Jay Gatsby

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Jay Gatsby portrayed by Robert Redford in the 1974 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby.

In the title character, Jay Gatsby, we are given a figure with two dual levels of anonymity – a tension between physical anonymity and emotional anonymity. Gatsby is a widely known figure in the world of the story, unsurprising considering that his name carries the weight of the entire novel. “Gatsby”, the man whose house holds splendid parties every weekend, is in no way an anonymous figure. The name itself is so recognizable that people believe that they know every detail about him, whether they truly do or not. Gatsby, therefore, is quite lacking in external anonymity since his physical persona is known by all.

 

As we enter the first party at Gatsby’s with Nick, we are given a rumor filled explanation of who Gatsby is. Such information as “he killed a man once” and “he was a German spy in the war” (44) is all speculation, even though Gatsby’s many observers seem sure of their findings. When we are given all of these spectacular details, we begin to question their validity and reach out to grasp the truth. In this way Gatsby’s true self proves to be cloaked with anonymity. We really don’t know anything about him, we just think we know, and the questioning of our own validity makes us want to know more.

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A scene from the 1974 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Jay Gatsby portrayed by Robert Redford and Daisy Buchanan portrayed by Mia Farrow.

It is for this reason that Gatsby’s sense of anonymity is a bit counter-intuitive. There is so much speculation and charade around him that members of the community are given the false impression that they know and understand him. As a result, Gatsby is given the opportunity to live an unknown and unacknowledged inner life: his love and pining for Daisy. On page 98, Nick describes Gatsby’s notoriety and the newfound inventions about him as “as source of satisfaction”. This has much to do with the anonymity provided to Gatsby through his infamy. All of the speculations about Gatsby are actually valuable to him, for they allow Gatsby to quietly pursue his fantasy of a life with Daisy. In many ways, Gatsby’s character is defined by his love for (or obsession with, depending on how it is interpreted) Daisy. And yet, this love is unknown to all except those directly involved with his pursuit. Thereby his sense of identity comes not from his outer persona but from his unknown internal struggles, which we have no knowledge of until brought into the story through Nick.