The Great Gatsby Quotes – Analysis of the Most Important Lines
September 28, 2023
If you’re writing a paper on Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, you’re probably familiar with the plot of the novel – mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby is in love with Daisy Buchanan, throws lavish parties, then gets shot in his own pool. But knowing the plot isn’t enough. If you’re writing a paper, you’re going to need specific quotes to explain and analyze the book’s themes, characters, and symbols. Below is a list of quotes from The Great Gatsby with some explanation and analysis of each. (If you’re looking for a more general introduction to the main themes in Gatsby, check out this article.)
Note: All the quotes below come from Project Gutenberg’s electronic version of The Great Gatsby.
In chapter one we meet Nick Carraway, our narrator. A veteran of WWI, Nick has come to New York to sell bonds. We read,
“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…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.”
This is a long quote, but it’s worth examining in detail because it’s our first introduction to Jay Gatsby. As such, this quote really sets the tone for how the reader understands the relationship between the narrator (Nick Carraway) and Gatsby.
Great Gatsby Quotes (Continued)
The first thing we need to notice is that this quote is written after the events of the novel. Our narrator has attended Gatsby’s parties, set Gatsby up with Daisy, and attended Gatsby’s funeral. This means that the reader should pay special attention – Nick is sharing the wisdom he has gained from living through the events that he’s about to tell us about.
Nick begins this quote by situating himself in relation to the events of the book. Let’s summarize: having just returned from the drama and violence of war, Nick wants nothing more than a general feeling of calm and moral uprightness. Gatsby, with his lavish parties and illicit fortune, would seem to be the antithesis of this desire. Indeed, we read that Gatsby “represented everything for which [Nick has] an unaffected scorn”? At the same time, Gatby alone is “exempt from [Nick’s] reaction.” With this description, the reader is confronted with a mystery. Why is Gatsby “exempt”? What makes Gatsby so special?
The answer is telling. For all of Gatsby’s faults, there is something about his personality that Nick finds “gorgeous.” It’s no spoiler to remind the reader that Jay Gatsby was born Jay Gatz – the son of a poor farmer in North Dakota. Gatsby made his riches (and his name) illicitly – conning and scheming his way to fortune. According to Nick, while Gatsby’s actions are morally questionable, the qualities that lead him out of poverty – “sensitivity,” “hope,” and “romantic readiness” – are qualities that he cannot help but admire. On the one hand, there’s little doubt that Nick looks scornfully at Gatsby’s life and choices (e.g. the parties, the lying, the crime). On the other hand, Gatsby’s personality, understood as an “unbroken series of successful gestures” represents something truly special.
Great Gatsby Quotes (Continued)
“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 men.”
This quote comes right after Nick’s initial description of Gatsby and shows the reader what Nick truly disliked about the events he’s about to relate. As we saw in the previous quote, Nick admires Gatsby. It’s the “foul dust that floated in the wake of [Gatsby’s] dreams” that Nick detests. This difference between Gatsby’s personality and the “foul dust” explains why Nick can say that “Gatsby turned out all right in the end.” After all, Gatsby ends up face-down in his own pool, shot by George Wilson, who wrongly suspected Gatsby of having an affair with (and accidentally killing) his wife Myrtle.
As we saw in the previous quote, Nick admires the qualities that Gatsby has. His resourcefulness, adaptability, and hope in the future are admirable. Gatsby was a dreamer – in this sense, Gatsby did “turn out all right in the end.” His was a life full of hopeful, romantic readiness. What Nick detests are the circumstances that preyed on Gatsby’s hope. Gatsby, born poor, dares to think that he’s an acceptable match to the wealthy Daisy Buchanan (nee Fay). In itself, this is a noble, hopeful, romantic belief in egalitarianism. However, given the intransigence of social class, Gatsby can never be an appropriate suitor for Daisy.
Read in this way, Gatsby’s actions are the result of the disconnect between his romantic belief in egalitarianism and the realities of capitalism. Gatsby’s belief in the dream of Daisy is so strong that when presented with the possibility of the wealth that would make him suitable for Daisy, he cannot resist.
Great Gatsby Quotes (Continued)
“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.’”
