One of the more intangible concepts that we have to grapple and struggle with in our daily lives is reality. Oftentimes, we fail to discern what is real and separate it from that which is not; such failure almost always begets dangerous consequences. An incessant belief in or pursuit of unrealistic dreams, goals, or destinations can cause irreparable damage to one’s life. This perilous path is precisely the one down which Jay Gatsby travels in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s eternally relevant novel, The Great Gatsby. Born as Jimmy Gatz, he fashions a new name, personality, and life for himself, with the unfaltering belief that he can make his life what he wants to. His death in the closing stages of the novel — after he has lost everything he had gained — overshadows his achievements and leads readers to assume that his attempt to become Jay Gatsby failed absolutely. Gatsby seems to have become obsessed with a world that was not real. However, a more careful analysis of Gatz and his journey suggests otherwise.
The novel revolves around Gatz’s aim to transform himself into the titular character, with Fitzgerald giving the reader a valuable perspective on this mission through his writing. Throughout the novel, the author demonstrates Gatz’s eagerness to be recognised as a true aristocrat by describing his various attempts to achieve this aim. After earning a fortune through his illicit partnership with Meyer Wolfshiem, he buys an extravagant mansion in West Egg, starts throwing meretricious parties and building his reputation. He has several shelves full of books, which he has never read, with the sole purpose of giving the impression of an educated man. Gatz repeatedly uses the phrase “old sport”—which was used by wealthy people in England and America during the 1920s—to appear as a person who comes from old money. Similarly, he continuously harps about being an “Oxford man” to further enhance his stature. Both these attempts to be seen as old money come across as unnatural to Jordan and Tom, and are immediately caught by them. In Chapter Three, Jordan expresses her disbelief about Gatz having gone to Oxford, saying, “I just don’t think he went there” (54). In Chapter Seven, Tom contemptuously questions Gatz’s catchphrase when he remarks, “That’s a great expression of yours, isn’t it?”(135) Through these two events, Fitzgerald portrays just how difficult Gatz’s task is: it is almost impossible to successfully mingle with old money if one has not originally been a part of it.
Gatz’s ardor for being a part of the upper class is also represented by one of the major themes in the novel: his obsession with Daisy. He sees Daisy as a member of the class he wants to be a part of, and thus sees her as a means to achieve his ultimate goal of becoming “The Great Gatsby”; Fitzgerald demonstrates as much through Gatz’s description of Daisy and his actions related to her. When he first gets to know Daisy, Nick describes his feelings as follows:
She was the first ‘nice’ girl he had ever known. In various unrevealed capacities he had come in contact with such people but always with indiscernible barbed wire between. He found her excitingly desirable . . . It excited him too that many men had already loved Daisy—it increased her value in his eyes. (158-159)
This description gives valuable insight into what exactly it is that Gatz sees in Daisy. He finds her “excitingly desirable,” and additionally talks about how he had “never been in such a beautiful house before”(158). The mention of “shining motor cars,” and the fact that many men had loved Daisy previously was important to Gatz and “increased her [Daisy’s] value in his eyes,” corroborate the hypothesis that he was attracted more to Daisy’s wealth and status than to Daisy as a person. He perceives Daisy almost like one would do a valuable asset; high demand for it makes the asset seem even more important. Keeping in mind the context of reality and illusion in this analysis, it is worthwhile to note that Gatz makes a conscious choice to be blinded by fantasy during his initial days with Daisy. He acknowledges this in Chapter Eight, as Nick describes: “However glorious might be his future as Jay Gatsby, he was at present a penniless young man without a past, and at any moment the invisible cloak of his uniform might slip from his shoulders” (159). Nick also mentions how Gatz had “deliberately given Daisy a sense of security,”(159) even though he knew that this sense of security was false. Five years later, he remains convinced that Daisy is the epitome of the sophisticated class, and being with her is the one way he can achieve his dream. When Nick mentions Daisy’s voice in Chapter Seven, Gatz remarks, “Her voice is full of money” (128). Through this dialogue, Fitzgerald portrays what Daisy and her voice represent to him: the promise of wealth and status. The subsequent description further heightens the concept of Daisy being a highly sought after prize; Nick describes Daisy as “[h]igh in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl” (128). In summary, it is only fair to conclude that Jimmy Gatz was not in love with Daisy, and rather it was the idea of being with Daisy and the value she would bring to his image that he fancied more.
During the transitory period in Chapter Five when Gatz looked on course to obtain all he wanted, Fitzgerald gives the reader a glimpse of how much he wants to achieve his dream. Nick describes Gatz’s elation regarding his successful reunion with Daisy as having “an inconceivable pitch of intensity” (99). This elation is in complete contrast with the heavy, dejected atmosphere that Fitzgerald builds leading up to and after Gatz’s death. The tragic ending of the novel seems to suggest at face value that Gatz failed miserably in his desperate but unwavering mission of becoming Jay Gatsby. However, when one looks at how far Gatz came and how much he achieved in life, it becomes apparent that he did transform into Jay Gatsby, if only at a fundamental level.
Fitzgerald also offers hope in Chapter Nine, notably through Gatz’s father. The introduction of his father symbolizes a return to his roots for Gatz, and Fitzgerald uses it to remind the reader that, despite all his faults, he did achieve what he wanted to from a fundamental perspective. His father’s amazement and disbelief at seeing his possessions demonstrate how monumental a task Gatz had done, building up his life from nothing. His father’s reaction says it all: “[When he] saw the height and splendour of the hall and the great rooms opening out from it into other rooms, his grief began to be mixed with an awed pride” (179). Only a person who came from humble origins, like his father, could comprehend and fully appreciate the effort and dogged attitude it must have taken to come from a poor family in North Dakota and then live in a posh mansion at the heart of the upper class in West Egg, New York. His father remained convinced that, irrespective of his death, Gatz had a “big future in front of him.”(184) Fitzgerald uses this belief to suggest that Jimmy Gatz did become Jay Gatsby in the eyes of his father and, considering that his father is the only character in the novel who comes from the same background as Gatz, this perspective is especially important. It is also worth noting that, regardless of the faults that Nick notices in Gatz over the course of the novel, Nick ultimately becomes his friend, admiring him for his steadfast belief, if nothing else. Through their friendship and Nick’s admiration, Fitzgerald proposes that Nick believed in Jay Gatsby as well.
In the end, Jimmy Gatz lived as he thought life should be lived: reaching out for his dreams day after day. By describing Gatz’s journey and how far he had come, the author offers an illuminating perspective on the American dream and suggests that Gatz did transform himself into his desired reality of Jay Gatsby, if not in the absolute way he had envisaged. This positive takeaway from the novel is especially relevant in today’s world. There are many young people in America who have the potential as well as the opportunity to make invaluable contributions to society, but they ultimately do not do so because the option is not safe or is out of their comfort zone. Fitzgerald offers the perfect inspiration for such promising individuals by showing that Gatz succeeded in incorporating himself into the impenetrable upper class of the 1920s, even if he was not fully accepted there. Gatz's journey makes the reader realize that there is no light without the dark; accomplishments are great and worth achieving only if there are obstacles that require grit and determination to overcome. As Nick notes at the very end of The Great Gatsby, Gatz believed in “the green light, the orgastic future”(193) that always seems to be just out of reach. Even in the face of death, he is prepared to keep going, his boat against the current; perhaps that is what makes him “The Great Gatsby,” after all.