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What is the platonic conception of Gatsby in The Great Gatsby?

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maya23 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 7, 2010 at 11:52 PM via web

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What is the platonic conception of Gatsby in The Great Gatsby?

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lynnebh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted May 8, 2010 at 1:47 AM (Answer #1)

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You are referring to the part of the novel where Nick says:

"Jay Gatsby sprang from his Platonic conception of himself"

Plato was a Greek philosopher who, among many other things, was concerned with the real world versus the ideal world. So when Nick says this, he means that in a sense, Jay Gatsby invented himself. He invented an ideal of himself and then tried to live up to that ideal. He was not happy with his "real self" (a poor man from an uneducated family), so he re-invented himself as an educated and wealthy man.

In Greek mythology, it is believed that the Godess Athena "sprang full grown from the head of Zeuss" so the use of the word "sprang" is also a reference to the Greeks, only mythology in this sense. The Jay Gatsby that appeared on the stage of East and West Egg "sprang" from his own creation, but Nick soon learns who the real Gatsby is when he meets Gatsby's father.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 18, 2014 at 4:01 PM (Answer #2)

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This phrase comes from Chapter Six of The Great Gatsby as Nick Carraway describes the concealed boundary of Gatsby's vision of his life which he creates himself out his own imagination ("Platonic conception of himself"), a vision in which, in his confusion of values and romance, he is "faithful to the end."

This vision which has "sprung" from the imagination of Jay Gatsby is one of gaudy materialism that is the American Dream of the Jazz Age. For, as he lay in his meager room by the south shore of Lake Superior as a youth, the conception of his desires began to form as an outlet for his imagination which was dulled by the tedious labor in which he was engaged at St. Olaf college in southern Minnesota where he worked as a janitor. Then, after returning to the shores of Lake Superior where he meets Dan Cody and begins working for him, "the vague contour of Jay Gatsby had filled out to the substantiality of a man."

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