Need to solidify your Great Gatsby essay with some evidence from the text? Want a refresher on the novel's style and sound? Curious how to go from a piece of text to a close reading and an analysis? Then check out this article featuring key Great Gatsby quotes!
We've rounded up a collection of important quotes by and about the main characters, quotes on the novel's major themes and symbols, and quotes from each of The Great Gatsby's chapters. In turn, each of the Great Gatsby quotes is followed by some brief analysis and explanation of its significance.
- Using the quotes
- Character quotes
- Jay Gatsby
- Nick Carraway
- Daisy Buchanan
- Tom Buchanan
- Jordan Baker
- Myrtle Wilson
- George Wilson
- Theme quotes
- Money and Materialism
- The American Dream
- Love and Relationships
- Symbol quotes
- The green light
- The eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckelburg
- The valley of ashes
- Chapter quotes
Using These Great Gatsby Quotes
All of these are obviously presented outside of the full context of their chapters (if you’re hazy on the plot, be sure to check out our chapter summaries!). If you’re going to use any of these quotes in an essay, you need to understand where each quote fits into the book, who’s speaking, and why the line is important or significant. Or to put it more bluntly, don’t just lift these for an essay without having read the book, or your essay won’t be very strong!
We do some initial analysis here for each quote to get you thinking, but remember to close-read and bring your own interpretations and ideas to the text. It may be that you disagree with some of our analysis!
Quick Note on Our Citations
Our citation format in this guide is (chapter.paragraph). We're using this system since there are many editions of Gatsby, so using page numbers would only work for students with our copy of the book. To find a quotation we cite via chapter and paragraph in your book, you can either eyeball it (Paragraph 1-50: beginning of chapter; 50-100: middle of chapter; 100-on: end of chapter), or use the search function if you're using an online or eReader version of the text.
We will cover the characters in the following order, and also provide links to their character pages where you can check out their physical descriptions, backgrounds, action in the book, and common discussion topics.
Great Gatsby Character Quotes
Click on each character's name to read a detailed analysis!
Gatsby adopts this catchphrase, which was used among wealthy people in England and America at the time, to help build up his image as a man from old money, which is related to his frequent insistence he is “an Oxford man.” Note that both Jordan Baker and Tom Buchanan are immediately skeptical of both Gatsby’s “old sport” phrase and his claim of being an Oxford man, indicating that despite Gatsby’s efforts, it is incredibly difficult to pass yourself off as “old money” when you aren’t.
He reached in his pocket and a piece of metal, slung on a ribbon, fell into my palm.
"That's the one from Montenegro."
To my astonishment, the thing had an authentic look.
Orderi di Danilo, ran the circular legend, Montenegro, Nicolas Rex.
Major Jay Gatsby, I read, For Valour Extraordinary. (4.34-39)
In this moment, Nick begins to believe and appreciate Gatsby, and not just see him as a puffed-up fraud. The medal, to Nick, is hard proof that Gatsby did, in fact, have a successful career as an officer during the war and therefore that some of Gatsby’s other claims might be true.
For the reader, the medal serves as questionable evidence that Gatsby really is an “extraordinary” man – isn’t it a bit strange that Gatsby has to produce physical evidence to get Nick to buy his story? (Imagine how strange it would be to carry around a physical token to show to strangers to prove your biggest achievement.)
He had passed visibly through two states and was entering upon a third. After his embarrassment and his unreasoning joy he was consumed with wonder at her presence. He had been full of the idea so long, dreamed it right through to the end, waited with his teeth set, so to speak, at an inconceivable pitch of intensity. Now, in the reaction, he was running down like an overwound clock. (5.114)
In Chapter 5, the dream Gatsby has been working towards for years – to meet and impress Daisy with his fabulous wealth – finally begins to come to fruition. And so, for the first time, we see Gatsby’s genuine emotions, rather than his carefully-constructed persona. Nick finds these emotions almost as beautiful and transformative as Gatsby’s smile, though there’s also the sense that this love could quickly veer off the rails: Gatsby is running down “like an overwound clock.” In that sense, this moment gently foreshadows the escalating tensions that lead to the novel's tragic climax.
"I wouldn't ask too much of her," I ventured. "You can't repeat the past."
"Can't repeat the past?" he cried incredulously. "Why of course you can!"
He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.
"I'm going to fix everything just the way it was before," he said, nodding determinedly. "She'll see." (6.128-131)
This is probably Gatsby’s single most famous quote. His insistence that he can repeat the past and recreate everything as it was in Louisville sums up his intense determination to win Daisy back at any cost. It also shows his naiveté and optimism, even delusion, about what is possible in his life – an attitude which are increasingly at odds with the cynical portrait of the world painted by Nick Carraway.
"Your wife doesn't love you," said Gatsby. "She's never loved you. She loves me." (7.238)
This is the moment Gatsby lays his cards out on the table, so to speak – he risks everything to try and win over Daisy. His insistence that Daisy never loved Tom also reveals how Gatsby refuses to acknowledge Daisy could have changed or loved anyone else since they were together in Louisville.
This declaration, along with his earlier insistence that he can “repeat the past,” creates an image of an overly optimistic, naïve person, despite his experiences in the war and as a bootlegger. Especially since Daisy can’t support this statement, saying that she loved both Tom and Gatsby, and Tom quickly seizes power over the situation by practically ordering Gatsby and Daisy to drive home together, Gatsby’s confident insistence that Daisy has only ever loved him feels desperate, even delusional.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter—tomorrow 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. (9.153-154)
One of the most famous ending lines in modern literature, this quote is Nick’s final analysis of Gatsby – someone who believed in “the green light, the orgastic future” that he could never really attain. Our last image of Gatsby is of a man who believed in a world (and a future) that was better than the one he found himself in – but you can read more about interpretations of the ending, both optimistic and pessimistic, in our guide to the end of the book
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. "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." (1.1-2)
The first lines establish Nick as thoughtful, thorough, privileged, and judgmental. This line also sets the tone for the first few pages, where Nick tells us about his background and tries to encourage the reader to trust his judgment. While he comes off as thoughtful and observant, we also get the sense he is judgmental and a bit snobby.
To see more analysis of why the novel begins how it does, and what Nick's father's advice means for him as a character and as a narrator, read our article on the beginning of The Great Gatsby.
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. (1.4)
Another quote from the first few pages of the novel, this line sets up the novel’s big question: why does Nick become so close to Gatsby, given that Gatsby represents everything he hates? It also hints to the reader that Nick will come to care about Gatsby deeply while everyone else will earn his “unaffected scorn.” While this doesn’t give away the plot, it does help the reader be a bit suspicious of everyone but Gatsby going into the story.
Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known. (3.171)
This is likely the moment when you start to suspect Nick doesn’t always tell the truth – if everyone “suspects” themselves of one of the cardinal virtues (the implication being they aren’t actually virtuous), if Nick says he’s honest, perhaps he’s not? Furthermore, if someone has to claim that they are honest, that often suggests that they do things that aren’t exactly trustworthy.
Suddenly I wasn't thinking of Daisy and Gatsby any more but of this clean, hard, limited person who dealt in universal skepticism and who leaned back jauntily just within the circle of my arm. 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." (4.164)
Nick’s interactions with Jordan are some of the only places where we get a sense of any vulnerability or emotion from Nick. In particular, Nick seems quite attracted to Jordan and being with her makes a phrase “beat” in his ears with “heady excitement.” If there are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired, it would appear Nick is happy to be the pursuer at this particular moment.
"They're a rotten crowd," I shouted across the lawn. "You're worth the whole damn bunch put together." (8.45)
This line, which comes after Myrtle’s death and Tom, Daisy, and Jordan’s cold reaction to it, establishes that Nick has firmly come down on Gatsby’s side in the conflict between the Buchanans and Gatsby. It also shows Nick’s disenchantment with the whole wealthy east coast crowd and also that, at this point, he is devoted to Gatsby and determined to protect his legacy. This hints to us that our once seemingly impartial narrator is now seeing Gatsby more generously than he sees others.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter—tomorrow 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. (9.153-4)
This is Nick’s conclusion to his story, which can be read as cynical, hopeful, or realistic, depending on how you interpret it. You can read in detail about these lines in our article about the novel’s ending.
