Book Review: The Great Gatsby
Updated: Dec 19, 2022
Eggs that Betray - or - Getting Past the Fake News
Eggs that betray? Where does that phrase come from? As anyone who has read the novel knows, East and West Egg play an integral role as the setting for the action of the plot. The truth is that the phrase is an anagram of the title of the novel. Rearrange the letters of the title The Great Gatsby and there it is. That is truly a bizarre coincidence, unless it's not. It is an obvious and purposeful clue that Fitzgerald intentionally created so as to reveal the meaning of his book.
Most folks believe that The Great Gatsby is some romantic novel about a man named Jay Gatsby who achieved the American Dream while that same man spends his time trying to recapture a most special and lost love. An often heard comment about the novel, “Students love reading Gatsby and really root for him to win Daisy back.” Unfortunately, this is not what the novel is trying to accomplish. It is also not really about old or new money which is what East and West Egg represent. People also believe that George Wilson kills Gatsby out of jealousy and revenge. But this is not what really happens. That is all fake news. There is something even more deep and sinister at play. A betrayal is happening. A lie is being told and carried out and most people are getting duped. It is time that the truth be told.
If the fact that the title is an anagram is just happenstance, then coincidence seems to run rampant in this novel. In the first chapter the reader learns that Nick, the narrator, arrives in West Egg to live, as “a matter of chance,” (chapter 1) in the bungalow right next to Gatsby. How is it that the narrator, Nick, a cousin to Daisy, just happens to move into the place right next to Jay Gatsby, a man who has been obsessed with Daisy for the last five years? The reader is told that a young man at Nick’s office suggested taking a house together near New York and that this young man found the house, “but at the last minute the firm ordered him to Washington, and I [Nick] went out to the country alone.” (chapter 1). The luck of this house being placed beside Gatsby’s is a little too fortuitous. The text does not give many clues as to how this arrangement took place, but the reader will observe that Gatsby, throughout the novel, is into making arrangements and meet-ups. He most likely designed Nick’s living situation through his many contacts [Wolfsheim's gonnections]. It is possible that Gatsby learned about Nick because he reveals that “he’s read a Chicago paper for years just on the chance of catching a glimpse of Daisy’s name.” (chapter 4). Maybe this is how he learned of Nick when the banns (announcements of marriage) were published about his rumored nuptials and the reason he wanted to come East, to escape those rumors (chapter 1). According to Jordan Baker, even the purchase of the house Gatsby lives in is intentional for gaining access to Daisy. “Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay.” (chapter 4). It is why he throws extravagant parties at his place for the elite in society and, most likely, for all of Wolfsheim’s associates. Jordan tells Nick, “I think he half expected her to wander into one of his parties, some night,” (chapter 4). He was trying to lure Daisy over from East Egg. It wasn’t working. So, Gatsby arranges for Nick, Daisy’s cousin, to move in next door. Later in the novel Gatsby coordinates with Jordan Baker, through a private conversation in Chapter 3, to convince Nick in having Daisy over to his bungalow in Chapter 5 where Gatsby will “suddenly appear” at Nick’s door. Convenient.
In Chapter 4 the reader is introduced to the character of Meyer Wolfsheim. We first meet Wolfsheim, “in a well-fanned Forty-second Street cellar” (chapter 4) restaurant, probably some sort of speak-easy or other unsavory hang-out, as he is relaying a story about paying one man to keep another man’s mouth shut. Gatsby introduces Wolfsheim to Nick and through their conversation we learn that Wolfsheim fixed the 1919 World Series. Wolfsheim is most likely a powerful mobster. He has cuff-links made out of human teeth! “composed of oddly familiar pieces of ivory. ‘Finest specimens of human molars.” (chapter 4). Wolfsheim also has “gonnegtions” (connections) at the top. It seems that Gatsby is privy to these connections as well. Gatsby has an “in” with police. When he is pulled over by a cop earlier, he gets out of a citation by, “Taking a white card from his wallet, he waved it before the man’s eyes. ‘Right you are,’ agreed the policeman, tipping his cap. ‘Know you next time, Mr. Gatsby. Excuse ME!’” (chapter 4). This is because Gatsby works for Wolfsheim, a man who most likely has police in his pockets.
