Why Is Jay Gatsby So Famous?

Last Updated: October 24th, 2023 by Kerry Wisby (Teacher-BA English Literature, 1920s & Great Gatsby Expert)

why is gatsby so famous

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, Jay Gatsby is quite a famous person in and around the greater New York City area.

Why is Jay Gatsby so famous? Was he especially handsome? Was he a great philanthropist? Was his father famous? Did Gatsby do something amazing, such as invent electricity or the telephone?

Jay Gatsby (learn more on who was Jay Gatsby) was none of the above, but nearly everyone in New York knew him because of his lavish parties and the reputation that preceded him- a wealthy gentleman and bemedaled soldier. His story embodied the American dream, confirming everyone’s hopes of also making it big.

For these reasons, it was not surprising that people were curious about Gatsby and wanted to be in his crowd. However, there are several other reasons why Gatsby was so famous.

In this article, we will talk not only about Gatsby’s background but also his obsession and the reasons for his popularity.

Why Was Jay Gatsby Famous?

Gatsby was popular mainly for the following reasons:

1. Gatsby’s Parties, His Wealth & Connections

Besides the fact that Gatsby had numerous business connections that made him well known in the area, it has to be said that probably more than anything else, it was the infamous lavish parties that made him the talk of the town.

1920s people drinking at a bar

While the book does not say exactly how many people came to Gatsby’s parties, it must have been in the hundreds.

Imagine hundreds of people telling everyone they knew about Gatsby’s lavish parties, how huge and fantastic they were, and then inviting their friends to come with them to the next one?

This same scenario happening over and over again every weekend in good weather would mean that, over time, Gatsby would be well-known, even if it was only among party-goers.

2. The Rumor about His Bootlegging Business

Jay Gatsby was also famous for his business dealings. While it was rumored that he was a bootlegger, no one but close acquaintances and perhaps Meyer Wolfsheim knew the true story behind Gatsby’s life and source of income.

3. His Claims about Himself Vs the Rumors

The book tells us that Gatsby’s story, at least the one he publicly talks about, is that he came from an old-rich family in the mid-west (city and state unnamed), that he was an Oxford man, that he had served in the war, and that his family had all passed on, leaving Gatsby a tremendous wealth.

Jay Gatsby - 1920's film

It isn’t until later that we discover the truth. Gatsby’s father came from a line of fairly unsuccessful farmers, and he was still alive. Gatsby was originally named James Gatz, and he grew up a penniless young man who by sheer luck saved a very rich man, Dan Cody, from wrecking his yacht.

As a young military officer, he did attend Oxford, but only for a few months. During his travels, he meets Daisy and instantly falls in love. Meeting Daisy changed his life, and Gatsby decided to be the kind of man Daisy would love and marry.

It’s the elaborate parties and Gatsby’s immense wealth that made him so famous, something he did for only one goal- to win Daisy (read more on why does Gatsby through parties all the time ).

How Did Jay Gatsby Become So Successful?

While F. Scott Fitzgerald doesn’t go into great detail regarding Gatsby’s businesses, he did make it clear that Gatsby was a bootlegger, selling illegal alcohol to various businesses.

men at speakeasy drinking in the 1920s

Whether Gatsby was involved in other types of businesses is unknown. He does mention to Daisy that he owned a great many drugstores, but we don’t know if this is true or whether this is simply a cover story.

Did Gatsby buy drugstores with his bootlegging money? Were the drugstores merely fronts for his illegal alcohol sales? Tom suggests at one point that Gatsby was dealing with Wall Street bankers, but was Jay selling them alcohol? Or did Tom mean that Gatsby was getting tips about investing his money in the stock market?

The narrator, Nick Carraway, doesn’t tell us much more about Gatsby’s finances, perhaps because Nick Carraway doesn’t know much more himself.

Did Scott Fitzgerald Base The Great Gatsby on a Real Person?

The answer here is yes and no.

While Jay Gatsby, Daisy, Jordan Baker, Tom Buchanan, and Nick did not exist, many believe that Jay Gatsby was based partly on Fitzgerald himself and a friend of Fitzgerald, Max Gerlach.

