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 anyone,” 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 impression­ ability 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 today.

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 breath-giving 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 walls 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 rosy­-colored 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 eye 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. Tomorrow!” 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?”


“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 Damn 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, small-breasted 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?”

Before I could reply that he was my neighbor dinner was announced; wedging his tense arm imperatively under mine, Tom Buchanan compelled me from the room as though he were moving a checker to another square.

Slenderly, languidly, their hands set lightly on their hips, the two young women preceded us out onto a rosy­-colored porch, open toward the sunset, where four candles flickered on the table in the diminished wind.

“Why candles?” objected Daisy, frowning. She snapped them out with her fingers. “In two weeks it’ll be the longest day in the year.” She looked at us all radiantly. “Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day in the year and then miss it.”

“We ought to plan something,” yawned Miss Baker, sitting down at the table as if she were getting into bed.

“All right,” said Daisy. “What’ll we plan?” She turned to me helplessly: “What do people plan?”

Before I could answer her eyes fastened with an awed expression on her little finger.

“Look!” she complained. “I hurt it.”

We all looked—the knuckle was black and blue.

“You did it, Tom,” she said accusingly. “I know you didn’t mean to, but you did do it. That’s what I get for marrying a brute of a man, a great, big, hulking physical specimen of a——”

“I hate that word hulking,” objected Tom crossly, “even in kidding.”

“Hulking,” insisted Daisy.

Sometimes she and Miss Baker talked at once, unob­trusively and with a bantering inconsequence that was never quite chatter, that was as cool as their white dresses and their impersonal eyes in the absence of all desire. They were here, and they accepted Tom and me, making only a polite pleasant effort to entertain or to be entertained. They knew that presently dinner would be over and a little later the evening too would be over and casually put away. It was sharply different from the West, where an evening was hurried from phase to phase toward its close, in a continually disappointed an­ticipation or else in sheer nervous dread of the moment itself.

“You make me feel uncivilized, Daisy,” I confessed on my second glass of corky but rather impressive claret. “Can’t you talk about crops or something?”

I meant nothing in particular by this remark, but it was taken up in an unexpected way.

“Civilization’s going to pieces,” broke out Tom vio­lently. “I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read ‘The Rise of the Coloured Empires’ by this man Goddard?”

“Why, no,” I answered, rather surprised by his tone.

“Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be—will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.”

“Tom’s getting very profound,” said Daisy, with an expression of unthoughtful sadness. “He reads deep books with long words in them. What was that word we——”

“Well, these books are all scientific,” insisted Tom, glancing at her impatiently. “This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.”

“We’ve got to beat them down,” whispered Daisy, winking ferociously toward the fervent sun.

“You ought to live in California—” began Miss Baker, but Tom interrupted her by shifting heavily in his chair.

“This idea is that we’re Nordics. I am, and you are, and you are, and—” After an infinitesimal hesitation he included Daisy with a slight nod, and she winked at me again. “—And we’ve produced all the things that go to make civilization—oh, science and art, and all that. Do you see?”

There was something pathetic in his concentration, as if his complacency, more acute than of old, was not enough to him any more. When, almost immediately, the telephone rang inside and the butler left the porch Daisy seized upon the momentary interruption and leaned toward me.

“I’ll tell you a family secret,” she whispered enthusi­astically. “It’s about the butler’s nose. Do you want to hear about the butler’s nose?”

“That’s why I came over tonight.”

“Well, he wasn’t always a butler; he used to be the silver polisher for some people in New York that had a silver service for two hundred people. He had to polish it from morning till night, until finally it began to affect his nose——”

“Things went from bad to worse,” suggested Miss Baker.

“Yes. Things went from bad to worse, until finally he had to give up his position.”

For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face; her voice compelled me forward breathlessly as I listened—then the glow faded, each light deserting her with lingering regret, like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk.

The butler came back and murmured something close to Tom’s ear, whereupon Tom frowned, pushed back his chair, and without a word went inside. As if his absence quickened something within her, Daisy leaned forward again, her voice glowing and singing.

“I love to see you at my table, Nick. You remind me of a—of a rose, an absolute rose. Doesn’t he?” She turned to Miss Baker for confirmation: “An absolute rose?”