Meyer Wolfsheim is a formidable man that hangs out in the background of The Great Gatsby, with hair protruding from his nostrils under that flat nose of his. The fact of the matter is that Wolfsheim is actually the central hub to the whole of this novel. Wolfsheim is the money behind Gatsby’s seeming wealth. In other words, Gatsby has no wealth of his own. Nick says Gatsby has “phantom millions” in chapter 7. During a conversation late in the novel, after Gatsby’s death, Nick asks Wolfsheim,
“Did you start him in business?” I inquired.
“Start him! I made him.” [Wolfsheim replied]
“I raised him up out of nothing, right out of the gutter. I saw right away he was a fine-appearing, gentlemanly young man, and when he told me he was at Oggsford I knew I could use him good.” (chapter 9).
Gatsby looked good and Wolfsheim knew he could use a man that looked good. In fact, Gatsby had “…one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced — or seemed to face — the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.” For Wolfsheim, Gatsby is ideal, he is “…the kind of man you’d like to take home and introduce to your mother and sister.” Wolfsheim uses Gatsby as the face of business. He doesn’t look like a gangster. But Wolfsheim didn’t know everything. He didn’t know about Gatsby’s weakness. Of all the things Wolfsheim could have said were important to him, he reveals an essential character trait one that can never be compromised to Nick. Meyer Wolfsheim believed that Gatsby was “…very careful about women. He would never so much as look at a friend’s wife.” As every reader knows, this was not true. Gatsby’s betrayal of Wolfsheim’s trust is what eventually seals his destiny.
This truth, along with the fact that Wolfsheim fixed that 1919 World Series, makes Nick reflect on this man Meyer Wolfsheim, “The idea staggered me. I remembered…but if I had thought of it at all I would have thought of it as a thing that merely HAPPENED, the end of some inevitable chain. It never occurred to me that one man [Meyer Wolfsheim] could start to play with the faith of fifty million people — with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.” (chapter 4) This is exactly what F. Scott Fitzgerald is doing with his readers. He is playing with the faith of millions of people. Most readers want to believe that this novel concerns some romantic notion of love or the American Dream or some other such nonsense, but Fitzgerald weaves a deeper narrative than that. The Great Gatsby is speaking of those in power and how they use people to accomplish their purposes and that is the way of the world. It is about those Eggs that betray. Those with money do what they want.
Besides all the rumors surrounding Gatsby, that he is a bootlegger and may have even “killed a man,” and other faults, we begin to learn that Gatsby isn’t an especially educated person either. He often acts immature as in Chapter 4 when he is showing off a medal and a picture of himself at Oxford to Nick on their drive to the city. Nick listens to how Gatsby changes how he speaks by eventually, “leaving his elegant sentences unfinished” and how he calls San Francisco a city in the Midwest. Nick sees through Gatsby’s act and so does Tom. Tom knows some real truths about Jay, “He [Gatsby] and this Wolfsheim bought up a lot of side-street drug-stores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter. That’s one of his little stunts. I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him, and I wasn’t far wrong.” This is a claim that Gatsby confirms not by denying it, but by saying, “What about it?” Like in, So what?(chapter 7).
How does Wolfsheim come to find out about this character fault of Jay Gatsby’s? Through Tom, of course. Tom tells Jordan that he has been, “making a small investigation of his [Gatsby’s] past.” He repeats this fact in the Plaza hotel room in Chapter 7, “Who are you, anyhow?” broke out Tom. “You’re one of that bunch that hangs around with Meyer Wolfsheim — that much I happen to know. I’ve made a little investigation into your affairs — and I’ll carry it further to-morrow.”