She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. 'All right,' I said, 'I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope she'll be a fool—that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool." (1.118)
This deeply pessimistic comment is from the first time we meet Daisy in Chapter 1. She has just finished telling Nick about how when she gave birth to her daughter, she woke up alone – Tom was “god knows where.” She asks for the baby’s sex and cries when she hears it’s a girl. So beneath her charming surface we can see Daisy is somewhat despondent about her role in the world and unhappily married to Tom. That said, right after this comment Nick describes her "smirking," which suggests that despite her pessimism, she doesn't seem eager to change her current state of affairs.
"Here, dearis." She groped around in a waste-basket she had with her on the bed and pulled out the string of pearls. "Take 'em downstairs and give 'em back to whoever they belong to. Tell 'em all Daisy's change' her mine. Say 'Daisy's change' her mine!'."
She began to cry—she cried and cried. I rushed out and found her mother's maid and we locked the door and got her into a cold bath. She wouldn't let go of the letter. She took it into the tub with her and squeezed it up into a wet ball, and only let me leave it in the soap dish when she saw that it was coming to pieces like snow.
But she didn't say another word. We gave her spirits of ammonia and put ice on her forehead and hooked her back into her dress and half an hour later when we walked out of the room the pearls were around her neck and the incident was over. Next day at five o'clock she married Tom Buchanan without so much as a shiver and started off on a three months' trip to the South Seas. (4.140-2)
In this flashback, narrated by Jordan, we learn all about Daisy’s past and how she came to marry Tom, despite still being in love with Jay Gatsby. In fact, she seems to care about him enough that after receiving a letter from him, she threatens to call off her marriage to Tom. However, despite this brief rebellion, she is quickly put back together by Jordan and her maid – the dress and the pearls represent Daisy fitting back into her prescribed social role. And indeed, the next day she marries Tom “without so much as a shiver,” showing her reluctance to question the place in society dictated by her family and social status.
"They're such beautiful shirts," she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. "It makes me sad because I've never seen such—such beautiful shirts before." (5.118)
During Daisy and Gatsby’s reunion, she is delighted by Gatsby’s mansion but falls to pieces after Gatsby giddily shows off his collection of shirts.
This scene is often confusing to students. Why does Daisy start crying at this particular display? The scene could speak to Daisy’s materialism: that she only emotionally breaks down at this conspicuous proof of Gatsby’s newfound wealth. But it also speaks to her strong feelings for Gatsby, and how touched she is at the lengths he went to to win her back.
“What’ll we do with ourselves this afternoon,” cried Daisy, “and the day after that, and the next thirty years?” (7.74)
In Chapter 7, as Daisy tries to work up the courage to tell Tom she wants to leave him, we get another instance of her struggling to find meaning and purpose in her life. Beneath Daisy’s cheerful exterior, there is a deep sadness, even nihilism, in her outlook (compare this to Jordan’s more optimistic response that life renews itself in autumn).
“Her voice is full of money,” he said suddenly.
That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money—that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it. . . . High in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl. . . . (7.105-6)
Gatsby explicitly ties Daisy and her magnetic voice to wealth. This particular line is really crucial, since it ties Gatsby’s love for Daisy to his pursuit of wealth and status. It also allows Daisy herself to become a stand-in for the idea of the American Dream. We'll discuss even more about the implications of Daisy's voice below.
"Oh, you want too much!" she cried to Gatsby. "I love you now—isn't that enough? I can't help what's past." She began to sob helplessly. "I did love him once—but I loved you too." (7.264)
During the climactic confrontation in New York City, Daisy can’t bring herself to admit she only loved Gatsby, because she did also love Tom at the beginning of their marriage. This moment is crushing for Gatsby, and some people who read the novel and end up disliking Daisy point to this moment as proof. "Why couldn’t she get up the courage to just leave that awful Tom?" they ask.
However, I would argue that Daisy’s problem isn’t that she loves too little, but that she loves too much. She fell in love with Gatsby and was heartbroken when he went to war, and again when he reached out to her right before she was set to marry Tom. And then she fell deeply in love with Tom in the early days of their marriage, only to discover his cheating ways and become incredibly despondent (see her earlier comment about women being “beautiful little fools”). So by now she’s been hurt by falling in love, twice, and is wary of risking another heartbreak.
Furthermore, we do see again her reluctance to part with her place in society. Being with Gatsby would mean giving up her status as old-money royalty and instead being the wife of a gangster. That’s a huge jump for someone like Daisy, who was essentially raised to stay within her class. So it's hard to blame her for not giving up her entire life (not to mention her daughter!) to be with Jay.
“[Tom], 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 anti-climax.” (1.16)
Tom is established early on as restless and bored, with the threat of physical aggression lurking behind that restlessness. With his glory days on the Yale football team well behind him, he seems to constantly be searching for – and failing to find – the excitement of a college football game. Perhaps Tom, like Gatsby, is also trying, and failing, to repeat the past in his own way.
"Well, it's a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don't look out the white race will be—will be utterly submerged. It's all scientific stuff; it's been proved." (1.78)
In Chapter 1, we learn Tom has been reading “profound” books lately, including racist ones that claim the white race is superior to all others and has to maintain control over society. This speaks to Tom’s insecurity – even as someone born into incredible money and privilege, there’s a fear it could be taken away by social climbers. That insecurity only translates into even more overt shows of his power - flaunting his relationship with Myrtle, revealing Gatsby as a bootlegger, and manipulating George to kill Gatsby – thus completely freeing the Buchanans from any consequences from the murders.
"Don't believe everything you hear, Nick," he advised me. (1.143)
Early in the book, Tom advises Nick not to believe rumors and gossip, but specifically what Daisy has been telling him about their marriage.
Nick certainly is wary of most people he meets, and, indeed, he sees through Daisy in Chapter 1 when he observes she has no intentions of leaving Tom despite her complaints: “Their interest rather touched me and made them less remotely rich—nevertheless, I was confused and a little disgusted as I drove away. It seemed to me that the thing for Daisy to do was to rush out of the house, child in arms—but apparently there were no such intentions in her head” (1.150). But as the book goes on, Nick drops some of his earlier skepticism as he comes to learn more about Gatsby and his life story, coming to admire him despite his status as a bootlegger and criminal.
This leaves us with an image of Tom as cynical and suspicious in comparison to the optimistic Gatsby – but perhaps also more clear-eyed than Nick is by the end of the novel.
"And what's more, I love Daisy too. Once in a while I go off on a spree and make a fool of myself, but I always come back, and in my heart I love her all the time." (7.251-252)
After seeing Tom’s liaisons with Myrtle and his generally boorish behavior, this claim to loving Daisy comes off as fake at best and manipulative at worst (especially since a spree is a euphemism for an affair!).
We also see Tom grossly underreporting his bad behavior (we have seen one of his “sprees” and it involved breaking Myrtle’s nose after sleeping with her while Nick was in the next room) and either not realizing or ignoring how damaging his actions can be to others. He is explicit about his misbehavior and doesn’t seem sorry at all – he feels like his “sprees” don’t matter as long as he comes back to Daisy after they’re over.
In short, this quote captures how the reader comes to understand Tom late in the novel – as a selfish rich man who breaks things and leaves others to clean up his mess.
"I found out what your 'drug-stores' were." He turned to us and spoke rapidly. "He and this Wolfsheim bought up a lot of side-street drug-stores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter. That's one of his little stunts. I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him, and I wasn't far wrong." (7.284)
Again, Tom’s jealousy and anxiety about class are revealed. Though he immediately pegs Gatsby for a bootlegger rather than someone who inherited his money, Tom still makes a point of doing an investigation to figure out exactly where the money came from. This shows that he does feel a bit threatened by Gatsby, and wants to be sure he thoroughly knocks him down.
But at the same time, he’s the only one in the room who sees Gatsby for who he actually is. This is also a moment where you, as a reader, can really see how clouded Nick’s judgment of Gatsby has become.
"You two start on home, Daisy," said Tom. "In Mr. Gatsby's car."
She looked at Tom, alarmed now, but he insisted with magnanimous scorn.
"Go on. He won't annoy you. I think he realizes that his presumptuous little flirtation is over." (7.296-298)
A common question students have after reading Gatsby for the first time is this: why does Tom let Daisy and Gatsby ride back together? If he’s so protective and jealous of Daisy, wouldn’t he insist she come with him?
