While The Great Gatsby is fictitious, it contains many parallels with F. Scott Fitzgerald's real life, and serves as an account of a time and a culture in which Fitzgerald was deeply entrenched. One of the major novelists of the early 20th century, Fitzgerald was known for his talents as a writer as much for his hard-partying ways and stormy personal life, largely centered around his marriage to the wealthy and unstable Zelda Sayre, whom many believe to be the woman on whom Daisy Buchanan is based. In 1931, in an essay entitled "Echoes of the Jazz Age," Fitzgerald wrote, of the 1920s, "It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire." Indeed, the cultural and political climate in which Fitzgerald became a success mirrors the world in which Gatsby climbed the social ladder.
A major motif of Fitzgerald's life was his turbulent marriage to the mentally ill Zelda Sayre, a woman from a wealthier background than him, with whom he enjoyed (and endured) a free-spirited and hard-partying lifestyle. The daughter of a Supreme Court judge, Zelda Sayre was charismatic, charming, and deeply troubled. Fitzgerald was her Gatsby; raised in Minnesota by middle-class parents, Fitzgerald took a job at an advertising firm in order to convince Zelda to marry him and move to New York, but quit it quickly, before relocating back to Minnesota to write novels. Throughout their marriage, Zelda was hospitalized for anxiety and other mental illnesses. Additionally, the couple was known for being creatively and professionally competitive, and Zelda often playfully accused her husband of stealing her ideas for stories of his own. Indeed, as pointed out in an article in The Atlantic by Joe Fassler, the moment in which Daisy says, "And I hope she'll be a fool—that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool," is directly borrowed from something Zelda said after the birth of their daughter.
Indeed, Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre were the quintessential scribes and poster children of their era, and Fitzgerald could not help but imbue his writing with details of his life. However, the parallel between Fitzgerald's life and the novel itself is not so literal, and many events, people, places, and ideas are melded and superimposed on one another. The result is emphatically a fiction. Scholars cannot in good conscience say that Zelda Fitzgerald was the primary inspiration for Daisy Buchanan, and a number of different men (including Fitzgerald himself) served as inspiration for the character of Gatsby. As Fitzgerald once told someone, "Gatsby started out as one man I knew and then changed into myself.” Joe Fassler concludes his article by writing, "For me...Daisy Buchanan's reference to "beautiful little fools" is as much about what gets left out of any story as it is about what gets included. It's the ultimate invitation to begin again, retelling the tale with new possibility." Perhaps what made Fitzgerald such a master of fiction was his ability to meld truth and fabrication so seamlessly. His fiction is a kind of double exposure, neither real nor falsified, but entirely unique and intoxicating.