Since we’ve gotten through chapter 1 together, what do you think of the book? Be honest. Please make sure to tell us specifically what you like or don’t like about this book. You’ve also got a summary of Chapters 1 and 2 to help you better understand what is going on in the book.
SUMMARY of CHAPTER 1
As The Great Gatsby opens, Nick Carraway, the story’s narrator, remembers his upbringing and the lessons his family taught him. His father informed him not judge others, especially those that didn’t have the opportunities that he had. Readers learn of his past, his education, his WASPy background, and his sense of moral justice, as he begins to unfold the story of Jay Gatsby. The narration takes place more than a year after the incidents described, so Nick is working through the filter of memory in relaying the story’s events. The story properly begins when Nick moves from the Midwest to West Egg, Long Island, seeking to become a “well-rounded man” and to recapture some of the excitement and adventure he experienced as a soldier in WWI. He feels restless and wants to be busy much like he was during the war, so he goes to work on the high-pressure world of Wall Street and bonds. As he tries to make his way as a bond salesman, he rents a small house next door to a mansion which, it turns out, belongs to Gatsby on Long Island at West Egg.
Daisy Buchanan, Nick’s cousin, and her husband, Tom, live across the bay in the fashionable community of East Egg. Nick goes to visit Daisy, a charming woman with a socialite’s air, and Tom, a brutish, hulking, powerful man made arrogant through generations of privilege. Tom and Nick went to Yale together, and while many people disliked Tom, Tom seems to want Nick to like him and his luxurious lifestyle. While at the Buchanans, he meets Jordan Baker, the professional golfer and a girlhood friend of Daisy’s. As the foursome lounge around the Buchanans’ estate, they discuss the day’s most pressing matters: the merits of living in the East, what to do on the longest day of the year, reactionary politics, the power of the Nordic race, and other such shallow topics. When Tom takes a phone call, Daisy becomes upset as she tries to entertain her cousin. As she attempts to listen in on their argument, Jordan informs Nick that Tom’s mistress is on the phone. Tom, known for his infidelities, makes no pretense to cover up his affairs. Upon returning from their fight, Daisy talks to Nick about the birth of her daughter, Pammy, and informs him that she wants her daughter to grow up to be a fool so that she doesn’t experience the pain and heartbreak of being in love with a brute of a man. However, when she finishes talking, Nick realizes that Daisy might actually really enjoy this lifestyle and the drama that goes along with being married to Tom. As Tom and Daisy work to set up Nick and Jordan, they seize the opportunity to question him about his supposed engagement to a girl back home. Nick reassures them there is no impending marriage, merely a series of rumors that cannot substitute for truth.
Upon returning home that evening, as he is sitting outside on a beautiful, clear summer night, Nick notices a figure emerging from Gatsby’s mansion. Nick’s initial impulse is to call out to Gatsby, but he resists because Gatsby “gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone.” It was while watching Gatsby that Nick witnesses a curious event. Gatsby, standing by the waterside, stretches his arms toward the darkness, trembling. This gesture seems odd to Nick, because all he can make out is a green light, such as one finds at the end of a dock, across the Sound. Looking back at the mysterious figure Nick realizes that Gatsby has vanished.
CHAPTER 2: MEET MYRTLE WILSON
Halfway between West Egg and New York City is a desolate plain, a gray valley where ashes are dumped. Existing above this place is a billboard of two huge, blue, spectacle-rimmed eyes—an advertising gimmick by a long-vanished eye doctor—These unblinking eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg watch over everything that happens in the valley of ashes. This is a major symbol in the book.
The train that runs between Long Island and New York passes through the valley, making several stops along the way. One day, as Nick and Tom are riding the train into the city, Tom forces Nick to follow him out of the train at one of these stops. Tom leads Nick to George Wilson’s garage, which sits on the edge of the valley of ashes. Tom’s lover Myrtle is Wilson’s wife. George Wilson is a lifeless yet handsome man, colored gray by the ashes in the air. In contrast, Myrtle is full of desperation and life; she strikes Nick as sexy despite her stocky figure. Tom taunts Wilson and then orders Myrtle to follow him to the train. Tom takes Nick and Myrtle to New York City where they buy a dog and head to the Morningside Heights apartment Tom keeps for his affair. Here they have a party with Myrtle’s sister, Catherine, and a couple named McKee. Catherine has bright red hair, wears a great deal of makeup, and tells Nick that she has heard that Jay Gatsby is the nephew or cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm, the ruler of Germany during World War I. People speculate and talk about the rumors related to Gatsby, like he’s a spy and that he killed a man. The McKees, who live downstairs, are a weird couple: Mr. McKee is pale and feminine, and Mrs. McKee is loud and annoying. Catherine tells Nick that Tom and Myrtle both want to leave their spouses, but Tom can’t because Daisy and he are Catholic (this is totally untrue because they’re WASPs). The group proceeds to drink excessively. Nick claims that he got drunk for only the second time in his life at this party. During this time, Myrtle explains how she ended up with her husband and how disappointed she’s been since.
The out-of-control behavior and random conversations make Nick uneasy, and he tries to leave. At the same time, he finds himself fascinated by the craziness of the group. Myrtle grows louder and more obnoxious the more she drinks, and she begins to talk about Daisy. Tom warns her never to mention his wife. Myrtle angrily says that she will talk about whatever she chooses and begins chanting Daisy’s name. Tom responds by breaking her nose, bringing the party to an end. The rest of the night becomes a little blurry for Nick, but he leaves, drunkenly, with Mr. McKee, goes to his apartment and eventually ends up taking the 4 A.M. train back to Long Island.