How Did Jay Gatsby Get Rich?

Last Updated: October 18th, 2023 by Kerry Wisby (Teacher-BA English Literature, 1920s & Great Gatsby Expert)

was jay gatsby a wealthy man

Even if you haven’t read the novel, you know the story about the Great Gatsby. Readers have mixed feelings about Jay Gatsby’s character. Some believe that all he wanted was a happy life with the woman he loves. Others pinpoint that he stopped at nothing to gain wealth, and that includes indulging in illegal activities.

Have you ever wondered how did Jay Gatsby get rich? You can watch a movie or read the book, but it is hard to find anything else than speculations about Jay getting rich.

Jay Gatsby – Background Overview

Before we continue, here is a reminder of the Gatsby’s life. Everything started in 1890 when he was born into a farmer’s family as James Gatz. The family was struggling financially, but James managed to get himself into a college.

Great Gatsby wealth

Unfortunately, he needed to support himself by getting a job as a janitor. James didn’t like that as he believed it affected his reputation. You will find lines where he pinpoints that he is “an Oxford man,” which implies that he cared about reputation and materialistic even at the time.

Tasting the Life of the Wealthy

James left school but soon met Dan Cody. Cody was a copper tycoon, and he agreed to be Gatz’s mentor. They were yacht trekking together for years, and James got to experience the life of the rich people. That’s when he decided to change his name to Jay Gatsby.

Once Cody passed away, he left Gatsby some money in his will. However, the tycoon’s mistress tricked young James and took all the money. Jay decided to join the army in 1917. While he was preparing to join the infantry, he met Daisy Fay. Daisy reminded him of the world of the rich people, and she was also beautiful.

A Big Disappointment

jay gatsbys wealth

Jay wanted Daisy to wait for him until the war ends, and he earns enough money to give her the life she deserves. However, Daisy married a rich guy named Tom Buchanan.

After that colossal disappointment, Gatsby focused only on getting rich. He believed that was the way to lead a happy life, and win back the woman he loves. Jay returned to New York City and settled there. That is how he managed to stay close to Daisy.

How Did Jay Gatsby Get Rich?

how did gatsby get so wealthy

The book specifies that Gatsby bought a mansion in a luxury part of Long Island called the West Egg. It is a fictional neighborhood but think of it as a virtual version of Kings Point or Great Neck. Either way, it is a prestigious area of the city, which means you need a lot of money for a mansion.

And it is not only about the mansion. Gatsby organized parties every day, hoping that Daisy will come. Making parties for elite guests is an endeavor that takes a lot of cash, too. Additionally, Jay was driving a Rolls Royce, which was reserved only for rich people.

Is There an Explanation of How He Had All That Cash?

The book never clearly mentioned what Jay Gatsby did to earn this money. However, Gatsby insists that he is a businessman, and he frequently talks about the past, and the time spent in the army.

The speculations are that Jay Gatsby was connected to the NYC mafia. That included spending time with reputable mobsters like Meyer Wolfsheim. In one of his stories, Gatsby shares that it was that gangster who organized the famous Black Sox Scandal. The scandal involved rigging the outcome of the baseball World Series in 1919.

Gatsby’s role was to be a bootlegger, which implies he was involved in illegal activities related to alcohol. Since alcohol was forbidden by the law at the time, gangsters found a way to transport it to New York City and sell it to locals. It seems that Jay Gatsby was a part of that network.

Are Illegal Activities How Gatsby Got Rich?

Illegal activities also seem to be the most logical explanation of how Gatsby got rich. We know that he dropped out of school. While he was successful in the army and got a Major rank, however, that couldn’t buy him a mansion and a Rolls Royce.

Additionally, Gatsby only cared about getting rich after Daisy married another wealthy man. He firmly believed that is the ticket to winning her back, and subsequently, have a happy life. That explains why he wouldn’t think twice about bootlegging and illegal activities.

You shouldn’t neglect that Gatsby also spent years with a copper tycoon. He experienced how it is to be wealthy, and it was hard to return to the old ways after that. He might have justified it with love, but perhaps Jay himself liked to be rich.

It would take a lot more time and effort to make that possible the legal way. Since we know that Jay didn’t get any money from the inheritance, the only logical explanation that he became rich quickly is bootlegging.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What did Jay Gatsby do for a living?

A: Although it was never confirmed, the speculations are that Jay Gatsby was a bootlegger in New York City. That word describes a person who sells or transports alcohol illegally, especially in areas where the law forbids alcoholic beverages. Jay Gatsby is also a soldier that participated in World War I, and he spent years being a yachtsman while following his mentor Dan Cody.

Q: Did Jay Gatsby inherit money?

A: Yes, Jay Gatsby did inherit money, but he never saw a single cent from it. Dan Cody, a copper tycoon that was Jay’s mentor, left him $25,000. However, once Cody died, his mistress tricked Gatsby and took the inheritance from him.

Q: Why did Jay Gatsby want to be rich?

A: It seems that Jay believed money is the primary requirement of a happy life. His main motivation for getting wealthy lies in the fact that he wanted to impress Daisy. Jay was in love with her ever since he was young, but she married a rich guy while he was away. That is why he firmly believed that getting rich is the way to get her back.

How Did Jay Gatsby Get Rich?
How Did Jay Gatsby Get Rich?
Jay Gatsby was born into a poor family but bought a mansion in NYC and a Rolls Royce. Take a look at how the Great Gatsby became rich in the first place!
Gatsby Flapper Girl