In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave
me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever
"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."
He didn't say any more, but we've always been unusually
communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he
meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I'm
inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up
many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of
not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect
and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal
person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly
accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret
griefs of wild, unknown men. Most of the confidences were
unsought-frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or
a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that
an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon; for the
intimate revelations of young men, or at least the terms in
which they express them, are usually plagiaristic and marred
by obvious suppressions. Reserving judgments is a matter of
infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if
I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly
repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled
out unequally at birth.
And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to
the admission that it has a limit. Conduct may be founded
on the hard rock or the wet marshes, but after a certain point
I don't care what it's founded on. When I came back from
the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in
uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted
no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the
human heart. Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to
this book, was exempt from my reaction-Gatsby, who represented
everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. If
personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then
there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened
sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one
of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten
thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do
with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under
the name of the "creative temperament"-it was an extraordinary
gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have
never found in any other person and which it is not likely I
shall ever find again. No-Gatsby turned out all right at the
end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in
the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my
interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of
* * *
My family have been prominent, well-to-do people in this
Middle Western city for three generations. The Carraways are
something of a clan, and we have a tradition that we're
descended from the Dukes of Buccleuch, but the actual
founder of my line was my grandfather's brother, who came
here in fifty-one, sent a substitute to the Civil War, and
started the wholesale hardware business that my father carries
I never saw this great-uncle, but I'm supposed to look like
him-with special reference to the rather hard-boiled painting
that hangs in father's office. I graduated from New
Haven in 1915, just a quarter of a century after my father, and
a little later I participated in that delayed Teutonic migration
known as the Great War. I enjoyed the counter-raid so thoroughly
that I came back restless. Instead of being the warm
center of the world, the Middle West now seemed like the
ragged edge of the universe-so I decided to go East and learn
the bond business. Everybody I knew was in the bond business,
so I supposed it could support one more single man. All
my aunts and uncles talked it over as if they were choosing a
prep school for me, and finally said, "Why-ye-es," with very
grave, hesitant faces. Father agreed to finance me for a year,
and after various delays I came East, permanently, I thought,
in the spring of twenty-two.
The practical thing was to find rooms in the city, but it was
a warm season, and I had just left a country of wide lawns
and friendly trees, so when a young man at the office suggested
that we take a house together in a commuting town,
it sounded like a great idea. He found the house, a weatherbeaten
cardboard bungalow at eighty a month, but at the last
minute the firm ordered him to Washington, and I went out
to the country alone. I had a dog-at least I had him for a
few days until he ran away-and an old Dodge and a Finnish
woman, who made my bed and cooked breakfast and muttered
Finnish wisdom to herself over the electric stove.
It was lonely for a day or so until one morning some man,
more recently arrived than I, stopped me on the road.
"How do you get to West Egg village?" he asked helplessly.
I told him. And as I walked on I was lonely no longer. I
was a guide, a pathfinder, an original settler. He had casually
conferred on me the freedom of the neighborhood.
And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves
growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had
that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again
with the summer.
There was so much to read, for one thing, and so much
fine health to be pulled down out of the young breathgiving
air. I bought a dozen volumes on banking and credit
and investment securities, and they stood on my shelf in red
and gold like new money from the mint, promising to
unfold the shining secrets that only Midas and Morgan and
Męcenas knew. And I had the high intention of reading
many other books besides. I was rather literary in college-
one year I wrote a series of very solemn and obvious editorials
for the Yale News-and now I was going to bring back
all such things into my life and become again that most limited
of all specialists, the "well-rounded man." This isn't
just an epigram-life is much more successfully looked at
from a single window, after all.
It was a matter of chance that I should have rented a house
in one of the strangest communities in North America. It was
on that slender riotous island which extends itself due east of
New York-and where there are, among other natural
curiosities, two unusual formations of land. Twenty miles
from the city a pair of enormous eggs, identical in contour
and separated only by a courtesy bay, jut out into the most
domesticated body of salt water in the Western hemisphere,
the great wet barnyard of Long Island Sound. They are not
perfect ovals-like the egg in the Columbus story, they are
both crushed flat at the contact end-but their physical
resemblance must be a source of perpetual confusion to the
gulls that fly overhead. To the wingless a more arresting
phenomenon is their dissimilarity in every particular except
shape and size.
I lived at West Egg, the-well, the less fashionable of the
two, though this is a most superficial tag to express the
bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them. My
house was at the very tip of the egg, only fifty yards from the
Sound, and squeezed between two huge places that rented for
twelve or fifteen thousand a season. The one on my right was
a colossal affair by any standard-it was a factual imitation
of some Hōtel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one
side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble
swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and
garden. It was Gatsby's mansion. Or, rather, as I didn't know
Mr. Gatsby, it was a mansion, inhabited by a gentleman of
that name. My own house was an eyesore, but it was a small
eyesore, and it had been overlooked, so I had a view of the
water, a partial view of my neighbor's lawn, and the consoling
proximity of millionaires-all for eighty dollars a month.
Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable
East Egg glittered along the water, and the history of the summer
really begins on the evening I drove over there to have
dinner with the Tom Buchanans. Daisy was my second
cousin once removed, and I'd known Tom in college. And just
after the war I spent two days with them in Chicago.
Her husband, among various physical accomplishments,
had been one of the most powerful ends that ever played football
at New Haven-a national figure in a way, one of those
men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one
that everything afterward savors of anticlimax. His family were
enormously wealthy-even in college his freedom with
money was a matter for reproach-but now he'd left Chicago
and come East in a fashion that rather took your breath away;
for instance, he'd brought down a string of polo ponies
from Lake Forest. It was hard to realize that a man in my own
generation was wealthy enough to do that.
