In "The Great Gatsby," Gatsby tells Nick a wide and varied history of himself, including how he had wealthy Midwestern parents from San Francisco, was educated at Oxford, collected jewels in Europe, hunted big game and was awarded medals in World War I. Nick later learns from Jordan that while Gatsby was a military officer, Gatsby knew Nick's cousin Daisy and that he is desperately in love with her.

Nick continues to narrate the truth about Gatsby's real life history. Gatsby, born Jay Gatz, is a Midwesterner from a farm in North Dakota who attended two weeks of college at St. Olaf's in Minnesota before becoming a salmon fisherman and clam digger on Lake Superior. A wealthy yacht owner, Dan Cody, is grateful when Gatsby warns him about a storm and takes Gatsby under his wing. Although Cody left Gatsby $25,000, Gatsby was unable to claim his inheritance.

Gatsby moved to West Egg specifically to be with Daisy and woo her away from her husband Tom. Daisy loves Gatsby too; however, her love for him does not transcend the social barriers in place because of the discrepancies between her lineage and Gatsby's lack of lineage. In the end, Gatsby's real, rumored and self-created histories do not matter because he cannot overcome Daisy's preconceived notions of propriety and social status.