The Great Gatsby Analysis: Plot Summary, Themes and Characters

Last Updated on August 8, 2023 by Ralph Nyadzi

This post about The Great Gatsby analysis gives an overview of the plot, themes and characters in the novel. We shall answer a few other common questions about The Great Gatsby to help you understand the various aspects of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel.

Here are the additional questions we will address in this analysis of The Great Gatsby

When and where is the setting of The Great Gatsby?

What is the main message of The Great Gatsby?

What are the minor characters in The Great Gatsby?

Do you need a short summary followed by an analysis of The Great Gatsby by the American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald?

Are you looking for an analysis of Gatsby and other characters that will enable you to prepare sufficiently for the next exam on American Literature?

Then you are in the right place. Just sit back and relax as I take you through the essential elements of this novel.

Are you ready? Let’s do it!


The Setting of The Great Gatsby: Period, Places and Atmosphere

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, an American novelist, narrates the tragic story of Jay Gatsby, a self-made American millionaire and his desire to win the heart of a wealthy young woman called Daisy Buchanan.

Let’s begin our analysis of The Great Gatsby with a description of the setting of the events that take place in the novel.

Areas we shall cover under setting are the time or period within which the action occurs, the places where most of the incidents in the novel happen and the prevailing atmosphere.

The Time Period of The Great Gatsby

Set in the 1920s, the story is narrated by Nick Carraway, a young man from the Midwest who moves to New York City and becomes entangled in the lives of his wealthy neighbours.

“The Great Gatsby” is set in the early 1920s, a time often referred to as the “Roaring Twenties” or the “Jazz Age.”

Places and Atmosphere

The Great Gatsby story takes place primarily in two fictional locations in the United States. These are West Egg and East Egg. Both locations are in the vicinity of New York.

Remember that your understanding of the sociocultural background of this novel will help in your analysis of key characters like Gatsby.

West Egg

West Egg is a fictional affluent area located on Long Island, New York. It is home to newly wealthy individuals who have acquired their wealth mostly through business ventures and bootlegging during the Prohibition era.

Note that Jay Gatsby, the enigmatic protagonist in The Great Gatsby, lives in a lavish mansion in West Egg.

The atmosphere in West Egg is, therefore, characterized by ostentatious displays of wealth. There are extravagant parties and a palpable sense of everyone striving to fit into the upper echelons of society.

Beneath all this show of affluence, however, lingers a deep sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction.

East Egg

East Egg is another fictional wealthy area situated across the bay from West Egg. It is inhabited by the “old money” elite.

These are people who inherit their wealth through generations.

For example, Tom and Daisy Buchanan, who play significant roles in the novel, reside in a mansion on the East Egg.

We can describe the atmosphere in East Egg as one marked by a sense of entitlement, and sophistication. The wealthy from East Egg have a disdainful attitude towards those from West Egg.

New York City

The city of New York plays a significant role in the novel. This sprawling city acts as a symbol of excitement, wealth, and the pursuit of personal dreams.

The narrator of The Great Gatsby portrays New York as a vibrant metropolis. It is the place where characters frequently attend parties and engage freely in extramarital affairs. At they same time, they seek the fulfilment of their aspirations.

Overall, the atmosphere of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, is one of both grandeur and moral decay.

The unending extravagant parties and luxurious lifestyles of the characters contrast with the underlying sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction.

The novel expertly captures the superficial lifestyles, the hollowness of the feeling of achievement and the materialism of the Jazz Age.

It also exposes the disillusionment and moral ambiguity that characterized the post-World War I period.

This then is the overall setting of The Great GatsbyIt provides the backdrop that will enable us to explore the themes of social class, wealth, love, and the elusive nature of the American Dream.

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Step-by-Step Plot Summary of The Great Gatsby

It is now time for you to have a step-by-step plot summary of “The Great Gatsby”: But in case you prefer a fuller and more coherent summary of The Great Gatsby, you can jump over this to the next section.

You will see the analysis of the themes and characters like Jay Gatsby down the line.


The novel begins with the narrator, Nick Carraway, moving to West Egg on Long Island, New York, to work in the bond business. He becomes neighbours with the mysterious and wealthy Jay Gatsby.

Jay Gatsby is a man who throws extravagant parties at his mansion but remains elusive and enigmatic.

