The majority of readers like to label Jay Gatsby, the main character of the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, as either a two-bit hood who got lucky or an intelligent businessman who saw an opportunity and got rich.
There is plenty of evidence in the novel for both assertations to be true, but who was the real Jay Gatsby?
Perhaps the answer can be found by examining his most poignant moments and most memorable quotes that reveal the truth about the man.
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What Is Gatsby’s Most Famous Line?
Let’s examine the most popular of all Gatsby’s quotes. This quote comes to us in Chapter 6, after Daisy and Tom had left the party at Gatsby’s house.
Gatsby was upset and believed that Daisy did not have a good time. Nick tries to reassure him but wants to keep Gatsby grounded in facts.
Nick tells him that he wouldn’t ask too much of Daisy, adding that he “can’t repeat the past”. To this, Gatsby explodes with unbelieving eyes:
“Can’t repeat the past?
Why of course you can!”
He has so much belief in it that he actually has a plan.
“I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before…”
Gatsby’s belief that you can recreate the past is not only his most famous line but also his most revealing one. It was the purpose of his very existence.
Jay Gatsby: A Character Based on Reality and Fantasy
People do attempt to recreate the past every day. When you cook another spaghetti dinner because you loved the plate the last time you ate it, you are attempting to recreate the past.
However, a meal remade is not equal to a relationship. If you decide that the spaghetti isn’t as good as you remember, you can throw it in the trash and eat a different meal.
However, one shouldn’t throw a relationship in the trash with the same impunity.
- Related Topic: Popular Great Gatsby Party Quotes
Quote about Gatsby’s Belief
Gatsby seems to believe that, not only can the past be repeated, but that through sheer desire and love, he can also will a past relationship into existence. He believed in his dream!
Nick recognized this as Gatsby’s wonder when he arrived in his mansion and reached out to the green light at Daisy’s dock. As Scott Fitzgerald puts it so eloquently:
Gatsby believed in the green light ( See Gatsby Quotes About the Green Light ), the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.
While these are the words of a philosopher or poet, Gatsby truly seemed to believe in his own powers.
However, the right question to ask is – has he considered what Daisy may want or desire? Gatsby is assuming that Daisy wants the same, but she clearly has other ideas about how their relationship should proceed.
What Is Jay Gatsby’s Very First Quote?
Although we hear Gatsby’s name in various settings and from various people in the beginning of the novel, we don’t actually hear from Gatsby until Chapter 3.
Nick Carraway, narrator of the novel, describes the scene at his neighbor’s mansion. He writes about the music, which was nonstop, and the blue gardens where men and women came and went without letup. Everyone made themselves welcome to Gatsby’s Rolls-Royce, station wagon, motorboats, orchestra and dance floor, and unlimited food and wine. They didn’t need invitation.
Then one Saturday morning, Nick receives a hand-delivered invitation to Gatsby’s next party.
Nick and Jordan Baker search Gatsby’s mansion trying to find their host. It isn’t until near the end of the chapter that Nick and Gatsby actually meet, although Nick isn’t even aware of it at first.
Gatsby looks at Nick, and his first quote is:
“Your face is familiar…”
“Weren’t you in the Third Division during the war?”
Nick does not know who this gentleman is, so he tries to explain what he is doing there. Then they talk about the villages in France. After their chitchat, the man (Gatsby) tells him about the hydroplane he just bought and asks:
“Want to go with me, old sport? Just near the shore along the Sound.”
They agree to see each other in the morning, and just before Nick can ask his name, Jordan arrives, asking him if he’s having a good time. Nick says that it’s so much better except that he hasn’t seen the host yet.
Then his nameless friend looks slightly confused, and says:
“I thought you knew, old sport. I’m afraid I’m not a very good host.”
These quotes show us that Gatsby is far from being the wealthy snob who hobnobs with guests only to revel in their attention and adoration.
Perhaps more important than the first quotes from Jay Gatsby are Nick’s description about how “he smiled understandingly”, in one of those rare smiles that showed reassurance and understanding.
Unlike Tom Buchanan, Gatsby is also quite wealthy but has class and charm and isn’t a snob.
Yet, again, didn’t Jay Gatsby single out Nick, in the guise of casually recognizing him as someone in the same division from the war, because he knew him as Daisy’s cousin?