Tom also exposes Gatsby’s ill-fated idea that he’s trying to take his wife away during a quite literal heated exchange in the Plaza Hotel. Jay Gatsby reveals that he has had a five-year fantasy of returning to sweep Daisy off her feet. Tom knows that this is a doomed notion on Gatsby’s part. Many readers believe that Daisy and Gatsby really want this, to run off together, but none of that is true. Gatsby has fabricated, among other things, some stalker’s dream-world about a woman he fell for five years prior, but has never contacted since. Again, Gatsby “says he’s read a Chicago paper for years just on the chance of catching a glimpse of Daisy’s name.” This doesn’t sound healthy. Daisy loves Tom and not Jay. This becomes obvious in Chapter 7 when Gatsby goads her into saying she does not love Tom with “perceptible reluctance.” The truth is that she never really thought about Gatsby at all until he was mentioned quite recently. Besides, it has been five years. Not only is she married now, but she has a child. A child whom Gatsby “had ever really believed in its existence before” and she appears in Chapter 7. It is through this encounter in the hotel with Tom and subsequent events, including Gatsby waiting outside the Buchannan house after the death of Myrtle, that Gatsby must begin to understand his imaginings will never come true.
It is in this chapter that we also discover Tom may have some unsavory connections as well. Tom is friends with a certain Walter Chase, a man who was in the bootlegging business with Wolfsheim and Gatsby. Gatsby says to Tom,
“’I guess your friend Walter Chase wasn’t too proud to come in on it.’
‘And you [Gatsby] left him in the lurch, didn’t you? You let him go to jail for a month over in New Jersey. God! You ought to hear Walter on the subject of YOU.’
‘He [Walter Chase] came to us dead broke. He was very glad to pick up some money…’” (chapter 7). It appears that Tom knows this Walter Chase quite well. So much so, that certain inferences can now be made about Tom. Tom is thirty and apparently rather wealthy. A large swath of land, a big house, riding horses and all, in East Egg. Even Nick struggles with Tom’s wealth, “It was hard to realize that a man in my own generation was wealthy enough to do that.” (chapter 1). So, how is it that Tom is so well off at his age? How is it he knows the doings of gangster-like characters like Meyer Wolfsheim, Jay Gatsby and Walter Chase? And why was Tom also in that cellar restaurant where Nick met Wolfsheim, where Gatsby deliberately disappears upon meeting Tom. It is obvious that Tom is also someone involved in organized crime. In Chapter 6 Tom even appears to have a bodyguard-like man named Sloane with him. A man who “didn’t enter into the conversation but lounged back haughtily in his chair.”
Tom was not about to let his wife take the fall for killing Myrtle with the car. Surely, she told him what had happened as they sat across the table from each other at the end of Chapter 8. Gatsby was already a suspect, better to keep it that way. Tom was in the valley of ashes and saw how upset Wilson was about Myrtle’s death and it wouldn’t take a whole lot for people to believe that Wilson was so distraught that he might just kill Gatsby and then kill himself. It is not too much of a stretch to believe Tom made a call to someone like Wolfsheim. Even Nick in the last chapter intimates these thoughts about Tom, “I couldn’t forgive him [Tom] or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused.” It is almost as if Tom was also wearing cuff buttons made of human molars. Is this not what Nick was intimating about Tom at the end in Chapter 9? “I shook hands with him [Tom]…Then he went into the jewelry store to buy a pearl necklace — or perhaps only a pair of cuff buttons — rid of my provincial squeamishness forever.” This is an intriguing statement because of what Meyer Wolfsheim had for his cuff buttons, “They were composed of oddly familiar pieces of ivory. ‘Finest specimens of human molars,’ he informed me.” (chapter 4).
Wolfsheim obviously had his doubts about Gatsby’s character because of the change in the staff around Gatsby’s house. “Gatsby had dismissed every servant in his house a week ago and replaced them with half a dozen others…and the general opinion in the village was that the new people weren’t servants at all.” (chapter 7). They weren’t servants. “They’re some people Wolfsheim wanted to do something for. They’re all brothers and sisters. They used to run a small
hotel.” (chapter 7). In short, they were Wolfsheim’s people. In fact, “The chauffeur — he was one of Wolfsheim’s proteges” (chapter 7). This is the same chauffer that, “—heard the shots — afterward he could only say that he hadn’t thought anything much about them.” (chapter 8). So, he hears gun shots at Gatsby’s house and thinks nothing of them? This is because he is a mobster.
