What Does Gatsby Tell Nick About Himself in The Great Gatsby?

Last Updated: October 25th, 2023 by Kerry Wisby (Teacher-BA English Literature, 1920s & Great Gatsby Expert)

If Nick thought meeting his neighbor had quelled any mystery around the man, he was mistaken!

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby and Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby 2013 movie version

In Chapter 3, Nick is invited to Gatsby’s for a party, and he finally meets his neighbor. He also hears a great many rumors from partygoers about who Gatsby really is and what he has done in the past.

In Chapter 4, Gatsby picks up Nick and tells him that he will take him to lunch in New York City. Nick has no idea what will happen, but he probably didn’t expect to meet one of the major criminal elements in the city, Meyer Wolfsheim.

What do Nick and Gatsby talk about on the drive to the big city? Does Gatsby clear up any ideas that Nick may have had about him?

Perhaps a better question would be, “Was Gatsby telling Nick the truth about his past?”

What Does Gatsby Tell Nick About Himself in Chapter 4 of The Great Gatsby?

In Chapter 4, Jay Gatsby tells Nick a mostly fabricated story about his past. He claims to be from a wealthy family in the Midwest, particularly in San Francisco, and that he attended Oxford University and served in World War I. He produces a photograph of himself at Oxford and a medal from Montenegro to support his story.

Gatsby and Nick in New York

While we know that he did, in fact, serve bravely in WWI, he didn’t come from a wealthy family, and San Francisco is not a mid-western city. He attended Oxford University, but it was only for 5 months.

Nick later learns that Gatsby’s real name is James Gatz, and that he was born into a poor family of farmers in North Dakota. He dropped out of high school and worked as a railway clerk before moving to New York City. He made his fortune through bootlegging and other illegal activities.

Gatsby’s fabricated past is a reflection of his hopes and dreams. He wants to be seen as a member of the upper class, and he believes that his wealth and possessions will make him worthy of Daisy Buchanan. However, his true past is a reminder of his humble origins, and it ultimately prevents him from achieving his dreams.

The truth about Gatsby and the stories he tells Nick reveal different aspects of Gatsby’s character. The fabricated story shows Gatsby’s aspirations and his desire to be seen as a member of the upper class. The true story shows Gatsby’s ambition and his willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve his goals.

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The two stories also show Gatsby’s duality. He is both a dreamer and a pragmatist. He is driven by his dreams, and he is also willing to get his hands dirty to achieve them. This duality ultimately leads to his downfall. He is unable to reconcile his dreams with his reality, and he is ultimately destroyed by his own ambition.

Does Gatsby Tell Nick the Truth about His Past?

Not in Chapter 4, he doesn’t. Well, small parts of it are true, but like most lies, there is some truth mixed in with the lies.

We won’t hear a great deal of the truth until Chapter 5, and we discover even more details about not only Gatsby’s life, but also his obsession with Daisy until Chapter 8.

What Does Gatsby Tell Nick in Chapter 5?

jay gatsby, nick carraway and daisy buchanan in The Great Gatsby movie adaptation 2013

This is where we learn a great deal more regarding the truth about Jay Gatsby.

In Chapter 5 of The Great Gatsby, Gatsby is more honest about his past.

He tells Nick that he was born James Gatz in North Dakota and that he was raised by poor farmers. He dropped out of high school and worked as a railway clerk before moving to New York City. He made his fortune through bootlegging and other illegal activities.

Gatsby tells Nick that he met Daisy in Louisville in 1917. They fell in love, but Daisy got tired of waiting for him to return from the war. She was ultimately forced to marry Tom Buchanan because of her family’s social status. Gatsby never forgot Daisy, and he made his fortune to win her back.

Daisy Goes to Gatsby's House for the First Time

Gatsby’s story in Chapter 5 is more honest than his previous stories, but it is still not entirely truthful. He still tells Nick that he attended Oxford University and served in World War I, but he does not mention that he only attended school for 5 months. He also fails to explain to Nick why he didn’t immediately return to Daisy’s arms after the war.

Gatsby’s story in Chapter 5 reveals a more complex and vulnerable side of his character. He is no longer the confident and charming man that he has been portrayed as in previous chapters. He is a man who is haunted by his past, struggling to reconcile his dreams with reality.

The story also reveals the importance of the past to Gatsby. He is obsessed with Daisy and with the past that they shared. He believes that if he can recreate the past, he can win Daisy back. However, the past is not something you can recreate at will. It is a reminder of Gatsby’s humble origins and the things that he has done to achieve his wealth.

Why Does Gatsby Tell Nick about His Past in Chapter 4?

Nick, Daisy, and Gatsby party quietly in Gatsby's mansion

Gatsby ultimately wants a favor from Nick.

Back in the 1920s, it was proper for young ladies, even married ones, to be formally introduced to other men before the men could speak with them.

While Gatsby, of course, did know Daisy, they hadn’t spoken or seen one another in 5 years.

Gatsby’s plan is to start over with Daisy now that he’s a wealthy man. He wants Nick to invite Daisy to tea, where he will casually “drop by” and Nick can formally introduce them.

It’s a polite plan even though it is a bit patronizing to Daisy. Do Gatsby and Nick believe that Daisy will buy the “I’m a neighbor who happened to drop by, and oh wow! Imagine meeting you here!” ploy?

Apparently, they do, and Daisy goes along with it.

What Does Gatsby Tell Nick about Daisy?

It’s not until Chapter 5 that Daisy and Gatsby will reunite. In Chapter 4, Jordan Baker tells Nick some of the past that she remembers about Gatsby and Daisy, explaining how the two met, what happened on Daisy’s wedding day, and why Gatsby would want to meet Daisy again minus her husband.

Nick learns more in Chapter 5 after watching Daisy and Gatsby together. It’s obvious even to Nick that the two are still deeply in love.

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Nick also learns that everything Gatsby bought or has done was with Daisy in mind. Gatsby even points out the fact that Daisy’s boat dock is directly across the bay from the house he bought, and this was probably the reason he bought it.

Gatsby’s description of Daisy is also somewhat unrealistic. Daisy is not perfect, and she has flaws, contrary to how Gatsby imagines her to be. Daisy isn’t the same girl she was 5 years ago. She’s a married woman with a small child. Daisy is selfish and self-centered, and over the years she’s become cynical.

However, Gatsby is unable to see these flaws because he is so blinded by his love for her. This idealized view of Daisy ultimately leads to Gatsby’s downfall, as he is unable to reconcile his dream of her with the reality of who she is now.

Gatsby tells Nick a great deal more about his previous relationship with Daisy, but not until Chapter 8.

Before You Go ….

the great gatsby - jay gatsby and daisy buchanan dancing at a party

Gatsby is a hopeless romantic, seriously obsessed with Daisy. It’s natural for people to lie about things that they feel will make them look bad, which is why Gatsby’s history leaves out some parts that he didn’t want Nick to know.

There is no doubt that Gatsby loves Daisy, and he shows his love in many ways. However, the challenge for him remains that he cannot recreate the past.

This is a novel, so we can’t give Gatsby any advice or suggestions as to what type of actions might have provided him with a better chance to achieve his dream of a life with Daisy. In the end, Gatsby loses everything, and Daisy remains unaffected by her choices and suffers no repercussions of her actions.

What Does Gatsby Tell Nick About Himself in The Great Gatsby?
What Does Gatsby Tell Nick About Himself in The Great Gatsby?
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