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Dan Cody in The Great Gatsby: Character Analysis

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Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

How exactly did the lowly James Gatz become the iconic Jay Gatsby that millions of readers have come to know and love? Turns out, he needed a little help. This lesson analyzes the character of Dan Cody and his role in shaping Jay Gatsby. Updated: 06/08/2021

James Gatz's Beginnings

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Maybe a fireman or a teacher, an attorney or an astronaut? Young James Gatz, the title character in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, wanted nothing more than to become the opposite of his parents. Born into a family of poor farmers in North Dakota, James Gatz spent his nights dreaming of who he believed himself to be: a larger-than-life man of means, surrounded by a world of grandeur and opulence. Not until a chance meeting with a meta-mogul multi-millionaire, Dan Cody, did Gatz's imagined destiny start to become a reality.

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  • 0:04 James Gatz's Beginnings
  • 0:41 Meeting Dan Cody
  • 1:15 Dan Cody as Role Model
  • 2:36 Cody's Death
  • 3:13 Lesson Summary
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Meeting Dan Cody

James Gatz moved shiftlessly through Minnesota, searching for the next big break, that singular opportunity that would change his life. He found that in Dan Cody. While lounging on the shore of Lake Superior, Gatz noticed a yacht bobbing in the water. Knowing full-well that a storm was brewing, Gatz rowed out to the yacht to warn its owner, Dan Cody. Cody brought the young man on board and asked him his name. Realizing his moment of opportunity, Gatz introduced himself as Jay Gatsby, instantly reinventing himself and closing the door on his past as a poor farmer's son.

Dan Cody as Role Model

Dan Cody's role in The Great Gatsby is fairly limited, but his impact on Gatsby was profound. When Gatsby encountered Cody on Lake Superior, the yachtsman was about 50 years old. During the late 1800s, Cody had become wealthy as the result of various metal rushes in the West and eventually made his millions thanks to Montana copper. Cody had the life that Gatsby had imagined for himself as a kid and a teenager: an extravagant lifestyle, fabulous wealth, and all the power those things brought with them.

Cody, seeing something in Gatsby, immediately took him aboard the yacht, bought him some spiffy boat clothing, and proceeded to sail around the North American continent for about five years. During that time, Gatsby was a personal assistant of sorts. When Dan Cody needed a first mate, Gatsby was there. When he needed a skipper, Gatsby was there. When he needed restraint from heavy drinking, Gatsby was there.

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