Nick Discovers Jay Gatsby Loves Daisy

Nick learns that Gatsby is deeply in love with his (Nick’s) cousin, Daisy Buchanan. Daisy lives across the bay in East Egg and is married to Tom Buchanan.

In fact, Gatsby and Daisy were in love long before Daisy married Tom. And Gatsby’s primary motive for acquiring wealth and status was to win Daisy back.

Gatsby’s Love Pursuit and Reunion with Daisy

Gatsby enlists Nick’s help to arrange a reunion with Daisy. He hosts a small tea at his mansion, where Daisy and Gatsby rekindle their romance.

As their affair continues, Gatsby becomes infatuated with the idea of repeating the past and erasing the years Daisy spent with Tom.

Tom’s Discovery and Tense Moment

Tom becomes suspicious of Daisy and Gatsby’s relationship. He confronts the two lovebirds during a visit to New York City.

The tension builds further as Gatsby tries to convince Daisy to leave Tom, but she becomes torn between her love for Gatsby and the security her marriage with Tom offers.

The Confrontation at Plaza Hotel

Tom, Gatsby, Daisy, Nick, and Jordan Baker (a friend of Daisy’s) have a confrontation at the Plaza Hotel.

In this incident, emotions run high as Gatsby insists that Daisy admits she never loved Tom. The situation becomes volatile, and Daisy ultimately chooses to stay with Tom.

A Tragic Event

On their way back from the city, Daisy is driving Gatsby’s car when she accidentally hits and kills Myrtle Wilson who happens to be her husband Tom Buchanan’s mistress.

Gatsby takes the blame to protect Daisy. Meanwhile, Myrtle’s husband, George Wilson, convinces himself that Gatsby was the driver of the car that killed his wife.

Gatsby’s Death

George, in a fit of grief and anger, fatally shoots Gatsby at his mansion. He then takes his own life. Gatsby dies alone in his swimming pool while waiting for a call from Daisy.

Thus, George Wilson kills Gatsby because he erroneously believes that Gatsby was the driver that killed his wife, Myrtle Wilson.

Conclusion: Jay Gatsby’s Funeral and Nick’s Return to the Midwest

Only a handful of people attended Gatsby’s funeral. The reason for the low turnout at Gatsby’s funeral is that many of his former associates and party guests have distanced themselves from his affairs.

Nick, the narrator, feels disillusioned by the moral emptiness of the wealthy elite. Consequently, he returns to the Midwest.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, ends with Nick reflecting on the fleeting and transient nature of dreams, wealth, and human ambitions.

The novel encapsulates the tragedy of Jay Gatsby’s life and the general disillusionment of that era in American social life.

Clearly, “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a poignant exploration of the American Dream, the unrestrained desire for love and wealth, and the consequences of unchecked ambition and materialism.

Full Summary of The Great Gatsby

Before we do our analysis of the themes and characters in The Great Gatsby, let’s have a more coherent summary of the novel.

Nick Carraway Arrives at West Egg

The narrative of The Great Gatsby begins with Nick Carraway renting a small house in West Egg, Long Island, next to the grand mansion of Jay Gatsby.

Across the bay lies East Egg, home to the old-money elite. Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan, lives in East Egg with her husband Tom Buchanan, an affluent and arrogant man.

As Nick settles into his new neighbourhood, he attends a lavish party at Gatsby’s mansion, known for its opulence and excesses.

Gatsby himself remains elusive, with rumours swirling about his wealth and mysterious background.

Extra-Marital Affairs

We discover that Gatsby is deeply in love with Daisy and has spent years amassing his fortune to win her back.

Nick reconnects with Daisy, and Gatsby takes the opportunity to engineer a reunion with his old love, Daisy.

Eventually, Daisy and Gatsby’s love affair is rekindled and this causes tension with Tom.

Interestingly, Tom is busy having an affair of his own with Myrtle Wilson, the wife of a working-class man.

As the story unfolds, tensions escalate between Gatsby, Tom, and Daisy.

In the meantime, Gatsby’s extravagant parties and lavish lifestyle fail to win him acceptance into the elite society of East Egg.

Tom exposes Gatsby’s illicit activities and manipulates Daisy’s emotions, culminating in a climactic confrontation.

Myrtle Wilson is Killed

Tragedy strikes when Myrtle Wilson is killed in a hit-and-run accident, and Gatsby takes the blame to protect Daisy, who was driving the car.