What about George Wilson? If Gatsby’s house is full of mobsters, how does a frightened, timid little man like George Wilson walk into that? With a gun? Wouldn’t these guys notice? Besides, Wilson would still have to get up the guts to shoot a strange man? In Chapter 8 people did see George walking around that day. He is walking around because he doesn’t have a car. It was said that George was “acting sort of crazy” walking slowly, but no one mentioned or saw a gun. “Then for three hours he disappeared from view.” Where did George go? For a moment he shows up at Tom and Daisy’s. It is here that Tom mentions that, “His [George’s] hand was on a revolver in his pocket every minute he was in the house ——” but he never saw it. George was on foot this whole time, but then disappears for a few hours? Is it possible someone picked him up? Maybe a chauffeur? Because he unexpectedly appears in Gatsby’s backyard, dead. It bears telling that no gun ever appears physically at the scene of the crime. Only shots were heard. No gun is ever noticed or found. This is important because of these lines from Chapter 9:
Someone with a positive manner, perhaps a detective, used the expression “madman.” as he bent over Wilson’s body that afternoon, and the adventitious authority of his voice set the key for the newspaper reports next morning. Most of those reports were a nightmare — grotesque, circumstantial, eager, and untrue. According to the text, “someone” who might (perhaps) have been a “detective” used an authoritative voice that set the tone for the newspaper “reports” which were “circumstantial” and “untrue.” This seems strange. People got it in their minds that a “madman” killed Gatsby and then himself because some guy that looked and sounded like a detective said so. George Wilson did not kill Gatsby. George was only there to take the blame. He was a problem too of course, because if he found out who really killed his wife, he might come after Daisy. Tom couldn't have that. Gatsby was killed by an order of Meyer Wolfsheim to protect his business interests and Tom made sure George was taken care of as well. In fact, it appears that Myrtle's sister Catherine was paid off to keep her mouth shut about the whole affair in Chapter 9, "Catherine...didn't say a word...and swore that her sister...has been into no mischief whatever." Gatsby was great for a while, but it was time to move on. He had become a liability and he apparently wasn’t “very careful about women. He would never so much as look at a friend’s wife” (chapter 4) as Wolfsheim believed.
How is it that so many readers are convinced beyond a doubt that Wilson killed Gatsby? Wolfsheim, in his own words, tells Nick that he can’t believe it. “DEAR MR. CARRAWAY. This has been one of the most terrible shocks of my life to me I hardly can believe it that it is true at all.” (chapter 9). Of course he can’t believe it. The reports are false. Wolfsheim had Gatsby and George killed. This is why Wolfsheim tells Nick multiple times that,
“I can’t get mixed up in it,” he said.
“There’s nothing to get mixed up in. It’s all over now.” [said Nick]
“When a man gets killed I never like to get mixed up in it in any way. I keep out.” (chapter 9). As well as the fact that within a half an hour of finding the body Tom and Daisy are gone. Literally disappeared “earlier in the afternoon and taken baggage with them.” (chapter 9). They left town before Gatsby was even killed.
Before it all began, Nick was naïve. Yet, Nick, two years later. When he writes this, still idolizes Gatsby, “there was something gorgeous about him [Gatsby], some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life... it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.” (chapter 1). By the end of the novel Nick learns about human nature from the underbelly of humanity in men such as Meyer Wolfsheim and Tom Buchannan. It was even seen in his own cousin Daisy. “They were careless people… they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…” (chapter 9). This is the stuff Nick learns in the most difficult way. In fact, Nick “wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart.” These were “what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.” (chapter 1).
Readers are so distracted by the story of those Eggs. East Egg, West Egg and the players on the stage. It all looks so flashy and feels so real but the lies and betrayal are too much for Nick and for us. Rich people are not more happy, satisfied or moral. Besides, Gatsby had no personal wealth or real friends and no love. In the end, we all end up betrayed by those Eggs. The book is not about the American Dream or romantic love, but the true way of the world and the destruction of hope which, when paired with men of ruthlessness, will end up smashed on the side of the road in the Valley of Ashes.