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Jay Gatsby
Gatsby as portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby (2013)
Created byF. Scott Fitzgerald
Portrayed by
In-universe information
Full nameJames Gatz (birth name)
AliasJay Gatsby
  • Businessman
  • Yachtsman
  • Soldier
  • Entrepreneur
  • Bootlegger
FamilyHenry C. Gatz (father)

Jay Gatsby (originally named James Gatz) is the title character of the 1925 F. Scott Fitzgerald novel The Great Gatsby. Gatsby is a millionaire and the owner of a luxurious mansion where he often hosts extravagant parties, and he is described by the novel's narrator, Nick Carraway, as having "an extraordinary gift for hope".

Character biography

James Gatz hails from rural North Dakota,[1] and was born about 1890 into a poor rancher family. He attended St. Olaf College in Minnesota, but dropped out a few weeks into his first semester because he hated supporting himself by working as a janitor.

After dropping out, he went to Lake Superior, where he met copper tycoon Dan Cody in Little Girl Bay in the summer of 1907. Cody became Gatz's mentor and invited him to join his ten-year yacht trek. At seventeen, Gatz changed his name to Jay Gatsby and, over the next five years, learned the ways of the wealthy. Cody left Gatsby $25,000 in his will, but after his death, Cody's mistress cheated Gatsby out of the inheritance.

In 1917, during his training for the infantry in World War I, 27-year-old Gatsby met and fell in love with 18-year-old debutante Daisy Fay, who was everything Gatsby was not: rich, stylish, and knowledgeable in the ways of the world.

During the war, Gatsby reached the rank of Major in the U.S. 16th Infantry Regiment, and was decorated for valor for his participation in the Marne and the Argonne. After the war (as he also tells Nick Carraway years later), he briefly lived in the United Kingdom, where he attended Trinity College, Oxford.[2] Nonetheless, he objects to being called an "Oxford man". "I only stayed five months", he explains to Tom Buchanan. "That's why I can't really call myself an Oxford man".[3] While there, he received a letter from Daisy, telling him that she had married the wealthy Tom Buchanan. Gatsby then decided to commit his life to becoming a man of the kind of wealth and stature he believed would win Daisy's love.[4]

Gatsby returned home and settled in New York City, which was being transformed by the Jazz Age. It is speculated, but never confirmed, that Gatsby took advantage of Prohibition by making a fortune from bootlegging and built connections with various gangsters such as Meyer Wolfsheim (who Gatsby claims is "the man who fixed the World Series back in 1919").

With his vast income, Gatsby purchased a mansion in the fictional West Egg (a reference to Great Neck or perhaps Kings Point) of Long Island. West Egg lies on the opposite bay from old-money East Egg (a reference to Sands Point), where Daisy, Tom, and their three-year-old daughter Pammy live. At his West Egg mansion, Gatsby hosts elaborate parties every weekend, open to all comers, in an attempt to attract Daisy as a party guest. Through Daisy's cousin Nick Carraway, Gatsby finally has a chance to reunite with her. Gatsby does not reveal to Daisy or to Nick the truth of how he came to acquire his wealth. During several meetings, Gatsby tries to revive his relationship with Daisy to what had been five years ago. He seeks to woo her with his wealth and asks her to leave her boorish, unfaithful husband.

At the Buchanan home, Jordan Baker, Nick, Jay, and the Buchanans decide to visit New York City. Tom borrows Gatsby's yellow Rolls-Royce to drive up to the city. On the way to New York City, Tom makes a detour at a gas station in "the Valley of Ashes", a run-down part of Long Island. The owner, George Wilson, shares his concern that his wife, Myrtle, may be having an affair. This unnerves Tom, who has been having an affair with Myrtle, and he leaves in a hurry.

During the party in an expensive hotel suite, the casual conversation evolves into a confrontation between Daisy, Gatsby and Tom. In a fit of anger, Gatsby insists that Daisy always loved him, not Tom, and that she only married Tom for his money. Daisy admits she loved both Tom and Gatsby. The party then breaks up, with Daisy driving Gatsby out of New York City in the yellow Rolls-Royce and Tom leaving with Daisy's friend Jordan Baker and Nick in Tom's car.

From her upstairs room at the gas station, Myrtle sees an approaching car. Mistakenly believing Tom has returned for her, she runs out towards the car, but is struck and killed instantly. Panicked, Daisy drives away from the scene of the event (which is never revealed to be either an accident or intentional). At Daisy's house in East Egg, Gatsby promises Daisy he would take the blame if they are ever caught.

Tom tells George that it was Gatsby's car that killed Myrtle. George goes to Gatsby's house in West Egg, where he shoots and kills Gatsby before committing suicide. Gatsby is later found dead, floating in his pool.

