“If he’d of lived, he’d of been a great man. A man like James J. Hill. He’d of helped build up the country.”
James J. Hill is sometimes referred to as “The Empire Builder”. His rise to wealth and power from his working-class background came from building much of the railroad system that spanned much of the upper midwest and east coast in the later part of the 1800s. Gatz’s comparison of his son’s aptitudes to Hill’s is Fitzgerald’s confirmation of the legitimacy of the real American Dream: hard work and self-improvement lead to good things in life, not just selfishly for the individual, but also for the country. The self-serving Gatsby, however, like the self-serving individualism that characterized American life in the Roaring Twenties, would have no larger societal benefit, which is why Nick responds “uncomfortably”.
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