The Great Gatsby

LIST PRICE $28.99

About The Book

A true classic of twentieth-century literature—nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. First published in 1925, this quintessential novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the mysteriously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.

Excerpt

CHAPTER I

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave

me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever

since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me,

“just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had

the advantages that you’ve had.”

He didn’t say any more, but we’ve always been unusually

communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he

meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I’m

inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up

many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of

not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect

and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal

person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly

accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret

griefs of wild, unknown men. Most of the confidences were

unsought—frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or

a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that

an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon; for the

intimate revelations of young men, or at least the terms in

which they express them, are usually plagiaristic and marred

by obvious suppressions. Reserving judgments is a matter of

infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if

I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly

repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled

out unequally at birth.

And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to

the admission that it has a limit. Conduct may be founded

on the hard rock or the wet marshes, but after a certain point

I don’t care what it’s founded on. When I came back from

the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in

uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted

no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the

human heart. Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to

this book, was exempt from my reaction—Gatsby, who represented

everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. If

personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then

there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened

sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one

of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten

thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do

with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under

the name of the “creative temperament”—it was an extraordinary

gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have

never found in any other person and which it is not likely I

shall ever find again. No—Gatsby turned out all right at the

end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in

the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my

interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of

men.

* * *

My family have been prominent, well-to-do people in this

Middle Western city for three generations. The Carraways are

something of a clan, and we have a tradition that we’re

descended from the Dukes of Buccleuch, but the actual

founder of my line was my grandfather’s brother, who came

here in fifty-one, sent a substitute to the Civil War, and

started the wholesale hardware business that my father carries

on to-day.

I never saw this great-uncle, but I’m supposed to look like

him—with special reference to the rather hard-boiled painting

that hangs in father’s office. I graduated from New

Haven in 1915, just a quarter of a century after my father, and

a little later I participated in that delayed Teutonic migration

known as the Great War. I enjoyed the counter-raid so thoroughly

that I came back restless. Instead of being the warm

center of the world, the Middle West now seemed like the

ragged edge of the universe—so I decided to go East and learn

the bond business. Everybody I knew was in the bond business,

so I supposed it could support one more single man. All

my aunts and uncles talked it over as if they were choosing a

prep school for me, and finally said, “Why—ye-es,” with very

grave, hesitant faces. Father agreed to finance me for a year,

and after various delays I came East, permanently, I thought,

in the spring of twenty-two.

The practical thing was to find rooms in the city, but it was

a warm season, and I had just left a country of wide lawns

and friendly trees, so when a young man at the office suggested

that we take a house together in a commuting town,

it sounded like a great idea. He found the house, a weatherbeaten

cardboard bungalow at eighty a month, but at the last

minute the firm ordered him to Washington, and I went out

to the country alone. I had a dog—at least I had him for a

few days until he ran away—and an old Dodge and a Finnish

woman, who made my bed and cooked breakfast and muttered

Finnish wisdom to herself over the electric stove.

It was lonely for a day or so until one morning some man,

more recently arrived than I, stopped me on the road.

“How do you get to West Egg village?” he asked helplessly.

I told him. And as I walked on I was lonely no longer. I

was a guide, a pathfinder, an original settler. He had casually

conferred on me the freedom of the neighborhood.

And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves

growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had

that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again

with the summer.

There was so much to read, for one thing, and so much

fine health to be pulled down out of the young breathgiving

air. I bought a dozen volumes on banking and credit

and investment securities, and they stood on my shelf in red

and gold like new money from the mint, promising to

unfold the shining secrets that only Midas and Morgan and

Mæcenas knew. And I had the high intention of reading

many other books besides. I was rather literary in college—

one year I wrote a series of very solemn and obvious editorials

for the Yale News—and now I was going to bring back

all such things into my life and become again that most limited

of all specialists, the “well-rounded man.” This isn’t

just an epigram—life is much more successfully looked at

from a single window, after all.

