James Gatz is Jay Gatsby's real name. He was born to poor farmers from the Midwest. At 17, he left for the Great War and traveled troughout Europe. Upon returning, he changed his name and pursued a life of extravagance.
Gatz's shift in identity is symbolic of America's after World War I. Hemingway called the returning soldiers "the Lost Generation." Clearly, Gatz wants to forsake his identity to pursue riches, status, and Daisy, the embodiment of his dream.
Also, the U.S. emerged from the war with a burgeoning sense of youth and optimism; hence, the "roaring 20s" and the "Jazz Age." But, it was short-lived, as the Depression and another world war loomed on the horizon.
In the end, James Gatz's dream woman does not match his optimism. Her voice is described as "full of money," and yet, she doesn't say much. She even contributes to Gatz's death. The novel ends just as it began, with a father's commentary. Gatz's father reveals his son's self-improvement initiatives, which are all the more poignant after his death.
Jay Gatsby wanted for so long to change his life. He longed to be with Daisy, and he thought the only way to do that was to become a wealthy man. Gatsby knew that he had to change his life in order to reunite with the woman he loved. James Gatz, aka, Jay Gatsby, was born to a poor family. By the time he was seventeen, he knew that he had to change his name and his whole life. He believed that creating a new person was the answer to all of his problems.
"James Gatz- that was really, or at least legally, his name. He had changed it at the age of seventeen and at the specific moment that witnessed the beginning of his career- when he saw Dan Cody's yacht drop anchor over the most insidious flat on Lake Superior."
Gatsby made a decision that he would change his name, start a career in a shady business, and be the man he thought Daisy wanted. Gatsby believed that the only way to get Daisy was to become the kind of man she was always around. Daisy promised to wait for him during the war, but instead married Tom, her equal in social standing. Gatsby is a wounded soul, looking for the one thing he thinks will make him happy, only to find out all of it is not real. All the parties, all the society people, only care about superficial things. It takes a real tragedy for Gatsby to realize that changing your name doesn't change who you really are, and he learns the lesson way too late.
James Gatz is a poor 17-year-old from North Dakota, the product of shiftless parents. He is ambitious and proud, and though he wants to go to college, he leaves St. Olaf's because he is humiliated to have to work as a janitor to pay his way. He is described as having a "brown," hardened body from the outdoor work he takes up after leaving college, of being "half-fierce, half-lazy" in his work habits, and of knowing women early and holding them in contempt. He is self-absorbed and his "heart is in a constant, turbulent riot." He dreams of a better life, living much in his imagination, and has an instinct toward "future glory."
When he meets Dan Cody and his life changes, he is wearing "a torn green jersey and a pair of canvas pants." As he rows out to Cody's yacht, he is already transforming himself into the suave and mysterious Jay Gatsby, on the rise.
In this brief thumbnail, we see a young man who has become street wise and savvy early, hungry and ambitious, on fire to get ahead in the world. Interestingly, we don't get much sense of what he looks like in terms of hair or eye color or features--mostly we know he has a hard, handsome body.