Coming near the end of the first chapter, this is definitely one of the saddest quotes in the novel. Nick has spent the evening at Tom and Daisy’s house with Daisy, Tom, and Jordan Baker. To the awkward chagrin of everyone, Tom’s mistress calls repeatedly during dinner. After the meal, Nick and Daisy walk around the house and have a moment to themselves. Nick can tell that the calls from Tom’s mistress have upset Daisy, so he asks “what [he] thought would be some sedative questions about her little girl,” to which Daisy gives the above response.
The quote is so important because it shows what a difficult situation Daisy finds herself in. While it’s impossible to know exactly what she feels for Tom, we know that they have a bond (dysfunctional as it is). Though he cheats on her constantly, they have a child together. In this quote, Daisy bemoans her awareness of the complexity of her situation. In some ways, it would be so much easier to be foolishly and naively in love with Tom Buchanan. At a time when women had considerably fewer rights than they do now, Daisy understands how trapped she is and wishes that was blithely unaware.
The Great Gatsby Quotes – Chapter 2
Chapter two is short and mostly describes the party Nick attends with Tom and his mistress Myrtle. While at the party, Nick thinks to himself,
“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”
First and foremost, this quote is important because it establishes Nick’s ambivalent relationship to the people and events around him. On the one hand, the shenanigans of the idle rich are obscene – on the other, they are endlessly fascinating.
Another reason this quote is important is because it sets the reader up for a shocking moment of violence. On the heels of Nick’s ambivalent declaration about the lives of Tom, Myrtle, and Daisy, we see Tom assault Myrtle. Here’s what happens: At first, the party is lively and fun. By about midnight, Myrtle has too much to drink. She begins to insist upon her right to say Daisy’s name. With no warning, we read that Tom, “Making a short deft movement…broke her nose with his open hand.” This sudden violence is at odds with Nick’s “within and without”-ness. Ultimately, the “variety” that Nick so blithely remarks on has real and often violent consequences.
The majority of chapter three concerns the first party Nick attends at Gatsby’s house. He eventually meets the host and we’re given some additional information about how charismatic Gatsby is. This is all well and good, but if we focus only on Gatsby, we’re likely to miss out on the clearest description of the relationship between Nick and Jordan Baker. This is what Nick has to say about Jordan:
“[She] instinctively avoided clever, shrewd men, and now I saw that this was because she felt safer on a plane where any divergence from a code would be thought impossible. She was incurably dishonest. She wasn’t able to endure being at a disadvantage and, given this unwillingness, I suppose she had begun dealing in subterfuges when she was very young in order to keep that cool, insolent smile turned to the world and yet satisfy the demands of her hard, jaunty body.
With so much focus on Nick, Tom, Daisy, and Gatsby, Jordan Baker tends to get lost in the shuffle. This is a shame because the novel offers Jordan Baker as another model of being a woman in the world. At first glance, Jordan’s freedom as a professional athlete seems in marked contrast to Daisy’s role as mother and wife. At the same time, this quote shows us how trapped Jordan really is. She must avoid any appearance of weakness and chooses only to be around those people who will not (or cannot) see through her dishonesty.
The Great Gatsby Quotes – Chapter 4
Chapter four is chock-full of details about Gatsby. Nick meets Mr. Wolfshiem, Gatsby’s criminal partner, hears Jordan Baker tell about how Daisy nearly ran off to Europe during the war to be with Gatsby, and finds out (from Jordan) that Gatsby now wants to use Nick’s house for a clandestine meeting with Daisy. When Nick remarks on the coincidence that would find Gatsby’s mansion right across the bay from Daisy’s house, Jordan explains to Nick that this had been Gatsby’s plan all along. To this Nick thinks,
“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 splendour.”
This is the moment when Nick finally understands the motives behind Gatsby’s actions. The parties, the illicit deals, the ostentation – everything had been in service of Gatsby’s dream of rekindling his relationship with Daisy. It’s finally in this moment that Nick begins to appreciate the “romantic readiness” of Gatsby.
