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Fitzgerald coined the term “Jazz Age” to refer to the period more commonly known as the Roaring Twenties. Jazz is an American style of music marked by its complex and exuberant mix of rhythms and tonalities. The Great Gatsby portrays a similarly complex mix of emotions and themes that reflect the turbulence of the times. Fresh off the nightmare of World War I, Americans were enjoying the fruits of an economic boom and a renewed sense of possibility. But in The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald’s stresses the darker side of the Roaring Twenties, its undercurrent of corruption and its desperate, empty decadence.

The Great Gatsby: Characters

Jay Gatsby – Nick’s wealthy neighbor in West Egg. Gatsby owns a gigantic mansion and has become well known for hosting large parties every Saturday night. Gatsby’s lust for wealth stems from his desire to win back the love of his life, Daisy Buchanan, whom he met and fell in love with while in military training in Louisville, Kentucky before WW I. Gatsby is a self-made man (his birth name was Jay Gatz) who achieved the American Dream of rising up from the lower classes to the top of society. But to Gatsby, the desire for love proves more powerful than the lust for money. Fitzgerald uses Gatsby’s downfall as a critique of the reckless indulgence of Roaring Twenties America.

Nick Carraway – A young man from Minnesota who has come to New York after graduating Yale and fighting in World War I, Nick is the neighbor of Jay Gatsby and the cousin of Daisy Buchanan. The narrator of The Great Gatsby, Nick describes himself as “one of the few honest people that [he has] ever known.” Nick views himself as a man of “infinite hope” who can see the best side of everyone he encountered. Nick sees past the veneer of Gatsby’s wealth and is the only character in the novel who truly cares about Gatsby. In watching Gatsby’s story unfold, Nick becomes a critic of the Roaring Twenties excess and carelessness that carries on all around him.

Daisy Buchanan – The love of Jay Gatsby’s life, the cousin of Nick Carraway, and the wife of Tom Buchanan. She grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where she met and fell in love with Gatsby. She describes herself as “sophisticated” and says the best thing a girl can be is a “beautiful little fool,” which makes it unsurprising that she lacks conviction and sincerity, and values material things over all else. Yet Daisy isn’t just a shallow gold digger. She’s more tragic: a loving woman who has been corrupted by greed. She chooses the comfort and security of money over real love, but she does so knowingly. Daisy’s tragedy conveys the alarming extent to which the lust for money captivated Americans during the Roaring Twenties.

Tom Buchanan – A former football player and Yale graduate who marries Daisy Buchanan. The oldest son of an extremely wealthy and successful “old money” East Egg family, Tom has a veneer of gentlemanly manners that barely veils a self-centered, sexist, racist, violent ogre of a man beneath.

Jordan Baker – A friend of Daisy’s who becomes Nick’s girlfriend. A successful pro golfer, Jordan is beautiful and pleasant, but does not inspire Nick to feel much more than a “tender curiosity” for her. Perhaps this is because Baker is “incurably dishonest” and cheats at golf. Still, there is some suggestion in the novel that she loves Nick, and that he misjudges her.

Myrtle Wilson – The wife of George Wilson and the mistress of Tom Buchanan. Myrtle disdains her beaten down husband and desperately wants to improve her lot in life. She chooses Tom as the means to this end, but he sees her as little more than an object.

George Wilson – The husband of Myrtle Wilson and the owner of an auto garage in the Valley of Ashes. Wilson is a beaten-down man, who nevertheless loves and adores his wife.

Meyer Wolfsheim – Gatsby’s business partner and friend. A small, fifty-year-old Jewish man with hairy nostrils and beady eyes, Wolfsheim is a gambler who made his name in organized crime by fixing the 1919 World Series.

Owl Eyes – A drunken man Nick encounters looking through Gatsby’s vast library, amazed at the “realism” of all the unread novels.

Ewing Klipspringer – A man who is such a frequent guest at Gatsby’s mansion that he almost seems to live there. Yet he turns out to be nothing more than a leech who only cares about what he can get from Gatsby.

Dan Cody – Jay Gatsby’s first mentor and best friend. Cody left Gatsby twenty-five thousand dollars when he died, but Gatsby never received it due to a legal complication.

Henry Gatz – Jay Gatsby’s father. A dignified but poor man, Henry Gatz loves his son deeply and believes he was destined for great things.

Pammy Buchanan – Daisy and Tom Buchanan’s young daughter.

Michaelis – A young Greek man who runs a coffee shop near Wilson’s garage.

Catherine – Myrtle Wilson’s sister.


The Great Gatsby: Themes

The Roaring Twenties
F. Scott Fitzgerald coined the term “Jazz Age” to describe the decade of decadence and prosperity that America enjoyed in the 1920s, which was also known as the Roaring Twenties. After World War I ended in 1918, the United States and much of the rest of the world experienced an enormous economic expansion. The surging economy turned the 1920s into a time of easy money, hard drinking (despite the Prohibition amendment to the Constitution), and lavish parties. Though the 1920s were a time of great optimism, Fitzgerald portrays the much bleaker side of the revelry by focusing on its indulgence, hypocrisy, shallow recklessness, and its perilous—even fatal—consequences.

The American Dream
The American Dream—that hard work can lead one from rags to riches—has been a core facet of American identity since its inception. Settlers came west to America from Europe seeking wealth and freedom. The pioneers headed west for the same reason. The Great Gatsby shows the tide turning east, as hordes flock to New York City seeking stock market fortunes. The Great Gatsby portrays this shift as a symbol of the American Dream’s corruption. It’s no longer a vision of building a life; it’s just about getting rich.

