The Great Gatsby Wiki
Jay Gatsby
Portrayed by Warner Baxter
Alan Ladd
Robert Redford
Toby Stephens
Leonardo DiCaprio
Jeremy Jordan
Biographical information
Status Deceased
Also known as James Gatz


Residence Jay Gatsby's mansion, West Egg, New York
Profession Former Captain of the U.S. Army

War Hero


Family members

Henry C. Gatz (father)


Jay Gatsby (born James Gatz) is the title character of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel The Great Gatsby. Gatsby is a fabulously wealthy man.

In 1907, seventeen-year-old James Gatz despises the imprecations of poverty so much he drops out of St. Olaf College in Minnesota only a few weeks into his first semester. He felt they did not understand that he was destined to more than just the janitorial work he is expected to do to pay his way through school.

Gatz is loafing along the shores of Lake Superior when he sees a yacht under the threat of being broken up on the shoals of Little Girl Bay. James borrows a rowboat and rows out to warn the sailor. That sailor is millionaire Dan Cody, who has made his money in silver and copper, and when James Gatz introduces himself, Jay Gatsby is born. When Dan Cody boards the TUOLEMEE for the Barbary Coast, Jay Gatsby goes with him. He teaches Jay how to dress and behave like a gentleman for five years until he "inhospitably" dies. Cody's mistress then cheats Gatsby out of Cody's savings, leaving Gatsby with a measly $25,000 out of the millions he should have received.

In 1917, during his training to join the infantry in preparation to for the Great War (World War I), 27-year-old Gatsby falls in love with 18-year-old Daisy Fay, who is everything he's not: rich and from an elite, upper class Louisville, Kentucky family.

Jordan tells Nick how Gatsby, a Captain of the U.S. Army, started a relationship with Daisy in 1917 before the U.S. entered World War I.

During the war, Gatsby reaches the rank of Major, which commands the heavy machine guns of his regiment, and is decorated for valor for his participation in the Marne and the Argonne. After the war ends, he attends Trinity College in Oxford, England. While there, he receives a letter from Daisy, telling him that she is to marry the equally aristocratic Tom Buchanan. Gatsby sends her a letter, the content of which are not known to the reader. However, it comes the day prior to her wedding and causes her to rethink her impending marriage to Tom. Gatsby then commits his life to becoming a man of wealth and stature that he believes could win Daisy's love back.

Gatsby returns home to the US where it's being transformed by Prohibition, a period in American history when gangsters are able to earn vast wealth and sometimes mix with the connected upper classes. Gatsby takes advantage of this opportunity by making a fortune from bootlegging, thanks to his association with various gangsters, such as Meyer Wolfsheim who is, as Gatsby later tells Nick, "the man who fixed the World's Series back in 1919."

With his vast income readily available, Gatsby purchases a 12-bedroom mansion in West Egg of Long Island, home to the nouveau riche, on the opposite side of a lake from the old-money East Egg, where Daisy Buchanan, her husband Tom, and their three-year-old daughter, Pammy live.

At his West Egg mansion, Gatsby hosts weekend-long parties every week, open to all comers, in an attempt to attract Daisy as one of party guests from East Egg. Through Nick Carraway, Gatsby finally has a chance to meet Daisy. Now reunited, Gatsby increasingly tries to convince Daisy to leave her adulterous husband Tom and to return to Louisville, where they will marry and turn back the hands of time to the first time they met, five years before.

The time has come for Daisy to make the decision on whether she will leave Tom and start a new life with Gatsby. At the Buchanans' home, the pressure is mounting and Gatsby expects her to tell Tom she is leaving him. To stall for time, Daisy encourages Jordan, Nick, Gatsby, and Tom to go to New York City. Tom asks Gatsby if he can drive his yellow Rolls Royce to the city. Gatsby agrees. On the way to New York City, Tom makes a detour at the gas station in "the Valley of Ashes", a run-down part of Long Island, to fill up his tank. Garage owner George Wilson shares a concern that his wife, Myrtle, may be having an affair, but he doesn't know with whom and in response to learning of this affair, George has decided to take his wife west. This unnerves Tom as Myrtle is his secret mistress and he leaves in a hurry.

