What is the difference between Gatsby's portrayal of himself, and how he is viewed by others?

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merricat eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jay Gatsby created his own persona when he transformed himself from Jay Gatz. He worked hard to appear wealthy, well educated, sophisticated, successful, and trustworthy. However, others did not always see him that way.

Certainly his wealth could not be doubted: the huge mansion in West Egg boasted only the best material and design, as Nick describes in Chapter V as he and Daisy tour the house with Gatsby:

“And inside we wandered through Marie Antoinette music rooms and Restoration salons…through period bedrooms swathed in rose and lavender silk…through dressing rooms and poolrooms, and bathrooms with sunken baths…”

He claims to be an Oxford man, until he qualifies that statement when Tom directly confronts him; he dresses in the finest imported clothes, drives the latest model car specially ordered with yellow paint (rare at that time), and doesn’t admit he has earned his money through illegal activities. He deliberately tries to mislead Nick when the subject of Gatsby’s actual profession arises in Chapter V. Gatsby and Nick are waiting for Daisy in Nick’s yard, looking toward Gatsby’s incredible mansion. Gatsby says:

“It took me just three years to earn the money that bought it.”

“I thought you inherited your money.”

“I did, old sport,” he said automatically, but I lost most of it in the big panic…I’ve been in several things…I was in the drug business and the oil business. But I’m not in either one now.”

He also claims to be honest. At one point Chapter III, he says to Nick, “I tell you the God’s truth, I am the son of some wealthy people in the middle-west, all dead now.”

Not everyone sees Gatsby this way. Nick suspects he is a liar immediately after Gatsby tells him about his wealthy background:

“He looked at me sideways—and I knew why Jordan Baker had believed he was lying…And with this doubt his whole statement fell to pieces…”

Daisy doesn’t think the wild parties are sophisticated or even enjoyable: “The rest offended her…she was appalled by West Egg, this unprecedented ‘place’ that Broadway had begotten.” Tom scoffs at Gatsby’s false airs, like calling everyone ‘old sport:’ “All this ‘old sport’ business. Where’d you pick that up?” He also is suspicious of Gatsby’s business activities:

“I found out what your ‘drug stores’ were…I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him and I wasn’t far wrong.”

Despite his extreme efforts to appear as a successful, well-educated, reputable executive with sophisticated taste, Jay Gatsby was nothing more than an illusion created by Jimmy Gatz to appeal to the love of his life, Daisy.

Read the study guide:
The Great Gatsby

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