This was untrue. I am not even faintly like a rose. She was only extemporizing, but a stirring warmth flowed from her, as if her heart was trying to come out to you concealed in one of those breathless, thrilling words. Then suddenly she threw her napkin on the table and excused herself and went into the house.

Miss Baker and I exchanged a short glance con­sciously devoid of meaning. I was about to speak when she sat up alertly and said “Sh!” in a warning voice. A subdued impassioned murmur was audible in the room beyond, and Miss Baker leaned forward unashamed, trying to hear. The murmur trembled on the verge of coherence, sank down, mounted excitedly, and then ceased altogether.

“This Mr. Gatsby you spoke of is my neighbor—” I said.

“Don’t talk. I want to hear what happens.”

“Is something happening?” I inquired innocently.

“You mean to say you don’t know?” said Miss Baker, honestly surprised. “I thought everybody knew.”

“I don’t.”

“Why—” she said hesitantly, “Tom’s got some woman in New York.”

“Got some woman?” I repeated blankly.

Miss Baker nodded.

“She might have the decency not to telephone him at dinner time. Don’t you think?”

Almost before I had grasped her meaning there was the flutter of a dress and the crunch of leather boots, and Tom and Daisy were back at the table.

“It couldn’t be helped!” cried Daisy with tense gayety.

She sat down, glanced searchingly at Miss Baker and then at me, and continued: “I looked outdoors for a minute, and it’s very romantic outdoors. There’s a bird on the lawn that I think must be a nightingale come over on the Cunard or White Star Line. He’s singing away—” Her voice sang: “It’s romantic, isn’t it, Tom?”

“Very romantic,” he said, and then miserably to me: “If it’s light enough after dinner, I want to take you down to the stables.”

The telephone rang inside, startlingly, and as Daisy shook her head decisively at Tom the subject of the stables, in fact all subjects, vanished into air. Among the broken fragments of the last five minutes at table I remember the candles being lit again, pointlessly, and I was conscious of wanting to look squarely at everyone, and yet to avoid all eyes. I couldn’t guess what Daisy and Tom were thinking, but I doubt if even Miss Baker, who seemed to have mastered a certain hardy skepti­cism, was able utterly to put this fifth guest’s shrill metallic urgency out of mind. To a certain temperament the situation might have seemed intriguing—my own instinct was to telephone immediately for the police.

The horses, needless to say, were not mentioned again. Tom and Miss Baker, with several feet of twi­light between them, strolled back into the library, as if to a vigil beside a perfectly tangible body, while, trying to look pleasantly interested and a little deaf, I followed Daisy around a chain of connecting verandas to the porch in front. In its deep gloom we sat down side by side on a wicker settee.

Daisy took her face in her hands as if feeling its lovely shape, and her eyes moved gradually out into the velvet dusk. I saw that turbulent emotions possessed her, so I asked what I thought would be some sedative questions about her little girl.

“We don’t know each other very well, Nick,” she said suddenly. “Even if we are cousins. You didn’t come to my wedding.”

“I wasn’t back from the war.”

“That’s true.” She hesitated. “Well, I’ve had a very bad time, Nick, and I’m pretty cynical about every­thing.”

Evidently she had reason to be. I waited but she didn’t say any more, and after a moment I returned rather feebly to the subject of her daughter.

“I suppose she talks, and—eats, and everything.”

“Oh, yes.” She looked at me absently. Listen, Nick; let me tell you what I said when she was born. Would you like to hear?”

“Very much.”

“It’ll show you how I’ve gotten to feel about—things. Well, she was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. 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.’

“You see I think everything’s terrible anyhow,” she went on in a convinced way. “Everybody thinks so­—the most advanced people. And I know. I’ve been every­where and seen everything and done everything.” Her eyes flashed around her in a defiant way, rather like Tom’s, and she laughed with thrilling scorn. “Sophisti­cated—God, I’m sophisticated!”

The instant her voice broke off, ceasing to compel my attention, my belief, I felt the basic insincerity of what she had said. It made me uneasy, as though the whole evening had been a trick of some sort to exact a con­tributary emotion from me. I waited, and sure enough, in a moment she looked at me with an absolute smirk on her lovely face, as if she had asserted her member­ship in a rather distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged.

