"The Great Gatsby". A study of Jay's Obsession

Term Paper, 2007

19 Pages, Grade: 2,0




Jay’s Story

Dan Cody and Daisy Fay


Time and Gatsby’s Dream

The Failure of The Dream





F. Scott Fitzgerald is an author who is well known for illustrating life during the Jazz Age in his works. In this treatise, we will be dealing with one of those novels. More specifically, this is a study about Jay’s obsession in “The Great Gatsby”.

James Gatz alias Jay Gatsby is a newly rich gangster who wants to regain the heart of his lost love, the upper-class girl Daisy.

To begin with, I will try to find out where Jay’s obsession comes from, where it starts, and what the reasons for his becoming obsessive are. Secondly, I will have a look at how and why the obsession increases. During that, the relationship to Dan Cody will be inspected.

Then it is time to have a closer look at Daisy. Her relationship to Gatsby is the most important one in the book. Daisy’s influence on Gatsby will be shown clearly. Furthermore, I will talk about the importance of money for Jay’s obsession and possible connections to other desires especially with regard to his relationship with Daisy. Gatsby’s way of using his money will be reviewed.

Because time is an important element for the story, the relation between time and Jay’s obsession will be discussed. Here Daisy, as Gatsby’s dream, is again closely connected, now to time. A faint foreshadowing of Gatsby’s great failure will be brought out in this chapter already.

In the novel The Great Gatsby one often hears of Gatsby’s ‘dream’, which can be seen as his obsession. The term ‘dream’ will be set into relationship to the other desires. However, his dream of success will end in failure. The link between dream and failure will be shown. The fact that Gatsby built up his own self wholly in his imagination and lives in his own illusion, and with that his obsession also only lives in his imagination, is very important for his going through live and finally his going to pieces.

Jay’s Story

In the following essay, I will deal with "The Great Gatsby", a story about Jay Gatsby's rise and fall. Jay Gatsby, his real name was James Gatz, grew up as a child of lower-class people, some "unsuccessful farmers". Nevertheless, he has ambition and does not want to stay poor. His key to that is his new imagined identity: "Jay Gatsby". The first time he uses this identity is when he meets Dan Cody, who will make Gatsby a rich man. At the time he joins the army he meets Daisy Fay and although he has no money and she belongs to the upper class, they fall in love. Their relationship lasts until Jay has to go to war. Daisy cannot wait for him and marries Tom Buchanan. Gatsby's love instead increases and when he comes back, he wants to win her back - with money. By that time, he has come to a great amount of money. There is only one problem; his money is not "clean". He gained it by becoming a criminal. Tom, who does not want Gatsby to steal his wife searches in his past and finds out everything.

Daisy gets to know about Gatsby in the big "showdown" in the Plaza hotel in New York. So he loses Daisy's love and on their way home confused Daisy kills accidentally Toms mistress Myrtle with Gatsby's car. Gatsby takes the guilt of Daisy in his last hope that she will change her mind. However, this hope is lost and he waits for her call in vain. In the end Myrtle's husband finds out that the damaged car is Gatsby's, kills him and then himself.

Through all his life Gatsby was led by his ambition, love, passion, and dreams, which altogether one might call obsession. And at this obsession we will have a closer look now.

First, we want to find out where his obsession comes from. His obsession already begins to take shape in his earliest days in the form of his ambitions and dreams. He wants to have success in everything he does, but his parents are ”shiftless and unsuccessful farm people”1 and so they do not fit into his dream-life and must be abandoned: “his imagination has never accepted them as his parents at all.”2

As a “romantic dreamer” who finally “manages to escape from his background”,3 he leaves his parents to start a new life of success. His “visions” or ambitions tell him already in this early stadium of life that he is not going anywhere with these losers, his only chance is to leave them behind, and he takes that chance. However, actually there is already a hint of Jay’s obsession before he leaves his parents.

First signs of his ambition4, as Minter and Whitley agree, are found in his youth, when he starts using a strict “schedule”, equal to Benjamin Franklin’s to improve his skills and knowledge. Franklins schedule, so Whitley, implies “Christian values” which would exclude criminal activities.5 Nevertheless, Gatsby’s career is one of a criminal, what shows us, that his “vision” is already stronger than any moral standards, especially because he “rose up to his position in the east”.6 According to Whitley, it is nearly impossible to be successful in this “corrupt world” of the east at that time without building up underworld connections.7