How Jay Gatsby and George Wilson Died

George Wilson, Myrtle’s husband, seeks revenge believing that Jay Gatsby is responsible for his wife’s death. In a fit of grief and anger, Wilson shoots and kills Gatsby before taking his own life.

The True Life Story of Jay Gatsby Revealed

In the aftermath, we discover Gatsby’s true background.

Gatsby was born into a poor family. In his pursuit of the American Dream, Gatsby later reinvented himself to amass wealth and achieve social status.

However, despite his wealth, Gatsby remains an outsider. He spends the rest of his life chasing the love and acceptance of Daisy, a married woman.

It is in these circumstances that Gatsby accidentally kills Myrtle Wilson. George Wilson, believing that Gatsby is the true killer of his wife, shoots and kills him before turning the gun on himself.

Nick Carraway’s Disillusionment and Departure

As the summer comes to an end, Nick reflects on the emptiness and moral decay he has witnessed among the wealthy elite. He becomes disillusioned with the hollow pursuit of wealth and the corruption that exists beneath the surface of the American Dream.

He therefore moves from that area and relocates to the Midwest.

The Main Message of The Great Gatsby

“The Great Gatsby” is an exploration of the elusive nature of the American Dream and its corrupting influences on individuals and society as a whole.

Fitzgerald’s novel captures the decadence and excess of the Jazz Age with a scathing critique of the society it portrays.

The novel is an expose of the human condition and the pursuit of happiness in a world where appearances often mask deeper truths.

Let’s turn our attention to the analysis of key themes in The Great Gatsby.

The Themes in The Great Gatsby

The major themes in The Great Gatsby are wealth, love, and the pursuit of the American Dream.

Through Nick’s observations and interactions, the novel explores themes of wealth, love, identity, and the corrupting influence of materialism.

The Illusion of the American Dream

The theme of the American Dream is a recurring motif that dominates the pages of the novel. This American Dream theme grows out of the belief that anyone, regardless of their background, can achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and ambition.

Jay Gatsby, the novel’s protagonist, personifies the American Dream. He rises from a humble background to become immensely wealthy.

All this is in pursuit of his strong desire to win back his lost love, Daisy Buchanan.

However, the novel exposes the illusion of the dream. Gatsby’s obsession with wealth and social status ultimately leaves him unfulfilled and disillusioned.

Thus, in many ways, Gatsby’s dream for the love of Daisy and his dream for wealth have a lot in common. At the very least, both can be elusive and destructive at the same time.

Fitzgerald’s point is this: material success alone can hardly lead to happiness and fulfilment.

The Great Gatsby is, therefore, a cautionary tale about the dangers of an unattainable and unsustainable dream.

The Corruption of Wealth and Privilege

The Great Gatsby also delves into the corrupting influence of wealth and privilege, particularly in the context of the upper-class elite during the Jazz Age.

Characters like Tom and Daisy Buchanan represent “old money” and enjoy a life of opulence and luxury. On the surface, Americans of their type appear to be shielded from the consequences of their actions.

Their wealth grants them a sense of entitlement and detachment from moral responsibility. This explains their morally bankrupt mindset, recklessness and callous behaviour.

The novel portrays the upper class in a very negative light. It is highly critical of the moral decay that accompanies excessive wealth and privilege.

The Fragility of Human Relationships

Another central theme in the novel is the fragility of human relationships, particularly romantic ones. The characters in “The Great Gatsby” struggle with love, loyalty, and betrayal.

Gatsby’s unrequited love for Daisy and the affair between Tom and Myrtle Wilson exemplify the complexities and vulnerabilities of human relationships.

Further, his unwavering devotion to Daisy underscores the transformative power of love.

But it also reveals the destructive consequences of unrelenting attachment to a romanticized past.

The novel portrays love as a force that can drive people to great heights but can also lead to tragedy and misery.

It shows how our pursuit of personal desires and our inability to form genuine and meaningful relationships contribute to loneliness and isolation.

Other Themes in The Great Gatsby

Here are some minor themes in The Great Gatsby. They must be a key part of your study and analysis of The Great Gatsby.

Social Class and Social Stratification

This analysis of The Great Gatsby will be incomplete without any reference to the theme of social status.

