BlogEnglishThe Extensive Guide to Analysing ‘The Great Gatsby’ for English: Summary, Context, Themes & Characters

The Extensive Guide to Analysing ‘The Great Gatsby’ for English: Summary, Context, Themes & Characters

The Great Gatsby Book Aesthetic - Essay Analysis Featured Image

Want to write an essay analysis that’s as great as The Great Gatsby? We’re here to help you with a simple summary of The Great Gatsby, its key characters, context and themes.

We’ve even got a step-by-step guide on how to do an amazing in-depth analysis for your essay on The Great Gatsby that’ll blow your teachers away!

And here’s a bonus for you — we’ve also got an analysis table (aka a TEE table) and a sample paragraph that’s all free for you to download.

So, what are you waiting for? Let’s start the party!

Summary of The Great Gatsby
Key Characters in The Great Gatsby
Context
Themes Explored in The Great Gatsby
Essay Analysis of The Great Gatsby

Summary of The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby is a tragic love story that revolves around Jay Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire who strives to rekindle his relationship with his old flame, Daisy Buchanan. It takes on the narrative of Nick Carraway, who witnesses the events between Gatsby and Daisy to tell a tale about doomed love in the world of the wealthy. 

The Great Gatsby Book Cover

Meet Nick, Daisy, Tom and Jordan

In 1922, Nick Carraway moves to a modest home in Long Island, New York in hopes of claiming his own American Dream. He lives next to the famous Jay Gatsby, who had his own mansion and threw lavish parties every weekend. 

One day, Nick travels to the other side of Long Island to visit his cousin, Daisy Buchanan and her husband, Tom whom Nick had known since their university days at Yale. They introduce him to Jordan Baker, who tells Nick about Tom’s mistress.

Later on, Daisy confides in Nick about her unhappiness in her marriage. Nick returns home to see his neighbour, Jay Gatsby, in front of his mansion, stretching his hands across the bay and towards the green light at the end of the Buchanan residence. 

Green Light from the Great Gatsby

Image sourced from LitHub

Meet Myrtle

Nick is then invited to visit the city with Tom and his mistress, Myrtle Wilson who is married to a repairman named George and lives in an industrial wasteland that they call the “valley of ashes”. They party at Tom’s apartment, where an argument about Daisy breaks out between Tom and Myrtle, which ends in Tom breaking Myrtle’s nose. 

Meet Gatsby

As the summer passes by, Nick receives an invitation to one of Gatsby’s extraordinary parties. Nick attends the party and bumps into Jordan.

He then meets the Great Gatsby himself, who turns out to be a remarkable young man who looked like he was longing for something as he peers over his own party. 

As the party winds down, Gatsby speaks to Jordan privately. Jordan would later tell Nick about how Gatsby had met Daisy in Louisville back in 1917 and fell in love with her then. Gatsby is still deeply in love with Daisy, so he hosts many extravagant parties in hopes to see her again. 

Great Gatsby Gala

Gatsby and Daisy reunited 

As Nick and Gatsby become closer, Nick accepts Gatsby’s request to invite Daisy over to Nick’s house, with Gatsby arriving unannounced. Daisy is surprised to see Gatsby after five years apart.

Although awkward at first, Gatsby and Daisy warm up to one another, and begin a love affair. 

Tom gets suspicious 

After a while, Tom starts to suspect something fishy between his wife and Gatsby, so he invites them over for luncheon. At the table, Gatsby responds in a manner that reveals his love for Daisy, which Tom picks up.

Despite having his own affair, Tom gets extremely angry and forces the party to drive to a suit in the Plaza Hotel, New York City. 

Gatsby insists that Daisy claims her love for him in front of Tom, but she backs out after realising her devotion to Tom. Tom begins to assert his own history with Daisy over Gatsby’s and reveals his own private investigations into Gatsby’s job as an illegal alcohol dealer.

Astounded, Daisy runs away and Gatsby chases after her. Daisy and Gatsby take off in Gatsby’s car.

1920s New York

Image sourced from Curbed New York

Myrtle dies 

The party drives back to the Buchanan residence with Nick, Jordan and Tom in another car. As they pass through the valley of ashes, they find out that Gatsby’s car had crashed and killed Myrtle, Tom’s mistress.

When Nick returns to Long Island, Gatsby tells him that Daisy killed Myrtle as she was driving the car and Gatsby was willing to take the fall. 

Gatsby dies 

The following day, Tom informs Myrtle’s husband, George, that Gatsby was the driver that killed Myrtle. A miserable, grieving Tom comes to the conclusion that Gatsby was Myrtle’s secret lover and proceeds to kill Gatsby in the pool of his mansion. Tom then shoots himself. 

