Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
Jay Gatsby (born as James Gatz)
Jay Gatsby is one of the most interesting and memorable males in fictional literature, even though he is not a dynamic and changing character during the novel. In fact, Jay Gatsby has changed little since he was a teenager. Born as James Gatz to poor farmers in North Dakota, he decided at an early age that he wanted more out of life than North Dakota could offer. He leaves home to find excitement and wealth. While lounging on the beach one day, he sees a yacht docked off the coast. He borrows a boat and rows out to introduce himself to the owner of the yacht. Dan Cody is an extremely wealthy and wildly extravagant man. He takes a liking to young James Gatz and offers him a job. When the boy boards the boat to become Cody's assistant and protector, he leaves behind the identity of James Gatz forever; the rest of his life he will be known as Jay Gatsby, an incurable and idealistic romantic who fills his life with dreams.
After Cody dies, Gatsby joins the army and is stationed in Louisville, Kentucky, where he meets and falls in love with Daisy Fay, the most popular and wealthy young lady in town. She is also attracted to him and even thinks about marrying him and running away, but her parents stop her plans. When Gatsby is sent to Europe to fight the war, Daisy is faithful to him for a short while. She soon, however, tires of waiting for Gatsby and marries Tom Buchanan. When Gatsby receives her final letter, explaining her plans, he is crushed; he vows he will dedicate the rest of his life to winning Daisy back for himself. He is sure that if he amasses a large enough fortune, he will be able to manipulate time, erasing Daisy's marriage and fixing her future with him.
Gatsby comes to the East Coast and makes a fortune in bootlegging and other questionable business activities due to the help of characters such as Meyer Wolfsheim. He buys an ostentatious mansion on West Egg, in order to be directly across the bay from Daisy Buchanan. He gives his wild, extravagant parties and drives his flashy automobiles in hopes of attracting Daisy's attention. She has become his reason for being - his holy grail. Gatsby never loses sight of his dream and often reaches out to the green light at the end of Daisy's dock.
When Tom realizes that his wife has a relationship with Gatsby, he confronts "the enemy." He calls Gatsby a Mr. Nobody from Nowhere and accuses him of not going to Oxford and making his money illegally. Daisy half-heartedly comes to his aid, encouraging Gatsby into a foolish confrontation. He tells her husband that Daisy has always loved him and never loved Tom; he even forces Daisy to repeat the words to her husband, which she says with no sincerity. When Tom questions her about whether she can really forget all of their memories, she admits she cannot. She turns to Gatsby and says that she loves him now and that should be enough. It is not enough, however, for Gatsby, for it destroys his dream. Tom knows that he has won the battle; Daisy will always be his wife. As a result, he confidently lets Daisy ride home with Gatsby in his "circus wagon" car.
Daisy insists to Gatsby that she drive in order to calm her nerves. As they approach the Valley of Ashes, Myrtle, Tom's mistress, runs out towards the car, believing Tom to be inside. Daisy hits the woman, killing her immediately. The shallow, careless, immoral Daisy does not even stop. At this point in the novel, Gatsby begins to show his true worth. He tells Daisy to stop and return to the accident, but she refuses. He then pulls up the emergency brake and takes the driver's seat himself. He has already made the decision that he will pretend he was driving all along and take the blame for the accident. He is still blinded by his dream and unable to see that Daisy is not worthy of any sacrifice. She fully proves this when she returns home and casually eats fried chicken and drinks ale, while conspiring with her husband how to stay out of the limelight. The next day Daisy vanishes from sight.
The naïve Gatsby, still unwilling to give up his dream, tells Nick that he is sure Daisy will soon call him. But she never calls. Even after Gatsby is needlessly shot by Wilson, who believes Gatsby to be Myrtle's lover and murderer, Daisy does not telephone. She has casually and selfishly washed her hands of the whole matter. As a result, Gatsby, by the end of the book, is judged as a much better and more noble character than Daisy, Tom, or Jordan. In spite of his eccentricities and the corruption of his dream with money, Gatsby is seen as a tragic character who had a true purpose in life, a stark contrast to the meaningless lifestyle of the wealthy. Although his story is a tragedy, for both his dream and his life are literally shattered, Gatsby will always remain one of the most memorable fictional characters in American literature.