The answer is that he is demonstrating his power over both Daisy and Gatsby – he’s no longer scared that Daisy will leave him for Gatsby, and he’s basically rubbing that in Gatsby’s face. He’s saying that he doesn’t even fear leaving them alone together, because he knows that nothing Gatsby says or does would convince Daisy to leave him. It’s a subtle but crucial show of power – and of course ends up being a fatal choice.
“What if I did tell him? That fellow had it coming to him. He threw dust into your eyes just like he did in Daisy's but he was a tough one. He ran over Myrtle like you'd run over a dog and never even stopped his car." (9.143)
One of Tom’s last lines in the novel, he coldly tells Nick that Gatsby was fooling both him and Daisy. Of course, since we know that Gatsby didn't actually run over Daisy, we can read this line in one of three ways:
- Maybe Daisy never actually admitted to Tom that she was the one driving the car that night, so he still has no idea that his wife killed his mistress.
- Or maybe the way Tom has made peace with what happened is by convincing himself that even if Daisy was technically driving, Gatsby is to blame for Myrtle's death anyway.
- Or maybe Tom is still scared of speaking the truth about Daisy's involvement to anyone, including Nick, on the off chance that the police will reopen the case with new evidence.
“And I like large parties. They're so intimate. At small parties there isn't any privacy." (3.29)
This is an early example of Jordan’s unexpectedly clever observations – throughout the novel she reveals a quick wit and keen eye for detail in social situations. This comment also sets the stage for the novel’s chief affair between Daisy and Gatsby, and how at the small party in Chapter 7 their secrets come out to disastrous effect.
Compare Jordan’s comment to Daisy's general attitude of being too sucked into her own life to notice what’s going on around her.
"You're a rotten driver," I protested. "Either you ought to be more careful or you oughtn't to drive at all."
"I am careful."
"No, you're not."
"Well, other people are," she said lightly.
"What's that got to do with it?"
"They'll keep out of my way," she insisted. "It takes two to make an accident."
"Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself."
"I hope I never will," she answered. "I hate careless people. That's why I like you." (3.162-169)
Here we get a sense of what draws Jordan and Nick together – he’s attracted to her carefree, entitled attitude while she sees his cautiousness as a plus. After all, if it really does take two to make an accident, as long as she’s with a careful person, Jordan can do whatever she wants!
We also see Jordan as someone who carefully calculates risks – both in driving and in relationships. This is why she brings up her car accident analogy again at the end of the book when she and Nick break up – Nick was, in fact, a “bad driver” as well, and she was surprised that she read him wrong.
“It’s a great advantage not to drink among hard-drinking people.” (4.144)
Another example of Jordan’s observant wit, this quote (about Daisy) is Jordan’s way of suggesting that perhaps Daisy’s reputation is not so squeaky-clean as everyone else believes. After all, if Daisy were the only sober one in a crowd of partiers, it would be easy for her to hide less-than-flattering aspects about herself.
Suddenly I wasn't thinking of Daisy and Gatsby any more but of this clean, hard, limited person who dealt in universal skepticism and who leaned back jauntily just within the circle of my arm. (4.164)
In this moment, Nick reveals what he finds attractive about Jordan – not just her appearance (though again, he describes her as pleasingly “jaunty” and “hard” here), but her attitude. She’s skeptical without being fully cynical, and remains upbeat and witty despite her slightly pessimistic outlook. At this point in the story, Midwestern Nick probably still finds this exciting and attractive, though of course by the end he realizes that her attitude makes it hard for her to truly empathize with others, like Myrtle.
"Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall." (7.75)
In contrast to Daisy (who says just before this, rather despairingly, “What will we do today, and then tomorrow, and for the next thirty years?” (7.74)), Jordan is open to and excited about the possibilities still available to her in her life. As we’ll discuss later, perhaps since she’s still unmarried her life still has a freedom Daisy’s does not, and the possibility to start over.
While she’s not exactly a starry-eyed optimist, she does show a resilience, and an ability to start things over and move on, that allows her to escape the tragedy at the end relatively unscathed. It also fits how Jordan doesn’t seem to let herself get too attached to people or places, which is why she’s surprised by how much she felt for Nick.
"You threw me over on the telephone. I don't give a damn about you now but it was a new experience for me and I felt a little dizzy for a while." (9.130)
Jordan doesn’t frequently showcase her emotions or show much vulnerability, so this moment is striking because we see that she did really care for Nick to at least some extent.Notice that she couches her confession with a pretty sassy remark (“I don’t give a damn about you now”) which feels hollow when you realize that being “thrown over” by Nick made her feel dizzy – sad, surprised, shaken – for a while.
Mrs. Wilson had changed her costume some time before and was now attired in an elaborate afternoon dress of cream colored chiffon, which gave out a continual rustle as she swept about the room. With the influence of the dress her personality had also undergone a change. The intense vitality that had been so remarkable in the garage was converted into impressive hauteur. Her laughter, her gestures, her assertions became more violently affected moment by moment and as she expanded the room grew smaller around her until she seemed to be revolving on a noisy, creaking pivot through the smoky air. (2.56)
Here, we see Myrtle transformed from her more sensuous, physical persona into that of someone desperate to come off as richer than she actually is. Wielding power over her group of friends, she seems to revel in her own image.
Unlike Gatsby, who projects an elaborately rich and worldly character, Myrtle’s persona is much more simplistic and transparent. (Notably Tom, who immediately sees Gatsby as a fake, doesn’t seem to mind Myrtle’s pretensions – perhaps because they are of no consequence to him, or any kind of a threat to his lifestyle.)
"Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!" shouted Mrs. Wilson. "I'll say it whenever I want to! Daisy! Dai——"
Making a short deft movement Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand. (2.125-126)
Here we see Myrtle pushing her limits with Tom – and realizing that he is both violent and completely unwilling to be honest about his marriage.
While both characters are willful, impulsive, and driven by their desires, Tom is violently asserting here that his needs are more important than Myrtle’s. After all, to Tom, Myrtle is just another mistress, and just as disposable as all the rest.
Also, this injury foreshadows Myrtle’s death at the hands of Daisy, herself. While invoking Daisy’s name here causes Tom to hurt Myrtle, Myrtle’s actual encounter with Daisy later in the novel turns out to be deadly.
"Beat me!" he heard her cry. "Throw me down and beat me, you dirty little coward!" (7.314)
When George confronts his wife about her affair, Myrtle is furious and needles at her husband – already insecure since he’s been cheated on – by insinuating he’s weak and less of a man than Tom. Also, their fight centers around her body and its treatment, while Tom and Daisy fought earlier in the same chapter about their feelings.
In this moment, we see that despite how dangerous and damaging Myrtle’s relationship with Tom is, she seems to be asking George to treat her in the same way that Tom has been doing. Myrtle's disturbing acceptance of her role as a just a body - a piece of meat, basically - foreshadows the gruesome physicality of her death.
Michaelis and this man reached her first but when they had torn open her shirtwaist still damp with perspiration, they saw that her left breast was swinging loose like a flap and there was no need to listen for the heart beneath. The mouth was wide open and ripped at the corners as though she had choked a little in giving up the tremendous vitality she had stored so long. (7.317)
Even in death, Myrtle’s physicality and vitality are emphasized. In fact, the image is pretty overtly sexual – notice how it’s Myrtle’s breast that’s torn open and swinging loose, and her mouth ripped open at the corners. This echoes Nick’s view of Myrtle as a woman and mistress, nothing more – even in death she’s objectified.
This moment is also much more violent than her earlier broken nose. While that moment cemented Tom as abusive in the eyes of the reader, this one truly shows the damage that Tom and Daisy leave in their wake, and shapes the tragic tone of the rest of the novel.
Generally he was one of these worn-out men: when he wasn't working he sat on a chair in the doorway and stared at the people and the cars that passed along the road. When any one spoke to him he invariably laughed in an agreeable, colorless way. He was his wife's man and not his own. (7.312)
After our first introduction to George, Nick emphasizes George’s meekness and deference to his wife, very bluntly commenting he is not his own man. Although this comment reveals a bit of Nick’s misogyny – his comment seems to think George being his “wife’s man” as opposed to his own is his primary source of weakness – it also continues to underscore George’s devotion to Myrtle.