Gatsby symbolizes both the corrupted Dream and the original uncorrupted Dream. He sees wealth as the solution to his problems, pursues money via shady schemes, and reinvents himself so much that he becomes hollow, disconnected from his past. Yet Gatsby’s corrupt dream of wealth is motivated by an incorruptible love for Daisy. Gatsby’s failure does not prove the folly of the American Dream—rather it proves the folly of short-cutting that dream by allowing corruption and materialism to prevail over hard work, integrity, and real love. And the dream of love that remains at Gatsby’s core condemns nearly every other character in the novel, all of whom are empty beyond just their lust for money.

Class (Old Money, New Money, No Money)
The Great Gatsby portrays three different social classes: “old money” (Tom and Daisy Buchanan); “new money” (Gatsby); and a class that might be called “no money” (George and Myrtle Wilson). “Old money” families have fortunes dating from the 19th century or before, have built up powerful and influential social connections, and tend to hide their wealth and superiority behind a veneer of civility. The “new money” class made their fortunes in the 1920s boom and therefore have no social connections and tend to overcompensate for this lack with lavish displays of wealth.

The Great Gatsby shows the newly developing class rivalry between “old” and “new” money in the struggle between Gatsby and Tom over Daisy. As usual, the “no money” class gets overlooked by the struggle at the top, leaving middle and lower class people like George Wilson forgotten or ignored.

Past and Future
Nick and Gatsby are continually troubled by time—the past haunts Gatsby and the future weighs down on Nick. When Nick tells Gatsby that you can’t repeat the past, Gatsby says “Why of course you can!” Gatsby has dedicated his entire life to recapturing a golden, perfect past with Daisy. Gatsby believes that money can recreate the past. Fitzgerald describes Gatsby as “overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves.” But Gatsby mixes up “youth and mystery” with history; he thinks a single glorious month of love with Daisy can compete with the years and experiences she has shared with Tom. Just as “new money” is money without social connection, Gatsby’s connection to Daisy exists outside of history.

Nick’s fear of the future foreshadows the economic bust that plunged the country into depression and ended the Roaring Twenties in 1929. The day Gatsby and Tom argue at the Plaza Hotel, Nick suddenly realizes that it’s his thirtieth birthday. He thinks of the new decade before him as a “portentous menacing road,” and clearly sees in the struggle between old and new money the end of an era and the destruction of both types of wealth.

=The Great Gatsby: Symbols=
The Green Light and the Color Green
The green light at the end of Daisy’s dock is the symbol of Gatsby’s hopes and dreams. It represents everything that haunts and beckons Gatsby: the physical and emotional distance between him and Daisy, the gap between the past and the present, the promises of the future, and the powerful lure of that other green stuff he craves—money. In fact, the color green pops up everywhere in The Great Gatsby. Long Island sound is “green”; George Wilson’s haggard tired face is “green” in the sunlight; Michaelis describes the killer car as “light green” (though it’s yellow); Gatsby’s perfect lawn is green; and the New World that Nick imagines Dutch explorers first stumbling upon is a “fresh, green breast.” The symbolism of green throughout the novel is as variable and contradictory as the many definitions of “green” and the many uses of money—”new,” “natural,” “innocent,” “naive,” and “uncorrupted”; but also “rotten,” “gullible,” “nauseous,” and “sickly.”

The Eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg
The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg on the billboard overlooking the Valley of Ashes represent many things at once: to Nick they seem to symbolize the haunting waste of the past, which lingers on though it is irretrievably vanished, much like Dr. Eckleburg’s medical practice. The eyes can also be linked to Gatsby, whose own eyes, once described as “vacant,” often stare out, blankly keeping “vigil” (a word Fitzgerald applies to both Dr. Eckleburg’s eyes and Gatsby’s) over Long Island sound and the green light. To George Wilson, Dr. Eckleburg’s eyes are the eyes of God, which he says see everything.

The Valley of Ashes
An area halfway between New York City and West Egg, the Valley of Ashes is an industrial wasteland covered in ash and soot. If New York City represents all the “mystery and beauty in the world,” and West Egg represents the people who have gotten rich off the roaring economy of the Roaring Twenties, the Valley of Ashes stands for the dismal ruin of the people caught in between.

East and West
Nick describes the novel as a book about Westerners, a “story of the West.” Tom, Daisy, Jordan, Gatsby, and Nick all hail from places other than the East. The romanticized American idea of going West to seek and make one’s fortune on the frontier turned on its ear in the 1920’s stock boom; now those seeking their fortune headed back East to cash in. But while Gatsby suggests there was a kind of honor in the hard work of making a fortune and building a life on the frontier, the quest for money in the East is nothing more than that: a hollow quest for money. The split between the eastern and western regions of the United States is mirrored in Gatsby by the divide between East Egg and West Egg: once again the West is the frontier of people making their fortunes, but these “Westerners” are as hollow and corrupt inside as the “Easterners.”

Gatsby’s Mansion
Gatsby’s mansion symbolizes two broader themes of the novel. First, it represents the grandness and emptiness of the 1920s boom: Gatsby justifies living in it all alone by filling the house weekly with “celebrated people.” Second, the house is the physical symbol of Gatsby’s love for Daisy. Gatsby used his “new money” to create a place that he thought rivaled the houses of the “old money” that had taken her away.