* * *

Inside, the crimson room bloomed with light. Tom and Miss Baker sat at either end of the long couch and she read aloud to him from the Saturday Evening Post—the words, murmurous and uninflected, running to­gether in a soothing tune. The lamp-light, bright on his boots and dull on the autumn-leaf yellow of her hair, glinted along the paper as she turned a page with a flutter of slender muscles in her arms.

When we came in she held us silent for a moment with a lifted hand.

“To be continued,” she said, tossing the magazine on the table, “in our very next issue.”

Her body asserted itself with a restless movement of her knee, and she stood up.

“Ten o’clock,” she remarked, apparently finding the time on the ceiling. “Time for this good girl to go to bed.”

“Jordan’s going to play in the tournament tomor­row,” explained Daisy, “over at Westchester.”

“Oh—you’re Jordan Baker.”

I knew now why her face was familiar—its pleasing contemptuous expression had looked out at me from many rotogravure pictures of the sporting life at Ashe­ville and Hot Springs and Palm Beach. I had heard some story of her too, a critical, unpleasant story, but what it was I had forgotten long ago.

“Good night,” she said softly. “Wake me at eight, won’t you.”

“If you’ll get up.”

“I will. Good night, Mr. Carraway. See you anon.”

“Of course you will,” confirmed Daisy. “In fact I think I’ll arrange a marriage. Come over often, Nick, and I’ll sort of—oh—fling you together. You know—lock you up accidentally in linen closets and push you out to sea in a boat, and all that sort of thing——”

“Good night,” called Miss Baker from the stairs. “I haven’t heard a word.”

“She’s a nice girl,” said Tom after a moment. “They oughtn’t to let her run around the country this way.”

“Who oughtn’t to?” inquired Daisy coldly.

“Her family.”

“Her family is one aunt about a thousand years old. Besides, Nick’s going to look after her, aren’t you, Nick? She’s going to spend lots of weekends out here this summer. I think the home influence will be very good for her.”

Daisy and Tom looked at each other for a moment in silence.

“Is she from New York?” I asked quickly.

“From Louisville. Our white girlhood was passed together there. Our beautiful white——”

“Did you give Nick a little heart-to-heart talk on the veranda?” demanded Tom suddenly.

“Did I?” She looked at me. “I can’t seem to remem­ber, but I think we talked about the Nordic race. Yes, I’m sure we did. It sort of crept up on us and first thing you know——”

“Don’t believe everything you hear, Nick,” he advised me.

I said lightly that I had heard nothing at all, and a few minutes later I got up to go home. They came to the door with me and stood side by side in a cheerful square of light. As I started my motor Daisy peremptor­ily called: “Wait!

“I forgot to ask you something, and it’s important. We heard you were engaged to a girl out West.” 

“That’s right,” corroborated Tom kindly. “We heard that you were engaged.”

“It’s a libel. I’m too poor.”

“But we heard it,” insisted Daisy, surprising me by opening up again in a flower-like way. “We heard it from three people, so it must be true.”

Of course I knew what they were referring to, but I wasn’t even vaguely engaged. The fact that gossip had published the banns was one of the reasons I had come East. You can’t stop going with an old friend on account of rumors, and on the other hand I had no intention of being rumored into marriage.

Their interest rather touched me and made them less remotely rich—nevertheless, I was confused and a little disgusted as I drove away. It seemed to me that the thing for Daisy to do was to rush out of the house, child in arms—but apparently there were no such intentions in her head. As for Tom, that he “had some woman in New York” was really less surprising than that he had been depressed by a book. Something was mak­ing him nibble at the edge of stale ideas as if his sturdy physical egotism no longer nourished his peremptory heart.

