Reading The Great Gatsby
Domestic dispute, extramarital affairs, drunk driving, hit and run…sound like an episode of Cops? Actually, all of this drama unfolds in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, a story of the beautiful and rich movers and the shakers of New York high society.
Here's a teen-friendly refresher course in the plot of this classic work of literature, as well as SAT vocabulary your teen can use to describe what happens for themselves.
Nick Carraway is our narrator and an observer of the clash between “new money” and “old money” in the social scene of 1920's New York. Nick has moved into a house in West Egg- the area frowned upon as “New Money.” Nick’s next door neighbor is the infamous Jay Gatsby, whose mansion is the place to be on a Saturday night for lavish and decadent parties.
Useful vocabulary in describing the society of The Great Gatsby:
Debauchery - Extreme indulgence
Decadent - Decaying; in moral decline
Depravity - Moral corruption
Fatuous - Silly; foolish
Prodigal - Wasteful; extravagant
Nick also spends time with his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, and her “old money” husband, Tom Buchanan. They introduce Nick to the beautiful Jordan Baker, and the sparks fly. Jordan can dish the dirt on everybody, and she tells Nick that Tom is having an affair with a woman named Myrtle, whose husband owns a gas station on the road to New York City.
After a few weeks spent peeking out of windows and drooling over Gatsby’s parties, Nick finally gets an invite. In addition to finding Jordan at the party, he also marvels at the luxuries: good booze, beautiful food, lovely music - even a real Rolls Royce! The one thing he doesn’t find is the host. Rather than enjoying his guests, Gatsby remains a shadowy figure watching the fun in anonymity. But when Nick strikes up a conversation with a man seated at his table, he is surprised to find that he is the famous Jay Gatsby. After a brief exchange, Gatsby again disappears, leaving Nick full of wonder about his reserved host. Later Gatsby sends for Jordan, and they share a private conversation, of which Jordan won't share the details to Nick.
As the summer continues, Nick spends more time with Gatsby but still knows little about his background. Gatsby is full of talk, but all his stories are riddled with holes, leaving Nick to believe they are nothing but lies. Gatsby seems to keep the company of some sleazy characters, and there are hints that he makes his money illegally. Finally, Jordan reveals the subject of her private conversation with Gatsby. He confessed to her that he is, and always has been, in love with Nick’s cousin, Daisy. He moved across the water from her just to be near her. The huge parties he throws every Saturday night are just to get her attention, and he stands outside in the dark each night and stares at the green light at the end of her dock. Gatsby has cozied up to Nick because he would like for him arrange an accidental meeting for their reunion.