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The Best Great Gatsby Timeline

Posted by Dr. Anna Wulick | Nov 4, 2018 11:06:00 AM

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Sometimes, even when you've carefully read a book and tried to follow all the intricacies of which character did what and when, you just can't quite put the whole thing together. That goes double for a novel like The Great Gatsby, which uses literary devices like flashbacks and flashforwards to explain the behavior of its characters in its present. 

But don't fret! In this article, I've taken all of the novel's events and rearranged them in straightforward, chronological order. This complete Great Gatsby timeline allows you to see exactly when all of the book's events took place, and also get individual chronologies for each major character. 

 

Why Make a Great Gatsby Timeline?

There are several good reasons why a timeline that organizes the book's events is a useful tool.

First, a timeline jettisons potentially confusing time-shifts. Even though the novel is told mostly chronologically, it has several flashbacks and flashforwards. The most notable flashbacks revolve around James Gatz's transformation into Jay Gatsby, and what happened between him and Daisy. Meanwhile, the flashforwards take us into Nick's present-day framing narrative, after his disenchanted return to the Midwest.

Second, reordering all of these events in a clear chronology can help clarify the motivations and emotions behind character behavior. Putting Tom, Nick, and Gatsby’s activities side by side can help with compare/contrast assignments by reframing your thoughts about what they were each going through at a particular time.

Finally, a warning. Watch out for other timelines out there on the web. I’ve found such mistakes as:

  • Some timelines claim Gatsby was born in 1892 - but this is wrong. Fitzgerald gives enough dates, ages, and other details to accurately determine the right years for the book’s events.
  • Some timelines claim that Dan Cody died in 1910 - again, wrong.
  • That Daisy and Gatsby first date occurred in August - nope, it’s October, which is important for the novel’s seasons motif.

 

The Great Gatsby Timeline

1851

Nick Carraway's grandfather's brother starts the hardware business that his family owns.

"the actual founder of my line was my grandfather's brother who came here in fifty-one, sent a substitute to the Civil War and started the wholesale hardware business that my father carries on today" (1.5)

 

1857

Dan Cody is born. (We know this because he is 50 years old when he meets Gatsby on Lake Superior in 1907.)

 

1890

James Gatz is born in North Dakota to Henry C. Gatz..  (We know this because he is 17 years old when he meets Dan Cody in 1907.)

“His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people—his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all.” (6.7)

 

1892

Nick Carraway is born in a Midwestern city. (We know this because he turns 30 in 1922, the summer the novel takes place.)

“My family have been prominent, well-to-do people in this middle-western city for three generations. The Carraways are something of a clan” (1.5)

Tom Buchanan is born to a very prominent family in Chicago. (We know this because he is 30 during the summer when the novel takes place.)

"Now he was a sturdy, straw haired man of thirty with a rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner." (1.19)

 

1899

Daisy Fay is born in Louisville, Kentucky. (We know this because she is 18 when she meets Gatsby in Louisville in 1917.)

“Our white girlhood was passed together there. Our beautiful white…” (1.140)

 

1901

Jordan Baker is born in Louisville, Kentucky. (We know this because she says that Daisy is two years older.)

"The largest of the banners and the largest of the lawns belonged to Daisy Fay's house. She was just eighteen, two years older than me, and by far the most popular of all the young girls in Louisville." (4.130)

 

1902

Dan Cody, Gatsby's mentor, buys his yacht the Tuolomee and starts sailing. He does this to get away from Ella Kaye, his estranged second wife.

"The none too savory ramifications by which Ella Kaye, the newspaper woman, played Madame de Maintenon to his weakness and sent him to sea in a yacht, were common knowledge to the turgid journalism of 1902." (6.11)

 

1906

James Gatz works as a clam digger and salmon fisher on Lake Superior, and tries to go to St. Olaf Lutheran College in southern Minnesota before dropping out two weeks later unhappy to be working as a janitor to support himself.

"For over a year he had been beating his way along the south shore of Lake Superior as a clam digger and a salmon fisher ... An instinct toward his future glory had led him, some months before, to the small Lutheran college of St. Olaf in southern Minnesota. He stayed there two weeks ... despising the janitor's work with which he was to pay his way through. Then he drifted back to Lake Superior" (6.8-10)

 

1907

James Gatz, 17 years old, meets Dan Cody in Little Girl Bay on Lake Superior and changes his name to Jay Gatsby.

