Meyer Wolfsheim

A stereotypical gangster

Meyer Wolfsheim is introduced in Chapter 4 of the novel as a business associate of Gatsby, aged 50 during the main events of the novel (the same age as Dan Cody when Gatsby first meets him). Wolfsheim’s gangster connections are strongly implied in Chapter 4, as he is an associate of Rosy Rosenthal, a Jewish gangster, and is a gambler who has engaged in the ‘worst’ form of corruption (to American sensibilities), fixing the national game of baseball. 

Meyer wears cuff buttons made from human teeth, creating a cannibalistic effect or hinting at some darker anti-Semitic notions. The name ‘Wolfsheim’ suggests primitive, predatory characteristics, as well as a possible German origin (after the First World War, any association with Germany was viewed with suspicion). He is also caricatured in terms of his appearance and his accent, particularly focussing on the words ’Oggsford’ and ‘gonnegtion’. These two words capture the deception (as Gatsby’s claim to an Oxford education is dismantled in the novel) and euphemism (sanitising the criminal underworld) needed to perpetuate the myth of America as the ‘land of dreams’.

Friend, supporter or manipulator?

As well as representing Gatsby’s criminality, Wolfsheim is important as a narrator of part of Gatsby’s past, offering an illustration of how extreme Gatsby’s poverty was when he returned from the war. Gatsby may have enjoyed the patronage of Dan Cody, but this has only given him a temporary hope of wealth, whereas the ‘gonnegtion’ with Wolfsheim enables him to transcend his social status, using his claim to be ‘an Oggsford man’. Wolfsheim never mentions the relevance of Daisy to Gatsby but does comment that:

Gatsby’s very careful around women. He would never so much as look at a friend’s wife.

This is ironic given Daisy and Gatsby’s affair, yet also hints at the emotional truth that Gatsby felt ‘married’ to Daisy already and, against her, no other woman could compare.

Wolfsheim is extremely sentimental but finally does not attend Gatsby’s funeral. He gives his reasons in a letter, and then face-to-face with the insistent Nick, with the argument:

Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead… After that, my own rule is to let everything alone.

There is no question that he is concerned with self-preservation, given his vulnerability as a gangster. However, readers are still required to judge whether his affection for Gatsby is convincing or insincere, as it is placed alongside the unambiguous betrayal by Daisy, Klipspringer and all other associates.

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