First published in 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby tells the tale of the enigmatic Jay Gatsby as he pursues the love of his life, Daisy Buchanan. Set in New York in 1922 during the age of jazz and Prohibition, the book has captivated readers for generations and is regarded by many as one of the greatest American novels ever written.
Here at 16Personalities, we love to ponder the personality types of fictional characters. But this week, we’re asking you, old sport: What personality type do you think fits Jay Gatsby?
Gatsby is a complex character, in part because he presents a very careful persona to the world. As the book unfolds, Nick Carraway, the novel’s narrator and Gatsby’s only true friend, slowly reveals to readers more layers of Gatsby’s background and behavior. So, to help you narrow down his personality type, let’s take a look at a few of the many sides of Jay Gatsby.
Note: We’ll discuss some specific details and examples from the book that help illustrate Gatsby’s personality. If you haven’t read The Great Gatsby yet and want to avoid spoilers, you may want to come back to this article later.
The Mysterious Host
When Nick first meets Gatsby, all he knows about him is that he’s fabulously rich and hosts parties at his Long Island mansion every weekend. His parties are lavish, raucous affairs with hundreds of guests, plenty of (illegal) booze, and even a full orchestra. But Gatsby rarely drinks or dances. As a host, he is quiet, private, and invariably polite, speaking selectively to only a few guests.
As it turns out, Gatsby has good reason to be so private and mysterious: He works for a criminal organization. He harbors secret plans to steal a married woman away from her husband. And he’s not the genteel heir of a wealthy West Coast family that he claims to be.
Nick notices right away that Gatsby chooses his words carefully and that his “elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd.” When Gatsby tells Nick about his supposed background attending Oxford and adventuring all over Europe, Nick must “restrain [his] incredulous laughter.” And Gatsby is constantly calling people “old sport,” a familiar expression of friendship that comes off more like a stiff affectation.
Gatsby tries very hard to pass himself off as a member of America’s established, “old money” elite, but in every way, he’s a bit too awkward, too rehearsed, too over-the-top, and just somehow…off.
The Ambitious Dreamer
Eventually, Nick learns that Jay Gatsby was born James Gatz to poor, struggling farmers in North Dakota. From a young age, Gatsby believes that he’s destined for something greater and starts planning accordingly. He works out a strict daily schedule aimed at self-improvement and success, with tasks like, “Practice elocution, poise, and how to attain it” from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. and, “Study needed inventions” from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.
At eighteen years old, Gatsby meets the eccentric, self-made millionaire Dan Cody, who finds Gatsby to be “quick and extravagantly ambitious.” He spends the next five years sailing around the world with Cody, learning firsthand the ways of the wealthy and hoping to inherit his fortune. When that doesn’t pan out, he joins the army to seek his glory fighting in the Great War.
All the while, Gatsby’s ambition and “overwhelming self-absorption” are fueled by his active imagination:
Each night he added to the pattern of his fancies until drowsiness closed down upon some vivid scene with an oblivious embrace. For a while these reveries provided an outlet for his imagination; they were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy’s wing.
Several years later, Gatsby has attained exorbitant wealth and countless material possessions but remains as goal-oriented as ever. And he’s closing in on his ultimate goal: winning back Daisy Buchanan. For the last five years, everything Gatsby has done has been in the service of what Nick calls his “single dream.”
The Devoted Lover
When Gatsby first meets Daisy, he is a penniless officer waiting to be deployed to Europe. He is mainly attracted to her because of her wealth and the doors it can open for him, and because many other men had already loved her, which “increased her value in his eyes.” At first, he hesitates to kiss her, knowing that once he does, “his mind would never romp again like the mind of God.” He resists falling in love.
But fall he does – hard. Almost immediately, he begins to idealize Daisy, and his love takes the shape of something even more intense. He “commit[s] himself to the following of a grail.” When Gatsby and Daisy are finally reunited five years later, they begin an affair. Gatsby is eager to please her, he is protective of her, and he wouldn’t think of cheating on her like her husband Tom does.
For all this love and devotion, though, Gatsby is not great at dealing with feelings. Time and time again, Nick is able to read Daisy’s subtle emotional cues, but Gatsby is not. Perhaps more than anything, Gatsby wants Daisy to tell Tom that she never loved him, to “obliterat[e] four years with that sentence,” and he doesn’t comprehend why that might be difficult for Daisy to do.
Nick cautions Gatsby that what he desires might not be realistic, but he won’t be deterred:
“I wouldn’t ask too much of her,” I ventured. “You can’t repeat the past.”
“Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!”
Gatsby believes that anything is possible with enough planning, dedication, effort – and hope.
You Tell Us!
So, readers, now that we’ve reviewed some of his key characteristics and motivations, what personality type do you think fits Gatsby best? Why?
Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!
We’ll post our analysis – and share some of your insights – soon.