Dan Murphy wrote this biography of the fictional character Jay Gatsby for Wikipedia in 2009. Since then, the anonymous hordes of Wikipedia editors have not improved upon the page. Here is the 23 October 2009 version of "Jay Gatsby", which is much better written than the current edition.
Jay Gatsby is the titular character of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel The Great Gatsby. The character has become an archetype of self-made American men seeking to join High society and the name has become synonymous with successful businessmen with shady pasts in the US.
James "Jimmy" Gatz, a bright young man from a poor family in North Dakota, despised the imprecations of poverty so much he dropped out of St. Olaf College in Minnesota after only a few weeks because of his shame at the janitorial job he had to take to pay his way. While training in 1917 to join the infantry and fight in World War I he meets and promptly falls in love with the beautiful Daisy, who represents everything he is not: she is rich, from a patrician East Coast family and born with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth. After the war, from which he emerged as a hero for his participation in the bloody battles of Marne and Argonne, he attends Trinity College, Oxford. While there he receives a letter from Daisy telling him she has married the equally aristocratic Tom Buchanan. Rather than admit defeat, he commits his life to becoming a man of the sort of wealth and stature he imagines could win her love.
Gatz returned home to an America transformed by prohibition in 1919, a period in American history in which gangsters earned the sort of vast wealth previously the domain of the connected upper classes, an era in which "all the old boundaries that separated the classes were being broken, and a new wave of instant millionaires, like Gatsby himself… mingled with the polo-players who inhabited the stiff enclaves of the established rich of Long Island's gold coast." This era later came to be known as the Jazz Age, after Fitzgerald's own coinage.
Gatz, who renamed himself Jay Gatsby, made a fortune in bootlegging thanks to his association with gangsters like Meyer Wolfsheim (patterned after real-life American gangster Arnold Rothstein) and sets himself up in a mansion in the fictional West Egg, Long Island, a haunt of the nouveaux riche and across from the old-line money East Egg, where Tom and Daisy Buchanan live. Gatsby hosts wild parties, open to all comers, there every weekend, in the hopes that Daisy will attend and he can win her heart. He eventually catches up with Daisy, but fails to convince her to leave Tom. After his failure to change Daisy's mind is clear to all but him, Daisy drives Gatsby's car with Gatsby in the passenger seat and she accidentally strikes and kills Myrtle, the lover of her husband Tom, in a hit-and-run accident. Myrtle's jealous husband George tracks the car back to the Buchanan home, where Tom lies and tells him that Gatsby was the driver of the car that killed his wife. George goes to Gatsby's house, finds him floating in his lavish pool, and murders him before taking his own life. Almost none of Gatsby's high society friends attend his funeral and in the meantime Gatsby's underworld connections begin picking through his belongings in his mansion.
Gatsby as a reference point
The figure of Jay Gatsby became a cultural touchstone in 20th century America. Chris Mathews in his book American even forgives Gatsby his serial lies. When the poor native son Gatsby tells Nick Carraway, his only true friend and a relative of Daisy's, he was brought up wealthy and that he attended Oxford because "all my ancestors have been educated there" Mathews sees him as the eternal American striver. "Gatsby needed more than money: he needed to be someone who had always had it… this blind faith that he can retrofit his very existence to Daisy's specifications is the heart and soul of the The Great Gatsby. It's the classic story of the fresh start, the second chance."
"Jay Gatsby… appears to be the quintessential American male hero. He is a powerful businessman with shady connections, drives a glamorous car… and pursues the beautiful, privileged Daisy," Michael Kimmel and Amy Aronson write. In the Handbook of American Folklore, Richard Dorson sees Gatsby as a new American archetype who made a decision to transform himself after his first chance encounter with his mentor Dan Cody, who opens the door to riches in boot-legging. "The ragged youth who some months later (after Gatsby drops out of St. Olaf) introduces himself to a degenerate yachtsman as Jay Gatsby has explicitly rejected the Protestant ethic… in favor of a much more extravagant form of ambition."
Referring to real life figures as Gatsby has been common in the United States, usually in reference to rich men whose rise to prominence involved an element of deception. In a story on R. Foster Winans, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal's Heard on the Street column who was fired after it was discovered he was giving advance knowledge of the columns' contents to Peter Brant, the Seattle Post Intelligencer described Brant as "Winan's Gatsby." The article noted that Brant had changed his name from Bornstein and said he was "a man who turned his back on his heritage and his family because he felt that being recognized as Jewish would be a detriment to his career." The Heard on the Street column often effects the prices of the stocks it mentions.
The character is often used as a symbol of great wealth. Reporting in 2009 on the collapse of home prices and tourist spending in the exclusive Hamptons on Long Island, not far from the fictional setting of Gatsby's home, the Wall Street Journal quoted a struggling hotelier as saying "Jay Gatsby is dead."