painting by the great 16th century Spanish Mannerist.: View of Toledo (1598-99))

I see it as a night scene by El Greco: a hundred houses, at once conventional and grotesque, crouching under a sullen, overhanging sky and a lustreless moon. In the foreground four solemn men in dress suits are walking along the sidewalk with a stretcher on which lies a drunken woman in a white evening dress. Her hand, which dangles over the side, sparkles cold with jewels. Gravely the men turn in at a house--the wrong house. But no one knows the woman's name, and no one cares. (185)

Compare that image to the final one of Tom and Daisy:

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy--they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made. . . . (187-88)

Did Tom ever find out about who was driving the car which ran over Myrtle? (187)

On the night before Tom leaves to return home, he goes out on Gatsby's beach and lies down, looking at the stars and musing about the history of Long Island Sound. He imagines the arrival of the Dutch, the first Europeans to settle Manhattan and wonders about the dreams they had as they gazed at the "fresh, green breast of the new world" (189). Those dreams, Nick argues, might have measured up to Gatsby's dreams. He  muses about whether anyone will ever dream like that again, and then concludes his story with one of the most famous passages in American literature. 

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter-- to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning----

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. (189)

Paragraph: Unpack this image. What is Nick's and Fitzgerald's implied perspective on the American Dream?