In this book summary of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, you’ll find my notes, valuable lessons, and important action steps.
The Great Gatsby Summary
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
Money alone doesn’t create happiness. Tom and Daisy are incredibly wealthy but stuck in a depressive marriage because of Tom’s unfaithfulness.
It’s in the best interest of the man and the woman that they think long and hard before they marry someone and regret it. Both Tom and Daisy and Wilson and Myrtle made the wrong choice—then had to live with the consequences of an unhappy marriage.
Gatsby is a people pleaser who wants to ensure everyone has a good time at the lavish parties at his mansion, and cares that his name holds an excellent reputation in the city. But he doesn’t desire to get too close to anyone.
Money attracts a whole bunch of fake friends, freeloaders, and haters. People who never met Gatsby are calling him a murderer or Germany spy, yet they show up to his parties.
“Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that green light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.”
In the anticipation of a moment, our imagination can be so high in the clouds that when the magical moments comes, it’s impossible for it to live up to the hype of our minds. Gatsby’s fantasizing about meeting Daisy again overshadowed the real her to a degree.
As much as you want to and people spend the rest of their lives trying to, you can’t repeat the past. No one can. It’ll never be the same as you envision it.
If you run a shady business like Gatsby where you have to make deals behind closed doors, it’s most often going to catch up with you. You’ll always have to look over your shoulder with the fear of getting caught.
It’s a dangerous game to make love to someone else’s wife. Gatsby got caught and then Tom used that anger to put an end to Gatsby’s life by insinuating he ran over Myrtle.
“What was the use of doing great things if I could have a better time telling her the great things I was going to do?” I totally disagree with this statement from Gatsby. The fun is doing the things, not talking about them—that’s too short-term.
Gatsby paid for tying his sole identity into getting Daisy back. It’s not wise to attach all of your identity to someone else’s feelings about you.
Your legacy and how you made people feel becomes clear at your funeral depending on how many people show up and what they say about you. Gatsby had thousands of people go to his parties, but couldn’t get a soul to show at his funeral.
Gatsby built his success on hard work and habits. While not the most ethical business, he did hustle to be able to profit and afford the lifestyle he desired to capture Daisy’s attention again.
Gatsby and Daisy could have lived happily ever after, if Gatsby had enough money and a wealthy family backing to support their future. But he didn’t, so they broke up and she married Tom—leading Gatsby to spend every day after trying to jump classes and enter high-society. But Gatsby could never full escape the consequences of the class he was born to, and his desperate pursuits ultimately led to his death.
Life is better when you try to make the most of the present. Always looking back on the past leads you to make bad decisions and ends up in tragedy. Gatsby could have been a great man who lived into his old age of glory if he let go of memories of Daisy.
Gatsby sought wealth to win Daisy back and prove his worth to himself, but in the end it left him hopeless and with nothing but material possessions. He’s left with no wife, no close friends, and no peace after Daisy officially chose Tom. Money helps, but ultimately it doesn’t buy happiness by itself. Gatsby would say the same.
Three Favorite Quotes
“A phrase began to beat in my ears with a sort of heady excitement: “There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.”
“He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God.”
“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night. Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes 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.”
Action Steps For You
Gatsby made the impeccable mistake of living his life backwards. Every action was meant to correct his past deficiency with Daisy, a lack of wealth and prestige, and it cost him his life.
What this tells me is we have to accept the past and move on. We can’t change it. It is what it is.
Let’s take the lesson learned and move on to be the best version of ourselves. Let’s find hope in an undiscovered and unknown future. Let’s live the most out of our one life going forward.
Specifically, if your high school sweetheart broke it off in college, you can be hurt and feel all the emotions you need to feel. But don’t carry that pain with you 5 years later. There’s a whole new world of guys or girls that would do anything to be with you. With your blinders on, you won’t be able to see anyone but your ex.
If you were bullied in middle school, don’t carry that depression into your thirties. Accept the fact you went through an unfortunate and awful time that you didn’t deserve, but then appreciate the toughness that helped you get through it. You still are so young so work towards finding happiness in the present, in the now, today and every day going forward.
Or if you’re gray and old with broken family relationships that haunt you, you’re still breathing so there’s still time to heal those relationships. Make the call to your estranged daughter. Apologize. Tell them you want to work towards reconciliation and put the past behind you too.
The best thing you can do for yourself and everyone around you is to live in the present and give all of your energy on a daily basis. The past is the past, the rest of your life is now.
Gatsby couldn’t get over the past—aka Daisy—and it broke his heart.
Your life can have a better ending than Gatsby’s, if you choose to love yourself and move on.
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