In The Great Gatsby, what are Gatsby's two possible characterizations?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Great Gatsby is F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous 1925 examination of prohibition-era decadence.

Gatsby, the title character, has many possible interpretations, but two lend themselves to deep critique:

  1. Gatsby is a deeply emotional man who seeks to succeed to prove his love for Daisy
  2. Gatsby is a deeply selfish man who seeks to succeed only to show off to others

The first interpretation is probably the most accepted version of Gatsby; he is seen throughout the novel to be personally interested in Daisy and desperate to win her approval.

He hadn't once ceased looking at Daisy, and I think he revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes. Sometimes, too, he stared around at his possessions in a dazed way, as though in her actual and astounding presence none of it was any longer real. Once he nearly toppled down a flight of stairs.

It can be argued that everything he does, even bootlegging and his elaborate parties, are to attract her interest and get her to leave her husband and be with him. Although he wishes that she would be his lover, Gatsby is also terrified that she will see through his facade of worldliness.

The second interpretation can be seen in Gatsby's relationship with the narrator, Nick:

"After that I lived like a young rajah in all the capitals of Europe -- Paris, Venice, Rome -- collecting jewels, chiefly rubies, hunting big game, painting a little, things for myself only, and trying to forget something very sad that had happened to me long ago."

With an effort I managed to restrain my incredulous laughter. The very phrases were worn so threadbare that they evoked no image except that of a turbaned "character" leaking sawdust at every pore as he pursued a tiger through the Bois de Boulogne.
(Quotes: Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby,

Although he has no real connection to Nick, and no reason to lie about his past, Gatsby persists in his stories about his opulent life and his heroics in the war; he is obsessed with his public image and will not tell the truth, even as he tries to woo Daisy. His need for public approval, seen in his lavish parties, is greater than his ability to speak honestly, and he desires Daisy only through that dishonesty.

marciascoles eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I suppose the two possible sides to Gatsby are: 1. Did he inherit his wealth? or 2. Is he a self-made millionaire? After contemplating each of these questions, what in the novel supports either of the notions?

I think another possibility you could explore is: Does he have anything to hide? If so, what is it? When you say "what do you think the truth is about Gatsby," there are more than two facets to consider.

Is it truth about where his money comes from? Or is it the truth about who he really is?


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The Great Gatsby

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