I saw him opening a chest of rubies to ease, with their crimson-lighted depths, the gnawings of his broken heart.
Gatsby carries around a couple of souvenirs to support the stories of his fantastic past: a war medal from Montenegro, a picture in an Oxford quad. These trinkets provide a tangible base to solidify his gauzy stories in the listener’s imagination; their production in conversation acts as a talisman that makes the stories real. But in the end these physical objects are signifiers for false tales – like building a castle in the air on a base of lily pads.
Gatsby’s use of his souvenirs seems childish and manipulative, but they’re only a more unique and imaginative application of a universal technique. In anyone’s life, what are the stories supported by driving a certain kind of car, or wearing a particular watch, or a wedding ring? These things are not manifestations of the truth; they are symbols of a story, objects we use to paint the brushstrokes of the picture we present to the world.
There’s truth only in action and emotion, not objects, and at the end Gatsby sums up, ‘You see I usually find myself among strangers because I drift here and there trying to forget the sad thing that happened to me.‘ The truth is, he is alone in the world, without friends and without a home, unable to escape from the traveling prison of his own regrets.