The narrator, Nick Carraway, begins the novel by commenting on himself: he says that he is very tolerant, and has a tendency to reserve judgment. Carraway comes from a prominent Midwestern family and graduated from Yale; therefore, he fears to be misunderstood by those who have not enjoyed the same advantages. He attempts to understand people on their own terms, rather than holdingthem up to his own personal standards.
Nick fought in World War I; after the war, he went through a period of restlessness. He eventually decided to go east, to New York City, in order to learn the bond business. At the novel's outset, in the summer of 1922, Carraway has just arrived in New York and is living in a part of Long Island known as West Egg. West Egg is home to the nouveau riche(those who have recently made money and lack an established social position), while neighboring East Egg is home to the insular, narrow-minded denizens of the old aristocracy. Nick's house is next door to Gatsby's enormous, vulgar Gothic mansion.
One night, he attends a dinner party in East Egg; the party is given by Tom Buchanan and his wife, Daisy. Daisy is Nick's cousin, while Tom was Nick'sclassmate at Yale. Tom comes from a wealthy, established family, and was a much-feared football player while at Yale. A friend of Daisy's is also in attendance. This woman, whose name is Jordan Baker, makes her living as a professional golfer. She has a frigid, boyish beauty and affects an air of extreme boredom.
Tom dominates the conversation at dinner; he wishes to propound ideas he has foundin a book entitled "The Rise of the Colored Empires." This book espouses racist and white supremacist ideas, to which Tom wholeheartedly subscribes. When Tom abruptly leaves to take a phone call, Daisy declares that she has become terribly cynical and sophisticated since she and Nick last met. Her claims ring false, however particularly when contrasted with the genuine cynicism of Jordan Baker,who languidly informs Nick that Tom's phone call is from his lover in New York. After his awkward visit with the Buchanans, Carraway goes home to West Egg. There, he sees a handsome young man, Jay Gatsby, standing on his wide lawn, with his arms stretched out to the sea. He appears to be reaching for a faraway green light, which may mark the end of a dock.
The second chapterbegins with a description of the valley of ashes, a dismal, barren wasteland halfway between West Egg and New York. A pair of enormous eyes broods over the valley from a large, decaying billboard. These are the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, an optometrist whose practice has long since ended.
Tom Buchanan takes Nick to George Wilson's garage, which lies at the edge of the valley of ashes. Wilson'swife, Myrtle, is the woman with whom Tom has been having an affair. Tom forces both Myrtle and Nick to accompany him to the city. There, in the flat in which Tom maintains his affair, they have a shrill, vulgar party with Myrtle's sister, Catherine, and a repulsive couple named McKee. The group gossips about Jay Gatsby: Catherine claims that he is somehow related to Kaiser Wilhelm, the much-despisedruler of Germany during World War I. The group becomes exceedingly drunk; as a result, Myrtle begins to grow garrulous and harsh. Shortly after Tom gives her a puppy as a gift, Myrtle begins chanting Daisy's name to irritate Tom. Tom tells her that she has no right to say Daisy's name; she continues taunting him, and he responds by breaking Myrtle's nose.
This chapter beginswith Nick's description of Gatsby's Saturday night parties: they have become legendary in New York for their opulence and hedonism. These parties are obscenely lavish. The guests marvel at Gatsby's Rolls-Royce, his enormous swimming pool, the live musicians he engages weekly, the sumptuous food that he provides for hundreds of people, and, perhaps most importantly, the unlimited liquor he...