Dan Cody and Daisy Fay

When Dan Cody comes into his life, a very important change happens. Donaldson calls it “the first denotative representation of his vision”8 which comes to Gatsby when he sees Dan Cody’s yacht for the first time. To him the yacht is an impressive example of success ”that yacht represented all the beauty and glamour in the world”.9 Seeing the yacht awakens or renews Jay’s obsession and makes it even stronger. As a symbol of a lifestyle of glamour, success, wealth and opulence, it represents everything Gatsby wants to achieve, and now even more. Jay is so obsessed with the thought of reaching such wealth that he goes straightforward to meet the owner, Dan Cody. By this time, he has already invented his new name and personality, with its complete history, and uses it for the first time. From now on he is no longer James Gatz, but the incarnation of the invented personality Jay Gatsby and ”to this conception he (is) faithful to the end”.10 Of course, he is “faithful to the end” because he does not have any other choice. Jay Gatsby is the personality that looks perfect to him. He grows into that personality and if he would switch back, he would lose everything. James Gatz stopped existing with seventeen, when he was not even an adult, the boy of poor people without any future nor past, without hope. Once he is Jay Gatsby he has everything, an invented past, hope, future and luck (at least in terms of money).

Unfortunately, there are also some unthought-of difficulties in creating a personality as Lehan shows:

“Gatsby had no residual values to give his life direction except the values he created in inventing himself - and these were marred by the serious conflict between his essential self (personage) and accidental self (personality) and by a world devoid of the romantic sense of good, the beauty and truth that incarnated and hence justified the intensity of his vision.”11

If we believe Lehan and the given values are not complete the personality has to lack something, and in a world where the sense of good and bad is missing can not be created a personality wholly good. In that case, we do not have to wonder that Gatsby becomes a criminal.

Now back to Dan Cody. Gatsby works for him on his yacht, for he uses these years to learn from him. However, when he dies his dream of wealth is a second time disturbed. Ella Kaye, so to say, steals his inheritance and by doing that a piece of his dream of wealth. Only stealing his money is just not enough to destroy him, he is able to keep the most important “inheritance” from Dan, and that is a “proper education”.12

The next and most significant change happens in Louisville. At the time Jay is in the army, he meets Daisy Fay and they fall in love.

He knows right from the start that he should not be with Daisy and:

“So he made most of his time. He took what he could get, ravenously and unscrupulously - eventually he took Daisy one still October night, took her because he had no real right to touch her hand”.13

As an upper-class girl, she is supposed to be with a man of the same social status, besides she is accustomed to a certain lifestyle, which implies and indicates having more than enough money. Until he makes love to her it is just an affair to him but, as Resneck Parr says: “Ironically, after he makes love to Daisy, Gatsby's attitude toward her changes, for ‘now he found that he had committed himself to the following of the grail’",14 which is as we all know a never ending quest. It is not even true that the grail, searched for, exists. Just like the Daisy Gatsby is searching for, it exists only in the imagination. But Gatsby does not give up and makes Daisy the “embodiment of his dream” of beauty and wealth.

Gatsby almost being broke tries now to hush that up and pretends to be of higher class. He always comes in uniform because he cannot afford expensive clothes like Daisy’s. According to Resneck Parr Gatsby makes his decision to give himself up to Daisy deliberately and with full knowledge.15 I have to agree here because it is the same kind of decision he made earlier when he saw Cody’s yacht. He makes Daisy to become his world, just as he made Cody’s yacht his world earlier. As long as they are together it seems like they have them same feelings for each other.

Their love lasts until he has to go to war. At this point, you can see that Gatsby’s feelings towards Daisy’s differ from Daisy’s feelings towards him. He “felt married to her, that was all ”.16 His obsession makes him feel that she is the only girl for him and they should be together forever. For her on the other side this was just a love affair like her many others, and after some months she is meeting men again and finally marries Tom Buchanan. However, Gatsby cannot let go.

“His identity is predicated on a dream which, in its grandest form, existed prior to his meeting with Daisy. Once having kissed her and ‘forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God’”.17

He has gone too far into the obsession of having Daisy; she is his world now. His mind will not develop any further, he wants to freeze this moment forever. With losing her, he would lose all he has, his symbol of wealth, his hope, his future, and finally, as we will see later, his will to live. Even five years later, when Gatsby is back from war his attitude towards Daisy has not changed, actually it is becoming much stronger. Now, like Altena writes, he dreams of winning back Daisy and erasing the past five years, to ‘fix everything just the way it was before’(p.117, Fitzgerald).18

Gatsby’s certainty that one of course can repeat the past is astonishing. This certainty comes from his absolute believe that with money you can achieve everything. As he believes he can turn back time with money to regain Daisy, he also believes that only with money he can win back Daisy, since her ‘voice is full of money’.19

