More voices: gossip and scandal

The German connection

Tales relating to Gatsby are peppered throughout the novel, including the recurrent theme of a connection with Germany, a country associated with menace and threat since the First World War made Germany an enemy of America:

  • The first suggestion of this is in Chapter 2, when Catherine, Myrtle’s sister comments that:
They say he’s a nephew … of Kaiser Wilhelm’s. That’s where all his money comes from…. I’m scared of him. I’d hate to have him get anything on me.
  • A similar claim, that he is a murderer or a German spy, occurs in Chapter 3 at Gatsby’s party, when his own guests whisper about him even as they comment on his generosity in replacing a torn gown
  • The same idea is repeated at the beginning of Chapter 4, underlining the hypocrisy and superficiality of the speakers:
‘He’s a bootlegger,’ said the young ladies moving somewhere between his cocktails and his flowers. ’One time he killed a man who had found out that he was nephew to Von Hindenburg and second cousin to the devil. Reach me a rose, honey, and pour me a last drop into that there crystal glass.

Fantasy figure

Chapter 6 marks the zenith of the spurious narrative of gossip, when a reporter appears at Gatsby’s door to investigate his notoriety. Nick cites ‘contemporary legends’ such as the:

persistent story that he didn’t live in a house at all, but a boat that looked like a house and was moved secretly up and down the Long Island Shore.

Such tales have clearly crossed the border into fantasy, simultaneously identifying Gatsby’s story with fairy-tale or legend and signalling the folly of the speakers.

When Tom wishes to discredit Gatsby in the eyes of Daisy, he too engages in these narratives, although his firm realism limits his imagination to the idea that Gatsby is a ‘big bootlegger’ (Chapter 6), which he then develops in Chapter 7 into a direct accusation of Gatsby. 

Tom’s reference to his ‘investigation’ of Gatsby includes the claim that, ‘you’ve got something on now that Walter’s afraid to tell me about.’ This prompts Nick to comment on Gatsby with surprise:

He looked - and this is said in all contempt for the babbled slander of his garden - as if he had ‘killed a man.’

This comment associates the voices of gossip and scandal with the corrupting actions of the serpent in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3: 1-15). See Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, 'Second Adam' 

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