The Great Gatsby Essay (Completed in 2020)

  • Last Edited: December 19, 2018
the great gatsby essay


  • The theme of unrequited love in The Great Gatsby
  • Discuss the fallibility of youth in The Great Gatsby
  • Discuss the primacy of socioeconomic status as it manifests in The Great Gatsby: which characters confront it with the most grace? Which with the least?
  • If Daisy and Jay had been members of the same socioeconomic class would they have ended up together? Why or why not? Provide textual evidence.
  • Nick Carraway goes to great lengths to show and tell the reader that he is a reliable narrator: discuss three concretes way he does this and how successful they are.
  • How does the period and place of the novel add to the sense of youth, love, promise or despair?
  • How does the death of Myrtle Wilson highlight a sense of something rotten underscoring the 1920s? Discuss using the novel and the historical period.
  • What role does Jordan Baker serve in the novel? Discuss why her and Nick aren’t viable love interests.
  • Discuss the theme of driving, cars and geography in the novel.
  • In the novel, Myrtle Wilson and Jay Gatsby are the only two characters that perish. They also happen to be two that were both born lower class. Discuss what the author might (or might not) be implying about rich and poor.
  • One of the most famous lines in the novel is “her voice is full of money.” Discuss what this means about Daisy, Jay, and their connection.
  • Much has been made about the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. Many teachers equate it with money or the proverbial green traffic light. Connect it with a new symbolism and discuss why the light must be green or shouldn’t be green.


This essay examines one of the most memorable and important works of 20th century fiction: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Though tepidly received by critics at the time, the novel has gone on to secure a permanent place as one of the greatest books ever written about the Jazz Age. This paper discusses a summary of the novel, a brief analysis, a character rundown and some of the more pertinent themes.


Teachers and college professors all over the world often bicker about which 20th century novel really deserves the label of, “the greatest American novel.” Fans of Steinbeck believe The Grapes of Wrath best encompass what it means to be American—in the construction of the nation, the development of the American west, and in the pioneer spirit of adventure and hardship that has shaped this country. Disciples of Hemingway argue that The Sun Also Rises is more fitting for this distinction, and still others argue that Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird best demonstrates truth and justice as it existed during the racially tense period of the Great Depression. Hence, they feel that these qualities make it the great American novel. While scholars of American literature are always going to argue, the reality is that The Great Gatsby really fits the title of the “great American novel” because it covers so many themes that correspond to the development of the nation, and offers a richer story of experiences. The novel discusses class, war, entrepreneurship, transformation, the American dream, youth beauty, young love—all set in one of the most preeminent cities in America—New York. It is simply a richer story, and rather than focusing on one aspect of America’s development—such as racism, justice, or the great migration west, it touches upon so many themes of how the country came to be—even some themes that the nation continues to wrestle with. As a result of all these strengths, one can clearly give F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby the designation of the great American novel.


The novel opens with the narrator Nick Carraway, reassuring us that he is a reliable narrator. He recounts an expression that his father told him. “‘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’”(3). This functions to comfort the reader that the story that is about to be recounted, is indeed a reliable one. The novel is a recollected story— which is important. The reader is indeed beholden on Nick Carraway for information, interpretation and accuracy, and from page one, the reader is in good hands. Nick Carraway was once Jay Gatsby’s neighbor and we are told the tale we are hearing occurred after 1922. When the story begins, Nick has moved to West Egg, Long Island—the more new money end of the two eggs. He’s started a job as a bond salesman and he’s picked a place to live that is near his cousin Daisy (Fay) Buchanan who lives in East Egg with her husband, Tom Buchanan. East Egg is more fashionable and considered to contain more “old money” than the West Egg. This is where he meets Jordan Baker, the professional golfer, who becomes a romantic interest of his. Spending time with the Buchanan’s and Jordan brings his attention to fact that they both live a life of great privilege and comfort. This is in drastic contrast to his own middle class, more modest and more grounded lifestyle. When Nick returns from visiting his cousin, he catches sight of his neighbor (Gatsby) stretching his arms out towards the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.

