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by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Platonic Conception

What is the platonic conception of Gatsby in The Great Gatsby?

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samcestmoi eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In this description of Jay Gatsby Nick is referring to the idea of the Platonic ideal, a philosophical construct presented by Plato in Ancient Greece.  According to this theory every object and every being has an ideal representation, a “perfect” iteration, if you will, upon which its form in this world is based.  For example, if you consider a series of desk chairs, they are based on a similar design and yet remain different, remain flawed in different ways.  They are functional but they are not a perfect ideal.  Therefore there must exist an ideal in some abstract world, otherwise we would have nothing upon which to base the structure and function of these real, flawed chairs.

Likewise with concepts such as love, truth, despair…the ways in which we experience these things are mere copies of their ideal forms, and as such subject to idiosyncrasy.  With the creation of all things in this tangible world we naturally strive toward as genuine a copy of these ideals as possible.  So,...

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kinsleykoons | Student

Great question! 

In Chapter 6 of The Great Gatsbyour narrator, Nick Caraway, says, "Jay Gatsby, of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself." 

The term "Platonic" comes from the Greek philosopher Plato who wrote mostly about the relationship between the ideal world and actual world. Through his theory he established the idea of the "Platonic form" which refers to the ideal (or perfect) form of something. So a "platonic form" (or conception) equals an "ideal form." 

When Nick uses this term to describe Gatsby, he is basically saying that Gatsby created his own identity by thinking of the perfect, ideal form of himself, and committing to the ideal, despite the realistic world around him.

It's helpful to look at the rest of the quote in order to put this new understanding in context: 

"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."

Gatsby created himself into the person he imagined himself to be when he was a kid.