The Great Gatsby Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: The Great Gatsby is an American classic following Jay Gatsby’s quest to win back his long-lost love by faking a successful life, depicting the struggles around love, relationships, societal standing, and consumerism of people in the “roaring” 1920s.

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The Great Gatsby Summary

When I was in 12th grade, we each had to pick a classic of American literature, read it, and then present its ideas to the class. I chose The Great Gatsby. Published in 1925 by F. Scott Fitzgerald and partially based on his own life, the book deals with human struggles in the Roaring ’20s, a decade of great economic growth and prosperity in the US.

Narrator Nick Carraway moves to New York from the Midwest and joins the new rich. He ends up next to Jay Gatsby and his huge mansion, where Gatsby throws lavish parties on a nightly basis. Nick’s cousin Daisy Buchanan, who lives close by, is married to a rich but unloving man, who cheats on her with the wife of a lowly gas station worker. Soon, Nick discovers there’s more to Gatsby than meets the eye, especially when it comes to Daisy…

Here are 3 lessons from the 3 main characters of the book, Nick, Daisy, and Gatsby:

  1. It is normal to have moral conflicts, and it is better to be honest about it than to hide it.
  2. While money can improve our lives greatly, it can’t help us solve our most important problems.
  3. Staying true to yourself isn’t always convenient, but at least it’ll help you find inner peace.

Let’s explore the plot of one of the greatest novels of all time and learn some life lessons along the way!

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Lesson 1: We are all morally conflicted, and it’s okay to be honest about those conflicts.

Throughout the book, Nick seems like an objective, reserved, down-to-earth observer and, for the most part, he is. However, he, too, has his struggles.

Nick is somewhat seduced by the crazy, opulent lifestyle Gatsby and his cousin live. He gets drunk at one of Gatsby’s parties and fully buys into his hopeful, ever-optimistic demeanor. Later, he starts dating Jordan Baker, a successful but poor-mannered golfer and socialite. Nick even facilitates the secret meeting where Gatsby and Daisy rekindle their love and begin an affair.

Nick prides himself on being “a simple man” and “not judging others,” and the more time he spends amid rich but despicable people, the better he sees through them. But he is not flawless, and he never really addresses his own shortcomings. By the end of the book, Nick moves back Midwest, having had enough of rich people’s drama, but he’ll still need a fair amount of introspection to truly learn his lesson.

None of us are saints. We will all face ethical conundrums at one point or another. It’s okay to not be perfect, but it’s important to be honest about these dilemmas when they occur — if only to ourselves. Don’t try to be a superhero. Sooner or later, you’ll crack under the pressure.

Lesson 2: Money can solve many problems — but not the most important ones in life. 

As he spends time with the people around him, Nick discovers their secrets. One is that Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s husband, has a mistress named Myrtle, whom he even rents an apartment for in the city. Tom also has anger and drinking issues.

Daisy, of course, knows all of this, and is deeply unhappy in her marriage, not least because she secretly loves Gatsby. Gatsby, in turn, made all his money illegally — from smuggling alcohol — and only pretends to be smart and rich so he can get back together with Daisy.

All of the characters in the book have food, shelter, and plenty of time and money to spare, yet none of them are happy — because the hard work that self-awareness and good relationships require is not something money can do for us.

Daisy most represents this issue. When confronted by Tom and Gatsby to choose either one or the other, she can’t make up her mind. Ultimately, however, she clings to Tom and his (legally made) money, despite him not respecting, let alone loving her.

Some people go to great lengths to get rich but then find they still feel empty inside. Knowing yourself takes time. So does forming great relationships. Money can get you warm and fed and distracted, but it can’t put meaning into your life. That’s something only you can do through reflection, kindness, and self-actualization.

Lesson 3: Being yourself won’t get you everything you want, but it will allow you to be at peace.

After Daisy chooses Tom over Gatsby, Daisy drives Gatsby’s car and accidentally hits and kills Myrtle. Gatsby covers for Daisy, and even when Nick tells him to give up the ruse and flee, he won’t change his mind.

Tom discovers that it was Gatsby’s car at the murder scene and deviously tells George, Myrtle’s husband. Believing Gatsby was also Myrtle’s lover, George breaks in to Gatsby’s house and shoots him in his pool before turning his gun on himself. When Nick finds out Tom ratted on Gatsby, he feels disgusted with all the backstabbing and moves back to the Midwest.

André Gide once wrote that “it is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not,” and it is this truth that Gatsby just can’t wrap his head around that marks his demise.

Instead of being honest about who he is and making the best with what he has, Gatsby erects this monumental façade of a fake life — starting with his name and ending with his wealth — all so he can chase a past that no longer exists: Daisy’s love. If Gatsby had been honest about his humble beginnings, he might never even have built a relationship with Daisy, but he also wouldn’t have been shot in his pool for being mistaken for someone else (namely Tom). Oh, the irony.

Being yourself isn’t always convenient. You’ll rub some people the wrong way. You won’t always get what you want. However, you’ll also naturally attract the right people into your life. Most folks won’t “hate you for what you are.” The ones who don’t like you will just avoid you, and other people will appear.

As long as you live authentically, however, you’ll always sleep peacefully at night — and that’s worth more than all the money and other people’s love in the world.

The Great Gatsby Review

This is an emotional one for me. Looking back through my presentation notes from 2009, I think The Great Gatsby is the first book I summarized. It’s the kind of book that gets better with time. The more you understand its motives and themes, the more you’ll get out of it. I highly recommend reading it at least once.

Who would I recommend our The Great Gatsby summary to?

The 16-year-old high schooler who doesn’t see the point of reading Gatsby in her English class, the 35-year-old corporate employee who, after a few years of working, feels disillusioned with their career, and anyone who’s trying really hard to be someone else.

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Niklas Göke

Niklas Göke is an author and writer whose work has attracted tens of millions of readers to date. He is also the founder and CEO of Four Minute Books, a collection of over 1,000 free book summaries teaching readers 3 valuable lessons in just 4 minutes each. Born and raised in Germany, Nik also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration & Engineering from KIT Karlsruhe and a Master’s Degree in Management & Technology from the Technical University of Munich. He lives in Munich and enjoys a great slice of salami pizza almost as much as reading — or writing — the next book — or book summary, of course!