Max Gerlach was an officer in World War I who came to New York to become a bootlegger and multi-millionaire. Gerlach was known for never wearing the same shirt twice, flaunting his wealth with extravagant parties, and using the term “Old Sport,” which all are things used to describe Jay Gatsby (read The Great Gatsby Chapter 3 Summary ).

Other Fictional Character Based on Real People

It’s also believed that Daisy’s character is based on Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda Sayre, who was a rich socialite whom Fitzgerald met at a party. He was quite aware of the differences between his humble origins and Zelda’s. Fitzgerald was also a young officer at the time, and Zelda hesitated in marrying someone who was financially insecure.

Gatsby’s friend, Meyer Wolfsheim, is based on a mobster named Arnold Rothstein, who claimed to have fixed the 1919 World Series. Rothstein was part of New York’s organized crime scene and later became involved with the casinos in Las Vegas.

So while the events and characters in The Great Gatsby are fictional, they are based on some real-life people in Scott Fitzgerald’s life or that he knew or was aware of.

Why Is the Book The Great Gatsby Still So Famous?

the great gatsby book

There is more than one reason why this book still retains its appeal despite being nearly 100 years old.

1. It’s a Truly American Story. Everyone loves a rags-to-riches story. The ultimate American Dream is to immigrate to the US with nothing and, through hard work, become incredibly wealthy and/or famous. Mr. Nobody from Nowhere Land makes it big in the USA is the dream of everyone.

2. It’s Romantic. Who doesn’t long for romance? Gatsby’s love for Daisy Buchanan causes him to do anything and everything in the hope of winning the woman of his dreams. A good romance story never goes out of style.

3. It’s Still Relevant Today. While the clothing and music have changed, some universal themes, such as extravagant parties, great wealth, love, and human follies are still with us even today. The fashions might be different, but people haven’t changed all that much. Everyone can still relate to Daisy and Jay.

4. It’s Well-Written. There isn’t a single sentence that is wasted. Readers hang on every word. It’s so well-written that even movie scripts, such as the most recent take on Gatsby, a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, don’t alter or stray so much from the book. Every word can be uttered directly from the novel and still sound fresh today.

Jay Gatsby Photo


5. There Are Common Themes Everyone Knows. Whether it’s one man’s obsession with a woman, making money in any way possible, or a man’s struggle to find a place for himself in society, The Great Gatsby has themes and characters that resonates with everyone.

It’s also the prose of the book and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s perfect description of life in the Roaring 20s that keep this book a required reading material for many high school students.

What Does The Great Gatsby Teach Us Today?

The two main morals or points of the Great Gatsby would be:

1. No matter how much money you have, it won’t change who you are. Tom and Daisy Buchanan, for example, are very wealthy. However, they don’t have good moral characters. Both are having affairs outside of their marriage. Tom believes white people are superior, and he is not above letting George Wilson think that Gatsby was having an affair with Myrtle Wilson.

1920s couple standing by a car

2. You can’t repeat the past. While Nick Carraway utters that statement, Gatsby believed the opposite was true. But of course, you can!” Gatsby tells Nick. Gatsby is wrong, and this is clear throughout the book. While Gatsby may have believed that if he had enough money, he could compete with Tom and win back Daisy, he was trying to recreate the life that he and Daisy would have had if he had been rich when they met. Daisy has since married Tom, had a child, and is now an adult woman, not a debutant. Gatsby’s dream of an orgastic future is not possible because everything changes, and he is trying to build a new life based on the old life.

You might also add that “money isn’t everything.” It can’t make up for bad morals, bad actions. Yes, it can make you happy for a short while, but love is what Gatsby desires, and all his money can’t get him what he truly wants.

Final Thoughts

Both The Great Gatsby book and subsequent films are incredibly popular because they still resonate with people today.

In the novel, Gatsby was famous for his parties, his money, and for being a mysterious man for the most part.

The Great Gatsby is a Great American Novel that has withstood the test of time and might well still be studied during it’s next 100 years.

Why Is Jay Gatsby So Famous?
Why Is Jay Gatsby So Famous?
Why was Jay Gatsby so famous in this novel? Was it simply because he was rich? Was it his parties? Why did everyone swoon over Jay Gatsby? Find out here.
Gatsby Flapper Girl