Nick arranges a funeral for Gatsby, which no one attends as the world starts to forget about him. Disgusted by the people in Gatsby’s life, Nick moves away from New York to escape the hollowness and moral decline of the higher class.

The novel ends with Nick standing where Gatsby once stood, peering across to watch the green light flicker at the now abandoned Buchanan residence. Although Nick acknowledges that Gatsby was “great” because of his ability to manifest his dreams into reality, he realises that both the pursuit of Gatsby’s and the American dream are, sadly but ultimately, futile. 

Key Characters in The Great Gatsby

Nick Carraway 

As Nick is the main narrator, his perceptions and judgements shape how the story is being told. As a young, bright man, Nick attended Yale and fought in World War I before moving from Minnesota to New York City to learn about the bond industry. 

Soon enough, he becomes friends with his wealthy neighbour, Jay Gatsby. He also has a cousin, Daisy Buchanan, who lives across the area and happens to be Gatsby’s former lover. He plays a pivotal role in facilitating the reunion between Gatsby and Daisy. 

He claims his own character to be honest, open-minded and quiet, so many trust to confide him with their secrets, no matter how scandalous it may be. 

Jay Gatsby

Jay Gatsby makes the title of the book as the main protagonist — a mysterious young millionaire who hosts luxurious parties every Saturday night to impress his former lover, Daisy Buchanan. 

Born as James Gatz on a humble farm in North Dakota, Gatsby’s strive for his American Dream steered him out of poverty and into the upper class world. During his days training as an officer in Louisville, he met Daisy and fell in love with her.

Unfortunately, he had to leave for the army, so he swore to come back to her through acquiring as much fortune as he could. Whether it’d be selling illegal alcohol or trading stolen goods — he would do anything to become rich so he could be back with Daisy. 

Although Nick sees Gatsby as a dishonest man, we have to give it to Gatsby and his extraordinary ability to transform his dreams into a reality as he reconstructs an identity for himself as the legendary “Great” Gatsby. 

Daisy Buchanan

Daisy Buchanan is Nick’s cousin and Gatsby’s love interest. As a young beautiful socialite, she attracted many men in Louisville, including Gatsby. Although she promised to wait for Gatsby, Daisy longed for love and gratification.

So, when Tom (a wealthy, hunky hot mess) asked for her hand in marriage, Daisy decided not to wait for Gatsby and married Tom instead. 

Gatsby sees Daisy as the perfect woman for him due to her charm, grace and wealth. In reality, Daisy is sardonic, superficial and cynical — representing the flaws of the aristocratic. 

Tom Buchanan

Tom is Nick’s former college mate from Yale who was born into an aristocratic, wealthy family line. He is a big bully who exudes arrogance, aggression and cold-heartedness as he projects racism and sexism onto anyone he interacts with.

An outright liar and hypocrite, Tom has no second thoughts about his feelings for Daisy during his extramarital affair with Myrtle, yet becomes enraged at Daisy and Gatsby’s relationship. 

Jordan Baker

Jordan is Nick’s love interest and Daisy’s socialite friend. As a professional golfer, Jordan naturally belongs to the upper class of society as she plays a sport exclusive to the wealthy.

While Jordan is described as alluring and beautiful upon first meeting, Nick later discovers that she is quite cynical, self-centred and a liar. For example, Jordan’s success is built on lies as she cheated in her first major tournament to win. 

Jordan’s sly and self-focussed nature reflects the “new women” of the Roaring Twenties, otherwise known as “flappers” who can be recognised by their bobbed hair, short skirts and makeup that is symbolic of the Jazz Age. The “new women” were open towards sexuality, digressing from the conventional domestic life alike Daisy’s, to welcome a new age of women. 

Myrtle Wilson

Myrtle is Tom’s mistress and a married woman, wedded to a mechanic who owns a garage in the valley of ashes. Desperate to escape her social situation, Myrtle enters an affair with the rich Tom Buchanan, who rents an apartment where she can pretend that she belongs to the upper class world.

Unfortunately, Tom treats Myrtle as an object, inflicting violence upon her whenever she tries to assert her will. 

George Wilson

George Wilson is Myrtle’s exhausted husband, tirelessly working to run his auto shop in the valley of ashes. Despite Myrtle’s ferocity and snappy attitude, George worships the ground that Myrtle walks on. Soon after learning about his wife’s death, George becomes consumed by grief and commits murder to exact his revenge. 

In a way, George reflects Gatsby as both were dreamers whose lives were destroyed by their unrequited love for the women who pursue people like Tom — rich, immoral and selfish. 

