Nick Carraway: Nick provides the voice of the novel, documenting his companions exploits in the summer of 1922. Raised in a wealthy middle-western
family, Nick graduates from New Haven, the college he attended with Tom Buchanan. After serving in World War I, Nick at age 29 moves east to learn the bond business, and becomes involved with the affairs comprising The Great Gatsby. Eventually, Nick acts as a liaison between Gatsby and Daisy, setting up the infamous first reunion at his house. Despite repeatedly insisting that he prides himself on his own honesty, Nick continually aligns himself with next-door-neighbor Gatsby whose entire existence is a fabrication remaining loyal to his friend throughout the second half of the novel.
Jay Gatsby: The invented identity of James Gatz, born the son of poor middle-western farmers, Gatsby “sprang from his Platonic conception of himself” (104). Gatsby’s beginnings occurred when the 17-year-old Gatz a clam digger and salmon fisher sees millionaire Dan Cody’s yacht drop anchor on a dangerous stretch of Lake Superior. After rowing out to Cody on a borrowed row-boat and warning him that a coming wind might wreck his yacht, Cody employs Jay Gatsby in a “vague personal capacity” (106) for several years. Later, Gatsby says he worked in the drugstore and oil businesses, omitting the fact that he was involved in illegal bootlegging. Gatsby keeps his criminal activities mysterious throughout the novel, preferring to play the role of perpetually gracious host.Gatsby buys his West Egg mansion with the sole intention of being across the bay from Daisy Buchanan’s green light at the end of her dock, a fantasy which becomes Gatsby’s personal version of the American Dream. With an Oxford education as part of his invented persona, Gatsby ceaselessly uses his favorite phrase, “Old sport,” throughout the novel.
Tom Buchanan: An ex-football star from the same college Nick Carraway attended, Tom is described as “one of those men who reach such acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anti-climax” (10). Now thirty, Tom has become enormously wealthy, yet remains physically powerful with his “cruel body” and “arrogant eyes” (11). Tom has a string of affairs despite being married to Daisy, and is involved with Myrtle Wilson throughout Nick’s summer-long friendship with the Buchanans. An aggressive, short-tempered man, Tom wreaks continual havoc by abusing physically or emotionally Daisy, Myrtle, George Wilson, and Gatsby throughout the novel.
Daisy Buchanan: Daisy is Tom’s 23-year-old wife, Nick’s second cousin once removed, and Gatsby’s version of the Holy Grail. For Daisy’s romantic history involving Gatsby and Tom, please see Chapter 4. Nick comments repeatedly on Daisy’s voice, first describing it as “the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again,” (13) and later calling it “a deathless song” (101). Yet, her voice becomes silenced as Gatsby and Tom’s battle for her escalates — rather than choosing one or the other outright she acts helpless, seeming to ultimately remain with Tom because it is the easiest thing to do. In addition, she never acknowledges that she, not Gatsby, was driving when Myrtle was killed. As Nick characterizes both Buchanans, “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” (188).
Jordan Baker: Jordan, a 23-year-old women’s golf champion, becomes involved with Nick during the course of the summer of 1922. Jordan seems “incurably dishonest,” (63) a trait enhanced by Nick’s remembrance of a rumor that she cheated at her first big golf tournament. Although Nick finds Jordan haughty and careless, he finds himself attracted to her anyway. At the end of the novel, Jordan gets engaged to another man after not seeing Nick for a short time, leaving Nick angry, yet still “half in love with her, and tremendously sorry” (186). Jordan’s action seems to intentionally echo Daisy’s leaving Gatsby to marry Tom five years earlier.
George Wilson: Wilson owns the car repair garage in the valley of ashes, where he and his wife, Myrtle, live. For most of the novel Wilson is unaware that his wife has been cheating on him, prompting Tom Buchanan to remark, “He’s so dumb he doesn’t know he’s alive” (30). After finding out Myrtle’s infidelities, Wilson becomes physically ill and determines to move her out west; his illness turns mental, however, once she gets run over by Gatsby’s car. The formerly reserved Wilson seeks crazed vengeance for her death and his own pride, ultimately killing Gatsby and himself.
Myrtle Wilson: Myrtle is George Wilson’s wife, and Tom Buchanan’s secret lover. A woman in her mid-thirties, Myrtle is “faintly stout, but she carried her surplus flesh sensuously as some women can” (29). Although she apparently detests her husband, her lover, Tom, abuses her, breaking her nose during their drunken escapade in New York City. Locked in her room by George after her infidelities are found out, she escapes into the night, only to be run over by Daisy driving Gatsby’s yellow car. Her death prompts George Wilson to undertake his bloody “holocaust” (170).
Meyer Wolfshiem: A fifty-year-old gambler, with a history of having fixed the 1919 World Series, Wolfshiem is one of Jay Gatsby’s shadiest associates. Nick leaves the relationship between the two men vague, although when he goes to see Wolfshiem the morning of Gatsby’s funeral, the old man tells Nick he raised Gatsby “up out of nothing, right out of the gutter” (179). Despite their former partnership most likely in the business of stolen bonds Wolfshiem twice declines Nick’s invitation to attend Gatsby’s funeral, stating he “can’t get mixed up in it” (180).
Owl Eyes: This is a minor character who only makes three brief appearances in The Great Gatsby: first, at the first Gatsby party which Nick attends; second, as a passenger in the car missing one wheel outside Gatsby’s that same night; and finally, as the only person aside from Nick and Gatsby’s father in attendance during Gatsby’s burial.
Dan Cody: Please refer to Jay Gatsby’s Character Profile.
Michaelis: This character, a young Greek who runs the coffee shop next door to George Wilson’s garage, serves as the principal witness in the investigation of Myrtle Wilson’s death. Michaelis stays with George for most of the night, then leaves to take a quick nap. When he returns four hours later, George has already left on his fateful search for his wife’s killer.