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

The difference between Gatsby's portrayal of himself and how he is viewed by others is that he likes to pretend that he's a well-educated blue blood, whereas others see him as a nouveau-riche arriviste. It doesn't matter how wealthy Jay is, how big his mansion is, or how pretty his shirts are, he'll always be new money and will never find social acceptance among the old money elite.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Jay Gatsby portrays himself as an Oxford-educated gentleman who hails from a wealthy family and has traveled the world. Jay Gatsby not only dresses like a wealthy aristocrat but also carries himself with a graceful manner and frequently uses the term "old sport." Gatsby also lives in a magnificent mansion...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Jay Gatsby portrays himself as an Oxford-educated gentleman who hails from a wealthy family and has traveled the world. Jay Gatsby not only dresses like a wealthy aristocrat but also carries himself with a graceful manner and frequently uses the term "old sport." Gatsby also lives in a magnificent mansion in West Egg and throws extravagant parties in hopes of one day reuniting with Daisy Buchanan. He goes to great lengths to persuade others that he is an established gentleman and even attempts to convince Nick that he inherited his wealth and lived like a "young rajah" before WWI.

Despite Gatsby's mannerisms, appearance, and personality, other people do not view him as an established, educated gentleman. For example, Jordan Baker tells Nick that she could tell Gatsby was lying about being an Oxford graduate. Nick also finds Gatsby's background stories quite unbelievable and struggles to suppress his laughter. The guests at Gatsby's parties also view him differently than he sees himself. They spread rumors that he is a German spy or murderer and do not view him as a respected member of the social elite. Since Gatsby lives in West Egg, the upper echelon of society like Tom Buchanan and the Sloanes view him with contempt because he is considered "new money." Although Gatsby is wealthy, he does not have the same social rank as the people residing in East Egg, who come from "old money." Unfortunately, no matter hard Gatsby tries, he will never attain the level of prestige as the Buchanans or convince them that he is their equal.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Over many years, Jay Gatsby has crafted the persona of a wealthy young man from a privileged, well-educated background. He craves acceptance from those like the Buchanans, who really do hail from this privileged social stratum. To this end, Gatsby cultivates the image of a scion of wealth and privilege, a man who enjoyed an elite Oxford education and has rubbed shoulders with the cream of society.

But none of this is true. In reality, James Gatz, to give him his real name, comes from a humble background in the Midwest, and his phenomenal wealth is built on the proceeds of his involvement in organized crime. Gatsby still thinks, however, that he can buy his way into high society, but the old money elite aren't fooled. They may turn up to Gatsby's legendary parties, eat his food, and drink his booze, but one thing they will never do is accept him as a social equal.

To the likes of Tom Buchanan, he's a parvenu, a new money arriviste who's as phony as they come. He can talk the talk alright, but when it comes down to it, Gatsby will never be able to escape his less-than-privileged past. Money can only get you so far in this society, as Jay finds to his cost.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team