In F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, what becomes certain about Gatsby's past?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The student’s question – what becomes certain about Gatsby’s past in Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby – is vague.  The “answer” that follows, therefore, is based upon this educator’s assumption that the information being sought is that which is contained in Chapter Six, the chapter that provides Gatsby’s personal history.  There are a number of things that become certain about Gatsby’s past, including that his true identity was James Gatz of North Dakota, son of “shiftless and unsuccessful farm people,” and that, at an early age, he became infatuated with the visible trappings of wealthy and sought to transform himself into another persona – that of Jay Gatsby, wealthy, mysterious resident of Long Island.  Additionally, Gatsby’s background, the source of his wealth, is revealed as the product of illicit business practices.  Following the revelation that this mysterious figure was perhaps not who he claimed to be, a reporter shows up at the West Egg community investigating the story.  It is in the context of this reporter’s inquiries regarding Gatsby’s background that Fitzgerald’s narrator, Nick Carraway, suggests that which has become certain about his neighbor’s past: 

“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 Chapter Six progresses, additional background information on Gatsby and about his relationship to Daisy Buchanan is revealed.  Gatsby had one more in a long line of suitors seeking Daisy’s hand in her Louisville community where he was temporarily stationed as a soldier.  Gradually, he reveals to Nick that his military service broke the couple apart, and that Tom Buchanan’s success in marrying Daisy did not have to be irreversible.  In the following passage, Nick attempts to convince Gatsby that the past cannot be reversed, prompting a window into the latter’s soul to open:

‘I wouldn’t ask too much of her,’ I ventured. ‘You can’t repeat the past.’ ‘Can’t repeat the past?’ he cried incredulously. ‘Why of course you can!’ He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand. ‘I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before,’ he said, nodding determinedly. ‘She’ll see.’ He talked a lot about the past and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy.”

What is certain about Jay Gatsby’s past is that he was once on the verge of eternal bliss and had spent every waking hour since then trying in vain to recapture his lost love.  He changed his identity out of a need to eliminate his connection to the North Dakota farmland that offered little, and engaged in considerable illegalities for the purpose of attaining the wealth necessary to enable him to compete for Daisy’s hand. That he fervently and sincerely believed in his ability to alter the course of history stood as testament to his ultimate folly.

udonbutterfly | Student

Gatsby's past is really in this state of blur where the reader has to determine what they believe to be real or fake about Gatsby. But we can for sure confirm then Gatsby and Daisy definitely had something going on before he left for the army. Then there is what Gatsby did in order to get so much money that he ha which was deal in illegal business like bootlegging liquor. The rest is really left up for interpretation like whether he was really oxford man and his family past.

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The Great Gatsby

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