Already it was deep summer on roadhouse roofs and in front of wayside garages, where new red gas-pumps sat out in pools of light, and when I reached my estate at West Egg I ran the car under its shed and sat for a while on an abandoned grass roller in the yard. The wind had blown off, leaving a loud, bright night, with wings beating in the trees and a persistent organ sound as the full bellows of the earth blew the frogs full of life. The silhouette of a moving cat wavered across the moonlight, and turning my head to watch it, I saw that I was not alone—fifty feet away a figure had emerged from the shadow of my neighbor’s mansion and was standing with his hands in his pockets regarding the silver pepper of the stars. Something in his leisurely movements and the secure position of his feet upon the lawn suggested that it was Mr. Gatsby himself, come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens.

I decided to call to him. Miss Baker had mentioned him at dinner, and that would do for an introduction. But I didn’t call to him, for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone—he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trem­bling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward—and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far way, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness.


  1. Though Nick can theoretically be trusted to understand his own father, it’s worth noting the distance between what was explicitly said to Nick—that he has had more advantages than other people and should keep that fact in mind before criticizing them—and what Nick takes from the advice, which is that he should reserve all judgments, always. This distance, along with the reservation of all judgments, suggests that Nick’s perspective on events is not entirely accurate.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  2. A “rotogravure” is a printing method developed in the mid-19th century and used to print images for magazines and newspapers. Its process involves engraving an image onto the cylinder of a rotary press through which high numbers of pages can be quickly fed. The name “rotogravure” is also applied to the sections of 1920s periodicals containing these types of images. Usually printed in sepia, the rotogravure (also sometimes known as the photogravure) became quite popular in 1920s newspapers, especially for Sunday editions containing engraved photographs.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  3. Jordan Baker is a professional golfer—she refused a drink earlier in the evening because she is “in training” for her sport. Though golf began as a male-dominated sport, it became more acceptable for women to participate—although not without facing discrimination—in the United States after the turn of the 20th century. The Women’s Tournament Committee of the United States Golf Association was established in 1917, making professional careers in the sport even more accessible for women like Jordan Baker.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  4. “Contributory” is the adjective form of the verb “to contribute,” or to play a significant role in bringing about an outcome. Nick suggests that Daisy’s expressions and language are manipulative; when he doesn’t empathize with Daisy’s cynicism, he interprets her reaction as a reinforcement of her position in a “secret society” of American aristocracy, of which Nick cannot be a member.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  5. Daisy reveals that she is not only aware, but also intentional when she behaves frivolously. She also appears to address the emptiness of her marriage when she describes awakening from childbirth, with Tom “God knows where,” and experiencing an “utterly abandoned feeling.” She acknowledges her lack of power, as well as the lack of power available to women in her time, when she briefly mourns that her child is a girl. Hoping her daughter will become “a beautiful little fool” confirms that Daisy views shallow, charming frivolity as the best avenue available to women who wish to survive.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  6. Ethers are organic compounds that contain an “ether group,” or an oxygen atom and two aryl or alkyl groups. The particular form Daisy refers to is diethyl ether, which became popular as an anesthesia in the second half of the 19th century and into the 20th century.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  7. Tom’s character is further developed by the revelation that he is having an affair with an (as yet) unknown woman in New York. Additionally, Jordan’s disclosing of Tom’s affair introduces another key motif in Gatsby: unhappy marriages. Tom’s and Daisy’s marriage represents a shared deception: both outwardly pretend that things are fine, but it seems that their peers are well aware of the problems in their relationship despite their attempts at discretion.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  8. The verb “to extemporize” means to perform something, such as a speech, without practice or preparation. Nick means that Daisy is coming up with meaningless things to say in order to entertain, with “polite pleasantness,” while Tom is taking a call.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  9. Though the term “Nordic” usually describes someone who is descended from one of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands), Tom is referring to the specific racist ideology of Madison Grant, in which “Nordics” are credited with all major cultural developments throughout history. Tom’s anxiety about the rising power of people of color reflects his fear that his position of power and security is tenuous.