Jay Gatsby

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Jay Gatsby
The Great Gatsby character
Created by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Portrayed by
Full name James "Jimmy" Gatz (real name)
Gender Male
Family Henry C. Gatz (father)
Significant other(s) Daisy Fay Buchanan
Nationality American

Jay Gatsby, born James "Jimmy" Gatz, is the title character of F. Scott Fitzgerald's best known work, The Great Gatsby (1925). The character has become an archetype of self-made American men seeking to join high society, and in the U.S., the name has become synonymous with those successful businessmen who have had shady pasts.

Character biography[edit]

Seventeen-year-old James Gatz hails from rural North Dakota where he was born to a poor German American farming family in 1890. He despises the limitations of poverty so much that he drops out of St. Olaf College in Minnesota only a few weeks into his first semester. He later explains to narrator Nick Carraway that he could not bear working as a janitor to support himself through college any longer. Soon afterward, he meets Dan Cody, a copper tycoon who becomes his mentor and invites him to join his ten-year yacht trek from Girl Bay. Gatz begins going by the name Jay Gatsby and, over the next five years, learns the ways of the wealthy. Cody leaves Gatsby $25,000 in his will, but after his death, Cody's mistress cheats Gatsby out of the money.

In 1917, during his training for the infantry in World War I, 27-year-old Gatsby meets and falls in love with 17-year-old Daisy Fay, who is everything he is not: rich and from a patrician Louisville family.

During the war, Gatsby reaches the rank of Major, commands the heavy machine guns of his regiment, and is decorated for valor for his participation in the Marne and the Argonne. After the war, as he tells Nick Carraway years later, he briefly attends Trinity College, Oxford.[1][2] While there, he receives a letter from Daisy, telling him that she has married the wealthy Tom Buchanan. Gatsby then decides to commit his life to becoming a man of the kind of wealth and stature he believes would win Daisy's love.[3]

Gatsby returns home, which is being transformed by Prohibition, an era in which "all the old boundaries that separated the classes were being broken, and a new wave of instant millionaires, like Gatsby himself..... mingled with the polo-players who inhabited the stiff enclaves of the established rich of Long Island's Gold Coast."[4] Fitzgerald named this era the Jazz Age. Gatsby takes advantage of this opportunity by making a fortune from bootlegging, thanks to his association with various gangsters, such as Meyer Wolfsheim who is, as Gatsby later tells Nick, "the man who fixed the World's Series back in 1919."

With his vast income, Gatsby purchases a 22-bedroom mansion in the fictional West Egg (a veiled reference to Great Neck or perhaps Kings Point) of Long Island. It is on the opposite side of a bay from the old-money East Egg (a veiled reference to Sands Point), where Daisy, Tom, and their three-year-old daughter Pammy live. At his West Egg mansion, Gatsby hosts a weekend-long party every weekend, open to all comers, as an attempt to attract Daisy as a party guest. Through Daisy's cousin Nick Carraway, Gatsby finally has a chance to reunite with her. During several meetings Gatsby tries to convince Daisy to leave her boorish, faithless husband, as Gatsby doubts Daisy is happy with her marriage.

At the Buchanan home, Jordan, Nick, Jay, and the Buchanans decide to have a party in New York City. Tom asks Gatsby if he could borrow his yellow Rolls Royce to drive up to the city, and Gatsby agrees. On the way to New York City, Tom makes a detour at a gas station in "the Valley of Ashes", a run-down part of Long Island, to fill up his tank. Garage owner George Wilson shares a concern that his wife, Myrtle, may be having an affair, but he does not know with whom. This unnerves Tom, who has been sleeping with Myrtle, and he leaves in a hurry.

During the party in an expensive hotel suite, casual party conversation evolves into a confrontation between Daisy, Gatsby and Tom. In a fit of anger Gatsby insists Daisy loves him, not Tom, and only married Tom for his money. Daisy admits she loves both Tom and Gatsby at the same time. The party breaks up, with Daisy driving Gatsby out of New York City in his yellow Rolls-Royce. Tom leaves with Daisy's friend Jordan Baker and Nick in Jordan's car.

From her upstairs room at the gas station, Myrtle sees an approaching car. Mistakenly believing Tom has returned for her, she runs out towards the car, but the car knocks her over, killing her instantly. Panicked, Daisy drives away from the scene of the accident. At Daisy's house in East Egg, Gatsby promises Daisy he will take the blame if they are ever caught.

