F. Scott Fitzgerald and Literary Anti-Semitism:
A Footnote on the Mind of the 20's
I recently read The Great Gatsby for the first time, and it struck me that in all the praise of the book I had heard from both Jews and non-Jews, something important had been omitted—that viewed in a certain light the novel reads very much like an anti-Semitic document. It is an excellent novel, no doubt of that, and part of its appeal is that the reader knows (though he may be unable to define his knowledge) that the story and the characters are general and representative rather than particular and confined. Fitzgerald has written a tragic satire on American civilization, with the implicit invitation to disentangle the idea of which the personages and events are outward symbols. The individuals portrayed stand for the classes (but not in the Marxian sense) to which they belong. That is nothing new: the same is true of every serious literary work of art.
The Jew who appears in The Great Gatsby is not the villain of the piece, but he is easily its most obnoxious character. His name is Meyer Wolfsheim. He is a gambler by profession. His nose is flat and out of both nostrils two fine growths of hair “luxuriate.” His eyes are “tiny.” When he talks he “covers” Gatsby with his “expressive nose.” We first glimpse him in a mysterious conversation with Gatsby about a man named Katspaugh. When, at this point, the narrator, Nick, comes in and meets him, Wolfsheim mistakes him for somebody else whom Gatsby has mentioned and he immediately begins to talk of a business “gonnegtion.” That “gonnegtion” runs like a theme through the whole book whenever Nick thinks of Wolfsheim.
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