Jay Gatsby, originally James Gatz, was born to poor farmers in North Dakota. Although Gatsby grew up poor, he dreamed of climbing the social ladder and becoming a member of the social elite. When Gatsby was seventeen years old, he met a rich copper mogul, Dan Cody , who...
Jay Gatsby, originally James Gatz, was born to poor farmers in North Dakota. Although Gatsby grew up poor, he dreamed of climbing the social ladder and becoming a member of the social elite. When Gatsby was seventeen years old, he met a rich copper mogul, Dan Cody, who hired him as a personal assistant. On Dan Cody's yacht, Gatsby sailed from the Barbary Coast to the West Indies and fell in love with the life of luxury. This experience also taught Gatsby how to interact with members of the upper class. After Cody passed away, Gatsby enlisted in the military to fight in World War I.
When Gatsby returned from the war, he was penniless until he met the shady Meyer Wolfsheim, who introduced him to the illegal bootlegging business. The source of Gatsby's wealth is seemingly confirmed when Tom confronts Gatsby and accuses him of illegally selling alcohol in drug stores during Prohibition. Gatsby doesn't deny it:
"I found out what your 'drug-stores’ were." He turned to us and spoke rapidly. "He and this Wolfsheim bought up a lot of side-street drug-stores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter. That’s one of his little stunts. I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him, and I wasn’t far wrong."
"What about it?" said Gatsby politely. "I guess your friend Walter Chase wasn’t too proud to come in on it."
As Wolfsheim's partner in crime, Gatsby amassed a fortune in the underground bootlegging industry and eventually purchased a gaudy mansion in West Egg, directly across from the Buchanan estate.
In the story, Gatsby is considered "new money" and flaunts his wealth in hopes of attracting Daisy's attention. At the beginning of the story, Nick Carraway hears many rumors surrounding Gatsby that connect him to the criminal underworld, and these rumors are confirmed when Tom Buchanan investigates Gatsby and exposes him as a bootlegger in front of Daisy.