George’s apparent weakness may make him an unlikely choice for Gatsby’s murderer, until you consider how much pent-up anxiety and anger he has about Myrtle, which culminates in his two final, violent acts: Gatsby’s murder and his own suicide.
His description also continues to ground him in the Valley of Ashes. Unlike all the other main characters, who move freely between Long Island and Manhattan (or, in Myrtle’s case, between Queens and Manhattan), George stays in Queens, contributing to his stuck, passive, image. This makes his final journey, on foot, to Long Island, feel especially eerie and desperate.
Some man was talking to him in a low voice and attempting from time to time to lay a hand on his shoulder, but Wilson neither heard nor saw. His eyes would drop slowly from the swinging light to the laden table by the wall and then jerk back to the light again and he gave out incessantly his high horrible call.
“O, my Ga-od! O, my Ga-od! Oh, Ga-od! Oh, my Ga-od!” (7.326-7)
George is completely devastated by the death of his wife, to the point of being inconsolable and unaware of reality. Although we hear he treated her roughly just before this, locking her up and insisting on moving her away from the city, he is completely devastated by her loss. This sharp break with his earlier passive persona prefigures his turn to violence at the end of the book.
“I spoke to her,” he muttered, after a long silence. “I told her she might fool me but she couldn’t fool God. I took her to the window—“ With an effort he got up and walked to the rear window and leaned with his face pressed against it, “—and I said ‘God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing. You may fool me but you can’t fool God!’ “
Standing behind him Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg which had just emerged pale and enormous from the dissolving night.
“God sees everything,” repeated Wilson.
“That’s an advertisement,” Michaelis assured him. Something made him turn away from the window and look back into the room. But Wilson stood there a long time, his face close to the window pane, nodding into the twilight. (8.102-105)
George is looking for comfort, salvation, and order where there is nothing but an advertisement. This speaks to the moral decay of New York City, the East Coast, and even America in general during the 1920s. It also speaks to how alone and powerless George is, and how violence becomes his only recourse to seek revenge.
In this moment, the reader is forced to wonder if there is any kind of morality the characters adhere to, or if the world really is cruel and utterly without justice – and with no God except the empty eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg.
Key Great Gatsby Theme Quotes
Click on the title of each theme for an article explaining how it fits into the novel, which character it's connected to, and how to write an essay about it.
Money and Materialism
Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry "Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!"
—THOMAS PARKE D'INVILLIERS
The epigraph of the novel immediately marks money and materialism as a key theme of the book – the listener is implored to “wear the gold hat” as a way to impress his lover. In other words, wealth is presented as the key to love – such an important key that the word “gold” is repeated twice. It’s not enough to “bounce high” for someone, to win them over with your charm. You need wealth, the more the better, to win over the object of your desire.
“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.” (1.17)
Our introduction to Tom and Daisy immediately describes them as rich, bored, and privileged. Tom’s restlessness is likely one motivator for his affairs, while Daisy is weighed down by the knowledge of those affairs. This combination of restlessness and resentment puts them on the path to the tragedy at the end of the book.
“There was music from my neighbor's house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his two motor-boats slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. On week-ends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city, between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains. And on Mondays eight servants including an extra gardener toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden-shears, repairing the ravages of the night before….” (3.1 – 3.6)
The description of Gatsby’s parties at the beginning of Chapter 3 is long and incredibly detailed, and thus highlights the extraordinary extent of Gatsby’s wealth and materialism. In contrast to Tom and Daisy’s expensive but not overly gaudy mansion, and the small dinner party Nick attends there in Chapter 1, everything about Gatsby’s new wealth is over-the-top and showy, from the crates of oranges brought in and juiced one-by-one by a butler, the “corps” of caterers to the full orchestra. Everyone who comes to the parties is attracted by Gatsby’s money and wealth, making the culture of money-worship a society-wide trend in the novel, not just something our main characters fall victim to. After all, “People were not invited – they went there” (3.7). No one comes due to close personal friendship with Jay. Everyone is there for the spectacle alone.
He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher—shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange with monograms of Indian blue. Suddenly with a strained sound, Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily.
"They're such beautiful shirts," she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. "It makes me sad because I've never seen such—such beautiful shirts before." (5.117-118)
Gatsby, like a peacock showing off its many-colored tail, flaunts his wealth to Daisy by showing off his many-colored shirts. And, fascinatingly, this is the first moment of the day Daisy fully breaks down emotionally – not when she first sees Gatsby, not after their first long conversation, not even at the initial sight of the mansion – but at this extremely conspicuous display of wealth. This speaks to her materialism and how, in her world, a certain amount of wealth is a barrier to entry for a relationship (friendship or more).
"She's got an indiscreet voice," I remarked. "It's full of——"
"Her voice is full of money," he said suddenly.
That was it. I'd never understood before. It was full of money—that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it. . . . High in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl. . . . (7.103-106)
Daisy herself is explicitly connected with money here, which allows the reader to see Gatsby’s desire for her as desire for wealth, money, and status more generally. So while Daisy is materialistic and is drawn to Gatsby again due to his newly-acquired wealth, we see Gatsby is drawn to her as well due to the money and status she represents.
I couldn't forgive him or like him but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made. . . . (9.146)
Here, in the aftermath of the novel’s carnage, Nick observes that while Myrtle, George, and Gatsby have all died, Tom and Daisy are not punished at all for their recklessness, they can simply retreat “back into their money or their vast carelessness… and let other people clean up the mess.” So money here is more than just status – it’s a shield against responsibility, which allows Tom and Daisy to behave recklessly while other characters suffer and die in pursuit of their dreams.
The American Dream
But I didn't call to him for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone—he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward—and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. (1.152)
In our first glimpse of Jay Gatsby, we see him reaching towards something far off, something in sight but definitely out of reach. This famous image of the green light is often understood as part of The Great Gatsby’s meditation on The American Dream – the idea that people are always reaching towards something greater than themselves that is just out of reach. You can read more about this in our post all about the green light. The fact that this yearning image is our introduction to Gatsby foreshadows his unhappy end and also marks him as a dreamer, rather than people like Tom or Daisy who were born with money and don’t need to strive for anything so far off.
Over the great bridge, with the sunlight through the girders making a constant flicker upon the moving cars, with the city rising up across the river in white heaps and sugar lumps all built with a wish out of non-olfactory money. The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.
A dead man passed us in a hearse heaped with blooms, followed by two carriages with drawn blinds and by more cheerful carriages for friends. The friends looked out at us with the tragic eyes and short upper lips of south-eastern Europe, and I was glad that the sight of Gatsby's splendid car was included in their somber holiday. As we crossed Blackwell's Island a limousine passed us, driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish Negroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry.
"Anything can happen now that we've slid over this bridge," I thought; "anything at all. . . ."
Even Gatsby could happen, without any particular wonder. (4.55-8)
Early in the novel, we get this mostly optimistic illustration of the American Dream – we see people of different races and nationalities racing towards NYC, a city of unfathomable possibility. This moment has all the classic elements of the American Dream – economic possibility, racial and religious diversity, a carefree attitude. At this moment, it does feel like “anything can happen,” even a happy ending.
However, this rosy view eventually gets undermined by the tragic events later in the novel. And even at this point, Nick’s condescension towards the people in the other cars reinforces America’s racial hierarchy that disrupts the idea of the American Dream. There is even a little competition at play, a “haughty rivalry” at play between Gatsby’s car and the one bearing the “modish Negroes.” Nick “laughs aloud” at this moment, suggesting he thinks it’s amusing that the passengers in this other car see them as equals, or even rivals to be bested. In other words, he seems to firmly believe in the racial hierarchy Tom defends in Chapter 1, even if it doesn’t admit it honestly.
His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy's white face came up to his own. 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. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips' touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete. (6.134)
This moment explicitly ties Daisy to all of Gatsby’s larger dreams for a better life – to his American Dream. This sets the stage for the novel’s tragic ending, since Daisy cannot hold up under the weight of the dream Gatsby projects onto her. Instead, she stays with Tom Buchanan, despite her feelings for Gatsby. Thus when Gatsby fails to win over Daisy, he also fails to achieve his version of the American Dream. This is why so many people read the novel as a somber or pessimistic take on the American Dream, rather than an optimistic one.