Context of The Great Gatsby

Coined as the Great American Novel, The Great Gatsby is a classic piece of American fiction that is revered for its reflective take on American social classes during the Jazz era.

With its imagistic prose and rich history, it teleports us to the 1920s post war society, known as the “Roaring Twenties”. It was a chaotic period in American history in terms of its politics, society and economy. 

To understand The Great Gatsby, it is important to know its historical roots first. Let’s dive into America’s most turbulent time of growth, prosperity and corruption. 

Warren Harding’s Presidency 

After World War I ended in 1919, Warren Harding became the President of the United States and targeted the economy to rebuild America’s morale. It was a time of scandal and corruption as the presidency sided with management in disputes over unions, minimum wage and child labour, which compromised the labourers. 

To make matters worse, Harding and his next-in-line, Calvin Coolidge established tax legislation, which benefited the rich more than the other classes. Further policies also forced people to relocate to urban areas to earn a living, as rural industries such as agriculture, textiles and mining were disadvantaged.

Despite their migration, these people were unable to achieve the better life they sought out for, striving to live in the harsh conditions like that of the valley of ashes in Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby. 

General Strike 1926

Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution: Prohibition 

In 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution: prohibition was approved. This meant that it was illegal to manufacture, sell or transport any type of alcohol. The Americans at that time felt that this was a moral decision, as it would remove any vices associated with drunkenness. 

Yet, things didn’t turn out as planned. Many broke the law and consumed illegal liquor, which boosted demand for illegal alcohol to the extent where organised crime activity took hold of its profitability. This new line of industry generated fortunes for the nouveau riches (newly rich) founders such as Gatsby. 

Prohibition

Understanding this part of American law in the 1920s is very important to understand the weight of Gatsby’s crimes, and how amoral his actions were to become one of the filthy rich. 

Materialism

As the economy prospered, the people earned more money and spent more money at a rate that is higher than any other period in history. People also started to spend more time and money on leisure goods and activities, making sports an enjoyable recreational pastime. 

The Roaring 20s

The “Roaring 20s” was a retaliation against the chaos and violence of World War I which left America in a state of shock. A wild, exuberant lifestyle was what the generation needs to drown the trauma they’ve inherited from the cruel war.

The generation also turned away from the worn out conservative values of the past, charging into the wealth, opulence and extravagance that America’s economic prosperity provides them. 

Like Gatsby, Fitzgerald worked hard through writing to please his aristocratic wife, Zelda, who was everything he wanted to become, yet became everything he regarded with contempt. After cycles of endless parties all day and night, Fitzgerald became tired of his luxurious lifestyle as he found himself empty under a fake facade of wealth, longing for the return of his moral crux. 

Flappers Roaring 20s party

Image sourced from History Collection

The Great Depression

In the early 1920s, wealthy Americans got even wealthier through stock dividends, corporate profits and wages. As technology and means for productivity improved, production costs reduced and the economy flourished. 

However, good things must come to an end. In 1929, the stock market crashed and flooded in a new age of financial decline known as The Great Depression.

Personal income, tax revenue and profits dropped, but the ones who were hit the hardest were the lower class. For some countries, its effects lasted until the start of World War II. 

Although Fitzgerald didn’t know this was going to happen, he did figure that too much of a good thing is a bad thing, hinting that the opulent, extravagant Jazz Age has its own impending doom. 

The Great Depression

Image sourced from Bushcraft Buddy

The American Dream

The American Dream is an ideal where anyone can achieve success if they work hard in a society that facilitates upward mobility, regardless of which class they are born into. Simply put, even if you’re poor, the American Dream states that you can get real rich — if you just work real hard. 

The concept of the American Dream began from the Founding Fathers, who established independence from England and started a free America. However, Americans in 1918 were disillusioned after experiencing the harsh brutalities of war, finding cynicism and emptiness within the Victorian social model. 

Additionally, as the stock market skyrocketed and people gained money from all avenues (legal or not), people from all backgrounds who could make themselves a fortune and become what is known as “new money”, were scorned by those who were born with wealth, coined as “old money.” 

While Fitzgerald first portrays the American dream as a positive ideal of self-discovery and the pursuit of happiness, he reveals the moral corruption of those obsessed with wealth — noting the greed, hunger and selfishness that consumes them. And despite their sacrifices, Fitzgerald points out how their goal of obtaining wealth, like Gatsby’s dream of obtaining Daisy, is empty, futile and unworthy. 

As the American Dream fell apart, the 1920s generation sought refuge in the past where their dreams were once meaningful, in a bygone era where the American values remain untainted. 