"James Gatz—that was really, or at least legally, his name. He had changed it at the age of seventeen and at the specific moment that witnessed the beginning of his career—when he saw Dan Cody's yacht drop anchor over the most insidious flat on Lake Superior ... So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end." (6.6-6.7)

“Cody was fifty years old then, a product of the Nevada silver fields, of the Yukon, of every rush for metal since Seventy-five. The transactions in Montana copper that made him many times a millionaire ... He had been coasting along all too hospitable shores for five years when he turned up as James Gatz's destiny at Little Girl Bay.” (6.11)

 

1907-1912

Gatsby sails the seas with Cody for five years.

“He was employed in a vague personal capacity—while he remained with Cody he was in turn steward, mate, skipper, secretary, and even jailor, for Dan Cody [put] more and more trust in Gatsby ... The arrangement lasted five years during which the boat went three times around the continent.” (6.13)

 

1910

Myrtle marries George Wilson. (We know this because Wilson tells Michaelis that he and Myrtle have been married 12 years by the summer of 1922 when the novel takes place.)

"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….The only crazy I was was when I married him. I knew right away I made a mistake.” (2.112-116)

 

1911

Myrtle and George Wilson move into the apartment above the garage in the valley of ashes.

"They've been living over that garage for eleven years. And Tom's the first sweetie she ever had." (2.117)

Nick Carraway and Tom Buchanan go to Yale University. (We know this because they graduate in 1915.)

 

1912

Dan Cody dies in Boston. He leaves $25,000 to Gatsby, but Ella Kaye uses legal means to take away this inheritance.

Gatsby is penniless but has learned polished manners and how the rich operate.

 

1914

World War I begins.

 

1915

Nick Carraway graduates from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and goes to fight in WWI.

"I graduated from New Haven in 1915, just a quarter of a century after my father, and a little later I participated in that delayed Teutonic migration known as the Great War." (1.6)

Tom Buchanan also graduates from Yale University.

“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. … there were men at New Haven who had hated his guts” (1.16-20)

 

October 1917

Gatsby is stationed at Camp Taylor in Louisville, where he meets Daisy Fay (he is 27, she is 18). They are together for a month, and he is shocked by how much in love with her he falls.

“He knew that Daisy was extraordinary ... He felt married to her, that was all.” (8.13)

Jordan also meets Gatsby.

"One October day in nineteen-seventeen - (said Jordan Baker that afternoon, sitting up very straight on a straight chair in the tea-garden at the Plaza Hotel) - I was walking ... to Daisy Fay's house ... she was sitting in it with a lieutenant I had never seen before ... The officer looked at Daisy while she was speaking, in a way that every young girl wants to be looked at sometime, and because it seemed romantic to me I have remembered the incident ever since. His name was Jay Gatsby" (4.129-133)

 

Winter 1917-1918

Gatsby leaves for Europe to fight in WWI.

Wild rumors were circulating about her—how her mother had found her packing her bag one winter night to go to New York and say goodbye to a soldier who was going overseas. (4.134)

 

1918

Jordan becomes a professional golfer. She is later mired in a cheating scandal, but nothing is proven.

"That was nineteen-seventeen. By the next year I had a few beaux myself, and I began to play in tournaments" (4.134)

 

September 1918

Gatsby fights with distinction in the Argonne Battle, and then is promoted to Captain and then to Major. He also receives several medals.

"He did extraordinarily well in the war. He was a captain before he went to the front and following the Argonne battles he got his majority and the command of the divisional machine guns." (8.17)

 

1919

After Armistice, Gatsby spends five months at Oxford University in England, in a program for army officers.

"It was in nineteen-nineteen, I only stayed five months. That's why I can't really call myself an Oxford man ... It was an opportunity they gave to some of the officers after the Armistice," he continued. "We could go to any of the universities in England or France."" (7.218-220)

 

June 1919

Despite some reluctance, Daisy marries Tom Buchanan.

““Tell 'em all Daisy's change' her mine. Say 'Daisy's change' her mine!'."

She began to cry—she cried and cried…Next day at five o'clock she married Tom Buchanan without so much as a shiver” (4.140-142)

 

August 1919

Tom Buchanan has an affair with a chambermaid during the honeymoon.

