Jay Gatsby’s real name was James Gatz and his parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people from North Dakota. He changed his name when he was seventeen and at that exact same age, he invented his new self according to a model that would make a seventeen-year-old boy proud. He worked as a clam-digger and a salmon-fisher along the south shore of Lake Superior. “He knew women early, and since they spoiled him he became contemptuous of them, of young virgins because they were ignorant, of the others because they were hysterical about things which in his overwhelming self-absorption he took for granted”. But all these women weren’t what you’d call “nice” girls. “His heart was in a constant and turbulent riot” and he had “the most grotesque and fantastic conceits” at night. He dreamed and fantasized and “for a while these reveries provided an outlet for his imagination; they were a satisfactory hint of the reality of unreality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy’s wing”.
Afterwards, he worked as a janitor at a small Lutheran college of St. Olaf’s in southern Minnesota but soon he returned to Lake Superior again. He then met Dan Cody, a millionaire who liked him because he was “quick and extravagantly ambitious”. Cody bought Gatsby some new clothes and took him with him on his yacht the Tuolomee. For five years he was employed in a vague personal capacity being, in turn, a steward, mate, skipper, secretary and even jailor. During this time the boat went three times around the Continent. After five years, however, Dan Cody died. “It was indirectly due to him that Gatsby drank so little” for he had seen what happened to people who drank. He inherited 25 000 dollars from Cody but he never got the money and all he was left with was “his singularly appropriate education”. And then he met Daisy who was the first “nice” girl he had ever known.
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At first, he found her excitingly desirable with her beautiful house and her casual manner towards it as though it were the most natural thing in the world to live in such a place. “It excited him, too, that many men had already loved Daisy – it increased her value in his eyes. He felt their presence all about the house, pervading the air with the shades and echoes of still vibrant emotions”. He knew that he didn’t belong in her world and made the most of his time taking what he could get, including Daisy. He gave Daisy the impression that he was “a person of much the same stratum as she and that he was fully able to take care of her”. But it turned out differently from the way he had imagined it. Daisy was extraordinary and it was he who found he was breathless at the sight of her and in love with her. On the last afternoon before he went abroad he sat with Daisy in his arms for a long time and they had never been closer than at that moment. Gatsby did extremely well in the war, he was a captain before he went to the front and then he was promoted major and got the command of the divisional machine-guns.
Afterwards, he tried to get home but something went wrong and he went to Oxford instead where he stayed for five months. He was worried because there was “a quietly nervous despair in Daisy’s letters”. She was young and after a while she started going out with men again and suddenly she wanted her life shaped and that’s where Tom Buchanan came in. Gatsby came back to Louisville when Daisy was still on her wedding trip and he revisited the places which had been theirs and theirs alone. “He left feeling that if he had searched harder he might have found her – that he was leaving her behind”. And he never was able to fall out of love with her so he worked for five years to gain the kind of wealth and position that he thought would impress her and he kept a close vigil on her throughout the whole time. And when he saw her again she was an unhappy woman whose husband cheated on her and she was flattered by the power of Gatsby’s love for her and she led him on. And when the tragedy in the face of Myrtle’s death came she searched for Tom’s help and betrayed Gatsby which led to his death. I think the keyword in Gatsby’s description is loneliness.
Throughout the book that is the image we usually get of him, standing alone watching the world from afar. He was completely alone in the world which was only proved at his funeral. And he was honourable, for all that, his money was gained from bootlegging and other illegal business, he had honour and he knew about loyalty. Had he stayed alive he would have supported Daisy all the way and he would never have let anything happen to her. He was probably the only man who truly loved her. He had wisdom, too, as he often saw through people but ironically he was still a victim to “blind love” which kept him from seeing through Daisy. But also he was a man of dreams and he lived in the haze of his imagination never really noticing the reality. He let his dreams take control of the situation, he believed too much in them and that led him to his tragic death. He couldn’t see what everyone else saw: that he was alone and that people were using him and that his dreams never had any real chance because they were based on a love that existed only in his mind: Daisy’s love.