Let’s try to find out more about this mysterious character!
What Is Jay Gatsby’s Slogan or Catch Phrase?
Gatsby has a term that he no doubt picked up from Dan Cody, his benefactor, employer, and mentor.
You will see the words “Old Sport” in nearly every quote where Gatsby is speaking to a man, even with friends, such as Nick.
For example, in Chapter 7, Nick discovers that Gatsby is no longer holding parties and has new servants. Nick calls to ask if Gatsby is going away. The man replies:
“No, old sport.”
“I wanted somebody who wouldn’t gossip. Daisy comes over quite often—in the afternoons.”
Old sport is a friendly term that today might be replaced with “dude” or “bro”.
However, not everyone appears to be a fan. In Chapter 7, Tom Buchanan snaps at Gatsby, asking where he’d pick up that “old sport business” as he calls it.
True to his nature, Gatsby doesn’t bother replying.
Jay Gatsby Quotes about Love
One thing that no one can deny is that Gatsby is hopelessly in love with Daisy. Or at least with the idea of who he believes Daisy is.
Early in Chapter 8, Gatsby recounts what happened between him and Daisy 5 years ago and tells Nick about how he felt for Daisy:
“I can’t describe to you how surprised I was to find out I loved her, old sport. I even hoped for a while that she’d throw me over, but she didn’t, because she was in love with me too. She thought I knew a lot because I knew different things from her…
Well, there I was, ‘way off my ambitions, getting deeper in love every minute, and all of a sudden I didn’t care. What was the use of doing great things if I could have a better time telling her what I was going to do?”
Remember that Daisy and Gatsby were together for only one evening, and that was 5 long years before. Gatsby doesn’t really know if Daisy still loves him. All he knows is that he loves her or the idea of being in love with this wealthy, married woman from the upper crust of society.
Gatsby’s Quote that Daisy Doesn’t Love Tom
Gatsby is so fixed with the idea of starting a life with Daisy that, in Chapter 7, he can’t help but blurt out that they are in love. He repeatedly tells Tom about his affair with Daisy:
“Your wife doesn’t love you.”
“She’s never loved you. She loves me.”
“She never loved you, do you hear?”
“She only married you because I was poor and she was tired of waiting for me. It was a terrible mistake, but in her heart she never loved any one except me!”
When Daisy hits and kills Myrtle with Gatsby’s car, what Gatsby does shows the extent of his love for Daisy.
He should hide the car and disappear for a while. Gatsby must know that the law will come looking for him, but his only concern is Daisy’s well being.
Nick sees him outside Daisy and Tom’s mansion after Myrtle has been killed. Instead of thinking about himself, Gatsby worries that Tom may turn violent with Daisy. He stands guard and tells Nick that:
She’ll be all right tomorrow.”
“I’m just going to wait here and see if he tries to bother her about that unpleasantness this afternoon. She’s locked herself into her room and if he tries any brutality she’s going to turn the light out and on again.”
Nick pleads with him to leave town in the morning, but Gatsby is paralyzed by love. He can’t seem to go forward until he hears from Daisy. Nick suggests that Gatsby go to Atlantic City or Montreal to quiet things down, but Gatsby’s mind is set.
Jay Gatsby’s Quote That Daisy Might Have Also Loved Tom
In Chapter 8, Gatsby is apparently bothered by Daisy’s inability to tell Tom that she never loved him. Ever the optimist, Gatsby tries to convince Nick and himself about Daisy’s love:
“Of course she might have loved him, just for a minute, when they were first married—and loved me more even then, do you see?”
Gatsby may have been many things, but he wasn’t a pessimist. He wasn’t afraid to risk everything, including his life, in the name of true love.
No one can accuse Daisy Buchanan of that.
Jay Gatsby Quotes about Money
For all his money, Gatsby doesn’t really have a lot to say about it.
In Chapter 4, Gatsby tells Nick Carraway that he comes from a wealthy family.
“I am the son of some wealthy people in the Middle West — all dead now. I was brought up in America but educated at Oxford, because all my ancestors have been educated there for many years. It is a family tradition.”
However, in Chapter 5, Gatsby is nearly caught in one of his own lies when he says that he paid for his house with just 3 years work.
