had one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance
in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced,
or seemed to face, the whole external world for an instant and then
concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.
It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed
in you as you would like to believe in yourself.
This passage occurs in Chapter 3 as
part of Nick’s first close examination of Gatsby’s character and
appearance. This description of Gatsby’s smile captures both the
theatrical quality of Gatsby’s character and his charisma. Additionally,
it encapsulates the manner in which Gatsby appears to the outside
world, an image Fitzgerald slowly deconstructs as the novel progresses
toward Gatsby’s death in Chapter 8. One of the main facets of
Gatsby’s persona is that he acts out a role that he defined for
himself when he was seventeen years old. His smile seems to be both
an important part of the role and a result of the singular
combination of hope and imagination that enables him to play it
so effectively. Here, Nick describes Gatsby’s rare focus—he has
the ability to make anyone he smiles at feel as though he has chosen
that person out of “the whole external world,” reflecting that person’s
most optimistic conception of him- or herself.