Jay Gatsby

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Jay Gatsby
The Great Gatsby character
Created by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Portrayed by
Information
Full name James "Jimmy" Gatz (real name)
Gender Male
Occupation
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]

James Gatz hailed from rural North Dakota, where he was born to a dirt poor German American farming family in the 1890s. Gatz despised the limits of poverty. He dropped out of St. Olaf College in Minnesota only a few weeks into his first semester because he was "dismayed at its ferocious indifference to the drums of his destiny" and (as he later explains to narrator Nick Carraway) he could not bear working as a janitor to support himself through college any longer. After dropping out, he went to Lake Superior, where he met Dan Cody, a copper tycoon, in Little Girl Bay. Dan Cody became Gatz's mentor and invited him to join his ten-year yacht trek. At seventeen, Gatz changed his name to Jay Gatsby and, over the next five years, learned the ways of the wealthy. Cody left Gatsby $25,000 in his will, but after his death, Cody's mistress cheated Gatsby out of the inheritance.

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

During the war, Gatsby reached the rank of Major, was in the seventh infantry, and was decorated for valor for his participation in the Marne and the Argonne. After the war (as he also tells Nick Carraway years later), he briefly attended Trinity College, Oxford.[1][2] While there, he received a letter from Daisy, telling him that she had married the wealthy Tom Buchanan. Gatsby then decided to commit his life to becoming a man of the kind of wealth and stature he believed would win Daisy's love.[3]

Gatsby returned home to New York, which was being transformed by the Jazz Age. Gatsby took advantage of the Prohibition by making a fortune from bootlegging and built connections with various gangsters such as Meyer Wolfsheim (who Gatsby claims is "the man who fixed the World's Series back in 1919").

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

At the Buchanan home, Jordan, Nick, Jay, and the Buchanans decided to visit New York City. Tom borrowed Gatsby's yellow Rolls Royce to drive up to the city. On the way to New York City, Tom made a detour at a gas station in "the Valley of Ashes", a run-down part of Long Island. The owner, George Wilson, shared his concern that his wife, Myrtle, may be having an affair. This unnerves Tom, who has been sleeping with Myrtle, and he leaves in a hurry.

During the party in an expensive hotel suite, the casual conversation evolved into a confrontation between Daisy, Gatsby and Tom. In a fit of anger, Gatsby insisted that Daisy loved him, not Tom, and that she only married Tom for his money. Daisy admitted she loved both Tom and Gatsby. The party then broke up, with Daisy driving Gatsby out of New York City in the yellow Rolls-Royce and Tom leaving with Daisy's friend Jordan Baker and Nick in Jordan's car.

From her upstairs room at the gas station, Myrtle saw an approaching car. Mistakenly believing Tom had returned for her, she ran out towards the car, but was struck and killed instantly. Panicked, Daisy drove away from the scene of the accident. At Daisy's house in East Egg, Gatsby promised Daisy he would take the blame if they were ever caught.

Tom told George that it was Gatsby's car that killed Myrtle. George went to Gatsby's house in West Egg, where he shot and killed Gatsby before committing suicide.

Only one of Gatsby's party guests, known as Owl Eyes, attended his funeral. Also at the funeral are Nick Carraway and Gatsby's father, Henry C. Gatz, who stated that he was 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]

Portrayals[edit]

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 film where gatsby was portrayed by Warner Baxter, but there are no remaining copies known to exist.

References[edit]

  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. ^ 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.