Despite the many guests who attended Gatsby's parties, only one (an individual known as "Owl Eyes") attends his funeral. Also at the funeral are Nick Carraway and Gatsby's father, Henry C. Gatz, who states that he was proud of his son's achievement as a self-made millionaire.[5]

Gatsby as a reference point

The figure of Jay Gatsby became a cultural touchstone in 20th century America. When the poor native son Gatsby tells Nick Carraway, his only true friend and a relative of Daisy's, he was brought up wealthy and that he attended Oxford because "all my ancestors have been educated there", MSNBC political commentator Chris Matthews sees him as the eternal American striver: "Gatsby needed more than money: he needed to be someone who had always had it.... [T]his blind faith that he can retrofit his very existence to Daisy's specifications is the heart and soul of The Great Gatsby. It's the classic story of the fresh start, the second chance."[6]

"Jay Gatsby... appears to be the quintessential American male hero. He is a powerful businessman with shady connections, drives a glamorous car... and pursues the beautiful, privileged Daisy," Michael Kimmel and Amy Aronson write.[7] In the Handbook of American Folklore, Richard Dorson sees Gatsby as a new American archetype who made a decision to transform himself after his first chance encounter with his mentor Dan Cody, who opens the door to riches in bootlegging. "The ragged youth who some months later (after Gatsby drops out of St. Olaf) introduces himself to a degenerate yachtsman as Jay Gatsby has explicitly rejected the Protestant ethic... in favor of a much more extravagant form of ambition."[8]

Referring to real life figures as Gatsby has been common in the United States, usually in reference to rich men whose rise to prominence involved an element of deception. In a story on R. Foster Winans, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal's "Heard on the Street" column who was fired after it was discovered he was giving advance knowledge of the columns' contents to Peter Brant, the Seattle Post Intelligencer described Brant as "Winan's Gatsby." The article noted that Brant had changed his name from Bornstein and said he was "a man who turned his back on his heritage and his family because he felt that being recognized as Jewish would be a detriment to his career."[9]

The character is often used as a symbol of great wealth. Reporting in 2009 on the collapse of home prices and tourist spending in the exclusive Hamptons on Long Island, not far from the fictional setting of Gatsby's home, the Wall Street Journal quoted a struggling hotelier as saying "Jay Gatsby is dead."[10]

Gatsby has recently been read as a personification and representation of human-caused climate change, as "Gatsby’s life depends on many human-centered, selfish endeavors" which are "in some part responsible for Earth’s current ecological crisis."[11]



Jay Gatsby has been portrayed by several actors in film adaptations of Fitzgerald's novel. Warner Baxter first played the role in the lost 1926 silent film. Gatsby was later portrayed by Alan Ladd in the 1949 film adaptation, Robert Redford in the 1974 film adaptation, Toby Stephens in the 2000 film adaptation, Leonardo DiCaprio in director Baz Luhrmann's 2013 film adaptation, and Gregg Sulkin (as "Dylan Carson") in Kevin Asch's 2014 drama film Affluenza, billed as a loose re-telling of the novel set among a group of rich and privileged teenagers in Long Island before the 2008 financial crash.


In The Simpsons episode "The Great Phatsby", Mr. Burns assumes Jay Gatsby's role,[12] with the storyline spoofing the 2013 film adaptation.[13]

Brian Griffin is portrayed as Gatsby in the Family Guy episode "High School English" with Peter playing Tom, Lois playing Daisy, Stewie playing Nick, Meg playing Jordan Baker and Joe Swanson and Bonnie Swanson playing George and Myrtle Wilson, respectively.


Kirk Douglas starred as Gatsby in an adaptation broadcast on CBS' Family Hour of Stars on January 1, 1950.[14]

Andrew Scott played Gatsby in the 2012 two-part BBC Radio 4 Classic Serial production.[15]


  1. ^ "Character Analysis: Jay Gatsby". CliffsNotes.
  2. ^ McCullen, Bonnie Shannon (2007). "This Tremendous Detail: The Oxford Stone in the House of Gatsby". In Assadi, Jamal; Freedman, William (eds.). A Distant Drummer: Foreign Perspectives on F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Peter Lang. ISBN 978-0820488516.
  3. ^ After World War I, the United States military sent 5,700 American soldiers to study at a French university, and 2,000 to study at a British university for four months. The American University Union in Europe. 1921. p. 6.
  4. ^ "Spark Notes study guide synopsis on Jay Gatsby". Retrieved August 20, 2010.
  5. ^ Fitzgerald, F. Scott; Prigozy, Ruth (1998). "Introduction". The Great Gatsby (Oxford World's Classics ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-283269-6.
  6. ^ Mathews, Chris (2003). "Chapter One, "A Self Made Country"". American: Beyond Our Grandest Notions. Simon & Schuster. pp. 18–19. ISBN 978-0-7432-4086-4.
  7. ^ Kimmel, Michael; Aronson, Amy (2004). Men & Masculinities: A Social, Cultural, and Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 334. ISBN 978-1-57607-774-0.
  8. ^ Dorson, Richard M (1986). Handbook of American Folklore. Indiana University Press. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-253-20373-1.
  9. ^ "Scandal At Wall Street Journal: It'S A Great Gatsby Tale". Seattle Post Intelligencer. October 4, 1986. Retrieved August 20, 2010.[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ Lagnado, Lucette (February 20, 2009). "The Hamptons Half-Price Sale". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved August 20, 2010.
  11. ^ Keeler, Kyle (2018). "The Great Global Warmer: Jay Gatsby as a Microcosm of Climate Change". F. Scott Fitzgerald Review. 16 (1): 174–188. doi:10.5325/fscotfitzrevi.16.1.0174. JSTOR 10.5325/fscotfitzrevi.16.1.0174. S2CID 172075925.
  12. ^ "The Simpsons' "super-sized rap Gatsby episode" is best in its low-key charms". TV Club.
  13. ^ Pearce, Sheldon (January 16, 2017). "The Simpsons mixes The Great Gatsby with hip-hop in misfiring special" – via
  14. ^ "".
  15. ^ "F Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby, Episode 1 of 2". BBC Radio Classical Serial.
Further reading
This page was last edited on 11 January 2021, at 07:07
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