The Great Gatsby discusses Gatsby and his “Platonic conception of himself.” What is the significance of that passage as it pertains not only to Gatsby, but also to the American Dream?

In The Great Gatsby, Nick explains that the seventeen-year-old Jay Gatz invented an idealized or Platonic version of himself when he renamed himself Jay Gatsby. Likewise, the earliest settlers in America dreamed of creating an ideal society that would right the wrongs of Europe. Both dreams were doomed to failure but were nevertheless admirable for their audacity.

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In The Great Gatsby, at the start of chapter 6, Nick Carraway, the narrator, asserts that Jay Gatsby “sprang from his Platonic conception of himself.” Carraway’s contention about Gatsby’s Platonic origins is contrasted with Gatsby’s real origins, which Carraway learns about from a young reporter.

The Platonic idea suggests that Gatsby wants people to believe that he, in a way, created himself. His person is so extraordinary that his being sprang not from a regular sexual union but from something incorporeal and otherworldly. Carraway confirms Gatsby’s preternatural view of himself when he designates Gatsby “a son of God.” Like, say, Jesus Christ, Gatsby is a miraculous and singular creature.

The "Platonic" passage is significant to Gatsby because it provides further proof of his grandiose character. It clarifies why Gatsby conducts himself in such a mysterious, elusive manner. He wants to be unknowable and possess the power that such opacity confers. Of course, Gatsby is not a god. He is, after all, a human, with vulnerabilities and feelings (particularly for Daisy).

As for how the "Platonic" passage pertains to the American Dream, think about how, like Gatsby, the American Dream is based on the idea of unique individuals creating a life and place in the world for themselves. As with Gatsby, the American Dream can seem detached from reality. It fails to account for how both creations are, arguably, not the result of visionaries but enterprises built on varying degrees of criminality—criminal ties in the case of Gatsby; genocide and slavery in the case of the United States.

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Nick Carraway tells the reader that Gatsby never accepted his dowdy and unsuccessful parents as having anything to do with him, saying:

The truth was that Jay Gatsby, of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God - a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that - and he must be about His Father's Business, the service of a vast, vulgar and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end.

As so often comes through in Nick's comments on Gatsby and his values, this description mixes admiration with disdain. Gatsby's ideals are vulgar and meretricious, but they also have a beauty that seems accidental, or perhaps incidental. It has been said of Donald Trump that he is a poor person's idea of a rich person, and this is literally true of Jay Gatsby, since he was a poor person, and a teenager, when he decided the kind of man he wanted to be. Someone more mature or sophisticated would have picked a higher ideal.

This idea relates to the American Dream because this ideal has also been interpreted crudely by many of the people who aspire to it. Perhaps the most idealistic Americans once dreamed of a land of perfect brotherhood and limitless opportunity. However, by the time Fitzgerald was writing, the robber barons of the Gilded Age had corrupted the idea of the American Dream into a materialistic ideal very similar to the fantasy of unlimited and irresponsible wealth that captivated the teenage James Gatz.

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A "Platonic conception" is an ideal conception. Plato argued that the forms we see in the world around us are merely shadows of an ideal Form that exists in an abstract space. For instance, every table on earth is simply a crude imitation of an ideal table.

Applied to humans, a Platonic conception of the self is an idealized perception. As Nick explains, when the seventeen-year-old Jay Gatz encountered Dan Cody and his yacht, Gatz reinvented himself as Jay Gatsby. Gatsby was an ideal: he was what Jay Gatz dreamed of as a perfect self. As Nick puts it,

The truth was that Jay Gatsby, of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God—a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that—and he must be about His Father’s Business, the service of a vast, vulgar and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end.

Jay Gatsby is, therefore, the very wealthy person Jay Gatz wanted to be and willed into existence. If the dream of wealth that Gatsby enacted was vulgar and flashy, it was faithful to the vision of wealth a seventeen year old would have. Gatsby developed his ideal of what perfection was when he was young and did not waver from it as he got older.

This passage also pertains to the American Dream because, in Nick's telling, the earliest sailors saw the fresh green breast of the New World and wanted, in this new land, to achieve ideals that had never come to fruition in Europe. Just as Gatz dreamed of becoming an ideal self, so the early settlers dreamed of building an ideal society. Both dreams were doomed to failure, but Nick nevertheless admires their audacity.

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Gatsby's "platonic conception of himself" most likely refers to Plato's idea that "truth is an abstraction." Simply put, Plato argued that ideas are separate from reality.

Gatsby's idea of himself as someone "great" did not match the truth of his reality, which is that he was the son of poor farmers. 

You can think this:

James Gatz (reality) - The son of a poor farmer

Jay Gatsby (abstract) - Gatz's ideal of himself, which he creates from his own mind.

The interesting line in the paragraph that talks about Gatsby's "platonic conception of himself" is the last sentence, which says, "So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end."

Here, Nick might be suggesting that Gatsby's platonic conception of himself is immature and this, perhaps, is what leads to his death. This immature conception of himself leads to Gatsby's belief that he can relive the past or that Daisy will leave the security of Tom or that his protection of Daisy after she kills Myrtle is somehow the right thing to do to help him become great. 

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