Is Gatsby a "phony?"Is Gatsby a "phony?"

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Gatsby is not a phony because he is not hypocritical. He isn't Jimmy Gatz pretending to be Jay Gatsby. He is Jay Gatsby, having become the vision of himself he dreamed as a boy growing up in North Dakota. Fitzgerald develops this idea through numerous references throughout the novel; Gatsby creates a new being from "his Platonic conception of himself," and once he assumes that identity, "to this conception he was faithful to the end." He is necessarily secretive about his business dealings, but he does not present himself as anything he is not; he simply keeps that part of his life hidden and lets people gossip as they will.

In the most significant way, Gatsby is a man of great integrity. He remains faithful to his "colossal dream" of reliving the past and dedicates himself to achieving it. There is nothing phony about his emotional life or his love for Daisy. It is for these reasons that Nick says "Gatsby turned out all right at the end." Unlike Tom and Daisy, Gatsby was exactly what he appeared to be: an innocent romantic.



Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that some level of clarification is going to be needed.  Gatsby reinvents himself from the "normal" Jay Gatz into this individual who represents the elaborate and ornate setting of the Jazz Age.  Reinvention might possess some aspects of phoniness to it.  However, Gatsby is sincere enough to not have the label of a "phony" in its most critical sense.  I would save this label for the socialites like Tom and Jordan.  They seem to me to represent more of moral phoniness and spiritual bankruptcy more than anyone else. I think that Daisy could be lumped into this category, as well.  While she is not as bad as both of them, I think that she is emotionally phony in that she will never leave Tom because of the financial and social comfort.  This is what makes her phony, in my mind.  In the end, I see others as more "deserving" of the title of phony than Gatsby.

ladyvols1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Personally I don't think the character of Jay Gatsby is phony.  Gatsby has reinvented himself in the manner he believed would lead him to his ideal of his American Dream.  In some ways he succeeded, in some ways he failed.

If we conclude that Gatsby is a phony aren't we saying that people can't change from who they are in their youth.  I would hope that my growth and change from my youth doesn't make me a phony.  I had characteristics in my personality that I didn't like so I changed them.  If we walk the talk I don't believe we are phony.  Jay Gatsby walked the talk.  He wanted to be rich and successful and he became rich and successful.  Society may not approve of how he achieved his success but that doesn't make him less real.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It's hard for me to call Jay Gatsby a phony, even though he goes to great lengths to make himself appear as something he is not. He owns a mansion with a bunch of unread books and clothing somone else selected for him. He has a picture of himself at Oxford, though he was not a student there. He keeps his illegal business practices as quiet as he can. All this is true; however, he is also a man who loved a woman and could not be with her from early in his life until the end of it. He is faithful and loves unconditionally. There is nothing fake or phony about that.

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To me, being a phoney is pretending to be something you're not.  Gatsby isn't pretending to be rich -- he is rich.  He isn't pretending to be from the "old money social circle" -- he lives on the less fashionable West Egg, throws gauche parties, and drives a flashy car.  These are all things that the people from East Egg just wouldn't do.  I would actually argue that Gatsby doesn't see the difference between himself and Tom and Daisy because he wasn't raised in that environment.  Tom may judge him as a phoney, but I think he just is who he grew up to be.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with other editors in thinking that our impressions of Gatsby need to be more nuanced than simply categorising him as a phony or not a phony. Yes, there is definitely something fake about him, and this is something that Nick discovers and dislikes. Yet, at the same time, there is something in Gatsby that inspires Nick and that he finds immensely attractive. Gatsby does capture some of the original American dream, yet the way in which he achieved it and the dream that he pinned his hopes on (i.e. Daisy) means that it was tainted with fakeness.

alexb2 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In my opinion, Gatsby is not a phony. He may have a new name, new position in society, but it's more society itself that is phony then Gatby himself. He's not a faker because he does have the money to back up his new persona. The person that Gatsby has become his somewhat inauthentic, although does Gatsby openhimself up to certain people. Society itself is revelaed to be phony, as exemplified in their messy personal lives and embrace of Gatsby for his money alone.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For me, he is.  He is trying to be something that he is not simply so that he can get Daisy.  I think that we see his phoniness in, for example, his books that have never even been cut.  He is pretending to be this sophisticated person simply to impress her.  This, to me, is phony.  An authentic person would not do things like that (or like showing her his shirts to impress her).

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Your question reminds me of Holden in Catcher in the Rye.  I think Holden would find Gatsby to be a phony.  Gatsby lives two different lives...the illegal one which provides him the money and way of life he wants to live, and the one he lives to impress Daisy and his neighbors in the hope that Daisy will defect and come to Gatsby permanently.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
This depends on what you mean by phony. Gatsby creates his own rules. He does not have genuine relationships. In that sense you could argue that he is phony. On the other hand, he does not pretend to have relationships. He is not pretending, but he is not close to others either.
udonbutterfly | Student

Now that is really debatable. Remember everything we learned about Gatsby came through Nick's lenses who was already a bit biased. So according to the way Nick would probably put it Gatsby exaggerated a lot of parts in his life. For example take the part where Gatsby boasted to Nick about being an Oxford man as if he went to the school and he was an alumni, in reality he was just attending the school as apart of his training. Then there is how Gatsby really accumulated the amount of money he had. It is again very debatable and Nick leaves that up to the reader as to whether it was true or not and if it wasn't was his lies justifiable.

mcaperino | Student

In my opinion, Jay Gatsby cannot be evaluated as something as simple as a "phony." Instead, he needs to be considered in light of his perceptions and his dreams. So often throughout the novel, we see his dreams overtaking his reality - when Daisy fell short of his memory after they were reunited, when he remembers their first kiss as a moment where he chose between being a god and being a mortal, and even when he expects Daisy to leave Tom in a romantic gesture that could rival the greatest love stories. Just as he lost sight of reality because of his dreams that entirely eclipsed the "real world", he also loses sight of James Gatz, the reality of his original self.

moyossie | Student

For me, he is.  He is trying to be something that he is not simply so that he can get Daisy.  I think that we see his phoniness in, for example, his books that have never even been cut.  He is pretending to be this sophisticated person simply to impress her.  This, to me, is phony.  An authentic person would not do things like that (or like showing her his shirts to impress her).

Well, Daisy's voice is "full of money". What can he do?

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The Great Gatsby

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