It was a matter of chance that I should have rented a house

in one of the strangest communities in North America. It was

on that slender riotous island which extends itself due east of

New York—and where there are, among other natural

curiosities, two unusual formations of land. Twenty miles

from the city a pair of enormous eggs, identical in contour

and separated only by a courtesy bay, jut out into the most

domesticated body of salt water in the Western hemisphere,

the great wet barnyard of Long Island Sound. They are not

perfect ovals—like the egg in the Columbus story, they are

both crushed flat at the contact end—but their physical

resemblance must be a source of perpetual confusion to the

gulls that fly overhead. To the wingless a more arresting

phenomenon is their dissimilarity in every particular except

shape and size.

I lived at West Egg, the—well, the less fashionable of the

two, though this is a most superficial tag to express the

bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them. My

house was at the very tip of the egg, only fifty yards from the

Sound, and squeezed between two huge places that rented for

twelve or fifteen thousand a season. The one on my right was

a colossal affair by any standard—it was a factual imitation

of some Hôtel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one

side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble

swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and

garden. It was Gatsby’s mansion. Or, rather, as I didn’t know

Mr. Gatsby, it was a mansion, inhabited by a gentleman of

that name. My own house was an eyesore, but it was a small

eyesore, and it had been overlooked, so I had a view of the

water, a partial view of my neighbor’s lawn, and the consoling

proximity of millionaires—all for eighty dollars a month.

Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable

East Egg glittered along the water, and the history of the summer

really begins on the evening I drove over there to have

dinner with the Tom Buchanans. Daisy was my second

cousin once removed, and I’d known Tom in college. And just

after the war I spent two days with them in Chicago.

Her husband, among various physical accomplishments,

had been one of the most powerful ends that ever played football

at New Haven—a national figure in a way, one of those

men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one

that everything afterward savors of anticlimax. His family were

enormously wealthy—even in college his freedom with

money was a matter for reproach—but now he’d left Chicago

and come East in a fashion that rather took your breath away;

for instance, he’d brought down a string of polo ponies

from Lake Forest. It was hard to realize that a man in my own

generation was wealthy enough to do that.

Why they came East I don’t know. They had spent a year

in France for no particular reason, and then drifted here and

there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich

together. This was a permanent move, said Daisy over the

telephone, but I didn’t believe it—I had no sight into Daisy’s

heart, but I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking, a

little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable

football game.

And so it happened that on a warm windy evening I

drove over to East Egg to see two old friends whom I scarcely

knew at all. Their house was even more elaborate than I

expected, a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion,

overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and

ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping

over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens—finally

when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines

as though from the momentum of its run. The front was broken

by a line of French windows, glowing now with reflected

gold and wide open to the warm windy afternoon, and Tom

Buchanan in riding clothes was standing with his legs apart

on the front porch.

He had changed since his New Haven years. Now he

was a sturdy straw-haired man of thirty with a rather hard

mouth and a supercilious manner. Two shining arrogant

eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him

the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not

even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the

enormous power of that body—he seemed to fill those glistening

boots until he strained the top lacing, and you could

see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved

under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous

leverage—a cruel body.

His speaking voice, a gruff husky tenor, added to the

impression of fractiousness he conveyed. There was a touch

of paternal contempt in it, even toward people he liked—

and there were men at New Haven who had hated his guts.

“Now, don’t think my opinion on these matters is final,”

he seemed to say, “just because I’m stronger and more of a

man than you are.” We were in the same senior society, and

while we were never intimate I always had the impression that

he approved of me and wanted me to like him with some

harsh, defiant wistfulness of his own.

We talked for a few minutes on the sunny porch.

“I’ve got a nice place here,” he said, his eyes flashing

about restlessly.

Turning me around by one arm, he moved a broad flat

hand along the front vista, including in its sweep a sunken

Italian garden, a half acre of deep, pungent roses, and a

snub-nosed motor-boat that bumped the tide offshore.