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  10. This is likely an allusion to The Rising Tide of Color: The Threat Against White World-Supremacy, a 1920 book by American white supremacist Lothrop Stoddard. The work argues that the growing world population of people of color threatens “Western civilization” and white supremacy. This concern about losing the societal power conferred by whiteness would not necessarily have been unusual for someone of Tom’s social class; indeed, President Warren G. Harding referred to The Rising Tide in a 1921 speech as an influence on his pro-segregation views.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  11. Nick describes Daisy and Jordan as interacting without substance—they are charming, but detached, with “impersonal eyes in the absence of all desire.” Because there is nothing they want, there is nothing they care about. Nick seems to comment on the refined though superficial manners of the upper class, the “old money” families who have been socialized to handle such anxieties with grace—while feeling no pressure to shape an evening in a particular way. Daisy and Jordan “accept” Nick and Tom and try to be pleasing, but there is no genuine connection between anyone present.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  12. The adjective “supercilious” describes a person who behaves as if they are superior to others. Tom Buchanan’s superciliousness—later described as “paternal contempt”—along with his aggressive appearance and apparent physical power seems to represent an arrogant and potentially hostile upper class. Nick’s description of Tom suggests that he has become disgusted, or at the very least unimpressed, by Tom’s behavior at the time of his narration.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  13. In contrast to Gatsby’s European-style mansion, the design of the Buchanans’ home reflects some of the earliest architecture of the American colonies. It is notable that the real house most commonly cited as Fitzgerald’s inspiration for the Buchanan’s home was, despite its appearance, built in 1902—like the Carraways, any pretensions to legacy were just that.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  14. The relationship between wealth—different types of wealth—and social status is one of the most important motifs in The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald’s particular emphasis on the carelessness of the wealthy—invoked here by Tom Buchanan’s frivolous “freedom with money” in college—offers a broad criticism of the pursuit of money he saw in the 1920s. Following World War I, much of the world enjoyed an economic boom that, in the United States, encouraged a culture of earning, spending, and indulging. Still, Tom Buchanan’s “old” money, amassed over generations by his upper-class family, offers him security, power, and status that these newer entrepreneurs lack.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  15. The title of “Hôtel de Ville” literally translates to “city hall” and is often associated with the city hall in Paris, France. It can also refer to a city hall in any French city. Nick’s description of Gatsby’s mansion, with its “spanking new” tower, as “a factual imitation of some Hôtel de Ville in Normandy” suggests that its design is an attempt to emulate the wealth and splendor of the old-monied upper classes.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  16. An epigram is a short, witty, and sometimes paradoxical or satirical statement that addresses a single idea. For example, in the line “I can resist everything except temptation,” from Oscar Wilde’s play Lady Windermere’s Fan, a character uses paradox and brevity to joke about the tension between his desire to indulge in scandalous behavior and the social pressure to control his impulses. In calling the “well-rounded man” the most limited of specialists, this epigram highlights the contrast between how deeply educated such a person is perceived to be and how shallow their exposure to topics actually is.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  17. Nick refers to King Midas, J. P. Morgan, and Gaius Maecenas, three men who are associated with the accumulation of great wealth. In Greek mythology, Midas is a king of Phrygia gifted—or cursed—with a “golden touch,” or the “Midas touch,” meaning anything he touched transformed into gold. J. P. Morgan (1837–1913) was a successful American financier and the head of the banking firm that would become JPMorgan Chase, still a major bank today. Gaius Maecenas, born circa 70 BCE, was a friend and political advisor to the first Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus (63–14 BCE), and famous for his wealth and influence.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  18. The “bond business” refers to buying and trading bonds, which are fixed units of corporate debt that accrue interest over time. The US enjoyed sustained economic prosperity after the conclusion of World War I in 1918 which continued through the 1920s. The booming stock market, which was concentrated in the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street, offered promising opportunities to make one’s fortune by trading stocks and bonds, and so Nick abandoned the Midwest for New York City.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  19. “The Great War” was the contemporary name for World War I, a global war that lasted from July 1914 to November 1918. Though the war began with a conflict between Serbia and Austria-Hungary, due to the two nations’ alliances with various other European nations, much of Europe was quickly involved. The global conflict became one of the deadliest in history, costing more than 20 million lives.