...as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby's house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
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.” (9.151-152)
The closing pages of the novel reflect at length on the American Dream, in an attitude that seems simultaneously mournful, appreciative, and pessimistic. It also ties back to our first glimpse of Gatsby, reaching out over the water towards the Buchanan’s green light. Nick notes that Gatsby’s dream was “already behind him” then, in other words, it was impossible to attain. But still, he finds something to admire in how Gatsby still hoped for a better life, and constantly reached out toward that brighter future.
For a full consideration of these last lines and what they could mean, see our analysis of the novel’s ending.
Love and Relationships
Daisy and Tom Marriage Quotes
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. (1.17)
Nick introduces Tom and Daisy as restless, rich, and as a singular unit: they. Despite all of the revelations about the affairs and other unhappiness in their marriage, and the events of the novel,it’s important to note our first and last descriptions of Tom and Daisy describe them as a close, if bored, couple. In fact, Nick only doubles down on this observation later in Chapter 1.
Well, she was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. 'All right,' I said, 'I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope she'll be a fool—that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool."
"You see I think everything's terrible anyhow," she went on in a convinced way. "Everybody thinks so—the most advanced people. And I know. I've been everywhere and seen everything and done everything." Her eyes flashed around her in a defiant way, rather like Tom's, and she laughed with thrilling scorn. "Sophisticated—God, I'm sophisticated!"
"The instant her voice broke off, ceasing to compel my attention, my belief, I felt the basic insincerity of what she had said. It made me uneasy, as though the whole evening had been a trick of some sort to exact a contributory emotion from me. I waited, and sure enough, in a moment she looked at me with an absolute smirk on her lovely face as if she had asserted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged." (1.118-120)
In this passage, Daisy pulls Nick aside in Chapter 1 and claims, despite her outward happiness and luxurious lifestyle, she’s quite depressed by her current situation. At first, it seems Daisy is revealing the cracks in her marriage – Tom was “God knows here” at the birth of their daughter, Pammy – as well as a general malaise about society in general (“everything’s terrible anyhow”).
However, right after this confession, Nick doubts her sincerity. And indeed, she follows up her apparently serious complaint with “an absolute smirk.” What’s going on here?
Well, Nick goes on to observe that the smirk “asserted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged.” In other words, despite Daisy’s performance, she seems content to remain with Tom, part of the “secret society” of the ultra-rich.
So the question is: can anyone – or anything – lift Daisy out of her complacency?
"I never loved him," she said, with perceptible reluctance.
"Not at Kapiolani?" demanded Tom suddenly.
From the ballroom beneath, muffled and suffocating chords were drifting up on hot waves of air.
"Not that day I carried you down from the Punch Bowl to keep your shoes dry?" There was a husky tenderness in his tone. ". . . Daisy?" (7.258-62)
Over the course of the novel, both Tom and Daisy enter or continue affairs, pulling away from each other instead of confronting the problems in their marriage.
However, Gatsby forces them to confront their feelings in the Plaza Hotel when he demands Daisy say she never loved Tom. Although she gets the words out, she immediately rescinds them – “I did love [Tom] once but I loved you too!” – after Tom questions her.
Here, Tom – usually presented as a swaggering, brutish, and unkind – breaks down, speaking with “husky tenderness” and recalling some of the few happy moments in his and Daisy’s marriage. This is a key moment because it shows despite the dysfunction of their marriage, Tom and Daisy seem to both seek solace in happy early memories. Between those few happy memories and the fact that they both come from the same social class, their marriage ends up weathering multiple affairs.
Daisy and Tom were sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table with a plate of cold fried chicken between them and two bottles of ale. He was talking intently across the table at her and in his earnestness his hand had fallen upon and covered her own. Once in a while she looked up at him and nodded in agreement.
They weren't happy, and neither of them had touched the chicken or the ale—and yet they weren't unhappy either. There was an unmistakable air of natural intimacy about the picture and anybody would have said that they were conspiring together. (7.409-10)
They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made. . . . (9.146)
By the end of the novel, after Daisy’s murder of Myrtle as well as Gatsby’s death, she and Tom are firmly back together, “conspiring” and “careless” once again, despite the deaths of their lovers.
As Nick notes, they “weren’t happy…and yet they weren’t unhappy either.” Their marriage is important to both of them, since it reassures their status as old money aristocracy and brings stability to their lives. So the novel ends with them once again described as a unit, a “they,” perhaps even more strongly bonded since they’ve survived not only another round of affairs but murder, as well.
Myrtle and George Marriage Quotes
I heard footsteps on a stairs and in a moment the thickish figure of a woman blocked out the light from the office door. She was in the middle thirties, and faintly stout, but she carried her surplus flesh sensuously as some women can. Her face, above a spotted dress of dark blue crepe-de-chine, contained no facet or gleam of beauty but there was an immediately perceptible vitality about her as if the nerves of her body were continually smouldering. She smiled slowly and walking through her husband as if he were a ghost shook hands with Tom, looking him flush in the eye. Then she wet her lips and without turning around spoke to her husband in a soft, coarse voice:
"Get some chairs, why don't you, so somebody can sit down."
"Oh, sure," agreed Wilson hurriedly and went toward the little office, mingling immediately with the cement color of the walls. A white ashen dust veiled his dark suit and his pale hair as it veiled everything in the vicinity—except his wife, who moved close to Tom. (2.15-17)
As we discuss in our article on the symbolic valley of ashes, George is coated by the dust of despair and thus seems mired in the hopelessness and depression of that bleak place, while Myrtle is alluring and full of vitality. Her first action is to order her husband to get chairs, and the second is to move away from him, closer to Tom.
In contrast to Tom and Daisy, who are initially presented as a unit, our first introduction to George and Myrtle shows them fractured, with vastly different personalities and motivations. We get the sense right away that their marriage is in trouble, and conflict between the two is imminent.
"I married him because I thought he was a gentleman," she said finally. "I thought he knew something about breeding, but he wasn't fit to lick my shoe."
"You were crazy about him for a while," said Catherine.
"Crazy about him!" cried Myrtle incredulously. "Who said I was crazy about him? I never was any more crazy about him than I was about that man there." (2.112-4)
Here we get a bit of back-story about George and Myrtle’s marriage: like Daisy, Myrtle was crazy about her husband at first but the marriage has since soured. But while Daisy doesn’t have any real desire to leave Tom, here we see Myrtle eager to leave, and very dismissive of her husband. Myrtle seems to suggest that even having her husband wait on her is unacceptable – it’s clear she thinks she is finally headed for bigger and better things.
Generally he was one of these worn-out men: when he wasn't working he sat on a chair in the doorway and stared at the people and the cars that passed along the road. When any one spoke to him he invariably laughed in an agreeable, colorless way. He was his wife's man and not his own. (7.312)
Again, in contrast to the strangely unshakeable partnership of Tom and Daisy, the co-conspirators, Michaelis (briefly taking over narrator duties) observes that George “was his wife’s man,” “worn out.” Obviously, this situation gets turned on its head when George locks Myrtle up when he discovers the affair, but Michaelis’s observation speaks to instability in the Wilson’s marriage, in which each fights for control over the other. Rather than face the world as a unified front, the Wilsons each struggle for dominance within the marriage.
"Beat me!" he heard her cry. "Throw me down and beat me, you dirty little coward!"
A moment later she rushed out into the dusk, waving her hands and shouting; before he could move from his door the business was over. (7.314-5)
We don’t know what happened in the fight before this crucial moment, but we do know George locked Myrtle in a room once he figured out she was having an affair. So despite the outward appearance of being ruled by his wife, he does, in fact, have the ability to physically control her. However, he apparently doesn’t hit her, the way Tom does, and Myrtle taunts him for it – perhaps insinuating he’s less a man than Tom.
This outbreak of both physical violence (George locking up Myrtle) and emotional abuse (probably on both sides) fulfills the earlier sense of the marriage being headed for conflict.Still, it’s disturbing to witness the last few minutes of this fractured, unstable partnership.
Daisy and Gatsby Relationship Quotes
"You must know Gatsby."
"Gatsby?" demanded Daisy. "What Gatsby?" (1.60-1)
In the first chapter, we get a few mentions and glimpses of Gatsby, but one of the most interesting is Daisy immediately perking up at his name. She obviously still remembers him and perhaps even thinks about him, but her surprise suggests that she thinks he’s long gone, buried deep in her past.