“It belonged to Demaine, the oil man.” He turned me

around again, politely and abruptly. “ We’ll go inside.”

We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosycolored

space, fragilely bound into the house by French

windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming

white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little

way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew

curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags,

twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling,

and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a

shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

The only completely stationary object in the room was an

enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed

up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in

white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they

had just been blown back in after a short flight around the

house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the

whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on

the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the

rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room,

and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned

slowly to the floor.

The younger of the two was a stranger to me. She was

extended full length at her end of the divan, completely

motionless, and with her chin raised a little, as if she were balancing

something on it which was quite likely to fall. If she

saw me out of the corner of her eyes she gave no hint of it—

indeed, I was almost surprised into murmuring an apology for

having disturbed her by coming in.

The other girl, Daisy, made an attempt to rise—she

leaned slightly forward with a conscientious expression—then

she laughed, an absurd, charming little laugh, and I laughed

too and came forward into the room.

“I’m p-paralyzed with happiness.”

She laughed again, as if she said something very witty, and

held my hand for a moment, looking up into my face,

promising that there was no one in the world she so much

wanted to see. That was a way she had. She hinted in a murmur

that the surname of the balancing girl was Baker. (I’ve

heard it said that Daisy’s murmur was only to make people

lean toward her; an irrelevant criticism that made it no less

charming.)

At any rate, Miss Baker’s lips fluttered, she nodded at me

almost imperceptibly, and then quickly tipped her head

back again—the object she was balancing had obviously

tottered a little and given her something of a fright. Again a

sort of apology arose to my lips. Almost any exhibition of

complete self-sufficiency draws a stunned tribute from me.

I looked back at my cousin, who began to ask me questions

in her low, thrilling voice. It was the kind of voice that the ear

follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of

notes that will never be played again. Her face was sad and

lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate

mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that

men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a

singing compulsion, a whispered “Listen,” a promise that she

had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there

were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.

I told her how I had stopped off in Chicago for a day on

my way East, and how a dozen people had sent their love

through me.

“Do they miss me?” she cried ecstatically.

“The whole town is desolate. All the cars have the left rear

wheel painted black as a mourning wreath, and there’s a persistent

wail all night along the north shore.”

“How gorgeous! Let’s go back, Tom. To-morrow!” Then

she added irrelevantly: “You ought to see the baby.”

“I’d like to.”

“She’s asleep. She’s three years old. Haven’t you ever seen

her?”

“Never.”

“Well, you ought to see her. She’s——”

Tom Buchanan, who had been hovering restlessly about

the room, stopped and rested his hand on my shoulder.

“What you doing, Nick?”

“I’m a bond man.”

“Who with?”

I told him.

“Never heard of them,” he remarked decisively.

This annoyed me.

“You will,” I answered shortly. “You will if you stay in the

East.”

“Oh, I’ll stay in the East, don’t you worry,” he said, glancing

at Daisy and then back at me, as if he were alert for something

more. “I’d be a God damned fool to live anywhere else.”

At this point Miss Baker said: “Absolutely!” with such suddenness

that I started—it was the first word she had uttered

since I came into the room. Evidently it surprised her as much

as it did me, for she yawned and with a series of rapid, deft

movements stood up into the room.

“I’m stiff,” she complained, “I’ve been lying on that sofa

for as long as I can remember.”

“ Don’t look at me,” Daisy retorted, “I’ve been trying to

get you to New York all afternoon.”

“No, thanks,” said Miss Baker to the four cocktails just in

from the pantry, “I’m absolutely in training.”

Her host looked at her incredulously.

“You are!” He took down his drink as if it were a drop in

the bottom of a glass. “How you ever get anything done is

beyond me.”