Nick prompts him about the money he inherited, but Gatsby is quick to clarify that:
“… I lost most of it in the big panic – the panic of the war.”
Gatsby Compares Daisy’s Voice with Money
Nick compares Daisy’s voice with the sound of money, but it was Gatsby who first described Daisy’s voice and gave Nick the idea. Gatsby says of Daisy:
“Her voice is full of money.”
He made Nick realize that the reason Daisy’s voice was so melodic had more to do with money than with charm.
The old saying that “money can’t buy happiness” seems to be one of the main themes of The Great Gatsby. It’s true with Gatsby and Daisy, as well as with Tom and Daisy.
Conversely, if you look at Myrtle and George Wilson, it appears that being poor doesn’t buy you happiness either.
What Are Jay Gatsby’s Quotes about His Past?
These quotes may be true, half true, or entirely false, as in the case of Gatsby’s military service.
Gatsby has a false story about his past that he intermixes with truth, giving the reader (and other characters in the novel) the impression that all of his stories must be true.
For example, while on the road to New York in Chapter 4, Gatsby tells Nick that he was a decorated serviceman. Nick doesn’t believe him until Gatsby pulls out a medal.
Gatsby puts a piece of metal on Nick’s palm, saying:
“That’s the one from Montenegro.”
Nick looked at it in disbelief. The medal was inscribed with the words “Orderi di Danilo Montenegro, Nicolas Rex” and looked authentic. On the back were written, “Major Jay Gatsby For Valour Extraordinary”.
Partial truth mixed with lies leads one to believe that everything must be true.
Gatsby’s Quote about His Family’s Wealth
Also from Chapter 4, Gatsby tries to pass off his roots as a wealthy family from the Mid West with a family tradition of going to Oxford.
“My family all died and I came into a good deal of money.”
A midwestern family from San Francisco? No wonder Nick doesn’t believe him at first! Nick notices how Gatsby hurried his words. He doesn’t buy it, even thinking that there was something sinister about Gatsby, but can you blame him?
Finally, Gatsby tries to fake his half truth about attending Oxford College by presenting an old photograph.
“Here’s another thing I always carry. A souvenir of Oxford days. It was taken in Trinity Quad—the man on my left is now the Earl of Dorcaster.”
That clinched it! Nick turned from a doubter to a believer.
Almost a century before Photoshop was invented, pictures were proof that something actually occurred. Nick couldn’t deny the photo, but this photo only tells half of the story. The fact that Gatsby only attended Oxford for 5 months is conveniently left out of his story to Nick.
Jay Gatsby’s Quotes When Tom Buchanan Questions Him
It’s clear as day that Jay doesn’t like Tom, and the feeling is mutual.
In Chapter 7, Tom and Gatsby are going at each other with insults and insinuations.
Tom sarcastically asks about Gatsby being an Oxford man and that he went to Oxford.
“Yes—I went there.”
Tom wouldn’t let it go, pursuing Gatsby with insults. However, Gatsby outsmarts Tom by admitting the truth:
“I told you I went there.”
Tom prodded him still, asking him exactly when he went to Oxford.
“It was in nineteen-nineteen, I only stayed five months. That’s why I can’t really call myself an Oxford man.”
“It was an opportunity they gave to some of the officers after the Armistice.”
“We could go to any of the universities in England or France.”
By telling the truth at that moment, he regained Nick’s respect, who even called that moment a “renewal of complete faith”.
Final Summary on Quotes By Gatsby
Most readers will see Gatsby through their own worldview.
While Gatsby represents the American Dream of hard work enabling one to achieve their goals, it seems that if you have money, you can’t have love.
Although one might argue that the Wilsons had neither love nor money, but perhaps they were in love at one time.
It appears that Tom Buchanan is the winner in the end, showing that love may be the supreme feeling, but only if two people share it.
Jay Gatsby is neither a villain nor a hero. He’s an average man caught up in a world where he doesn’t belong and falls victim to the winner of the game.
Written by Kerry Wisby – GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Owner & Founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Kerry Wisby, a former teacher with a BA in English, is the founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com. With a passion for all things 1920s, including The Great Gatsby novel, her website is the ultimate source for Roaring Twenties fashion, history, and party ideas. Read more about Kerry here.