Tom tells George that it was Gatsby's car that killed her. George goes to Gatsby's house in West Egg, where he shoots and kills Gatsby before committing suicide.

Of all of the guests who had attended many of Gatsby's lavish parties, only one, known as Owl Eyes, attends his funeral. Also at the funeral are Nick Carraway and Gatsby's father, Henry C. Gatz, who states that he is proud of his son's achievement as a self-made millionaire.[4]

Gatsby as a reference point[edit]

The figure of Jay Gatsby became a cultural touchstone in 20th century America. When the poor native son Gatsby tells Nick Carraway, his only true friend and a relative of Daisy's, he was brought up wealthy and that he attended Oxford because "all my ancestors have been educated there", Mathews sees him as the eternal American striver. "Gatsby needed more than money: he needed to be someone who had always had it..... this blind faith that he can retrofit his very existence to Daisy's specifications is the heart and soul of The Great Gatsby. It's the classic story of the fresh start, the second chance."[5]

"Jay Gatsby..... appears to be the quintessential American male hero. He is a powerful businessman with shady connections, drives a glamorous car..... and pursues the beautiful, privileged Daisy," Michael Kimmel and Amy Aronson write.[6] In the Handbook of American Folklore, Richard Dorson sees Gatsby as a new American archetype who made a decision to transform himself after his first chance encounter with his mentor Dan Cody, who opens the door to riches in bootlegging. "The ragged youth who some months later (after Gatsby drops out of St. Olaf) introduces himself to a degenerate yachtsman as Jay Gatsby has explicitly rejected the Protestant ethic... in favor of a much more extravagant form of ambition."[7]

Referring to real life figures as Gatsby has been common in the United States, usually in reference to rich men whose rise to prominence involved an element of deception. In a story on R. Foster Winans, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal's "Heard on the Street" column who was fired after it was discovered he was giving advance knowledge of the columns' contents to Peter Brant, the Seattle Post Intelligencer described Brant as "Winan's Gatsby." The article noted that Brant had changed his name from Bornstein and said he was "a man who turned his back on his heritage and his family because he felt that being recognized as Jewish would be a detriment to his career."[8]

The character is often used as a symbol of great wealth. Reporting in 2009 on the collapse of home prices and tourist spending in the exclusive Hamptons on Long Island, not far from the fictional setting of Gatsby's home, the Wall Street Journal quoted a struggling hotelier as saying "Jay Gatsby is dead."[9]


Jay Gatsby has been portrayed by several actors in several film adaptations of Fitzgerald's novel. Among the actors to portray the character are Robert Redford in the 1974 film adaptation, Toby Stephens in the 2000 television adaptation, and Leonardo DiCaprio in director Baz Luhrman's 2013 film adaptation. Alan Ladd did so in The Great Gatsby film in 1949. There was also a 1926 silent version film but there are no remaining copies known to exist.


  1. ^ McCullen, Bonnie Shannon (2007). "This Tremendous Detail: The Oxford Stone in the House of Gatsby". In Assadi, Jamal; Freedman, William. A Distant Drummer: Foreign Perspectives on F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Peter Lang. ISBN 978-0820488516. 
  2. ^ After World War I the United States military gave four months' leave to about 2,000 American soldiers to study at British universities. The American University Union in Europe. 1921. p. 6. 
  3. ^ "Spark Notes study guide synopsis on Jay Gatsby". Sparknotes.com. Retrieved 2010-08-20. 
  4. ^ a b Fitzgerald, F. Scott; Prigozy, Ruth (1998). "Introduction". The Great Gatsby (Oxford World's Classics ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-283269-6. 
  5. ^ Mathews, Chris (2003). "Chapter One, "A Self Made Country"". American: Beyond Our Grandest Notions. Simon & Schuster. pp. 18–19. ISBN 978-0-7432-4086-4. 
  6. ^ Kimmel, Michael; Aronson, Amy (2004). Men & Masculinities: A Social, Cultural, and Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 334. ISBN 978-1-57607-774-0. 
  7. ^ Dorson, Richard M (1986). Handbook of American Folklore. Indiana University Press. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-253-20373-1. 
  8. ^ "Scandal At Wall Street Journal: It'S A Great Gatsby Tale". Seattle Post Intelligencer. 1986-10-04. Retrieved 2010-08-20. 
  9. ^ Lagnado, Lucette (2009-02-20). "The Hamptons Half-Price Sale". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2010-08-20.