"That was in August ... Tom ran into a wagon on the Ventura road one night ... The girl who was with him ... was one of the chambermaids in the Santa Barbara Hotel." (4.143)

 

October 1919

Meyer Wolfshiem fixes the 1919 World Series.

“The idea staggered me …  if I had thought of it at all I would have thought of it as a thing that merely happened, the end of some inevitable chain. It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people” (4.115)

 

November 1919

Gatsby returns to Louisville while Daisy and Tom are on their multi-month honeymoon.

“He stayed there a week, walking the streets where their footsteps had clicked together … He stretched out his hand desperately as if to snatch only a wisp of air, to save a fragment of the spot that she had made lovely for him. But it was all going by too fast now for his blurred eyes and he knew that he had lost that part of it, the freshest and the best, forever.” (8.28-30)

Gatsby goes to New York and asks his future partner, Meyer Wolfsheim, for a job.

"I made him … I raised him up out of nothing, right out of the gutter. I saw right away he was a fine appearing, gentlemanly young man, and ... I knew I could use him good. ... We were so thick like that in everything—" He held up two bulbous fingers "—always together." (9.85-87)

 

January 1920

Prohibition goes into effect through the passage of the 18th Amendment, which outlawed most kinds of alcohol. Prohibition spurs widespread underground organized crime (represented by Meyer Wolfshiem and Gatsby in the novel).

 

April 1920

Daisy gives birth to Pammy, and the Buchanans move to France.

"The next April Daisy had her little girl and they went to France for a year. I saw them one spring in Cannes and later in and then they came back to Chicago to settle down." (4.144)

 

1921

The Buchanans move to Chicago, where Nick visits them for 2 days, then to East Egg on Long Island, New York.

 

Spring 1922

Tom starts an affair with Myrtle Wilson.

“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.” (2.120)

 

June 1922

Nick decides to learn bond trading in New York. He rents a small house in West Egg, Long Island, next door to Gatsby’s mansion.

Nick has lunch with the Buchanans (Daisy is his cousin), and meets Jordan Baker.

Nick has a brief relationship with a woman from Jersey City.

"I even had a short affair with a girl who lived in Jersey City and worked in the accounting department, but her brother began throwing mean looks in my direction so when she went on her vacation in July I let it blow quietly away." (3.155)

 

July 2, 1922

Tom takes Nick to meet Myrtle. They go to a Manhattan apartment, to a small party that ends with Tom punching Myrtle in the face for talking about Daisy. (We know the exact date because Nick notes that it was two days before the 4th of July holiday.)

 

July 1922

Nick is invited to one of Gatsby’s house parties and meets him. Also at the party is Owl-Eyes, the guest who enthuses about Gatsby’s library.

“People were not invited—they went there. … they conducted themselves according to the rules of behavior associated with amusement parks. Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all” (3.7)

Nick starts a relationship with Jordan Baker.

Gatsby takes Nick out to lunch, where Nick meets Meyer Wolfshiem, and where Gatsby meets Tom.

Jordan tells Nick that Gatsby and Daisy had been in love five years before.

Nick invites Daisy over for tea so that Gatsby can “drop by” and he and Daisy reconnect.

 

August 1922

A reporter comes by to investigate the rumors about Gatsby.

"It was a random shot, and yet the reporter's instinct was right. Gatsby's notoriety, spread about by the hundreds who had accepted his hospitality and so become authorities on his past, had increased all summer until he fell just short of being news. " (6.5)

Tom Buchanan meets Gatsby when Tom stops by Gatsby’s in the middle of a horseback ride.

"I went over to his house one Sunday afternoon. I hadn't been there two minutes when somebody brought Tom Buchanan in for a drink ... Tom and a man named Sloane and a pretty woman in a brown riding habit" (6.17-18)

Tom and Daisy come to Gatsby’s next party, which Daisy hates.

Gatsby and Daisy begin their affair; Gatsby fires his staff and stops his parties.

"I hear you fired all your servants."

"I wanted somebody who wouldn't gossip. Daisy comes over quite often—in the afternoons."

