Gatsby Chapter 1 Summary

Chapter Summaries from Cliffs Notes

As The Great Gatsby opens, Nick Carraway, the story's narrator, remembers his upbringing and the lessons his family taught him. Readers learn of his past, his education, and his sense of moral justice, as he begins to unfold the story of Jay Gatsby. The narration takes place more than a year after the incidents described, so Nick is working through the filter of memory in relaying the story's events. The story proper begins when Nick moves from the Midwest to West Egg, Long Island, seeking to become a "well-rounded man" and to recapture some of the excitement and adventure he experienced as a soldier in WWI. As he tries to make his way as a bond salesman, he rents a small house next door to a mansion which, it turns out, belongs to Gatsby.

Daisy Buchanan, Nick's cousin, and her husband, Tom, live across the bay in the fashionable community of East Egg. Nick goes to visit Daisy, an ephemeral woman with a socialite's luminescence, and Tom, a brutish, hulking, powerful man made arrogant through generations of privilege, and there he meets Jordan Baker, the professional golfer and a girlhood friend of Daisy's. As the foursome lounge around the Buchanans' estate, they discuss the day's most pressing matters: the merits of living in the East, what to do on the longest day of the year, reactionary politics, and other such shallow topics. When Tom takes a phone call, Jordan informs Nick that Tom's mistress is on the phone. Tom, known for his infidelities, makes no pretense to cover up his affairs. As Tom and Daisy work to set up Nick and Jordan, they seize the opportunity to question him about his supposed engagement to a girl back home. Nick reassures them there is no impending marriage, merely a series of rumors that cannot substitute for truth.

Upon returning home that evening, as he is sitting outside, Nick notices a figure emerging from Gatsby's mansion. Nick's initial impulse is to call out to Gatsby, but he resists because Gatsby "gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone." It was while watching Gatsby that Nick witnesses a curious event. Gatsby, standing by the waterside, stretches his arms toward the darkness, trembling. This gesture seems odd to Nick, because all he can make out is a green light, such as one finds at the end of a dock, across the Sound. Looking back at the mysterious figure Nick realizes that Gatsby has vanished.