In the 1925 novel The Great Gatsby, you read quite a few things about Jay Gatsby before you actually meet him.
The narrator, Nick Carraway, talks about rumors that he has heard, as well as things that Gatsby told him.
Some are clearly rumors, but Nick is suspicious about some of the tales that Gatsby tells about himself.
Were all the stories lies, or were at least some of the stories true?
As the novel progresses, the reader will see that nearly everyone in this novel has his own story to tell, some of them true, some of them not.
Some of the Stories Told about Gatsby
In the very beginning of the book, Nick begins to explain what he knows about his next-door neighbor, Jay Gatsby.
He mentions his impressive mansion and his meticulously cared-for lawn. He also states that he sees Gatsby one night standing on the end of his dock, reaching out towards a green light, which we would later learn as Daisy Buchanan’s dock.
It isn’t until Chapter 3, when Nick gets invited to one of Gatsby’s parties, that he begins to hear rumors about the man.
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What Are 3 Rumors about Gatsby?
While Nick attends the party, he hears the guests speaking about Gatsby. There are countless variations, but here are the main story lines:
- Oxford Man – one rumor Nick hears is that Gatsby went to Oxford college. People often referred to him as “an Oxford man.”
- German Spy – Gatsby is also rumored to be a German spy, that he killed a man, and that Gatsby was a relative to a German Kaiser.
- War Hero Turned Bootlegger – There are also rumors that he was a war hero and a bootlegger.
While most of these rumors are never addressed (Did Gatsby ever really kill a man?), some of the stories turn out to be true, or at least, partly true.
Who Were the People Spreading the Rumors?
These rumors circulate throughout the novel, and almost every character – including Gatsby himself – has a role in adding fuel to the stories.
1. People Attending Gatsby’s Parties – Nick Carraway lists all the people he could recognize who attended Gatsby’s parties. It’s a long list of names that include some of the most famous and wealthy people in America at that time. These same people, while enjoying Gatsby’s hospitality, are spreading stories and rumors, especially about how Gatsby got rich.
2. Jay Gatsby Himself – One fine day, Gatsby insists that Nick accompany him to lunch in New York City. As they drive, Gatsby begins to fill Nick’s head with some wild stories about places he had been to and accomplishments he supposedly did.
What Is Gatsby’s Version of the Stories about Him?
Some of the things Gatsby mentions to Nick include going to Oxford, collecting jewels in all the capitals of Europe, and coming from a rich, mid-western family.
When Nick enquires which midwestern city, Gatsby says “San Francisco.” Nick isn’t sure if this is a joke or not.
Finally, Gatsby tells Nick that he had been awarded medals during World War I by several European nations, to which Nick scoffs out loud. Gatsby produces a medal from Montenegro and a photo of him playing cricket at Oxford.
Nick is convinced that most of what Gatsby just told him was true, and the young Yale graduate seems quite impressed.
What Is Jordan Baker’s Story about Jay Gatsby?
Nick learns from Jordan Baker that Gatsby was in love with Nick’s cousin (read Jordan Baker Quotes), Daisy Buchanan. Jordan tells Nick that Gatsby built his home just for Daisy, and he held these extravagant parties in hopes that Daisy would attend.
She suggests that Gatsby would like Nick to invite Daisy to tea at Nick’s house so that Gatsby can talk to her again.
As Jordan tells Nick, Gatsby and Daisy met 5 years earlier, and they had a brief relationship. Gatsby was supposed to return after the war, but he didn’t. Daisy grew tired of waiting, so she married Tom Buchanan.
As for Jay Gatsby, he came back, dreaming to regain Daisy and live in his mansion with Daisy forever.
What Was the Story George Wilson Heard about Gatsby?
Just a quick background: Tom Buchanan was having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, the wife of local mechanic George Wilson. After Myrtle is killed by Gatsby’s car, Tom decides to remove suspicion from himself and lay the blame on Jay Gatsby. Click Here to read more about Myrtle’s death.