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  20. The Teutons were an ancient proto-Germanic tribe living in approximately the 1st and 2nd centuries BCE, whose deeds were recorded by Roman writers including Pytheas and Strabo. The Teutons migrated into the Roman Empire from southern Scandinavia in the late 2nd century BCE. In the company of the ancient Cimbri and Ambrones tribes, they successfully overcame Roman forces in Italy, Noreia, and Arausio. The war, which is known as the Cimbrian War, ended when the tribes split their forces and fell to the Roman general Gaius Marius. Nick uses the term “Teutonic” to mean “Germanic,” given Austria-Hungary’s role in starting World War I.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  21. Nick is referring to the American Civil War (1861–1865), a bloody conflict between the northern states (the Union) and the southern states (the Confederate States of America). The Confederacy seceded from the United States after abolitionist Abraham Lincoln won the presidency over concerns that his government would restrict states’ rights to enslave Black people. The American Civil War is the bloodiest war on US soil thus far, killing at least 600,000 people. Despite the wartime drafts enacted by both the Union and the Confederacy, the founder of the Carraway clan avoided battle by sending someone else in his place. Like Nick is about to, this Carraway experienced events from the sidelines.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  22. The title of Duke of Buccleuch is part of the Peerage of Scotland, a subsection of the Peerage of the British Isles before England and Scotland were united into the state of Great Britain in 1707. As a social class, a peerage is composed of individuals who have either inherited or been honored with a noble title, such as “lord,” “lady,” “duke,” and “duchess.” The Carraways, who have only been in the United States since 1851, lie about being descended from the Dukes of Buccleuch to make their family seem more distinguished. Their lie suggests that the idea of American “old money” families is illegitimate, given that the country is so young compared to England. This points to the arbitrariness of the division between “old” and “new” money, which fuels much of the characters’ interpersonal conflict in the novel.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  23. Nick refers to a seismometer, an instrument used to measure the ground movements made by earthquakes. He uses this comparison to describe the extent of Gatsby’s “heightened sensitivity to the promises of life.” Nick’s description of Gatsby is idealistic to the point of dehumanization: Gatsby’s hope and “romantic readiness” are so profound that they remind Nick of machinelike sensitivity. Therefore, Gatsby is spared from Nick’s scorn—he is not a regular person and is exempt from Nick’s newly discovered limits of tolerance.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  24. Nick has been describing himself as a privileged man who is capable of tolerance, or of seeing past a person’s lack of “the fundamental decencies”—qualities that, as his father suggests, are indicative of wealth and status rather than a fundamentally inferior character. However, Nick here describes his father’s advice as “snobbish” and recasts it so that what is “parcelled out unequally at birth” is “a sense of the fundamental decencies”—made an inherent personal trait—as opposed to “advantages” which could allow a person to develop those “decencies.” This reframing implies that Nick has missed his father’s point entirely. It also forces a reconsideration of those “wild, unknown men” who made him their confidante when he was in college: it now seems likely that Nick’s dismissal of them as “abnormal minds” and “veteran bores” is at least partially rooted in classism.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  25. The noun “levity” means an unseemly lack of seriousness, usually bordering on humor. Fitzgerald creates an oxymoron in attributing a “hostile levity” to Nick. An oxymoron is a combination of two contradictory words that emphasize each other through their juxtaposition: for example, a “deafening silence.” In this context, the contradictory states of hostility and levity highlight Nick’s superficiality: beneath his posture of non-judgment, he is still judgmental. Furthermore, Nick’s performative and calculated “hostile levity” suggests that he might deserve the accusation of “being a politician.”

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  26. The verb “to feign” means to pretend. Nick presents himself as an unwilling magnet for “wild, unknown men” who want to talk about their secrets and stories. Pretending to be asleep is one of several ways that he tries to discourage these men from treating him as a confidante—though apparently to no avail. Fitzgerald perhaps opens the novel with this detail in order to alert readers that there are only certain stories worthy of Nick’s empathy and attention, despite Nick’s belief in the openness of his own mind.

    — Owl Eyes Editors
  27. Nick suggests that he was accused of pandering to others (as a politician might) by reserving his judgment of them. This practice encouraged people to “attach” themselves to him, which is why he became “privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men.” Nick himself is unable to totally withhold his criticism: he portrays himself as “normal” and these men as “abnormal” and therefore implicitly beneath him. This suggests that, despite his father’s advice and his own self-perception, Nick upholds the divisions that maintain a class-based social hierarchy.

    — Owl Eyes Editors