Jay Gatsby is the fictionalized embodiment of my Persuasion Rules as applied to relationships in everyday life. F. Scott Fitzgerald shows in the novel that Gatsby may also use the Rules in his work, but his Rule actions more clearly illuminate how he begins and develops relationships. Consider a summary of Gatsby.
Set in the American 1920s at the height of a stock market boom in the Roaring Twenties, this novel is narrated by Nick Carraway, a wealthy, young Ivy League graduate who’s learning the bond business on Wall Street. Nick tells us about his life at the time as it connects with a second cousin, Daisy Buchanan, from Louisville, who is married to the fabulously and formidably wealthy Tom Buchanan. Tom and Nick schooled together at Yale where Nick had an uneasy relationship with the larger, wealthier, and crueler Tom Buchanan. The story unfolds with Nick, Daisy, Tom, and an attractive female golf pro, Jordan Baker, out on the glistening lawns of the wealthy sections of Long Island. Fold in Tom’s mistress, Myrtle Wilson and her clueless, but devoted husband, George, and we have a strong story, but nothing about this Gatsby guy. Only when we are well into the story do we hear about the title character, Jay Gatsby, and he is slowly brought into plot and character development. Gatsby has been driving this novel from the beginning, but we don’t know that. We learn in subtle, indirect fashion that Daisy and Gatsby have a mutual past that neither our narrator, Nick, nor her husband, Tom, discern or know. And in that past connection we grasp the proximate, animating force of the novel: Gatsby loved Daisy then and loves her now. The novel unfolds as Daisy learns that Gatsby owns a mansion across the bay from her estate. The old lovers cross paths again – one forcing the reunion, the other gliding into it – and we have all the action that will drive the remainder of the novel. I reveal nothing more and observe: The novel is simple and obvious, a story of wealthy, sophisticated people in boom times, with a narrator watching a married couple that has romantic rivals.
As briefly as possible: Gatsby will do anything for Daisy’s love.
Now, the Rules.
It’s about the Other Guy, Stupid.
She was the first “nice” girl he had ever known. In various unrevealed capacities he had come in contact with such people, but always with indiscernible barbed wire between. He found her excitingly desirable. He went to her house, at first with other officers from Camp Taylor, then alone. It amazed him–he had never been in such a beautiful house before, but what gave it an air of breathless intensity, was that Daisy lived there . . . It excited him, too, that many men had already loved Daisy–it increased her value in his eyes. He felt their presence all about the house, pervading the air with the shades and echoes of still vibrant emotions.
Daisy Buchanan is the Other Guy for Jay Gatsby. Gatsby’s love for her is so intense that he will change himself and become the man a woman like Daisy will desire. And what is his key to Daisy?
“Her voice is full of money,” he said suddenly.
That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money–that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it. . . . high in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl. . . .
That voice guides Gatsby’s life. Gatsby pursues money, then, both acquiring it and demonstrating it, all to please the Other Guy, Daisy. The life of money unfolds in particular places, speaks with a dialect and accent, gestures in unique ways. Gatsby changes himself to demonstrate that he lives in the culture of money.
All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere.
Everything that Jay Gatsby does in his quest for Daisy is insincere and inauthentic. The Jay Gatsby of Daisy is not the James Gatz of his family and background. Jay Gatsby wraps his true self in the appearance and style of another man, a wealthy and powerful man, a man of money. He does not let other people see the true self and hides details of his past that might clue others into his authentic self.
But he knew that he was in Daisy’s house by a colossal accident. However glorious might be his future as Jay Gatsby, he was at present a penniless young man without a past, and at any moment the invisible cloak of his uniform might slip from his shoulders. So he made the 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.
He might have despised himself, for he had certainly taken her under false pretenses. I don’t mean that he had traded on his phantom millions, but he had deliberately given Daisy a sense of security; he let her believe that he was a person from much the same stratum as herself–that he was fully able to take care of her. As a matter of fact, he had no such facilities–he had no comfortable family standing behind him, and he was liable at the whim of an impersonal government to be blown anywhere about the world.
Persuasion Is Strategic or It Is Not.
Jay’s first meeting with Daisy sets his life course. Whatever he was or could have been before he met her, Gatsby puts aside to get Daisy. Everything that then follows, answers one question: Will this get me closer to Daisy? If Gatsby judges a future action as one that will move Daisy closer to him, he follows it. If not, then not. And, see that this goal would not be obvious to those around him. His criminal and quasi-criminal friends never suspect that Gatsby ran as a bootlegger to get Daisy Buchanan.
Great Persuaders Don’t Need Rich Uncles, Kindness from Strangers, or Third Party Vote Splitters.
Gatsby came from simple beginnings. He was not born on third base believing he’d hit a triple. He was born on deck, waiting for his chance. He had only himself. He constructed an ideal image of himself as reflected in Daisy’s laugh, then devoted himself to realizing that ideal. Along the way he acquired instruction and assistance, but only in the pursuit of money. No one helped him get Daisy.
There’s a Difference between Persuasion, and Smoke and Mirrors; With Persuasion the Illusion Lingers.
The novel turns on the distinction this Rule illuminates. Successful persuasion maintains the change in the Other Guy. When the change fails and Daisy sees Gatsby for who he truly is, the illusions of the past seem like a trick from smoke and mirrors. When Gatsby persuades, Daisy loves him. When he stops persuading, Daisy sees through what is now smoke and mirrors and the persuasion of Jay Gatsby ends.
In the climatic exchange in the stifling heat of a room in the Plaza Hotel, as Daisy, Nick, and Jordan observe in fascinated horror, as Tom Buchanan declares to Gatsby,
“I found out what your ‘drug-stores’ were.” He turned to us and spoke rapidly. “He and this Wolfshiem bought up a lot of side-street drug-stores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter. That’s one of his little stunts. I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him, and I wasn’t far wrong.”
Smoke and mirrors fill the room as Gatsby earnestly tries to maintain the illusions of persuasion.
“. . . he began to talk excitedly to Daisy, denying everything, defending his name against accusations that had not been made. But with every word she was drawing further and further into herself, so he gave that up, and only the dead dream fought on as the afternoon slipped away, trying to touch what was no longer tangible, struggling unhappily, undespairingly, toward that lost voice across the room.”
If You Can’t Succeed, Don’t Try.