So the whole caravansary had fallen in like a card house at the disapproval in her eyes." (7.13-15)

Daisy invites Nick and Gatsby for lunch at her house. She and Gatsby plan to reveal their love to Tom, but instead in the unbearably hot day, the group decides to go to Manhattan to the Plaza Hotel. There, Gatsby reveals the affair, and Tom reveals that Gatsby’s money comes from crime. Daisy is unwilling to completely renounce Tom, which decimates Gatsby. Daisy decides to stay with Tom.

""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." (7.264-266)

On the way back from the hotel, Daisy, driving Gatsby’s car, runs over and kills Myrtle Wilson. That night, Tom convinces George Wilson that it was actually Gatsby who killed Myrtle. Also that night, Gatsby decides that he will take the blame for Myrtle’s death, and Nick and Jordan break up.

The next day, Tom and Daisy skip town for good.

Later that day, Wilson shoots and kills Gatsby and then himself.

 

September 1922

The murder-suicide is mischaracterized as the actions of a deranged grieving husband, and there is no mention of the Buchanans or of Myrtle’s affair in the police report.

Gatsby’s father, Henry Gatz comes to the funeral from Minnesota.

“a solemn old man very helpless and dismayed, bundled up in a long cheap ulster against the warm September day. His eyes leaked continuously with excitement” (9.33)

Nick can’t find anyone else to come to the funeral. Even Wolfshiem refuses to come.

“Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead” (9.99)

Owl-eyes is the only other person who comes to the funeral.

 

October 1922

Nick hashes things out with Jordan.

Nick runs into Tom in Manhattan, where Tom confesses to telling Wilson that Gatsby was driving the car that killed Myrtle.

 

November 1922

Completely disillusioned and horrified, Nick moves back home to the Midwest.

“West Egg especially still figures in my more fantastic dreams. I see it as a night scene by El Greco: a hundred houses, at once conventional and grotesque, crouching under a sullen, overhanging sky and a lustreless moon.” (9.126)

 

1924

Nick writes the story about Gatsby and that fateful summer - this story is the novel that we are reading.

“After two years I remember the rest of that day, and that night and the next day, only as an endless drill of police and photographers and newspaper men in and out of Gatsby's front door. ... 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.” (9.1-4)

 

body_writing-5.jpgThe whole novel is basically Nick's furious journaling about his formative summer.

 

Individual Character Timelines

If you're writing a character analysis, or comparing two characters to each other, it may help to have those characters' biographies separate from the novel as a whole. 

 

Jay Gatsby Timeline

  • James Gatz is born in 1890 in North Dakota.
  • In 1907, after a year of clam digging and fishing and two weeks at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, James Gatz changes his name to Jay Gatsby and meets Dan Cody.
  • Gatsby sails with Dan Cody from 1907 to 1912, when he loses the inheritance Cody wanted to leave him to Cody's wife.
  • In October 1917, Daisy and Gatsby meet in Louisville and date for a month, before Gatsby ships out to fight in WWI.
  • Gatsby fights with distinction, is promoted to Major, and gets several medals.
  • In 1919, he spends five months studying at Oxford University, then returns to the states and gets a job with Meyer Wolfshiem.
  • Gatsby buys a house across the bay from Daisy and Tom.
  • Gatsby takes Nick out to lunch, where Nick meets Meyer Wolfshiem, and where Gatsby meets Tom.
  • Nick invites Daisy over for tea so that Gatsby can “drop by” and he and Daisy reconnect.
  • Gatsby and Daisy begin their affair; Gatsby fires his staff and stops his parties. 
  • Daisy is unwilling to completely renounce Tom, which decimates Gatsby. Daisy decides to stay with Tom.
  • Daisy, driving Gatsby’s car, runs over and kills Myrtle Wilson.  

 

Nick Carraway Timeline

  • Nick Carraway is born in 1892 in a Midwestern city.
  • Nick goes to Yale University from 1911 to 1915, at the same time as Tom Buchanan.
  • After graduation, Nick goes off to fight in WWI.
  • In the summer of 1922, Nick moves to West Egg, New York, to sell bonds. He rents a house next door to Gatsby.
  • Nick starts dating Jordan Baker and meets Tom's mistress.
  • Gatsby takes Nick out to lunch, where Nick meets Meyer Wolfshiem, and where Gatsby meets Tom.
  • Nick moves back to the Midwest in the fall of 1922.
  • Nick invites Daisy over for tea so that Gatsby can “drop by” and he and Daisy reconnect.
  • Nick breaks up with Jordan when she is completely unmoved by Myrtle's death.
  • Nick ends up being in charge of Gatsby's funeral and can't find anyone to come.
  • Completely disillusioned and horrified, Nick moves back home to the Midwest.
  • Two years later, in 1924, Nick writes the story that is the novel we are reading.

