James Gatz—that was really, or at least legally, his name. He had changed it at the age of seventeen and at the specific moment that witnessed the beginning of his career—when he saw Dan Cody’s yacht drop anchor over the most insidious flat on Lake Superior. It was James Gatz who had been loafing along the beach . . . but it was already Jay Gatsby who borrowed a rowboat . . . and informed Cody that a wind might catch him and break him up in half an hour.
The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God—a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that—and he must be about His Father’s business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end.
‘My God, I believe [Gatsby is] coming,’ said Tom . . . ‘I wonder where in the devil he met Daisy. By God, I may be old-fashioned in my ideas, but women run around too much these days to suit me. They meet all kinds of crazy fish.’
‘Who is this Gatsby anyhow?’ demanded Tom suddenly. ‘Some big bootlegger?’
‘Where’d you hear that?’ I inquired.
‘I didn’t hear it. I imagined it. A lot of these newly rich people are just big bootleggers, you know.’
‘Not Gatsby,’ I said shortly.
‘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!’