Before we go further we now first sum up that Daisy is the centre of Jay’s desires and his obsession basically contains three desires, as Matterson cites Lockridge:

“Gatsby’s dream has ‘three basic and related parts: the desire to repeat the past, the desire for money, and the desire for incarnation of ‘unutterable visions’ in the material earth.’(Lockridge, 1968, p. 11)”.20

But Matterson says further that these three parts “are not necessarily so distinct. For Gatsby, Daisy represents all of these dreams”.21 Matterson is right, all three desires come together in Gatsby’s vision of Daisy and therefore cannot be differed in her. Still, these desires exist to a small amount outside of Daisy and therefore must be differed. They are three different desires who are strongly related to each other in one feeling towards Daisy and for that can also be seen as one desire: Jay’s obsession.

It is only hardly possible to split up his desires, for that reason they will be pointed out for themselves and in relation to each other.


The desire of him we get to know first in the story is his desire for money, to achieve wealth, because it is already evident at the beginning of his story. He sets foot on Cody’s yacht, which is to him a symbol of wealth, only for one reason, to satisfy his desire for opulence.

Gatsby only believes in the power of money, he ignores everything else, which is no wonder because, here I agree to Langmann, to the characters in this world money is all that is needed to buy “unsaleable”, spiritual things like happiness, beauty and time itself. Daisy with her ”voice (is) full of money” is here the perfect example, her voice tells of beauty, happiness, being always loved, and enjoying what life offers.22 Although this world consists of money, it is to Gatsby only, and here refers Pearson to Franklin, a means to achieve the final goal.23 Pearson draws a nice image to show what he means: “Daisy gave him the green light to move ahead. Only it took money to buy the car to join the traffic.”.24

The importance of the connection between money and Daisy, so to say money and love, is also shown by Lehan saying: “When Fitzgerald finally concretises Daisy, it is always in terms of money. Her voice ‘is full of money’”.25 By making Gatsby say such a sentence Fitzgerald tells us that Gatsby must be fully aware of the world reigned by money, and even more important, of the close connection between money and love. Actually in this world Daisy’s most attractive character trait is her voice (being full of money). It is her most valuable trait because she is never described with more accuracy.

Gatsby is fully aware of the power of money and he tries to adapt himself to this world. The trying of adaptation to the world, the society, and most important to Daisy can be seen very well in the section when Gatsby shows his house to Daisy (and Nick):

“After 5 years taking us on tour through Gatsby’s house, where Gatsby proves that he has earned enough money to deserve her love.”26 By “proving” his richness to “deserve” her, Gatsby values the beauty of Daisy, who herself somehow “consists” of money, with the amount of money he has earned.

In a world where having money means everything, the lack of money is the worst nightmare. Lehan agrees to Fitzgerald’s idea about the unfairness in the twenties of a poor young man of not being able to marry a girl with money by citing him: “He also gets into the novel his social inadequacy and his emotion of hurt when the dream is betrayed by the lack of money.”27

But the newly rich Gatsby cannot handle his enormous gain of wealth, since he grew up as a poor boy and has no experience in having opulence. Long sees this problem:

“Gatsby himself comes out of the middle-class imagination. One of the great facts about him is his lack of familiarity with real wealth; when he acquires money he cannot quite believe in its reality, does not know what to do with it, converts it immediately into the material of romance, which had furnished his imagination earlier. He is nowhere with his dream, because he understands wealth only mythically”.28

According to Long Gatsby invests immediately all his money into “the material of romance” which would be everything, that helps him to regain Daisy. Several times his thoughts are proofed in The Great Gatsby: Gatsby buys a huge mansion that is in sight of Daisy; His palace is full of expensive stuff just to impress Daisy; His weekly and expensive parties are meant to bring Daisy to his place; His clothes and cars are supposed to reanimate Daisy’s love; Everything she dislikes will immediately be dismissed.

Lewis finds a similar conclusion. His thoughts are, that Gatsby’s new money, ”money in the process of being acquired” gives itself purpose and vitality. He buys everything for one purpose: ”to win Daisy”. However, this purposefulness contents a dangerous illusion for Gatsby. Buying this “fantastic house” means to him not simply purchasing property but buying a dream. The result of this is besides becoming sympathetic a “naiveté”, which makes him “completely innocent of the limits of what money can do”, so Lewis would say that Gatsby is a man who “would believe every word of an advertisement.” This identification is even made by Daisy: ‘You resemble the advertisement of the man’(p.142).29

According to Lewis Gatsby’s pursuit of money is a substitute for love and Gatsby even sees that his own attraction toward wealth is closely bound to his love for Daisy. His money and his love, both have to be self-made which gives his description of her authority and depth. Gatsby is the only one who could have made the remark that Daisy’s voice is full of money. This statement can only be made by someone “alive to the possibilities of love and money and sensitive to them”.30 Gatsby is that someone, probably even too much.