 

Daisy Buchanan Timeline

  • Daisy Fay is born in 1899 in Louisville, Kentucky. She grows up friends with Jordan Baker.
  • In October 1917, Daisy and Gatsby meet in Louisville and date for a month, before Gatsby ships out to fight in WWI.
  • Daisy marries Tom Buchanan in June 1919.
  • In 1920, Daisy gives birth to Pammy, and the Buchanans move to France for a year, before coming back to Chicago, and then to East Egg.
  • Nick invites Daisy over for tea so that Gatsby can “drop by” and he and Daisy reconnect.
  • Gatsby and Daisy begin their affair.
  • Daisy is unwilling to completely renounce Tom, which decimates Gatsby. Daisy decides to stay with Tom.
  • Daisy, driving Gatsby’s car, runs over and kills Myrtle Wilson. 
  • The next day, Tom and Daisy skip town for good.

 

Tom Buchanan Timeline

  • Tom Buchanan is born in 1892 in Chicago, Illinois.
  • Tom goes to Yale University from 1911 to 1915, where he is a star football player.
  • Daisy marries Tom Buchanan in June 1919. On their honeymoon, he has his first affair.
  • In 1920, Daisy gives birth to Pammy, and the Buchanans move to France for a year, before coming back to Chicago, and then to East Egg.
  • In the spring of 1922, Tom starts an affair with Myrtle Wilson.
  • In early summer, Nick comes to dinner at Tom and Daisy's house, where Tom praises a recent racist book.
  • On July 2, 1922, Tom takes Nick to meet Myrtle. They go to a Manhattan apartment, to a small party that ends with Tom punching Myrtle in the face for talking about Daisy.
  • In August, Tom meets Gatsby when Tom stops by Gatsby’s in the middle of a horseback ride.
  • Daisy is unwilling to completely renounce Tom, which decimates Gatsby. Daisy decides to stay with Tom.
  • After Daisy, driving Gatsby’s car, runs over and kills Myrtle Wilson, Tom convinces Wilson that the car's driver was actually Gatsby.
  • The next day, Tom and Daisy skip town for good.
  • In October, Nick runs into Tom in Manhattan, where Tom confesses to telling Wilson that Gatsby was driving the car that killed Myrtle.

 

Myrtle Wilson Timeline

  • In 1910, Myrtle marries George Wilson.
  • Myrtle and George move into the apartment above the garage in 1911.
  • In the spring of 1922, Tom starts an affair with Myrtle Wilson.
  • On July 2, 1922, Tom takes Nick to meet Myrtle. They go to a Manhattan apartment, to a small party that ends with Tom punching Myrtle in the face for talking about Daisy.
  • George figures out that Myrtle is having an affair. He locks her in their house until he can get enough money to leave the city.
  • Trying to escape, Myrtle runs out toward Gatsby's car because she thinks Tom is driving.
  • Daisy, driving Gatsby’s car, runs over and kills Myrtle Wilson. 

 

George Wilson Timeline

  • In 1910, Myrtle marries George Wilson.
  • Myrtle and George move into the apartment above the garage in 1911.
  • In the summer of 1922, George tries repeatedly to convince Tom to sell his car to George so that George can resell it.
  • George figures out that Myrtle is having an affair. He locks her in their house until he can get enough money to leave the city.
  • Daisy, driving Gatsby’s car, runs over and kills Myrtle Wilson, which completely devastates and unhinges George.
  • The next day, George Wilson shoots and kills Gatsby and then himself.

 

 What's Next

Read our summary of the novel's plot in the order that it happens.

Learn the significance behind the novel’s title, its beginning, and its ending.

Use your newfound understanding of the characters' lives to get more meaning out of our overview of the characters or dive deeper with our detailed character analyses.

Learn the background of and context for the novel in our explanations of the history of the composition of the book and the biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

 

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Dr. Anna Wulick
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Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.



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