In chapter 8 of The Great Gatsby, Nick explains says:

His gorgeous pink rag of a suit made a bright spot of color against the white steps, and I thought of the night when I first came to his ancestral home, three months before. The lawn and drive had been crowded with the faces of those who guessed at his corruption — and he had stood on those steps, concealing his incorruptible dream, as he waved them good-by.

Why is Gatsby's home called "ancestral"?

  • Gatsby's a nouveau riche, so it's impossible for that mansion to have actually been in his family for generations...
  • Nick prides himself on his honesty, so it's unlikely (to me) that he's being sarcastic...

Which leads me to guess that it simply means 'old,' which makes some sense, considering that its silhouette is called "feudal"; still, it's evidently an imitation of the Hôtel de Ville, so I'm not sure how venerable the building really was.


  • 1
    Does Nick know that Gatsby is "nouveau" when he narrates this? Mar 19 at 1:04
  • @DJClayworth - yes! This is right near the end of the book.
    – CDR
    Mar 19 at 1:20
  • Yes, it's very perplexing...?
    – Dan
    Mar 29 at 16:11

1 Answer 1


The Collins Dictionary has this entry for ancestral:

Collins (AmE) 2. serving as a forerunner, prototype, or inspiration

Indeed the house described in the book is a prototype of a certain Long Island mansion such as this one below:

enter image description here

Literature lovers know that Jay Gatsby's mansion was the host of many fabulous, decadent parties with seemingly endless amounts of space and over-the-top features. So when F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel The Great Gatsby was turned into a movie in 2013, set designers drew inspiration from a jaw-dropping 1928 Colonial-style castle in the real-life location of Gatsby's fictional home—Long Island, New York. Now you can purchase the 14,551-square-foot house for $85 million, reports Trulia. By Melissa Minton Photography by Trulia March 30, 2017

BUT: The houses that more ressemble a hôtel de ville (A French town hall) are the ones in Newport, Rhode Island, where the 1974 film was shot.

Like this one:

enter image description here


Revisiting The Filming Location Of The Original Great Gatsby Did you know the 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby movie exhibits the extravagant mansions of Newport, RI in place of the homes on New York’s Long Island? If you too think this film is an impressive adaptation of the classic novel, read on to learn how and where you

The text appears under the ad for the Hammets Hotel that shows the mansion. Filming Location

That's Rosecliff mansion.

The Newbury mansions are really unbelievable and show the lifestyle of the very rich during the Gilded Age.

  • 4
    That's a pretty unusual usage, and when people say "ancestral home" it almost always means the home of their ancestors. Mar 18 at 22:52
  • Thanks for answering, Lambie. Applying the definition you cite to the passage, though, it implies that Gatsby's mansion is the building that's "serving as a forerunner, prototype, or inspiration." I find it very unlikely that that's what's meant here, as Gatsby's house is what was inspired in the first place! (...right?) I doubt Fitzgerald was thinking about any imitation houses his story would inspire. Am I misunderstanding you?
    – CDR
    Mar 18 at 23:17
  • @DJClayworth Yes, that's true. It is not clear to me when Nick learns that Gatsby started out poor. Maybe he thought at first he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth,
    – Lambie
    Mar 18 at 23:21
  • @CDR Yes, because maybe he meant serving as a prototype of house for the very rich.
    – Lambie
    Mar 18 at 23:23

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