This is in sharp contrast to the image we get of Gatsby himself at the end of the Chapter, reaching actively across the bay to Daisy’s house (1.152). While Daisy views Gatsby as a memory, Daisy is Gatsby’s past, present, and future. It’s clear even in Chapter 1 that Gatsby’s love for Daisy is much more intense than her love for him.
"Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay."
Then it had not been merely the stars to which he had aspired on that June night. He came alive to me, delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor. (4.151-2)
In Chapter 4, we learn Daisy and Gatsby’s story from Jordan: specifically, how they dated in Louisville but it ended when Gatsby went to the front. She also explains how Daisy threatened to call off her marriage to Tom after receiving a letter from Gatsby, but of course ended up marrying him anyway (4.140).
Here we also learn that Gatsby’s primary motivation is to get Daisy back, while Daisy is of course in the dark about all of this. This sets the stage for their affair being on unequal footing: while each has love and affection for the other, Gatsby has thought of little else but Daisy for five years while Daisy has created a whole other life for herself.
"We haven't met for many years," said Daisy, her voice as matter-of-fact as it could ever be.
"Five years next November." (5.69-70)
Daisy and Gatsby finally reunite in Chapter 5, the book’s mid-point. The entire chapter is obviously important for understanding the Daisy/Gatsby relationship, since we actually see them interact for the first time. But this initial dialogue is fascinating, because we see that Daisy's memories of Gatsby are more abstract and clouded, while Gatsby has been so obsessed with her he knows the exact month they parted and has clearly been counting down the days until their reunion.
They were sitting at either end of the couch looking at each other as if some question had been asked or was in the air, and every vestige of embarrassment was gone. Daisy's face was smeared with tears and when I came in she jumped up and began wiping at it with her handkerchief before a mirror. But there was a change in Gatsby that was simply confounding. He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation a new well-being radiated from him and filled the little room. (5.87)
After the initially awkward re-introduction, Nick leaves Daisy and Gatsby alone and comes back to find them talking candidly and emotionally. Gatsby has transformed – he is radiant and glowing. In contrast, we don’t see Daisy as radically transformed except for her tears. Although our narrator, Nick, pays much closer attention to Gatsby than Daisy, these different reactions suggest Gatsby is much more intensely invested in the relationship.
"They're such beautiful shirts," she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. "It makes me sad because I've never seen such—such beautiful shirts before." (5.118).
Gatsby gets the chance to show off his mansion and enormous wealthy to Daisy, and she breaks down after a very conspicuous display of Gatsby’s wealth, through his many-colored shirts.
In Daisy’s tears, you might sense a bit of guilt – that Gatsby attained so much just for her – or perhaps regret, that she might have been able to be with him had she had the strength to walk away from her marriage with Tom.
Still, unlike Gatsby, whose motivations are laid bare, it’s hard to know what Daisy is thinking and how invested she is in their relationship, despite how openly emotional she is during this reunion. Perhaps she’s just overcome with emotion due to reliving the emotions of their first encounters.
His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy's white face came up to his own. 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. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips' touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete. (6.134)
In flashback, we hear about Daisy and Gatsby’s first kiss, through Gatsby’s point of view. We see explicitly in this scene that, for Gatsby, Daisy has come to represent all of his larger hopes and dreams about wealth and a better life – she is literally the incarnation of his dreams. There is no analogous passage on Daisy’s behalf, because we actually don’t know that much of Daisy’s inner life, or certainly not much compared to Gatsby.
So we see, again, the relationship is very uneven – Gatsby has literally poured his heart and soul into it, while Daisy, though she obviously has love and affection for Gatsby, hasn’t idolized him in the same way. It becomes clear here that Daisy – who is human and fallible – can never live up to Gatsby’s huge projection of her.
"Oh, you want too much!" she cried to Gatsby. "I love you now—isn't that enough? I can't help what's past." She began to sob helplessly. "I did love him once—but I loved you too."
Gatsby's eyes opened and closed.
"You loved me too?" he repeated. (7.264-66)
Here we finally get a glimpse at Daisy’s real feelings – she loved Gatsby, but also Tom, and to her those were equal loves. She hasn’t put that initial love with Gatsby on a pedestal the way Gatsby has. Gatsby’s obsession with her appears shockingly one-sided at this point, and it’s clear to the reader she will not leave Tom for him. You can also see why this confession is such a blow to Gatsby: he’s been dreaming about Daisy for years and sees her as his one true love, while she can’t even rank her love for Gatsby above her love for Tom.
"Was Daisy driving?"
"Yes," he said after a moment, "but of course I'll say I was." (7.397-8)
Despite Daisy’s rejection of Gatsby back at the Plaza Hotel, he refuses to believe that it was real and is sure that he can still get her back. His devotion is so intense he doesn’t think twice about covering for her and taking the blame for Myrtle’s death. In fact, his obsession is so strong he barely seems to register that there’s been a death, or to feel any guilt at all. This moment further underscores how much Daisy means to Gatsby, and how comparatively little he means to her.
She was the first "nice" girl he had ever known. In various unrevealed capacities he had come in contact with such people but always with indiscernible barbed wire between. He found her excitingly desirable. He went to her house, at first with other officers from Camp Taylor, then alone. It amazed him—he had never been in such a beautiful house before. But what gave it an air of breathless intensity was that Daisy lived there—it was as casual a thing to her as his tent out at camp was to him. There was a ripe mystery about it, a hint of bedrooms upstairs more beautiful and cool than other bedrooms, of gay and radiant activities taking place through its corridors and of romances that were not musty and laid away already in lavender but fresh and breathing and redolent of this year's shining motor cars and of dances whose flowers were scarcely withered. It excited him too that many men had already loved Daisy—it increased her value in his eyes. He felt their presence all about the house, pervading the air with the shades and echoes of still vibrant emotions. (8.10, emphasis added)
In Chapter 8, when we get the rest of Gatsby’s backstory, we learn more about what drew him to Daisy – her wealth, and specifically the world that opened up to Gatsby as he got to know her. Interestingly, we also learn that her “value increased” in Gatsby’s eyes when it became clear that many other men had also loved her. We see then how Daisy got all tied up in Gatsby’s ambitions for a better, wealthier life.
You also know, as a reader, that Daisy obviously is human and fallible and can never realistically live up to Gatsby’s inflated images of her and what she represents to him. So in these last pages, before Gatsby’s death as we learn the rest of Gatsby’s story, we sense that his obsessive longing for Daisy was as much about his longing for another, better life, than it was about a single woman.
Tom and Myrtle Relationship Quotes
"I think it's cute," said Mrs. Wilson enthusiastically. "How much is it?"
"That dog?" He looked at it admiringly. "That dog will cost you ten dollars."
The airedale—undoubtedly there was an airedale concerned in it somewhere though its feet were startlingly white—changed hands and settled down into Mrs. Wilson's lap, where she fondled the weather-proof coat with rapture.
"Is it a boy or a girl?" she asked delicately.
"That dog? That dog's a boy."
"It's a bitch," said Tom decisively. "Here's your money. Go and buy ten more dogs with it." (2.38-43)
This passage is great because it neatly displays Tom and Myrtle’s different attitudes toward the affair. Myrtle thinks that Tom is spoiling her specifically, and that he cares about her more than he really does – after all, he stops to by her a dog just because she says it’s cute and insists she wants one on a whim.
But to Tom, the money isn’t a big deal. He casually throws away the 10 dollars, aware he’s being scammed but not caring, since he has so much money at his disposal. He also insists that he knows more than the dog seller and Myrtle, showing how he looks down at people below his own class – but Myrtle misses this because she’s infatuated with both the new puppy and Tom himself.
Myrtle pulled her chair close to mine, and suddenly her warm breath poured over me the story of her first meeting with Tom.
"It was on the two little seats facing each other that are always the last ones left on the train. I was going up to New York to see my sister and spend the night. He had on a dress suit and patent leather shoes and I couldn't keep my eyes off him but every time he looked at me I had to pretend to be looking at the advertisement over his head. When we came into the station he was next to me and his white shirt-front pressed against my arm—and so I told him I'd have to call a policeman, but he knew I lied. I was so excited that when I got into a taxi with him I didn't hardly know I wasn't getting into a subway train. All I kept thinking about, over and over, was 'You can't live forever, you can't live forever.' " (2.119-20)
Myrtle, twelve years into a marriage she’s unhappy in, sees her affair with Tom as a romantic escape. She tells the story of how she and Tom met like it’s the beginning of a love story. In reality, it’s pretty creepy – Tom sees a woman he finds attractive on a train and immediately goes and presses up to her like and convinces her to go sleep with him immediately. Not exactly the stuff of classic romance!
