The Great Gatsby Questions and Answers
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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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?

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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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...

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Platonic conception is an idealism by Plato that every being on Earth aspires to some perfect or vastly superior form of itself. Fitzgerald uses this concept to characterize the very embodiment of Gatsby. James Gatz was the son of two "unsuccessful farm people" (78) who had no social standing or money. "So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby a seventeen year old would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end." (79) Nick is telling us James Gatz sacrificed his character, his ethics, and ultimately his identity to become Jay Gatsby. However, when Gatsby met Daisy, his platonic conception of himself aspired to new heights. Becoming wealthy was no longer enough, Gatsby was filled with an obsession driven by both love and a desire for social position to have Daisy. Gatsby's dream would never be complete without her. The Jay Gatsby we read about, the wealthy charming young man besotted with Daisy, "spr[u]ng from his Platonic conception of himself." (78) Ultimately the author is trying to tell us we must act upon our dreams in order to realize them. The American Dream is only within reach if you reach for it.