Why they came East I don't know. They had spent a year
in France for no particular reason, and then drifted here and
there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich
together. This was a permanent move, said Daisy over the
telephone, but I didn't believe it-I had no sight into Daisy's
heart, but I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking, a
little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable
And so it happened that on a warm windy evening I
drove over to East Egg to see two old friends whom I scarcely
knew at all. Their house was even more elaborate than I
expected, a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion,
overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and
ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping
over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens-finally
when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines
as though from the momentum of its run. The front was broken
by a line of French windows, glowing now with reflected
gold and wide open to the warm windy afternoon, and Tom
Buchanan in riding clothes was standing with his legs apart
on the front porch.
He had changed since his New Haven years. Now he
was a sturdy straw-haired man of thirty with a rather hard
mouth and a supercilious manner. Two shining arrogant
eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him
the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not
even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the
enormous power of that body-he seemed to fill those glistening
boots until he strained the top lacing, and you could
see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved
under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous
leverage-a cruel body.
His speaking voice, a gruff husky tenor, added to the
impression of fractiousness he conveyed. There was a touch
of paternal contempt in it, even toward people he liked-
and there were men at New Haven who had hated his guts.
"Now, don't think my opinion on these matters is final,"
he seemed to say, "just because I'm stronger and more of a
man than you are." We were in the same senior society, and
while we were never intimate I always had the impression that
he approved of me and wanted me to like him with some
harsh, defiant wistfulness of his own.
We talked for a few minutes on the sunny porch.
"I've got a nice place here," he said, his eyes flashing
Turning me around by one arm, he moved a broad flat
hand along the front vista, including in its sweep a sunken
Italian garden, a half acre of deep, pungent roses, and a
snub-nosed motor-boat that bumped the tide offshore.
"It belonged to Demaine, the oil man." He turned me
around again, politely and abruptly. " We'll go inside."
We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosycolored
space, fragilely bound into the house by French
windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming
white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little
way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew
curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags,
twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling,
and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a
shadow on it as wind does on the sea.
The only completely stationary object in the room was an
enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed
up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in
white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they
had just been blown back in after a short flight around the
house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the
whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on
the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the
rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room,
and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned
slowly to the floor.
The younger of the two was a stranger to me. She was
extended full length at her end of the divan, completely
motionless, and with her chin raised a little, as if she were balancing
something on it which was quite likely to fall. If she
saw me out of the corner of her eyes she gave no hint of it-
indeed, I was almost surprised into murmuring an apology for
having disturbed her by coming in.
The other girl, Daisy, made an attempt to rise-she
leaned slightly forward with a conscientious expression-then
she laughed, an absurd, charming little laugh, and I laughed
too and came forward into the room.
"I'm p-paralyzed with happiness."
She laughed again, as if she said something very witty, and
held my hand for a moment, looking up into my face,
promising that there was no one in the world she so much
wanted to see. That was a way she had. She hinted in a murmur
that the surname of the balancing girl was Baker. (I've
heard it said that Daisy's murmur was only to make people
lean toward her; an irrelevant criticism that made it no less
At any rate, Miss Baker's lips fluttered, she nodded at me
almost imperceptibly, and then quickly tipped her head
back again-the object she was balancing had obviously
tottered a little and given her something of a fright. Again a
sort of apology arose to my lips. Almost any exhibition of
complete self-sufficiency draws a stunned tribute from me.
I looked back at my cousin, who began to ask me questions
in her low, thrilling voice. It was the kind of voice that the ear
follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of
notes that will never be played again. Her face was sad and
lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate
mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that
men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a
singing compulsion, a whispered "Listen," a promise that she
had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there
were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.
I told her how I had stopped off in Chicago for a day on
my way East, and how a dozen people had sent their love
"Do they miss me?" she cried ecstatically.
"The whole town is desolate. All the cars have the left rear
wheel painted black as a mourning wreath, and there's a persistent
wail all night along the north shore."
"How gorgeous! Let's go back, Tom. To-morrow!" Then
she added irrelevantly: "You ought to see the baby."
"I'd like to."
"She's asleep. She's three years old. Haven't you ever seen
"Well, you ought to see her. She's-"
Tom Buchanan, who had been hovering restlessly about
the room, stopped and rested his hand on my shoulder.
"What you doing, Nick?"
"I'm a bond man."
I told him.
"Never heard of them," he remarked decisively.
This annoyed me.
"You will," I answered shortly. "You will if you stay in the
"Oh, I'll stay in the East, don't you worry," he said, glancing
at Daisy and then back at me, as if he were alert for something
more. "I'd be a God damned fool to live anywhere else."
At this point Miss Baker said: "Absolutely!" with such suddenness
that I started-it was the first word she had uttered
since I came into the room. Evidently it surprised her as much
as it did me, for she yawned and with a series of rapid, deft
movements stood up into the room.
"I'm stiff," she complained, "I've been lying on that sofa
for as long as I can remember."
" Don't look at me," Daisy retorted, "I've been trying to
get you to New York all afternoon."
"No, thanks," said Miss Baker to the four cocktails just in
from the pantry, "I'm absolutely in training."
Her host looked at her incredulously.
"You are!" He took down his drink as if it were a drop in
the bottom of a glass. "How you ever get anything done is
I looked at Miss Baker, wondering what it was she "got
done." I enjoyed looking at her. She was a slender, smallbreasted
girl, with an erect carriage, which she accentuated by
throwing her body backward at the shoulders like a young
cadet. Her gray sun-strained eyes looked back at me with
polite reciprocal curiosity out of a wan, charming, discontented
face. It occurred to me now that I had seen her, or a
picture of her, somewhere before.
"You live in West Egg," she remarked contemptuously. "I
know somebody there."
"I don't know a single-"
"You must know Gatsby."
"Gatsby?" demanded Daisy. "What Gatsby?"