Combined with the fact Myrtle believes Daisy’s Catholicism (a lie) is what keeps her and Tom apart, you see that despite Myrtle’s pretensions of worldliness, she actually knows very little about Tom or the upper classes, and is a poor judge of character. She is an easy person for Tom to take advantage of.
Some time toward midnight Tom Buchanan and Mrs. Wilson stood face to face discussing in impassioned voices whether Mrs. Wilson had any right to mention Daisy's name.
"Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!" shouted Mrs. Wilson. "I'll say it whenever I want to! Daisy! Dai——"
Making a short deft movement Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand. (2.124-6)
In case the reader was still wondering that perhaps Myrtle’s take on the relationship had some basis in truth, this is a cold hard dose of reality. Tom’s vicious treatment of Myrtle reminds the reader of his brutality and the fact that, to him, Myrtle is just another affair, and he would never in a million years leave Daisy for her.
Despite the violence of this scene, the affair continues. Myrtle is either so desperate to escape her marriage or so self-deluded about what Tom thinks of her (or both) that she stays with Tom after this ugly scene.
There is no confusion like the confusion of a simple mind, and as we drove away Tom was feeling the hot whips of panic. His wife and his mistress, until an hour ago secure and inviolate, were slipping precipitately from his control. (7.164)
Chapter 2 gives us lots of insight into Myrtle’s character and how she sees her affair with Tom. But other than Tom’s physical attraction to Myrtle, we don’t get as clear of a view of his motivations until later on. In Chapter 7, Tom panics once he finds out George knows about his wife’s affair. We learn here that control is incredibly important to Tom – control of his wife, control of his mistress, and control of society more generally (see his rant in Chapter 1 about the “Rise of the Colored Empires”).
So just as he passionately rants and raves against the “colored races,” he also gets panicked and angry when he sees that he is losing control both over Myrtle and Daisy. This speaks to Tom’s entitlement – both as a wealthy person, as a man, and as a white person – and shows how his relationship with Myrtle is just another display of power. It has very little to do with his feelings for Myrtle herself. So as the relationship begins to slip from his fingers, he panics – not because he’s scared of losing Myrtle, but because he’s scared of losing a possession.
"And if you think I didn't have my share of suffering—look here, when I went to give up that flat and saw that damn box of dog biscuits sitting there on the sideboard I sat down and cried like a baby. By God it was awful——" (9.145)
Despite Tom’s abhorrent behavior throughout the novel, at the very end, Nick leaves us with an image of Tom confessing to crying over Myrtle. This complicates the reader’s desire to see Tom as a straightforward villain. This confession of emotion certainly doesn’t redeem Tom, but it does prevent you from seeing him as a complete monster.
Whether you've never written an SAT Essay or didn't get the score you wanted on your last test, you can benefit from knowing more: both about the essay itself, and what really matters when the graders are reading your essay.
To introduce you to what you'll have to do, we've gathered up these 15 tips to master the SAT essay. If you can reliably follow all these points, you'll be able to get at least a 6/6/6 on the SAT essay—guaranteed.
The SAT Essay is a very short assignment. You only get 50 minutes to read a 650-750 word passage, analyze the devices the author uses to structure her/his argument, and write a full-fledged essay—and it can pass in a flash if you don't have a method for attacking it.
Writing an SAT essay requires a very specific approach that's unlike the essays you've been writing for English class in school. The goal of this strategy is to cram in as many as possible of the desired components in the 50 minutes you've got. In this article, we give you 15 key tips for the SAT essay.
The first five tips in this article relate to what the College Board tells us about what's a good essay. The next five are truths that the College Board doesn't want you to know (or doesn’t make explicit). And the last five tips for SAT essay writing show you how to build an SAT essay, step by step.
What the College Board Does Tell You: 5 Tips
The College Board explains the main components of the successful SAT Essay in its scoring criteria. Here they are, condensed:
#1: Give a Clear Thesis
The SAT essay rubric states: "The response includes a precise central claim.”
What this means is that your essay needs to make a clear argument that the reader can easily identify. All you have to do to create your "precise central claim" is to identify the main idea of the passage and list the methods the author uses to support it.
Fortunately, the SAT provides you with the passage’s main idea, so you don’t have to go hunting for it yourself. I've bolded the claim in this (fake) sample prompt so you can see this for yourself:
Write an essay in which you explain how Sam Lindsay builds an argument to persuade her audience that more works of art should feature monsters. In your essay, analyze how Lindsay uses one or more of the features listed in the box above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of her argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage.
Your essay should not explain whether you agree with Lindsay’s claims, but rather explain how Lindsay builds an argument to persuade her audience.
Now, here's an example of a thesis statement for an essay responding to this prompt:
In the article “Monsters Monsters Everywhere,” Sam Lindsay uses personal anecdotes, vivid language, and appeals to emotion to persuade her audience that more works of art should feature monsters.
It's fine to copy the exact words describing the author’s central claim from the prompt into your thesis statement—in fact, this guarantees that the graders will see that your thesis is there and on-topic.
#2: Include Both an Introduction and a Conclusion
The SAT essay rubric states: "The response includes a skillful introduction and conclusion.”
Including an introduction paragraph in your essay is absolutely essential to getting a Writing score above a 4 (out of 8). The introduction paragraph introduces the reader to what you’ll be talking about and allows you to set up the structure for the rest of the essay. Plus, an introduction can be a pretty good indicator of the quality for the rest of the essay—a poorly constructed introduction is often a warning that the essay that follows will be equally discombobulated.
It's best to have both an introduction and a conclusion, but if you’re running short on time and can only have one, definitely pick the introduction. The main reason for this is that a good introduction includes your thesis statement. For the SAT essay, your thesis (or your "precise central claim") should be a statement about what devices the author uses to build her/his argument.
Introductions can be tricky to write, because whatever you write in that paragraph can then make you feel like you’re locked into writing just about that. If you’re struggling with the introduction paragraph, leave yourself 10 blank lines at the beginning of the essay and jump into writing your body paragraphs. Just make sure you remember to go back and write in your introduction before time’s up!
#3: Use Effective Language and Word Choice
There are a couple of parts of the Writing score section on the SAT essay rubric that pertain directly to style.
The SAT essay rubric states this about a perfect-Writing-score essay: "The response is cohesive and demonstrates a highly effective use and command of language."
For most of us, "command of language" is an area that takes a long time to develop, so unless your language skills are really rough or you're prepping at least a year ahead of time (or both), you'll probably get more out of focusing on the other components of the essay.
The SAT essay rubric also states: “The response has a wide variety in sentence structures. The response demonstrates a consistent use of precise word choice. The response maintains a formal style and objective tone.”
This basically boils down to: don't be repetitive and don't make grammar mistakes. In addition, you should avoid using first person statements like "I" or "My" in the essay, along with any other informality. You're writing the equivalent of a school paper, not an opinion piece.
Bad (Too informal):
“I think that Sam’s super persuasive in this article cause she’s just so passionate. It made me feel kinda bad that I don’t really monster it up in my everyday life.”
“Lindsay’s passionate defense of how drawing monsters 'allows us to laugh at our personal foibles' causes her audience to put themselves in her shoes and empathize with her position.”
Finally, try to use different words to describe the same idea—don't use "shows" 15 times. Take the chance to show off your vocabulary (if, and only if, the vocabulary is appropriate and makes sense). This component is the biggest reason why revising your SAT Essay is essential—it's fast and easy to change repeated words to other ones after you're finished, but it can slow you down during writing to worry about your word choice. If you're aiming for a top score, using advanced vocabulary appropriately is vital.
#4: Only Use Information From the Passage
All the relevant information is in the passage, so avoid getting drawn into the topic and using your outside knowledge—you want to be sure to show that you’ve read the passage.
In real life, there are many ways to support a thesis, depending on the topic. But on the SAT, there's one kind of correct support: specific details drawn from the passage you’re asked to analyze. We'll show you more below.