So, here’s the story that got to George Wilson.
He figures out that his wife was having an affair, but he didn’t know with whom. After she is hit by Gatsby’s car, Tom tells George that not only did Gatsby own a yellow car, but that Tom believed the reason Myrtle was running after the car was because she had been sleeping with Gatsby (read more on how did Tom and Myrtle meet in The Great Gatsby ).
After hearing this, George goes to find Gatsby and shoots him, then commits suicide himself.
If Tom had not told George about Gatsby, would Gatsby have been able to convince Daisy to leave Tom? Daisy loved Tom on some level, at least she says so at one point, but this question will never be answered.
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Which of the Stories about Gatsby Were True?
Near the end of the novel, after Gatsby’s death, Nick meets Gatsby’s father. Mr. Henry C Gatz explains that Gatsby came from North Dakota, which isn’t really considered the Midwest, but South Dakota is, so at least that part of his story could be considered true. Gatsby did almost come from the Midwest, but he didn’t come from old money.
While walking through Gatsby’s library, Nick sees a picture of Dan Cody, the rich man whose life Gatsby saved. This is when Gatsby explains that while he went to college at Oxford, he only attended that college for 5 months.
Gatsby goes on to explain that it was Cody who taught him the ways of a rich gentleman, how to walk, how to talk, and how to dress. It was Cody who taught him to address gentlemen as “old sport.”
While Gatsby did apparently win one medal, it is unknown if he had more.
Gatsby also admits that he was a bootlegger, but he also insists that his drugstores were legitimate.
So while it’s obvious that Gatsby isn’t a German spy, nor was he related to a Kaiser, we never learn if he actually killed a man.
What Was the True Story Behind the Great Gatsby?
Gatsby was born Jim Gatz. He was born to a poor family of farmers in North Dakota and lived a plain, everyday life.
At 17, he changed his name to Jay Gatsby and went out on a raft one day, saving the life of a rich but very drunk man named Dan Cody. It was Cody who taught Gatsby everything he knew about pretending to be rich.
After being cheated out of whatever Cody had left him in his will, Gatsby joins the army and will eventually meet Daisy, who believes Gatsby to be a wealthy man because of the way he carried himself.
Gatsby knows that he must be wealthy in order to win and keep Daisy. For Gatsby, the end justifies the means, so he goes into bootlegging, which was quite profitable in the Roaring Twenties.
Is Jay Gatsby a Fictional Character?
Yes, Gatsby is a fictional character, and his personality is based both on Fitzgerald himself and Max Gerlach, a friend of Fitzgerald.
Max Gerlach was a bootlegger and an officer in World War I. He lived like a millionaire in New York and was well-known for throwing extravagant parties.
Like Gatsby, Gerlach also claimed to have gone to Oxford, never wore the same shirt twice, and liked to call nearly all gentlemen “old sport”.
Summary and Analysis
Fitzgerald did an amazing job at introducing Gatsby early in the novel while surrounding his main character with an aura of mystery. The reader learns a lot of rumors and stories as the book progresses, but nothing is revealed until at least Chapter 3.
By using rumors early in the novel, Fitzgerald succeeds in catching the reader’s attention and curiosity.
As the book opens, Nick mostly talks about himself, things his father told him, and why he moved to New York City.
We do hear Gatsby’s name right off, but we don’t hear much about him until Chapter 3 when Nick accepts Gatsby’s invitation to a party.
Some of the things people stated about Gatsby were true, some were half-truths, and some were lies, but we also learn that Gatsby himself didn’t always tell the truth.
The only thing you know is true about Gatsby is that he is in love with, and perhaps even obsessed with, Daisy.
Nick mentions that while there were large, extravagant parties at Gatsby’s house, Gatsby himself wasn’t often seen by the party-goers. We discover later that this is because Gatsby really had no interest in the party itself or even the attendees. He only had eyes for Daisy.
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.