Why doesn't Nick realize who Gatsby is when the two men meet at Gatsby's party?

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Nick doesn't know for certain what Gatsby looks like—although he suspects that he's the man he saw earlier, stretching out his arms toward the bay—and has never been to one of his parties before, so when he meets up with Jay for the first time, he has no idea who...

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Nick doesn't know for certain what Gatsby looks like—although he suspects that he's the man he saw earlier, stretching out his arms toward the bay—and has never been to one of his parties before, so when he meets up with Jay for the first time, he has no idea who he is. In that way, Nick is in the same boat as a lot of the other guests: they regularly turn up at Gatsby's soirées, eat his food, drink his hooch, and then go home in the wee small hours without knowing anything about their gracious host, even what he looks like.

The reason for this is that Gatsby always prefers to stay out of the limelight. He'd much rather walk calmly among the guests, listening to their conversations and generally making sure that everyone's having a good time, than be the life and soul of the party. The last thing he wants is to be the center of attention. Gatsby has a reputation for being an elusive man of mystery, and for a number of reasons, he'd rather keep it that way.

It's notable that when Nick and Jay meet for the first time, there's almost an air of anticlimax as the two men chat casually about their service in the war. However, the sheer ordinariness of their conversation is instructive. The very fact that Gatsby is able to talk so normally with Nick indicates to him that this guest isn't like all the others—Nick doesn't want anything from him but the pleasure of his company, and that marks him out as a very special person indeed.

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