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|The Great Gatsby character|
|Created by||F. Scott Fitzgerald|
|Full name||James Gatz (real name)|
|Family||Henry C. Gatz (father)|
James Gatz (better known as Jay Gatsby) is a title character and the protagonist of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel The Great Gatsby. The character has become an archetype of self-made American men seeking to join high society, and the name has become synonymous with successful businessmen with shady pasts in the U.S., dealing with prohibition.
Seventeen-year-old James Gatz, hailing from rural North Dakota where he was born to a poor German American farming family in 1890, despises the limitations of poverty so much 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 couldn't bear working as a janitor to support himself through college any longer. After meeting Dan Cody, a copper tycoon who became his mentor and invited him to join his ten-year yacht trek from Girl Bay, he starts going by the name Jay Gatsby. Over the next five years, Gatsby learns the ways of the wealthy until Cody's death. Cody's mistress then cheats Gatsby out of a $25,000 bequest from Cody.
In 1917, during his training for the infantry in World War I, 27-year-old Jay meets and falls in love with Daisy Fay, who is everything he is not: rich and from a patrician Western family.
During the war, Gatsby reaches the rank of Major, commands the heavy machine guns of his regiment, and becomes decorated for valor for his participation in the Marne and the Argonne. After the war, he - as he tells Nick Carraway years later - attends Trinity College, Oxford. While there, he receives a letter from Daisy, telling him that she has married the equally aristocratic Tom Buchanan. Gatsby then decides to commit his life to becoming a man of the wealth and stature he believes would win Daisy's love.
Gatsby returns home to the U.S. which is being transformed by Prohibition, a period in American history when gangsters might earn vast wealth and sometimes mix with the connected upper classes; 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." 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 narrator Nick, "the man who fixed the World's Series back in 1919."
With his vast income, Gatsby purchases a 12-bedroom mansion in the fictional West Egg of Long Island, home to the nouveau riche, on the opposite side of a lake from the old-money East Egg, where Daisy Buchanan, her husband 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 narrator Nick Carraway, Gatsby finally has a chance to meet and reunite with Daisy. During several meetings Gatsby tries to convince Daisy to leave her adulterous husband Tom as Gatsby isn't convinced Daisy's happy with her marriage.
At the Buchanan home, Jordan, Nick, Gatsby, and the Buchanans decide to have a party in New York City. Tom asks Gatsby if he could borrow his yellow Duesenberg 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 doesn't know with whom. This unnerves Tom as Myrtle is his secret mistress and so he leaves in a hurry.
During the party in a high-class hotel suite, a 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 him for his money. Daisy admits she loves both Tom and Jay at the same time. The party breaks up with Daisy leaving New York City in Gatsby's yellow Duesenberg as the driver with Gatsby as her passenger. Tom leaves with Jordan 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 home in East Egg, Gatsby promises Daisy he would take the blame if they were ever caught.
Tom tells Myrtle's grief-stricken husband George Wilson that it was Jay's car that killed her. George goes to Gatsby's home in West Egg where he shoots Gatsby, killing him instantly, before killing himself. Gatsby was 32-years-old.
Of all Gatsby's high society guests, only one attends Gatsby's funeral. Also at the funeral are narrator Nick Carraway and Gatsby's father, Henry C. Gatz, who states that he is proud of Jay's achievement as a self-made millionaire.
Gatsby as a reference point
The figure of Jay Gatsby became a cultural touchstone in 20th century America. Chris Matthews in his book American even forgives Gatsby for his serial lies. 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."
"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. 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."
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."
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."
- 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 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- "Spark Notes study guide synopsis on Jay Gatsby". Sparknotes.com. Retrieved 2010-08-20.
- Fitzgerald, F. Scott; Prigozy, Ruth (1998). "Introduction". The Great Gatsby (Oxford World's Classics ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-283269-6 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- 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 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Kimmel, Michael; Aronson, Amy (2004). Men & Masculinities: A Social, Cultural, and Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 334. ISBN 978-1-57607-774-0 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Dorson, Richard M (1986). Handbook of American Folklore. Indiana University Press. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-253-20373-1 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- "Scandal At Wall Street Journal: It'S A Great Gatsby Tale". Seattle Post Intelligencer. 1986-10-04. Retrieved 2010-08-20.
- Lagnado, Lucette (2009-02-20). "The Hamptons Half-Price Sale". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2010-08-20.