For such a short title, The Great Gatsby raises a lot of questions. Is Gatsby great? Or is Fitzgerald being ironic? And why is he "the" great Gatsby? Let's break it down.
The way we see it, there are three ways to read the title. First, there's the surface level of Gatsby's persona. He's one of the wealthiest people on Long Island, and definitely one of the wealthiest in West Egg. He's got a mansion loaded with the nicest, most expensive stuff. And his parties... oh the parties. Any one of them would qualify as a legendary event in itself, and he hosts at least one every weekend. He gives all of his guests first-class treatment, even though he doesn't really know any of them—down to sending some rando girl a new dress after she tears hers at his party.
Gatsby is a local celebrity, and everyone has a theory about how he's gotten to be so wealthy. In short, everyone seems to know his name and is endlessly interested in his life. So in that way, he's, well, "great." He seems to live a dream-like existence; he even briefly wins back the girl of his dreams.
Then there's the ironic reading: Gatsby's dream-like life is a sham. He rises to the top of society in a dishonest way; he's earned his fortune through illegal activities. The "old money" folks see right through his appearance. He's not "great" to them – he's a phony. And when his house of cards crumbles, all those friends of his turn out to simply be people who take advantage of his generosity and riches.
But then there's a third way of looking at that adjective. Although Nick doesn't quite approve of Gatsby's means, he knows that Gatsby's driven by a noble emotion: love. Also, Nick believes that Gatsby is truly a good person; the man is generous, loyal, and sincere. In this way, Gatsby is great. He's a victim of Tom and Daisy's selfish, shallow addiction to their wealth and lifestyle, and, in the end, Nick sides with him.
The Great Gatsby wasn't Fitzgerald's first stab at a title. He came up with a whole list, including:
So, did Fitzgerald make the right choice? How would our reading of the book change if he'd gone with one of these other titles? And is Gatsby truly great?