Type of Work
The Great Gatsby is a novel of tragedy. In ancient Greek literature, a tragedy involved the downfall of a noble character with a tragic flaw (called hamartia). The Great Gatsby records the downfall of two characters with at least some noble characteristics: Gatsby and American society. Their tragic flaws are naive idealism and corrupt behavior. The Great Gatsby was Fitzgerald's third novel. Previously, he had published This Side of Paradise (1920) and The Beautiful and the Damned (1922). Year of Publication
The Great Gatsby was published in New York in April 1925 by Charles Scribner's Sons. Setting
The story takes place in the wealthy Long Island communities of West Egg and East Egg (both fictional), about twenty miles east of Manhattan. Author Fitzgerald once lived on Long Island in the village of Great Neck, Nassau County, on the north shore of the island. Time
The year is 1922, a time of economic prosperity and epochal social change. The workday has shortened while take-home pay has increased. Old social and cultural conventions are dying and new ones taking their place. Many women, for example, retain their jobs in the work place after the Great War (World War I) had forced them into the labor force. And all women now have the right to vote, causing them to view themselves as the equals of men. Some women even adopt masculine fashions and ways. Prohibition of alcoholic beverages--which begins in 1920 by government mandate after being pushed by religious fundamentalists--has spawned a vast illegal trade in bootleg whiskey, thereby incubating organized crime. The advent of mass-produced automobiles changes the way people travel and where they live and work. At the same time, racism and jingoism are on the rise to counteract gains by non-whites and the assimilation of foreigners. Among the major events of 1922 were the following:
Teapot Dome Scandal, in which the U.S. Secretary of Interior, Albert Fall, received a kickback for secretly granting Mammoth Oil Company the rights to the Teapot Dome oil reserves in Wyoming. •
Dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
First use of laboratory-prepared insulin for the treatment of diabetes. •
Publication of the first issue of Reader's Digest.
Start of Construction on Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, New York City. •
Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini's takeover of the Italian government in Rome. •
Archeologist Howard Carter's discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen, an Egyptian pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty.
Jay Gatsby: The main character of the novel, who has made a fortune selling illegal whiskey. He was born James Gatz to a poor farm couple in North Dakota. At seventeen, he changes his name to Jay Gatsby as he severs ties with his humble beginnings and dreams of a better day. His job with a millionaire yacht owner teaches him how to make money. While serving in the U.S. Army, he falls in love with Daisy Fay, but she marries the scion of a wealthy family after Gatsby goes overseas. After Gatsby returns, he pursues his dream: to make a fortune that enables him to reclaim Daisy Fay (now Daisy Buchanan).
Nick Carraway: The narrator of the novel. A Minnesota native, he is imbued with Midwestern values and relocates to the New York area to work in the bond business. He is Daisy's cousin and becomes entwined with her life and Gatsby's.
Daisy Fay Buchanan: Beautiful young woman who rejects Gatsby and marries wealthy Tom Buchanan, then has an affair with Gatsby. She is shallow and immature, although Gatsby thinks she is the ideal woman. Daisy seems bored with life, saying, "I've been everywhere and seen everything and done everything." Although unhappy in her marriage and her privileged lifestyle, she is unwilling to give up either.
Tom Buchanan: Daisy's boorish and bigoted husband, who comes from a fabulously wealthy Chicago family. He is arrogant and condescending. At Yale, where he was an...
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