During the summer of 1922, Nick Carraway moves from Minnesota to New York to work as a bond salesman in New York. He rents a house on West Egg, Long Island, a suburb inhabited by “new money.” New money is a term used to refer to those who have made their fortunes too recently to have built strong social connections.
But Nick, a Yale Graduate, has connections in East Egg, where the “old money” lives. While at dinner with his distant cousin Daisy, Nick meets Jordan Baker, a beautiful professional golfer. Nick is next door to the mysterious Jay Gatsby, a rich young man with an indeterminate profession.
Baker also tells Nick that Tom, Daisy’s husband, is having an affair. Nick meets Tom’s mistress when Tom invites him to a party in New York City. While at the party, the mistress Myrtle Wilson makes fun of Daisy to which Tom reacts to by breaking her nose.
Gatsby is an extravagant party thrower and before long, Nick gets to attend one of his parties and meets him for the first time. He also runs into Jordan, who is told an amazing story by Gatsby. Nick gets to learn of the story only after going to lunch with Gatsby and his shady business partner Meyer Wolfsheim.
The story, as told by Jordan, is that before Gatsby left to go to the war, he fell in love with Daisy. Furthermore, the reason he bought the mansion at West Egg was to be near her and to try to win her back. Nick is able to arrange a meeting between Gatsby and Daisy and their love seems to be rekindled.
Eventually, Nick learns the true story of Gatsby’s past. He was born James Gatz in North Dakota but had his name legally changed at the age of seventeen. This was done after he was taken on as Dan Cody’s protector and assistant, who served as Gatsby’s mentor until his death.
Though Gatsby inherited nothing of Cody’s fortune, it was from him that Gatsby was first introduced to world of wealth, power, and privilege. After his reunion with Daisy, Gatsby stops throwing parties on Saturdays since he was only throwing them to get her attention.
Days later, Daisy invites Nick and Gatsby to have lunch with her, Tom, and Jordan. This is when Tom realizes that something is going on between Daisy and Gatsby, after which he insists that they go to New York City. Although Tom himself is unfaithful, he can’t bear the thought that his wife is cheating on him.
When they gather at the Plaza Hotel, Tom confronts Gatsby and a heated argument ensues. Gatsby tells Tom that Daisy does not love him, is only with him because of his wealth, and that she is really in love with him. Daisy neither denies nor confirms this but instead says that she loves them both, stunning Gatsby.
In the midst of all this, Tom reveals that Gatsby made his fortune by bootlegging alcohol among other illegal activities. Gatsby drives off with Daisy in his car, leaving Nick, Tom, and Jordan behind. At the wheel, Daisy hits and kills Myrtle.
Myrtle’s husband George Wilson is distraught and convinced that the driver of the yellow car that hit her was also her lover. While at work that day, Nick fights on the phone with Jordan and they end their relationship. In the afternoon, Nick finds Gatsby shot to death in his pool with Wilson’s dead body a few yards away.
After the murder and suicide, Tom and Daisy flee town, escaping the mess that they themselves created. Nick organizes a funeral but none of Gatsby’s supposed friends come by to pay their respects, with only Gatsby’s father and one other man in attendance.
Nick runs into Tom soon after and learns that Tom mistakenly told Wilson that Gatsby ran over Myrtle. However, Nick doesn’t tell Tom that Daisy was at the wheel. Disgusted with the corrupt emptiness of life on the East Coast, Nick moves back to Minnesota.
But the night before he leaves, he walks down to Gatsby’s beach and looks out over Long Island Sound. He thinks about Gatsby and compares him to the first settlers in America. Like Gatsby, Nick says that all people must move forward with their arms outstretched toward the future, like boats traveling upstream against the current of the past.
Nick muses that Gatsby, alone among the people of his acquaintance, strove to transform his dreams into reality and that is what makes him truly “great.”