Nick Carraway is the narrator in the book. His family had been prominent, well-to-do people for three generations. He graduated from New Haven in 1915, just a quarter of a century before he participated in the Great War. He came back restless and decided to go East and learn the bond business. His father agreed to finance him for a year. He found a house, a weatherbeaten cardboard bungalow, bought an old Dodge and hired a Finnish woman who made his bed and cooked breakfast and “muttered Finnish wisdom to herself over the electric stove”. He lived at West Egg, the less fashionable part and Gatsby’s mansion stood on his right. And in the East Egg lived Daisy who was his second cousin once removed with her husband Tom Buchanan whom he had known in college. He saw them after a long time and he really didn’t know them well to judge in addition to the fact that he thought it best to reserve his judgements about people. He worked in the city and he had to take the train in every day but he saw quite a lot of Daisy and Tom throughout his stay at the West Egg. Tom introduced him to his mistress Myrtle Wilson who was an unhappy woman who very much wanted to be like Daisy and dreamt of marrying Tom.
He met Jordan Baker at their house, a well-known, golf player whom he liked and with whom he had an affair. Being an honest man he first disentangled himself from his previous relationship and started going out with Jordan who was quite a typical woman of the Jazz age and of Tom and Daisy’s world. He met Gatsby, too, when he was invited to one of his innumerous and much-coveted parties where at first he saw everyone but Gatsby but eventually he met him. And Gatsby took a liking of him and invited him to lunch telling him that Jordan would speak to him about something afterwards. Nick thought that Gatsby “represented everything for which he had an unaffected scorn” and he was annoyed with all the mysteriousness. Jordan clarified everything for him, however. She had met Gatsby when she was younger. She had come upon them with Daisy one day and was impressed by their strong feelings and engrossment in each other. Gatsby remembered her and she told him about Nick whom Gatsby wanted to ask to invite Daisy to his house and arrange for them to meet. This Nick did and they in fact met. Or rather reunited.
After the incident, Daisy started coming over to Gatsby’s house quite often and Nick was always the quiet observer. In fact, that’s his main role in the story, a dispassionate narration that reveals the real side of the events. Nick was seeing Jordan during that time and he mentioned once that she was careless speaking of her driving habits but really speaking about her nature in general. And that is what he said of Tom and Daisy in the end, too, that they were “careless people who smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made”. For all his reserving his judgements, the one I made in the end was the most accurate and hopelessly, devastatingly true. Nick could see that Gatsby’s love was one-sided and that Daisy belonged with Tom who was very much like her which was proved after the accident in which Myrtle Wilson was killed but he also saw that Gatsby was so wrapped up in his dreams that he’d never be able to understand. Nick was with them that tragic day and he observed their row and saw, too, Myrtle’s death and was with Gatsby when the latter stood underneath Daisy’s window in a rather naïve attempt to protect her against Tom’s wrath.
Nick came back the next day and tried to stay with Gatsby for as long as possible as though he knew what was coming. After Gatsby was killed he tried frantically to make people come to his funeral and was shocked to find that no one would. He ended his relationship with Jordan, who said that he had been right that she would one day meet with someone as careless as her and that she had and that it was him. He was half in love with her but he couldn’t stand the sight of her because she reminded him too much of the carelessness that had led to Gatsby’s death. Nick is a most unique character as he is the observer that sees everything with an objective eye and sees through people.
He sees Tom and Daisy’s careless attitude towards people, senses their bond that will never be broken, sees Gatsby’s willing blindness and Jordan’s similarity to Daisy and Tom. He is wise, Nick Carraway, and he is decent. He is an honest man, the most honourable man in the story who sincerely tries to help but fails and this devastates him. In the end, he is the closest thing Gatsby’s got to a friend which is ironic since at first, he was only a means of getting to Daisy. Nick is F. Scott Fitzgerald really, telling his story and letting other people judge what is what. He doesn’t say much but his thoughts reflect those of the author I think. All in all, he seems rather an unimportant and insignificant character at first especially compared to Gatsby but in the end, it’s through his eyes that we see the story and he is the one that makes us realize the tragic sadness of it.
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