Nick then spends time with Tom, who takes him into the city and introduces him to his mistress, Myrtle Wilson. Nick and Tom spend time drinking with Myrtle and her friends, though at the end of the evening, Tom gives Myrtle a bloody nose for repeatedly mentioning his wife. Nick then shifts his attention to his neighbor, Jay Gatsby, who up until this point, the reader hasn’t really seen. Gatsby throws parties every week for the wealthy jet set and Nick receives an invitation. This is noteworthy as invitations for Gatsby’s parties really weren’t ever sent out: people showed up in droves, knowing they would be granted access. Nick attends the brilliant gathering and actually runs into Jordan Baker there. Gatsby speaks with Jordan alone and she returns to the party, shocked at what she’s learned.

Nick and Gatsby begin to spend more time together, and Nick even meets one of Gatsby’s colleagues, Meyer Wolfshiem. This is someone that the reader is ultimately able to infer as being one of Gatsby’s associates in organized crime. Late that day, Nick has tea with Jordan Baker who tells him about that talk she had with Gatsby at the party. She explains that Gatsby is in love with Daisy Buchanan and that they had been sweethearts, but that since he wasn’t financially stable, they were unable to be together. Gatsby accumulated his wealth and bought a mansion across the sound from hers with the intention of throwing these parties in the hopes that she might wander in one night. Later we learn that such a plan would never have happened as Daisy is an old money girl, and would be unlikely to fraternize at such a “new money” party. A plan is cooked up where Nick will ask Daisy over to his house for tea, asking her to come alone, and then Jay will stop by unannounced. The meeting goes as planned, and even though Jay and Daisy are awkward upon their reunion, they soon become comfortable with one another again. Jay then takes the party of three over to his mansion, taking great delight in showing Daisy the extreme splendor of his wealth.

Eventually Nick relays to us how Gatsby accumulated his wealth and how he went from James Gatz, born to modest farm people, reinventing himself as Jay Gatsby. He describes his mentor, Dan Cody, who takes him under his wing, and influences him to envision the person he would ultimately want to become, never acknowledging his impoverished past.

Tom and Daisy actually make it to one of Gatsby’s parties, and Jay and Daisy sneak off alone. It is at the end of this night that Gatsby actually verbalizes to Nick his desire to “repeat the past” seeing it as something that can be recaptured. As the summer months continue on, Daisy and Jay culminate a full-fledged affair. On a particularly doomed day in the summer, one that feels particularly hot, humid and generally unbearable, Jay and Nick drive to have lunch at the Buchanan residence. They all decide to travel into the city, getting a suite at the Plaza Hotel and making mint juleps. Things become increasingly awkward as Daisy is doing very little to hide her affection for Jay, and Tom is becoming increasingly agitated about the whole situation. This is in part because on the way into the city, Tom stops at Wilson’s garage, which is owned by Myrtle’s husband. He has learned of his wife’s affair (despite not knowing who the man involved is) and the knowledge is taking a toll on him, inhibiting his ability to function. Westward is where Wilson declares he will take his wife, much to Tom’s consternation.

The gathering of five, still hot and restless, arrive at the Plaza Hotel in New York. The day is still humid and uncomfortable so they order mint juleps and drink them in an expansive suite, wondering if they should have all just rented five separate rooms and taken nice cool baths. The heat and the tension combine, with the alcohol and tempers flare. Tom becomes awkwardly confrontational with Jay, grilling him about his past, his education and his shady business dealings. Tom even challenges Jay about his intentions with his wife. Jay tries to force Daisy to assert that she doesn’t and never loved Tom—but she is unable to do that. Instead she asserts that she loves them both and loves Jay “too.” In this scene, as graceless and tense as it is, demonstrates Tom’s confidence and the mutual understanding between people of privilege. He knows that Daisy will never leave him, and certainly not for someone like Jay Gatsby—someone who comes from a lineage of nobodies and who made his fortune as a bootlegger while engaging in other illegal activities. Tom is not just wealthy—he comes from generations of wealth, power, privilege and respectability. His wealth extends beyond just his immediate money but the family name he bears. Hence, after this tense clash at the Plaza, Tom demonstrates his utter confidence in the situation: he commands Daisy and Jay to head back to his home in East Egg, driving in Gatsby’s car. Tom, Nick and Jordan drive separately in Tom’s car.