I looked at Miss Baker, wondering what it was she “got

done.” I enjoyed looking at her. She was a slender, smallbreasted

girl, with an erect carriage, which she accentuated by

throwing her body backward at the shoulders like a young

cadet. Her gray sun-strained eyes looked back at me with

polite reciprocal curiosity out of a wan, charming, discontented

face. It occurred to me now that I had seen her, or a

picture of her, somewhere before.

“You live in West Egg,” she remarked contemptuously. “I

know somebody there.”

“I don’t know a single——”

“You must know Gatsby.”

“Gatsby?” demanded Daisy. “What Gatsby?”

Reading Group Guide

This Scribner reading group guide for The Great Gatsby includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Introduction

The Great Gatsby, one of the classics of twentieth-century literature, brings to life America’s Jazz Age, when, as The New York Times puts it, “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession.” Nick Carraway, a Yale graduate and veteran of the Great War, moves to Long Island in the spring of 1922, eager to leave his native Middle West behind. He rents a tiny house in West Egg, dwarfed by a mansion owned by the most celebrated host of the season, Jay Gatsby. Everyone loves to drink and dance at Gatsby’s legendary parties, and everyone loves to gossip about Gatsby’s secret past. Directly across the bay in the tonier town of East Egg lies the home of Nick’s beautiful cousin and her millionaire husband: Daisy and Tom Buchanan. When Nick starts dating Daisy’s friend, the famed but deceitful golfer Jordan Baker, he finds himself caught up in a different romance: Gatsby begs for a reintroduction to Daisy. Gatsby and Daisy fell in love years ago, but the war and Tom Buchanan came between them. As the love triangle of Daisy, Tom, and Gatsby resurfaces – and Tom’s mistress, Myrtle, grows desperate with jealousy – Nick finds himself missing the plains of the Middle West, where hope can thrive in a wider landscape.  

Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. The Great Gatsby features an epigraph by “Thomas Parke D’Invilliers” (a writer invented by Fitzgerald) about winning a lover by any means. How does this short poem set the scene for the novel to come? Why do you think Fitzgerald would open The Great Gatsby with a fictional epigraph, rather than a real quote or poem?
 
2. Compare East Egg and West Egg. What kinds of people settle on each side of the bay? Why would a couple like the Buchanans reside in East Egg, and men like Nick and Gatsby on the other side? How does the division between these two villages compare to differences between the American East and West?
 
3. Discuss the role of honesty in The Great Gatsby. Which characters pride themselves on telling the truth? How does duplicity affect the relationship between Nick and Jordan, and the marriage of Tom and Daisy? What falsehoods has Gatsby relied upon to advance in society?
 
4. Compare two classic party scenes in the novel: the first party at Gatsby’s house that Nick attends, and the impromptu gathering at Tom and Myrtle’s apartment in New York City. How is each party enlivened by booze, romance, and chaos? How are the guests at each party similar, and how are they different? How does Nick’s drunken perspective color each scene?
 
5. Consider the role of gossip in the novel. What kinds of rumors do Gatsby’s guests spread about their host, and why? Why does public opinion have such a strong hold over the characters in the novel?
 
6. In Chapter VI, just after Daisy and Gatsby reunite at Nick’s house, Nick reveals the story of his friend’s transition from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby. Why does Nick choose this point in the story to tell Gatsby’s history? How does this chapter serve as a turning point in the novel?
 
7. Compare James Gatz to the man he became: Jay Gatsby. What do we learn about Gatz’s ambition as a youth? How did he make his transition to Gatsby? What elements from his past did he retain, even as he left his identity behind?
 
8. Eyes are a prominent feature throughout the novel – T. J. Ecklesburg’s spectacles watch over the “valley of ashes,” “Owl-eyes” attends Gatsby’s parties and funeral, and Nick senses Myrtle’s jealous gaze upon Tom and Jordan when they stop at Wilson’s gas station. What is the significance of this theme of surveillance? Who is being watched throughout the novel?
 
