For the most part, he plays only a peripheral role in the events of the novel; he prefers to remain a passive observer.
Upon arriving in New York, Nick visits his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, and her husband, Tom. The Buchanans live in the posh Long Island district of East Egg; Nick, like Gatsby, resides in nearby West Egg, a less fashionable area looked down upon by those who live in East Egg. West Egg is home to the nouveau riche people who lack established social connections, and tend to vulgarly flaunt their wealth. Like Nick, Tom Buchanan graduated from Yale, and comes from a privileged Midwestern family. Tom is a former football player, a brutal bully obsessed with the preservation of class boundaries. Daisy, by contrast, is an almost ghostlike young woman who affects an air of sophisticated boredom. At the Buchanans's, Nick meets Jordan Baker, a beautiful, if boyish, young woman with a cold and cynical manner. The two will later become romantically involved.
Jordan tells Nick that Tom has been having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, a woman who lives in the valley of ashes an industrial wasteland outside of New York City. After visiting Tom and Daisy, Nick goes home to West Egg; there, he sees Gatsby gazing at a mysterious green light across the bay. Gatsby stretches his arms out toward the light, as though to catch and hold it.
Tom Buchanan takes Nick into New York, and on the way they stop at the garage owned by George Wilson the husband of Myrtle, with whom Tom has been having an affair. Tom tells Myrtle to join them later in the city. Nearby, on an enormous billboard, a pair of bespectacled blue eyes stares down at the barren landscape. These eyes called the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg once served as an advertisement; now, they brood over all that happens in the valley of ashes.
In the city, Tom takes Nick and Myrtle to the apartment in Morningside Heights that he keeps for his affair. There, they have a lurid party with Myrtle's sister, Catherine, and an abrasive couple named McKee. They gossip about Gatsby; Catherine says that he is somehow related to Kaiser Wilhelm, the much-despised ruler of Germany during World War I. The more she drinks, the more aggressive Myrtle becomes; she begins taunting Tom about Daisy, and he reacts by breaking her nose. The party, unsurprisingly, comes to an abrupt end.