During the gathering in a Plaza Hotel suite, a casual conversation devolves into a confrontation between Daisy, Gatsby, and Tom. In a fit of anger, Gatsby points out that Daisy loves him, not Tom. Daisy reveals she "did once love Tom", which forces Gatsby to recognize that she will never leave Tom for him. The party breaks up as Daisy and Gatsby leave NYC in Gatsby's yellow Rolls Royce. Her husband, Tom, Jordan, and Nick return to Long Island in Tom's blue Coupe.

From her upstairs room at the gas station, Myrtle sees the approaching yellow Rolls Royce. The car that Tom had been driving earlier that afternoon. Believing that Tom has returned for her, she break free from the room that George has locked her in and runs into the road to get him to stop. Instead, she is hit by the car, killing her instantly. Panic-sicken, Daisy and Gatsby leave the scene of the accident. Arriving at Daisy's home in East Egg, Gatsby promises Daisy he will handle the situation and she doesn't have to worry.

When Tom, Jordan, and Nick return to the Buchanan residence, Nick finds Gatsby waiting outside their home in the dark. Gatsby asks if there was trouble on the road from New York. Nick angrily tells Gatsby that the woman they hit is dead. Gatsby hesitates when he responds to Nick's attack and Nick realizes that Daisy was driving. Gatsby confirms his suspicion and that he will wait outside for Daisy until he knows that Tom will not harm her. To belay his fears, Nick looks inside the pantry window only to find Tom and Daisy scheming about how to prevent Daisy from taking the fall for Myrtle's death.

Myrtle's grief-sickened husband, George Wilson walks to the Buchanan home in East Egg after realizing the yellow car that killed Myrtle is the same car he saw Tom Buchanan the day she is killed. He confronts Tom about the yellow Rolls Royce. Tom tells George that the car belongs to Jay Gatsby who lives in West Egg. George walks to West Egg where he shoots Gatsby in his pool, killing him instantly, before taking his own life. Gatsby is 32 years old.

Of all Gatsby's high society friends, only one, Owl-Eyes attends Gatsby's funeral. Our narrator Nick Carraway and Gatsby's father, Henry C. Gatz, also attend. Mr. Gatz has resurfaced and made his way to West Egg after the newspapers have covered Gatsby's murder. Mr. Gatz makes it clear that he is proud of his son, Jimmy's achievement as a self-made millionaire.


Gatsby's never ending devotion to Daisy stems from his obsessive desire to achieve the "old money" social status, which he cannot possibly achieve due to his modest background. However, he continues to hold on to hope, thus going out of his way to get Daisy. Gatsby's obsession with his goal of becoming old money rich blinds him from the reality of society. A woman of high birth and social standing like Daisy will never marry a bootlegger from modest beginnings. Gatsby could never accept that fact and ultimately died with his hope intact.

Film portrayals[]



  • The character is based on the bootlegger and former World War I officer Max Gerlach, according to Some Sort of Epic Grandeur, Matthew J Bruccoli's biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
  • As his relentless quest for Daisy demonstrates, Gatsby has an extraordinary ability to transform his hopes and dreams into reality; at the beginning of the novel, he appears to the reader just as he desires to appear to the world. This talent for self-invention is what gives Gatsby his quality of “greatness”.

The Great Gatsby
Characters Jay Gatsby | Nick Carraway | Daisy Buchanan | Tom Buchanan | Jordan Baker | Myrtle Wilson | George Wilson
Films The Great Gatsby (1926 film) | The Great Gatsby (1949 film) | The Great Gatsby (1974 film) | The Great Gatsby (2000 film) | The Great Gatsby (2013 film)