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We first meet Dan Cody in Chapter Five when Nick asks Gatsby about a photograph showing an elderly man in a yachting outfit. Gatsby states that the old man is now deceased but was his best friend years ago. Later, we learn that Gatsby once lost a claim to an inheritance of twenty-five thousand dollars from Cody because of Cody's mistress.
In Chapter Six we learn more about Dan Cody and Gatsby's history with the older man. Gatsby first met Dan Cody when the latter's yacht dropped 'anchor over the most insidious flat on Lake Superior.' On a whim, Gatsby had rowed out to warn Cody that his yacht was anchored in a precarious location, thus earning him the older man's gratitude and friendship. At the time Gatsby met Cody, he had just left a short, two week stint at the small Lutheran college of St. Olaf in southern Minnesota. Perturbed by the lowly janitorial work he had had to perform in order to pay his way through school, Gatsby had quit college in rebellion. Listless, he had then found work as a 'clam digger' and a 'salmon fisher' along the south shores of Lake Superior.
Dan Cody is described as a successful man who made his millions through metal prospecting. Because of Gatsby's agreeable personality, Cody took a liking to the younger man; working in a 'vague personal capacity,' Gatsby found himself a 'steward, mate, skipper, secretary, and even jailor' to his older benefactor. Dan Cody placed great trust in Gatsby to protect and to care for him when he was under the influence of alcohol. The affable arrangement went on for five years until Ella Kaye, a reporter, came into Dan Cody's life.
Besides an inordinate obsession with alcohol, Dan Cody was also fascinated with beautiful women. According to gossip among influential circles, Ella Kaye may have played a part in Dan Cody's premature death.
The none too savory ramifications by which Ella Kaye, the newspaper woman, played Madame de Maintenon to his weakness and sent him to sea in a yacht, were common knowledge to the turgid journalism of 1902.
Accordingly, Gatsby never received his twenty five thousand dollar inheritance from Cody; what 'remained of the millions went intact to Ella Kaye.' The wily mistress had managed to use legal maneuvers to defeat Gatsby's claim. The allusion to Madame de Maintenon is significant, as the historic figure had risen from humble beginnings to the position of royal wife through clever positioning and Machiavellian intrigue. Likewise, Ella Kaye, from humble beginnings, had managed to win millions of dollars in inherited money simply by using her relationship with a debauched, older lover as leverage. Despite Ella Kaye's actions, Gatsby managed to reinvent himself into a man of wealth and glamor.
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During the chapter when we find out the truth about Gatsby's past - his humble beginnings, his ambition to rise to the top, and his eventual success (I believe chapter 6) - we meet Dan Cody, the character that shaped and defined Gatsby's dream for greatness. As you know, Dan Cody attempted to leave Gatsby some of his fortune, but his wife (who he was estranged from) managed to disinherit Gatsby and keep it for herself. Cody's wife's name is Ella Kaye.
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