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Nick is faced with the shock of his friend’s death and the responsibility of making all these funeral arrangements for him. The most disgusting aspect of this situation is that all of the people who came to his house in droves to party at his mansion have no interest in attending his funeral. Not even Gatsby’s business associate, Meyer Wolfshiem, agrees to attend the funeral. Jay and Daisy leave on a trip and don’t send flowers or even a note. The owl-eyed man that Nick once ran into at one of Gatsby’s parties is one of the few attendees, as his father, Henry C. Gatz, along with a few servants.  Nick makes plans to return to the Midwest, though runs into Tom Buchanan one last time. During this final meeting Nick declines even a handshake, overcome with his own loathing for Tom. Tom’s lack of integrity becomes even more apparent when he tells Nick how he essentially had a hand in Jay’s death and went over to Wilson’s garage telling him who the owner of the car was that killed his wife.

The novel concludes with Nick returning to the dock by Gatsby’s mansion, looking a that green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. There he determines that so many of us are proceed in life against the current, constantly yanked back by our memories of the past.


Gatsby’s Books/Library

There’s a tremendous amount of symbolism used in the novel, consistently and with great success. One point of symbolism involves the books in Gatsby’s library in his mansion. Nick wanders in there during one of the parties and is confronted by an owl-eyed man who asserts: “”See!” he cried triumphantly. “It’s a bona-fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me. This fella’s a regular Belasco. It’s a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop, too – didn’t cut the pages” (50). This symbolically demonstrates to the reader the internal conflict of what it is to be Gatsby: on the one hand the books are real, and on the other hand they haven’t been read (so they might as well be fake). It’s a gesture that shows a desire to look educated, but it’s one that is incomplete. It demonstrates that Gatsby is deeply committed to appearances.


The motif of driving occurs and reoccurs in the novel. Driving is a tool used for the narrator to move between East and West Egg, and reckless driving is what secures Jay’s fate. There’s a very telling conversation expressly about driving that occurs between Jay and Jordan during their casual romance.

“‘You’re a rotten driver,’ I protested. ‘Either you ought to be more careful or you oughtn’t to drive at all.’ ‘I am careful.’ ‘No, you’re not.’ ‘Well, other people are,’ she said lightly. ‘What’s that got to do with it?’ ‘They’ll keep out of my way,’ she insisted. ‘It takes two to make an accident.’ ‘Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself.’ ‘I hope I never will,’ she answered. ‘I hate careless people. That’s why I like you’” (64).

Obviously, this conversation is about more than just driving. The dialogue is a larger metaphor for the carelessness of the very wealthy, and how they expect to just do whatever they want in life, and that everyone else will just get out of their way. There’s a strong expectation that they needn’t make any effort to not hurt others, and that others will just have the sense to move or be more careful.

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At the end of the novel, Jordan accuses Nick of ghosting on her, or essentially rejecting her. “‘Nevertheless you did throw me over,’ said Jordan suddenly” (189). She then recounts their conversation about bad drivers and accuses him of being another bad driver. “I thought you were rather an honest, straightforward person. I thought it was your secret pride’”(190). The suggestion here is that bad drivers think everyone is just going to get out of their way. It’s not that Nick was another bad driver; rather, it’s that he refused to play along when he saw her self-absorbed, complicit behavior. This metaphor shows the bad driver thinks that everything is just going to work out fine regardless—which is incorrect. Nick was someone who decided he would not continue to put up with her “bad driving.”

The Eyes of T.J. Eckleburg

When Nick describes his commute to the city from West Egg, he has to go through what he describes as a “Valley of Ashes” where a billboard with the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg is prominent:

“The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic—their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness or forgot them and moved away” (26).

Many scholars make much to-do over how  these eyes represent the eyes of God with their sense of omniscience. This is not incorrect, but there are other ways to interpret this symbol. These eyes could represent the eyes of the greater author—F. Scott Fitzgerald. It could represent the eyes of fate or of karma. However the reader chooses to interpret them, they should be viewed with a sense of greater sagacity than what the characters of the story are capable of.

Cold Fried Chicken

At the end of the novel, after Daisy has hit Myrtle Wilson with Jay’s car, Nick goes to the Buchanan residence and sees Tom and Daisy sitting in the kitchen through the window.

“Daisy and Tom were sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table with a plate of cold fried chicken between them and two bottles of ale. He was talking intently across the table at her and in his earnestness his hand had fallen upon and covered her own. Once in a while she looked up at him and nodded in agreement. They weren’t happy, and neither of them had touched the chicken or the ale—and yet they weren’t unhappy either. There was an unmistakable air of natural intimacy about the picture and anybody would have said that they were conspiring together” (155).