The novel examines the rigid social hierarchy of the 1920s. It showcases characters from different social backgrounds interacting and clashing with one another.

The stark contrast between the “old money” of East Egg and the “new money” of West Egg highlights the social divisions and the tensions between the established aristocracy and the newly wealthy.

Time and the Past

The theme of time and the past is interwoven throughout the novel. The characters grapple with the past and its impact on the present, as they attempt to recreate or escape from it.

For example, Gatsby’s obsession with repeating the past and Daisy’s reluctance to confront her history with Gatsby reflect the characters’ struggles with the passage of time.

The Pursuit of an Elusive Happiness

Another minor theme in The Great Gatsby is man’s desire to achieve happiness and satisfaction without ever seeming to get there.

The novel explores the unattainable nature of happiness and describes the different ways characters seek fulfilment in their lives.

Whether through wealth, love, or social acceptance, the characters’ pursuits are often fraught with challenges and complexities.

The Deceptive Nature of Appearances

Fitzgerald explores the superficiality and deceitful appearances of the characters and the world they inhabit. The glamorous façade of the wealthy hides inner turmoil, moral decay, and shattered dreams.

The Decay of the American Dream

While the illusion of the American Dream is a major theme, the novel also touches on the idea of its gradual decline.

As the narrative unfolds, we observe the characters’ unprincipled pursuit of material wealth and status. This illustrates the erosion of the traditional values associated with the American Dream.

Isolation and Loneliness

Despite the seemingly vibrant and social setting of the novel, many characters experience feelings of isolation and loneliness.

This clearly demonstrates the ironic nature of their condition.

The superficial relationships and lack of genuine connections contribute to a pervasive sense of loneliness among the characters.

The Influence of Society and Expectations

The novel examines the impact of societal norms and expectations on the characters’ choices and actions.

The pressure to conform to social standards and expectations often leads to moral compromises, and unethical attitudes that result in painful emotional conflicts.

We shall now take a closer look at characters without which any analysis of The Great Gatsby will be incomplete.

Let’s start with an analysis of the major characters in The Great Gatsby.

The Characters in The Great Gatsby: Major Characters

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald features a cast of compelling characters. Each plays a crucial role in the development of the novel’s themes and plot.

And I want you to look out for my statement on the significance of each character in terms of theme and plot development.

Here are some of the major characters, along with their relevant characteristics and contributions to the narrative.

Our first character analysis is about Jay Gatsby.

Jay Gatsby

Jay Gatsby, an enigmatic figure, is the protagonist or central character in The Great Gatsby.

Gatsby’s real name is James Gatz.

He is a self-made millionaire who hosts lavish parties at his mansion in West Egg. Gatsby is a dreamer who is obsessed with the past and his love for Daisy Buchanan, wife of Tom Buchanan.

His pursuit of wealth and social status is driven by his desire to win back Daisy, whom he had a brief romantic relationship with before she married Tom Buchanan.

Gatsby represents the illusion of the American Dream, as he embodies the belief that wealth can erase the past and buy happiness. His unyielding passion for Daisy and his tragic fate highlight the theme of the American Dream’s illusory nature and the consequences of unchecked ambition.

Daisy Buchanan

Daisy Buchanan is the object of Gatsby’s affection and Tom Buchanan’s wife. She is charming and alluring but also shallow and vacillating.

For example, Daisy is torn between her love for Gatsby and the security of her marriage to Tom.

Daisy’s inability to choose between Gatsby and Tom ultimately leads to tragedy. This points to her role in the development of the plot of The Great Gatsby.

Daisy embodies the theme of the corrupting power of wealth and privilege. We witness how her upper-class status shields her from accountability for her actions, despite her direct involvement in Myrtle Wilson’s death.

Her character also underscores the theme of the fragility of human relationships, as her wavering affections have significant consequences for those around her.

Tom Buchanan

Tom Buchanan is Daisy’s husband and comes from “old money.” He is arrogant, domineering, and openly unfaithful to Daisy. Tom is having an extra-marital affair with Myrtle Wilson.

Tom represents the decadent and morally bankrupt upper class of the Jazz Age. Just like his wife Daisy, Tom Buchanan epitomizes the theme of the corrupting influence of wealth and privilege.

For instance, he uses his high social status to exert control over others and act without consequences.

