The Great Gatsby

Why was Jay Gatsby so great? Was it his ability to get away with bootlegging, his enduring love for Daisy, or his ability to throw epic parties that attracted hundreds of people? Or, was it something else—something deeper?

American Literature 20th-Century American Literature
All American Literature
Author Fitzgerald - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Form Novel
Language English Language
Literature American Literature
Themes Compassion and Forgiveness
Dissatisfaction
Education
Gender
Isolation
Lies and Deceit
Love
Marriage
Memory and the Past
Mortality
Society and Class
Visions of America
Wealth

Transcript

00:16

the world of himself. Of course, you can’t compile a list of the

00:20

all-time “Greats” without also mentioning The Great Gatsby.

00:24

So… who is this guy and what makes him great?

00:57

Is it because he's a Rags to Riches kind of guy?

01:00

Our friend Jay’s real name is James Gatz.

01:12

James wasn’t thrilled about that “Z” in his name… back in those days, it was

01:15

an indicator that you were probably a foreigner…

01:18

…and foreigners weren’t exactly embraced in New York back then.

01:21

Because James didn’t think his real name would allow him to go very far in life, he

01:26

decided to take action and name himself.

01:29

So as soon as he became legal, he went down to his local DMV, changed his name, and became…

01:44

Jay Gatsby, swanky bootlegger from West Egg…

01:50

…working hard for his money by illegally selling alcohol. And profiting immensely from

02:00

his shady dealings.

02:01

Okay, so maybe the way he got there wasn’t the most…legal…but still, the fact that

02:06

he achieved what he did at all was pretty…great. Wasn’t it?

02:18

Or perhaps his greatness has more to do with the idea that Gatsby was able to completely

02:30

reinvent himself. Most of us human beings make an effort to

02:32

avoid change in our lives.

02:34

After all, bubbles are a safe place to be.

02:38

But some individuals strive to break the mold…

02:41

…to reboot their identities.

02:43

As a certified mold-breaker, Gastby rejected the notion of settling.

02:50

So he decided to risk life and limb to break out of his shell of anonymity.

03:06

It took courage, and cojones, and an unremitting desire to improve his standing in society.

03:15

But a discussion of Gatsby’s greatness wouldn’t be complete without bringing up the “L”

03:24

word…

03:24

Specifically, Gatsby’s love of Daisy.

03:26

Wrong daisies. Point being, none of Gatsby’s millions mean anything to him if he can’t have the hand

04:37

of the woman he loves.

05:18

In fact, the sole reason he raised himself up from nothing in the first place was to

05:27

win her heart. Because love was Gatsby’s motivating factor

05:36

in accumulating his millions, it allows us to look at him in a different light.

05:41

He wasn’t spurred on by greed, or by a desire to exert control over others.

05:56

Instead, it is Gatsby’s capacity for love, and his proven willingness to sacrifice his

06:03

own life for someone else’s, that demonstrates his greatness. To Nick, at least.

06:09

And to the two other people who show up at his funeral. Since Fitzgerald never tells us where Gatsby’s

06:24

greatness is derived from, it seems we are free to speculate.

06:30

So… whatcha speculatin’?

06:32

Is Gatsby great because of his rags to riches story?

06:39

His ability to reinvent himself?

06:45

Or what he was able to accomplish in the name of love?

07:04

Shmoop amongst yourselves…