Based on the events of the novel, one can surmise that they are planning to have Gatsby take the fall for the death of Myrtle Wilson. The cold fried chicken represents the corpse of Gatsby, which is going to be discarded and left unacknowledged by them both. Hence, in this case there is both foreshadowing and symbolism at work.

Daisy’s Voice

Much is made of Daisy’s voice, and how Jay’s description of it, solidifies her as the desirable old money girl. Nick tries to pinpoint what it is exactly about her voice, calling it indiscreet.

Jay is able to articulate it exactly: “‘Her voice is full of money,’ he said suddenly. That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money—that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it…. High in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl….” (128).

However, there’s more to her voice than just establishing Daisy as royalty. Fitzgerald is suggests that there’s something about her voice that is enchanting and that enchants. It is as if she is a siren: in Greek mythology the sirens lured sailors with their mesmerizing singing, causing them to cause wreckages of their ships on the rocks and drown. While Gatsby isn’t a sailor, he does end up dead in his pool, in a loose manifestation of symbolism of this bit of mythological lore.

The Green Light

Many high school teachers make a big deal about the green light across the sound on the edge of Daisy’s dock. Many interpret it as a traffic light signaling “go” and others interpret it to represent money, or the ill effects of money, such as greed. Others interpret it as a envy, as Gatsby envies Tom. Others view it as the newness and freshness of spring as Jay has attempted to create a virtual rebirth in his life. If you ever have to write about the green light in a paper or for a test, try to make your interpretation of it as innovative as possible.


Nick Carraway

Nick is the narrator and the one true ally of the title character. It is through Nick’s eyes that we encounter the events of the story. He is trustworthy, in part because he does not originate from the extreme privilege of so many of the other characters. Thus he takes little for granted.

Daisy Buchanan

Nick’s second cousin and the long lost love of the title character. It is mentioned that her girlhood was passed in Louisville, which suggests her family might be old southern money. She is from the upper crust of society and comes from generations of wealth.

Tom Buchanan

Tom is the husband of Daisy and represents the type of ideal partner for her. Even though he is hulking, brash and confrontational, he descends from a lineage of generational old money as does she. He is having a blatant affair with Myrtle Wilson.

Jordan Baker

Jordan is a slightly younger friend of Daisy’s who she grew up with during their youth in Louisville. One can surmise that they came from the same socioeconomic background given the fact that they socialized with one another as young people. Jordan is a bad driver and a professional golfer. Nick suggests he heard something about her cheating during a golf match.

Jay Gatsby

Jay is the title character of the novel and was born James Gatz to parents who were simple farmers. He became the protégé of a man named Dan Cody and reinvented himself as Jay Gatsby—mostly to win back the heart of Daisy Fay. Daisy and Jay fell into young love, but could not be together as he couldn’t support her. He eventually becomes wealthy but ultimately is forced to discover that even money isn’t enough, and that attempting to repeat the past is futile, dangerous and tragic.

Myrtle Wilson

Myrtle Wilson is the wife of George and the woman that Tom is having an affair with. She is a buxom woman of the working class, lacking Daisy’s fragile gentility. She is killed by Daisy driving Jay’s car.

George Wilson

Working class husband of Myrtle and owner of garage that Tom often visits. He ultimately kills Jay, after having been manipulated by Tom. Tom leads him to believe that jay was the one driving the car that killed his wife.


Nick’s Trustworthiness:

“‘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” (3).

Time and the Past:

“I wouldn’t ask too much of her,’ I ventured. ‘You can’t repeat the past.’  ‘Can’t repeat the past?’ he cried incredulously. ‘Why of course you can!’” (118).

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” (193).


“I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. ‘All right,’ I said, ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool’” (120).

Daisy’s Voice:

‘Her voice is full of money,’ he said suddenly

The Famous Gatsby Smile:

“He smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly.  It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced—or seemed to face—the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on YOU with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey” (53).

Gatsby’s Inherent Melancholy:

“You see, I usually find myself among strangers because I drift here and there trying to forget the sad thing that happened to me” (73).



