What makes at least some of what Gatsby says believable?
When Nick Carraway first meets Jay Gatsby, he does not know who he is (chapter 3). The two men strike up a conversation, which include some references to having served in World War I. Nick is both drawn to Gatsby and puzzled by him. He recognizes that there is something distinctive about the man that draws others into his confidence, but also sees that Gatsby is like a chameleon, always changing to fit the situation. Nick has glimpses into charming exterior to see a “roughneck” behind. Gatsby’s charisma accounts for much of his believability.
He smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it. ... It faced—or seemed to face—the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. ... Precisely at that point it vanished, and I was looking at an elegant young roughneck.
Gatsby is not a simple conman trying to fool others; instead, he believes much of the tale that he has constructed about himself. Gatsby is utterly convinced of the depth and permanence of his and Daisy’s love. He is naïve in some ways and obtuse in others: he cannot or will not accept that his image of Daisy and of true love is a mirage and that Daisy is fascinated by him but not at all devoted to him in the way he is to her. Buying into his own fantasy is part of what makes it seem believable to Nick.
In addition, the elaborate stories that Gatsby tells do have some basis in fact. The running motif of the “Oxford man” is the best place to observe this. While rumors fly that he had gone to Oxford, many people do not believe it, and Tom Buchanan is outright scornful. When Gatsby produces the photograph showing him at Oxford, however, he accompanies it with the explanation of how he came to spend a few weeks there as a result of his military service. A kernel of truth within a larger fabrication does much to convince people that the whole story is true.
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