The Great Gatsby Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice. Initial Situation
Nick Carraway sets up the scene, visits his second cousin, and describes the parties thrown by Jay Gatsby next door.
The narrator, Nick Carraway, recently returned from World War I, finds a job in New York City and rents a small house in West Egg, a small town on Long Island. His cousin Daisy and her husband Tom live nearby in East Egg, and Nick is a frequent visitor to their house. Jay Gatsby, Nick’s next door neighbor, is a wealthy newcomer who throws large parties weekly, during which his guests discuss the latest rumors about who Gatsby is, how he achieved his wealth, and what crimes he might have committed. Conflict
Tom has a mistress. Daisy meets Gatsby and they begin to have an affair.
Despite their wealth, their child, and the front they put on for society, Tom and Daisy’s marriage is a sham. Everybody knows that Tom "has a woman," who even calls him at home. Sure enough, before long, Tom introduces Nick to his mistress, a married woman named Myrtle Wilson whose husband, George, runs an auto garage. Nick learns that Myrtle believes Tom wants to leave Daisy but can’t. This is clearly a lie. Tension rises as we recognize the potentially explosive nature of this situation – especially with a man like Tom around. Our fears are confirmed when Tom is physically abusive to his mistress. The second piece of the conflict emerges later, but it’s a doozy: About halfway through the novel, Jordan Baker reveals that Jay Gatsby fell in love with Daisy some years before. He’d like Nick to invite Daisy to tea so he can see her. Nick helps reunite the two former lovers. Now we’ve got the conflict of Tom’s violence, conflict with Daisy and Gatsby’s love, and some potential conflict between Nick and Jordan (because they’re starting a relationship and that just never goes well in this book). Complication
We learn that Jay Gatsby is actually from a poor family; Tom smells something fishy regarding Gatsby’s story and begins to investigate.
Jay Gatsby is not who he says he is. He’s James Gatz, from a poor background, and his wealth is "ill-gotten gain," the proceeds of organized crime (gambling, bootlegging liquor). Tom Buchanan takes an instant disliking to Gatsby, even before he knows about the affair. His investigation complicates matters considerably. Climax
Tom confronts his wife and Gatsby about their love affair. Myrtle is struck and killed.
The sustained climax begins when Tom realizes he is losing control of his mistress – whose husband plans to take her "West" – and his wife, who is in love with Gatsby. He confronts the two of them in a public social situation. Gatsby tries to force Daisy to say that she never loved Tom – and she can’t do it. She can’t lie and Tom knows he has won: Gatsby’s "presumptuous little flirtation" is over. With magnanimity, Tom sends his wife off with Gatsby to return home. He now knows he’s back in control and there is no danger of continued infidelity. However, when the others, following in Tom’s car, reach the gas station where Myrtle and George Wilson live, they discover that Myrtle was killed by a speeding yellow car that failed to stop. All three know it was Gatsby’s car. It is fitting that this physical climax (death) comes hand-in-hand with the emotional climax that went down at the Plaza. Suspense
What will Daisy and Tom do? What will Wilson do?
Leaving Tom and Daisy’s house, Nick runs into Gatsby, who is watching the house to make sure Daisy is all right. He’s worried that Tom will do something to her now that her infidelity has been revealed. The suspense comes in as we wonder what will happen with the love triangle. Wilson is yet another loose cannon, as we are unsure of what he’ll do in the midst of his...
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