The Great Gatsby

First Act: Nick spends the First Act being introduced to high society, with varying levels of success. He hangs out with his cousin Daisy and her brutish husband Tom, is introduced to Tom’s ill-fated relationship with the mechanic George Wilson and his bombshell wife Myrtle, and meets his own fling Jordan Baker. Gatsby doesn’t show up in the First Act, but his presence looms large as the light among lights in this glittering landscape. We particularly get the sense of a history between Gatsby and Daisy.

First Plot Point: Gatsby’s infamous party is a suitably glorious First Plot Point. On a thematic level, it aces the symbolism of the glittering corruption of the wealthy East Egg world into which country boy Nick Carraway is being lured. But even more importantly, its introduction of the strange and marvelous Jay Gatsby himself throws open the door that will usher Nick out of the Normal World. At the moment, all looks well. Gatsby and his world seem wonderful, and Nick is delighted to strike up a friendship with him. He makes the decision to attend the party, and it’s that decision that will change his life.

First Half of the Second Act: Nick spends the First Half of the Second Act getting to know Gatsby and falling under his spell. Gatsby has certainly been corrupted by his lifestyle just as Daisy and the others have been. But he’s also different from the others. There’s a core of purity amidst his almost childlike hope, and in recognizing the differences between Gatsby and those around him, Nick begins to see the prevalent falsity in the East Egg world. Even still, Nick is being pulled into that corruption by Gatsby himself, as Gatsby introduces Nick to his underworld associates such as Meyer Wolfsheim and convinces Nick to help him arrange a meeting with his lost love Daisy Buchanan.

Midpoint: After helping Gatsby arrange a strangely manic reunion with Daisy, Nick begins to learn the truth about Gatsby’s past. This glorious man, adored by all, is a phony. Nick grows impatient with Gatsby’s shenanigans, especially his insistence that he can repeat his romantic past with the fickle Daisy. In seeing through the cracks of even Gatsby—easily the best of the East Egg lot—Nick’s illusions about the beauty of this upper-class world begin to crumble.

Second Half of the Second Act: Nick becomes more and more (you guessed it!) disillusioned with the lives of his rich friends, as well as becoming more and more disgusted with their behavior. He watches Daisy engage in an affair with the obsessively and almost innocently hopeful Gatsby, while her hypocritical husband stews behind the scenes. Nick closes out the Second Act with an observation on his thirtieth birthday: “Before me stretched the portentous menacing road of a new decade.” Quite a change of mindset for the optimistic boy from the country.

Third Plot Point: The Third Plot Point begins with a showdown between Gatsby and Daisy’s husband Tom, in which Tom reveals to Daisy that Gatsby has earned his money through criminal activities such as bootlegging. Daisy wavers from her decision to run away with Gatsby, and Tom orders Gatsby to drive her home. As Tom, Nick, and Jordan follow in a second car, they encounter a tremendous accident, in which they learn Gatsby’s yellow roadster hit and killed Tom’s mistress Myrtle. Nick is mostly an observer to these dramatic happenings, but they have brought him to a growingly irrevocable disgust for the entire East Egg set and their underhanded dealings with one another.

Third Act: After refusing to go with Jordan into the Buchanans’ house (in essence refusing to join their corrupt lifestyle), Nick encounters Gatsby and learns the truth of the drive-by accident: Gatsby wasn’t driving at all; Daisy was. Fearing Tom may harm Daisy, Gatsby insists on taking the blame for the accident and remains outside the Buchanans’ house all night. By now, the dark Truth has dawned for Nick. He knows too well that Tom and Daisy are one of kind. Daisy will let Gatsby take the blame, even as she distances herself from him without a second thought—not because remaining with her husband is the right thing to do but because she selfishly knows it’s in her best interest. Nick finally and conclusively realizes the East Egg crowd is a “rotten bunch.” He sticks around to try to help Gatsby, but from that point on, he’s no longer bewitched by the spectacles of wealth and beauty.

Climax: Nick’s disillusionment is complete when Gatsby is murdered by Myrtle’s husband—who believed Gatsby was responsible for her death and who then kills himself. All the people who flocked to Gatsby and his parties during his life disappear upon word of his death. Only a handful of mourners, Nick among them, attend his funeral.

Resolution: After the funeral, Nick distances himself from the East Egg crowd. Blinders now removed, he finds little to appreciate in the city life he once loved. He decides to return home, but not without officially ending his relationship with Jordan and confronting Tom. He revisits Gatsby’s house, where the grass is now overgrown, and he once again compares Gatsby, with his sense of wonder and hope, to the cynicism and selfishness of the world that destroyed him.

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