Themes Explored in The Great Gatsby

There are lots of complex ideas and themes surrounding The Great Gatsby but here are some to help you get started on your essay: 

  • The Disillusionment of the American Dream 
  • The Emptiness of the Wealthy
  • Moral Conflict in Pursuit of the American Dream
  • The Consequences of Money and Materialism
  • The Power Struggle between Social Classes

Essay Analysis: How to Analyse The Great Gatsby in 3 Steps

We know how easy it is just to jump in and answer the question right away when you’re writing your essay for The Great Gatsby. However, we do recommend that you start by building a solid in-depth analysis of the text before you get writing!

This is because a strong foundational knowledge of the text inside and out can help you identify ideas from it and compose a comprehensive thesis!

So, here is a step-by-step guide on how to drill into an analysis for The Great Gatsby!

Step 1: Choose your example(s) 

A pro tip is to choose an example with a technique. Techniques allow you to delve deeper into the hidden messages that the author is trying to communicate. 

Here is a famous quote from the Great Gatsby: 

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year receded before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter- to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… and one fine morning-

So, we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” 

This is a pretty long quote from The Great Gatsby, so when you’re writing this into your essay, remember that you can always chop it up into short excerpts to help your essay flow better. 

Boat in the ocean black and white

Step 2: Identify your technique(s)

The best technique is one that allows you to explore the underlying message behind the text. 

Look out for literary techniques that represent another meaning such as metaphors, symbols and motifs, as this can help demonstrate your depth of understanding. 

If you can find multiple techniques within one quote or example, that’s even better!

For the above quote, there are techniques such as metaphor, symbolism and alliteration. 

Step 3: Write the analysis

When writing the analysis, it is important that you explain what the effect of the technique is and how this backs up your argument. In this example, we are going to analyse how this quote discusses the deterioration of the American Dream. 

The green light is a classic symbol of the unattainable American Dream with its greed, materialism and wealth. As Gatsby reaches out to the green light until his death without ever attaining it, it’s a metaphor of how the American dream is far from our reach. 

Furthermore, the alliteration of “b” in “beats”, “boats” and “borne back” elicits the effect of being beaten back, which accentuates Gatsby’s futile pursuit of wealth. 

There is also another metaphor with the boats moving backwards into the current. This symbolises Fitzgerald’s reflection on his own generation and their reversion to the past ideals once dispelled of the flawed American Dream.

Alternatively, this can be perceived as how pursuit of success beats us back into our humble beginnings, reinforcing that true success in the name of wealth is ultimately unattainable. 

If we put all these together in our analysis, it will look like this:

Although the “green light” represents hope in the beginning chapters, it becomes a symbolic image of the flawed American Dream with its “green” colour reminiscent of money and its greed,  superficiality and materialism. Fitzgerald reinforces the unattainable reality of the American Dream through the “green light” which Gatsby yearns for but never acquires, symbolising how the American dream is far from our reach. The alliteration of “b” in “beats”, “boats” and “borne back” evokes the sensation of being beaten down, which reveals how the American Dream has failed individuals with its empty promise, despite its sacrificial pursuit of success. As the boats, representative of society, are metaphorically “borne back ceaselessly into the past,” Fitzgerald reveals how one’s progress in the pursuit of wealth is worthless, as they are tied to their original socioeconomic roots due to systemic injustice perpetrated by the “old money” clan. 

Need some help with your essay analysis of other texts aside from The Great Gatsby?

Check out other texts we’ve created guides for below:

Are you looking for some extra help with your essay analysis of The Great Gatsby?

We have an incredible team of tutors and mentors!

We can help you master your essay analysis of The Great Gatsby by taking you through the summary, context, key characters and themes. We’ll also help you ace your upcoming English assessments with personalised lessons conducted one-on-one in your home or online!

We’ve supported over 8,000 students over the last 11 years, and on average our students score mark improvements of over 20%!

To find out more and get started with an inspirational tutor and mentor, get in touch today or give us a ring on 1300 267 888!


Kate Lynn Law graduated in 2017 with an all rounders HSC award and an ATAR of 97.65. Passionate about mentoring, she enjoys working with high school students to improve their academic, work and life skills in preparation for the HSC and what comes next. An avid blogger, Kate had administered a creative writing page for over 2000 people since 2013, writing to an international audience since her early teenage years.

45,861 students have a head start...

Get exclusive study content & advice from our team of experts delivered weekly to your inbox!

AOS Website Asset 2

Looking for English Support?

Discover how we can help you!

AOS Website Asset 1