The idea of youth manifests in a variety of ways in the novel. Gatsby often recounts the time that he was young and with Daisy, and attempts to recreate the vivacity of youth through his wild and vivacious parties. There’s also a suggestion of the fallibility of our hearts and minds in our youth and the life-altering mistakes that can be made within our youth.

The Past/Time

The theme of the past and attempting to repeat or recreate it connects directly with the theme of youth. Time is but fleeting and attempting to repeat things is futile. When Daisy and Jay reunite for the first time, there’s heavy symbolism that occurs with a clock on the mantelpiece. Jay leans his head against it:

“Luckily the clock took this moment to tilt dangerously at the pressure of his head, whereupon he turned and caught it with trembling fingers and set it back in place. Then he sat down, rigidly, his elbow on the arm of the sofa and his chin in his hand. ‘I’m sorry about the clock,’ he said. My own face had now assumed a deep tropical burn. I couldn’t muster up a single commonplace out of the thousand in my head. ‘It’s an old clock,’ I told them idiotically” (92-93).

This demonstrates that an attempt to “repeat the past” sends time, as represented by the clock, into a precarious position. One should leave the past well enough alone, the novel seems to warn the reader. And the only way to not be in a state of flux is to direct one’s boat with the flow of the current.


Nick and Jay are very aware of socioeconomic class, probably because they weren’t born into a super-wealthy strata of society and they spend time with those who were. There’s a pervasive sense of those who have versus those who have not. Nick refers to the “money and carelessness” of Tom and Daisy at the end of the novel. He often ruminates on how their money and carelessness allow them to be untouched by the consequences of their behavior.

Socioeconomic Class

As the novel demonstrates, wealth is not everything. Gatsby had accumulated great wealth, had won back Daisy’s heart to a certain extent, but that still wasn’t enough. He could reinvent himself, but he still couldn’t climb out of the background from whence he came: he would always be the son of a poor farmer. Socioeconomic class counts for a tremendous amount, and quite often old money sticks with old money, thumbing its nose at new money.


Aside from Nick promising the reader that he can be trusted to relay things accurately, the themes of personal morality and integrity are littered throughout the novel. The pathological self-absorption of Tom and Daisy are part of this theme as an expression of antithesis—as are the fickleness of all the revelers at Gatsby’s house. Nick is surrounded by people who don’t show much integrity and he ends up moving out of New York because of it, in part.

The American Dream

The American dream promises that you can become anything you want to be. The naive James Gatz believes this wholeheartedly from his simple farm. He believes he can carve out a life of wealth, power and luxury for himself, and to a certain extent he can— but he is not all-powerful. There are things he cannot create and things he cannot overcome. Furthermore, his wealth also represents a subversion of the American dream as it is built on criminal activity and dishonesty. The novel suggests a certain amount of imperfection within the American dream as many view it. It also points to the danger innate in believing too much in reinvention and one’s accomplishments. After all, an individual is more than the sum of their achievements.


All things considered, The Great Gatsby is a powerful book that captures one of the most riveting periods of American history: the glamour and roaring twenties that were the years of excess before the fall of the Great Depression. The novel meditates on many themes and symbols within human experience—many of which are eternal. Moreover, it offers a scathing representation of how the individual should view time, the past, love and self-worth. It shows us that even extreme wealth has its limits and that self-absorbed people often do self-absorbed things. In some ways, Gatsby represents a weakness within all of us—a desire for transformation and for recreating a portion of our youth that is forever gone. In sympathizing with Gatsby, we sympathize with the more foolish and hopeful parts of ourselves. By acknowledging these aspects along with the flaws and strengths inherent within ourselves, we become more likely to have a brighter future.


Fitzgerald, F. S. (1925). The Great Gatsby. Retrieved from


Crafting an essay on The Great Gatsby is a common assignment in both high school and college. It is also an engaging exercise. The novel is so vividly written that it’s like getting into a time machine and going back to the 1920s. Even so, it demonstrates how human nature hasn’t changed that much in the almost century since the book was written. If you find yourself working on such a writing assignment, do endeavor to be as innovative in your points, ideas and interpretations as much as possible. Be creative. This is because teachers have spent their careers reading the same repetitive analysis of this book—much of which is often very narrow in scope. If you find yourself stuck, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Our writers have studied this novel at length and feel comfortable writing a host of original, fresh interpretations of this special book.

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