Tom’s confrontations with Gatsby and his involvement in Gatsby’s downfall underscore the novel’s exploration of social class and the decay of the American Dream.

Nick Carraway

Nick Carraway is the novel’s omniscient narrator. He is a bond salesman who moves to West Egg. He is Gatsby’s neighbour and becomes entangled in the lives of the characters.

Nick comes across as being honest and observant. He is the one who provides a moral compass for the story. His narration allows readers to gain insight into the lives of the wealthy elite and their decadent lifestyles.

Nick’s interactions with Gatsby and his role as a confidant to various characters make him a central figure in the plot development. His disillusionment with the excesses and moral emptiness of the upper class mirrors the novel’s critique of the Jazz Age society.

Jordan Baker

Jordan Baker is a professional golfer and a friend of Daisy Buchanan. She is described as self-centred and dishonest,

Jordan is yet another character in The Great Gatsby that reflects the superficiality and moral decay of the upper class.

Jordan’s romantic involvement with Nick highlights the theme of the deceptive nature of appearances.

It also shows the challenges of forming genuine connections in a society driven by materialism.

Our final stop is an analysis of the minor characters in the novel.

Minor Characters in The Great Gatsby

There are some minor characters we need to talk about in this analysis of The Great Gatsby. Let’s start with Myrtle Wilson.

Myrtle Wilson

Myrtle Wilson is the wife of George Wilson, the owner of a run-down garage in the Valley of Ashes. Valley of Ashes in The Great Gatsby is a desolate industrial area between West Egg and New York City.

Myrtle is vivacious and discontented with her modest life. She has an affair with Tom Buchanan, and their relationship symbolizes the moral decay and infidelity of the upper class.

Myrtle’s tragic fate intertwines with Gatsby’s story when she is accidentally killed by Daisy Buchanan while driving Gatsby’s car.

George Wilson

George Wilson is Myrtle Wilson’s husband and the owner of a struggling garage in the Valley of Ashes. He is a desperate and simple man, deeply in love with his unfaithful wife, Myrtle.

George is indirectly involved in the novel’s tragic events. This is when he becomes convinced that Gatsby was the driver responsible for Myrtle’s death.

George Wilson ends up shooting Jay Gatsby before taking his own life.

Owl Eyes

Owl Eyes is a minor character encountered by Nick Carraway at one of Gatsby’s parties. He is a frequent guest at Gatsby’s extravagant gatherings.

Also, Owl Eyes is known for his love of books and literary interests.

Owl Eyes’ presence at the party highlights the superficiality of the guests and the façade of sophistication that they maintain.

Meyer Wolfsheim

Meyer Wolfsheim is a shadowy and dubious figure associated with organized crime and bootlegging during the Prohibition era. He is Gatsby’s business associate and is rumoured to be involved in various illegal activities.

Wolfsheim’s character adds an element of mystery and danger to the novel, highlighting the corruption and criminal underbelly of the Jazz Age.


Klipspringer, also known as “the boarder,” is a minor character who resides at Gatsby’s mansion and frequently attends his parties. He is a carefree and opportunistic individual, always seeking ways to benefit from his association with Gatsby.

Klipspringer’s lack of genuine loyalty or emotional connection with Gatsby underscores the theme of superficial relationships prevalent among wealthy partygoers of that period.

Dan Cody

Our final minor character in this analysis of The Great Gatsby novel is Dan Cody.

Dan Cody is a minor character who plays a significant role in Gatsby’s past. He is a wealthy copper magnate who befriends the young James Gatz (Gatsby’s real name) when he is a young man.

Cody becomes a mentor and an influential figure in Gatsby’s life, leaving a lasting impact on his dreams and aspirations.

These major and minor characters contribute to the richness of the novel’s setting. Additionally, they serve as foils or symbols, helping to deepen the exploration of the novel’s central themes.

Above all, the characters in The Great Gatsby, through their utterances, actions and attitudes provide us with deeper insights into the complex world of Jazz Age society.

Final Thoughts

We have been looking at the plot summary, themes and characters in this tutorial on The Great Gatsby. You can use the analyses of the various themes and characters to adequately prepare for a high school or college level Literature test on the book.

In addition, you can find over ninety very likely exam essay questions on The Great Gatsby at Cegast Academy. And in case you need the analyses of other novels, plays or poems, all you need to do is look around. Because we’ve got a lot for you.

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