#5: Focus Your Essay on Relevant Details
You don’t have to mention every single detail that makes the argument effective. In fact, your essay will be more coherent and more likely to score higher in Analysis if you focus your discussion on just a few points. It's more important to show that you're able to pick out the most important parts of the argument and explain their function that it is to be able to identify every single persuasive device the author used.
Think about it as if you were asked to write a 50-minute essay describing the human face and what each part does. A clear essay would just focus on major features—eyes, nose, and mouth. A less effective essay might also try to discuss cheekbones, eyebrows, eyelashes, skin pores, chin clefts, and dimples as well. While all of these things are part of the face, it would be hard to get into detail about each of the parts in just 50 minutes.
And this is the eye, and this is the other eye, and this is the...other eye...and the other eye...and the other...wait...what's going on here?
What the College Board Doesn’t Tell You: 5 Secrets
Even though the SAT essay has clearly stated, publicly-available guidelines, there are a few secrets to writing the essay that most students don't know and that can give you a major advantage on the test.
#1: Read the Prompt Before the Passage
Why? Because the prompt includes the description of the author’s claim. Knowing what the author’s claim is going into the article can help keep you focused on the argument, rather than getting caught up in reading the passage (especially if the topic is one you're interested in).
#2: Your Facts Must Be Accurate…But Your Interpretation Doesn’t Have to Be
A big part of the Analysis score for the SAT essay is not just identifying the devices the author uses to build her argument, but explaining the effect that the use of these devices has on the reader. You don’t have to be completely, 100% accurate about the effect the passage has on the reader, because there is no one right answer. As long as you are convincing in your explanation and cite specific examples, you’ll be good.
Here's an example of an interpretation about what effect a persuasive device has on the reader (backed by evidence from the passage):
Lindsay appeals to the emotions of her readers by describing the forlorn, many-eyed creatures that stare reproachfully at her from old school notebook margins. The sympathy the readers feel for these forgotten doodles is expertly transferred to Lindsay herself when she draws the connection between the drawn monsters and her own life: “Often, I feel like one of these monsters—hidden away in my studio, brushes yearning to create what no one else cares to see.”
Now, you don't necessarily know for sure if "sympathy for the doodles" is what the author was going for in her passage. The SAT essay graders probably don't know either (unless one of them wrote the passage). But as long as you can make a solid case for your interpretation, using facts and quotes from the passage to back it up, you'll be good.
#3: You Should Write More Than One Page
This has always been true for the SAT essay, but for the first time ever, the College Board actually came out in The Official SAT Study Guide and explicitly said that length really does matter. Here's the description of a one-paragraph, 120-word-long student response that received a Writing score of 2/8 (bolding mine).
“Due to the brief nature of the response, there is not enough evidence of writing ability to merit a score higher than 1. Overall, this response demonstrates inadequate writing.” (source: The Official SAT Study Guide, p. 176)
You’ll have one page for (ungraded) scrap paper that you can use to plan out your essay, and four pages of writing paper for the essay—plan on writing at least two pages for your essay.
#4: Be Objective When Reading the Passage
Being able to stay detached while reading the passage you'll be writing the essay about can be tricky. This task might be especially difficult for students who were used to the old SAT essay (which pretty much made it mandatory for you to choose one side or the other). You’ll have to practice reading persuasive essays and gaining objectivity (so that you are able to write about how the argument is constructed, not whether it’s good or bad).
A good way to practice this is to read news articles on topics you care deeply about by people who hold the opposite view that you do. For instance, as a composer and violist/violinist, I might read articles about how children should not be encouraged to play musical instruments, since it holds no practical value later on in life (a view I disagree with vehemently). I would then work on my objectivity by jotting down the central ideas, most important details, and how these details relate to the central ideas of the article.
Being able to understand the central ideas in the passage and details without being sidetracked by rage (or other emotions) is key to writing an effective SAT essay.
"Always Wear a Helmet." ©2015-2016 by Samantha Lindsay. Used with permission.
Don't let the monster of rage distract you from your purpose.
#5: Memorize and Identify Specific Persuasive Techniques
Once you’re able to read articles objectively (as discussed in point #4 above), the next step is to be able to break down the essay passage's argument. To do this successfully, you'll need to be aware of some of the techniques that are frequently used to build arguments.
The SAT essay prompt does mention a few of these techniques (bolding mine):
As you read the passage below, consider how Lindsay uses
- evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
- reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
- stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.
It’s certainly possible to wing it and go into the test without knowing specific names of particular persuasive devices and just organically build up your essay from features you notice in the article. However, it's way easier to go into the essayknowing certain techniques that you can then scan the passage for.
For instance, after noting the central ideas and important details in the article about how more works of art should feature monsters, I would then work on analyzing the way the author built her argument. Does she use statistics in the article? Personal anecdotes? Appeal to emotion?
I discuss the top persuasive devices you should know in more detail in the article "6 SAT Essay Examples to Answer Every Prompt".
How to Get All the Necessary Components in 50 Minutes: 5 Step-By-Step Strategies
When you write an SAT essay, you only have 50 minutes to read, analyze, and write an essay, which means that you need a game plan going in. Here's a short step-by-step guide on how to write an effective SAT essay.
#1: Answer the Prompt
Don’t just summarize the passage in your essay, or identify persuasive devices used by the author—instead, be sure to actually analyze the way the author of the passage builds her argument. As The Official SAT Study Guidestates,
"[Y]our discussion should focus on what the author does, why he or she does it, and what effect this is likely to have on readers."
College Board makes a point of specifying this very point in its grading rubric as well—an essay that scores a 2 (out of 4) or below in Analysis "merely asserts, rather than explains [the persuasive devices'] importance." If you want to get at least a 3/4 (or a 6/8) in Analysis, you need to heed this warning and stay on task.
#2: Support Your Points With Concrete Evidence From the Passage
The best way to get a high Reading score for your essay is to quote from the passage appropriately to support your points. This shows not only that you’ve read the passage (without your having to summarize the passage at all), but also that you understand what the author is saying and the way the author constructed her argument.
As an alternative to using direct quotations from the passage, it’s also okay to paraphrase some of what you discuss. If you are explaining the author's argument in your own words, however, you need to be extra careful to make sure that the facts you're stating are accurate—in contrast to scoring on the old SAT essay, scoring on the new SAT essay takes into account factual inaccuracies and penalizes you for them.
#3: Keep Your Essay Organized
The SAT essay rubric states: “The response demonstrates a deliberate and highly effective progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay.”
The main point to take away from this is that you should follow the standard structure for an SAT essay (introduction-body-body-conclusion). Using a basic four- to five-paragraph essay structure will both keep you organized and make it easier for the essay graders to follow your reasoning—a win-win situation!
Furthermore, you should connect each paragraph to each other through effective transitions. We'll give you ways to improve your performance in this area in the articles linked at the end of this article.
#4: Make Time to Read, Analyze, Plan, Write, and Revise
Make sure you allocate appropriate amounts of time for each of the steps you’ll need to take to write the essay—50 minutes may seem like a long time, but it goes by awfully quick with all the things you need to do.
Reading the passage, analyzing the argument, planning your essay, writing your essay, and revising are all important components for writing an 8/8/8 essay. For a breakdown of how much time to spend on each of these steps, be sure to check out our article on how to write an SAT essay, step-by-step.
"Watch Yourself." ©2015-2016 by Samantha Lindsay. Used with permission.
The more you practice analysis and writing, the better you’ll get at the task of writing an SAT essay (as you work up to it a little at a time).
It's especially important to practice the analysis and writing components of the essay if you are a slow reader (since reading speed can be difficult to change). Being able to analyze and write quickly can help balance out the extra time you take to read and comprehend the material. Plus, the time you put into working on analysis and writing will yield greater rewards than time spent trying to increase your reading speed.
But don't forget: while it’s okay to break up the practice at first, you also really do need to get practice buckling down and doing the whole task in one sitting.
This is just the beginning of improving your SAT essay score. Next, you actually need to put this into practice with a real SAT essay.
Looking to get even deeper into the essay prompt? Read our complete list of SAT essay prompts and our detailed explanation of the SAT essay prompt.
Hone your SAT essay writing skills with our articles about how to write a high-scoring essay, step by step and how to get a 8/8/8 on the SAT essay.
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