9. “‘Can’t repeat the past?’ [Gatsby] cried incredulously. ‘Why of course you can!’” (page 110). Discuss Gatsby’s attempts to recreate history. Why is he so eager to go back to life before he went to war, when he was a young officer in love with Daisy? What has Gatsby lost and gained since those days in Louisville?
 
10. At the moment of the accident that killed Myrtle Wilson, “first Daisy turned away from the woman toward the other car, and then she lost her nerve and turned back” (page 143). How else does Daisy lose her nerve on that drive from New York City to East Egg? Why does she turn back to Tom, instead of choosing a life with Gatsby?
 
11. Gatsby says about Daisy, “Her voice is full of money.” (page 120). Discuss how class and affects the romances in the novel. Would Daisy be just as alluring without her status? Would Gatsby or Tom be attractive without their fortunes?
 
12. Nick observes, “I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all,” (page 176) since none of its characters are from the East. How have ideas about the “West” changed since Fitzgerald’s day? What is particularly “Western” about each of these characters: Nick, Tom, Gatsby, Daisy, and Jordan? Do you agree with Nick that they are “unadaptable to Eastern life”? Why or why not?
 
13. Consider the setting of the novel: 1922 Long Island. Can you imagine this story within another time or place? Do you consider The Great Gatsby timeless, or do you think its characters and themes are deeply rooted in the postwar prosperity of the Roaring Twenties?
 
14. The novel ends with Nick thinking about “Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock” (page 180). Consider the symbol of the green light. What dreams and hopes does the light stand for? Is Gatsby’s “extraordinary gift for hope” an asset or a hindrance to his ambition, in the end?
 
15. If this was your first time reading The Great Gatsby, discuss what you knew about this American classic before you began reading, and how it met or defied your expectations. If you’ve read the novel before, think back to the first time you read it, and discuss how the novel has changed for you over time. Do you understand it differently today than you did in the past?

Enhance Your Book Club

  1. Come to your book club meeting dressed like your favorite Great Gatsby character! If you don’t happen to own a pink suit like Gatsby’s, consider donning a partygoer’s pearls, Daisy’s white dress, Owl-eyes’ oversized glasses, Jordan’s golf gloves, Tom’s riding pants, or any other accessory inspired by the Jazz Age.   
 
2. In a nod to the Prohibition era, serve your book club’s refreshments – whether you’re pouring mint juleps or lemonade – in teacups.   
 
3. Get your book club members in a jazzy mood – greet them with “Ain’t We Got Fun,” a song played during Gatsby and Daisy’s romantic reunion. You can find a recording of the 1921 classic here: http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/7859/.   
 
4. Learn the history of the house that might have been the inspiration for Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s East Egg mansion, which was condemned in 2011: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-3445_162-20054710/the-end-of-an-era-for-the-gatsby-house/.   
 
5. A theater company called the Elevator Repair Service has adapted The Great Gatsby into an eight-hour staged reading, Gatz. Stage a shorter version with your book club – assign parts to Nick, Gatsby, and Daisy, and have “Nick” read the beginning of Chapter V while “Gatsby” and “Daisy” read their lines of dialogue. Does the prose have a different impact when read aloud?

About The Author

Photograph © Hulton Archive

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1896. He attended Princeton University, joined the United States Army during World War I, and published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in 1920. That same year he married Zelda Sayre and for the next decade the couple lived in New York, Paris, and on the Riviera. Fitzgerald's masterpieces include The Beautiful and the Damned, The Great Gatsby, and Tender Is the Night. He died at the age of forty-four while working on The Last Tycoon. Fitzgerald's fiction has secured his reputation as one of the most important American writers of the twentieth century.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (June 1996)
  • Length: 176 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780684830421

Browse Related Books

Resources and Downloads

Common Core Text Exemplar

Freshman Reading:

Concordia University (2012/2013)

High Resolution Images

More books from this author: F. Scott Fitzgerald