Although all the major characters have a thirst for money they are no materialists because “money is never their final goal”. For Gatsby money is the way to achieve Daisy’s social status and with that her love and the rich who always had more than enough money are just too accustomed to wealth to long for it. For them it is just the “badge of their ‘superiority’ and justification of their consuming snobberies.31

Finally Gatsby’s beloved money destroys him, because it is illegal, “dirty” money. That it really is illegal money will be proofed in the following sentences. The passage cited by Whitley does not really leave a choice whether one believes in Gatsby’s corruption or not.

So I can agree with Whitley when he says that “Gatsby has made a great deal of money from various kinds of illegal speculation,” and that it “is made clear from the phone call after his death: ‘Young Parker’s in trouble’, he said rapidly. ‘They picked him up when he handed the bonds over the counter.’(173)”32 This phone call makes absolutely sure that Gatsby was a criminal, being involved in illegal activities. Since his money is made illegally, it is not the same kind of money Tom and Daisy possess. Instead of their inherited money his “millions are not the kind of safe and respectable money that echoes in Daisy’s lovely voice.” This little difference makes Gatsby, so writes Ornstein, lose his life even though he had made millions.33

The same point of view has Lewis, he says that Gatsby’s “money does not ‘smell’ right” because this wealth is made by “illegal and shifty means” such as bootlegging and stolen securities. And Lewis goes a bit further, when he writes that “Gatsby does not see that the corruption at the base of his fortune” does not agree to his “vision of life with Daisy.” His dream starting in corruption must end in corruption and cannot end in something fair and good. “You cannot win the ideal with the corrupt and you cannot buy integrity or taste with dollars.” I can agree to this thesis when I have a look at The Great Gatsby when Daisy comes to one of his parties, she does not like this party which is paid by dirty money, “she is repelled rather than attracted.”34

Gatsby’s obsession for money, “the instrument which will enable him to fulfil his dream”, is closely related to his dream of regaining “the peace Daisy once gave him”, and with this desire goes the obsession to repeat the past.35


1 Fitzgerald, p. 107, 1926

2 Fitzgerald, p. 105, 1926

3 Altena, p. 31, 1976

4 My thoughts: Later his ambition melts together with his dreams and love for Daisy into obsession.

5 vgl. Whitley, p. 22, 1976, also Lockridge (Hg.), Minter, p. 84, 1968

6 Fitzgerald, p. 175, 1926

7 vgl. Whitley, p. 22, 1976

8 Donaldson (Hg.). Pearson, p. 28, 1984

9 Fitzgerald, p. 100-1, 1926

10 Fitzgerald, p. 105, 1926

11 Lehan, p. 31, 1930

12 Fitzgerald, p. 107, 1926

13 Fitzgerald, p. 155, 1926

14 Bruccoli (Hg.), Resneck Parr, p. 65, 1985

15 vgl. Bruccoli (Hg.), Resneck Parr, p. 65, 1985

16 Fitzgerald, p. 155, 1926

17 Rowe, p. 121, 1988

18 Altena, p. 31, 1976

19 Fitzgerald, p. 126, 1926

20 Matterson, p. 38, 1990

21 Matterson, p. 38, 1990

22 Donaldson (Hg.), Langmann, p. 47, 1984

23 Donaldson (Hg.), Pearson, p. 27, 1984

24 Donaldson (Hg.), Pearson, p. 28, 1984

25 Lehan, p. 75, 1930

26 Lehan, p. 75, 1930

27 Lehan, p. 72, 1930

28 Long, p. 181, 1979

29 Bruccoli (Hg.), Lewis, p. 51, 1985

30 Bruccoli (Hg.), Lewis, p. 51, 1985

31 Lockridge (Hg.), Ornstein, p. 55, 1968

32 Whitley, p. 18, 1976

33 Lockridge (Hg.), Ornstein, p. 56, 1968

34 Bruccoli (Hg.), Lewis, p. 52, 1985

35 Altena, p. 32, 1976

Excerpt out of 19 pages


"The Great Gatsby". A study of Jay's Obsession
University of Trier  (Anglistik)
F.Scott Fitzgerald
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Jazz Age, American Fiction, USA, Social class, criminal, money, obsession, love, novel, 1922, cautionary tale, american dream, roaring twenties, Great American Novel
Quote paper
Lukas Szpeth (Author), 2007, "The Great Gatsby". A study of Jay's Obsession, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/468981


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