Chapter five is important in terms of plot development – Gatsby meets with Daisy and the two seem to rekindle their love. At the same time, Gatsby’s memory of Daisy – the memory he’s hoarded for so long – is now in competition with the real, living, breathing Daisy. Near the end of this chapter, Nick thinks,
“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams—not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man can store up in his ghostly heart.”
At this moment, Gatsby has everything he’s dreamed of for the past five years. And yet, Gatsby has been chasing his dream of Daisy for so long that the real Daisy is always going to fall short. In some ways, Gatsby will always prefer the dream of love to the actual thing.
“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.”
To understand this quote, it’s worth recalling the circumstances of Gatsby’s relationship with Daisy. They met while Gatsby was stationed in Louisville – just before he was scheduled to ship off to Europe. Gatsby falls deeply in love with Daisy and she seems to return his affections. When the war ends a few years later, Gatsby has difficulty getting back to the US. While Gatsby is away, Daisy marries Tom Buchanan.
For Gatsby, this time with Daisy is the pivot point of his life. As Nick writes just after this quote, “[Gatsby] wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy.” Gatsby returns from war to find the love of his life married to another man. All of his efforts – the lies, the conniving, the crime – are aimed at turning back the clock to the moment when he and Daisy were in love.
Needless to say, this is a profoundly unhealthy way of living. Gatsby is so obsessed with recreating the past that he can’t actually live in the present. This is arguably why he fails to win Daisy back. Gatsby is in love with his memory of Daisy – not the complicated woman in the present. When Gatsby finally admits his love for her (in front of Tom), he doesn’t just want Daisy to love him now – he wants her to admit that she never loved Tom. Gatsby’s obsession with the past means that he can’t love the complicated person that Daisy has become.
The Great Gatsby Quotes – Chapter 7
After Gatsby and Daisy have rekindled their relationship, Gatsby finds himself at Tom and Daisy’s house along with Jordan and Nick. Tom can tell something has changed between Daisy and Gatsby and he is struggling to contain his fury. The group decides to go into the city. Tom goes back into the house and Nick remarks that Daisy has an “indiscreet voice.” We then read,
“Her voice is full of money,” [Gatsby] 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…
It would be easy to read this as merely another marker of Daisy’s wealth and privilege, but I think it’s more than that. Coming right after Nick’s remark about Daisy’s “indiscreet voice,” Gatsby’s comment equates Daisy’s wealth and privilege with her lack of discretion. Remember that Gatsby’s life is a house of cards built on discretion. He has conned and charmed his way to immense wealth, but any lack of discretion and the life he has built would topple. On the other hand, Daisy’s life has been free of consequences. In other words, Daisy’s wealth and privilege lets her be as indiscreet as she wants. (This is also the chapter when Daisy accidentally runs over and kills Myrtle Wilson – yikes!)
In this chapter Nick learns about Gatsby’s initial romance with Daisy. Recall that the two met in Louisville just before Gatsby was set to ship out for WWI. Their love affair was intense, but short-lived. Looking back, we can see that their romance might have been doomed from the start. We read,
But [Gatsby] knew that he was in Daisy’s house by a colossal accident. However glorious might be his future as Jay Gatsby, he was at present a penniless young man without a past, and at any moment the invisible cloak of his uniform might slip from his shoulders. So he made the most of his time. He took what he could get, ravenously and unscrupulously—eventually he took Daisy one still October night, took her because he had no real right to touch her hand.
Given the duplicity upon which their relationship was founded, it’s hard to believe that Gatsby and Daisy’s love ever stood a chance. For the perceptive reader, this is the moment that launched Gatsby’s obsession with wealth. Though he loved Daisy, his poverty would always keep them apart.
We’ve finally reached the denouement of the book. Gatsby gets shot in his pool by George Wilson (who then kills himself), Daisy and Tom leave with no consequences, and Nick breaks up with Jordan and heads back home. The novel ends with one of the most famous lines in American literature. We read,
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 further… And one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
This final line sums up the ambivalence Nick has to the American dream. On the one hand, it eludes both him and Gatsby; on the other, if we just “run faster, stretch out our arms further” we just might catch it.
The Great Gatsby Quotes – Additional Resources
For more Great Gatsby-related resources check out these blogs written by our same expert: