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Could you please tell me the meaning of "worldly", "a complexion powdered milky white"...

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coutelle | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted May 3, 2013 at 11:05 PM via web

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Could you please tell me the meaning of "worldly", "a complexion powdered milky white" and "rakish" in this excerpt from the second chapter of The Great Gatsby? The phrase "a complexion powdered milky white" sounds strange to me: is there any image such as "powdered milk"?

"The sister, Catherine, was a slender, worldly girl of about thirty with a solid sticky bob of red hair and a complexion powdered milky white. Her eyebrows had been plucked and then drawn on again at a more rakish angle but the efforts of nature toward the restoration of the old alignment gave a blurred air to her face." 

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lsumner | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted May 4, 2013 at 12:17 AM (Answer #1)

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In The Great Gatsby, the narrator, Nick Carroway, is being very descriptive in his description of Catherine. Catherine is Mrytle's slender, worldly sister. Indicating that someone is "worldly" is another way to say someone has experience with the world. People who are worldly tend to be connected with the affairs, interests, and pleasures of the world. Being worldly is the opposite of being spiritual or religious. Some religions frown upon "worldly" people, classifying worldly people as those who have experienced secular, lustful pleasures. 

Catherine sounds like she would be sophisticated and experienced with the colorful ways of a New York society.  No doubt, Nick, as the narrator, is fascinated with worldly women since he is an innocent, "transplanted Midwesterner who buys a house in West Egg and sells bonds on Wall Street in New York City." Truly, Nick describes Catherine in great detail. Catherine's powdered milky white complexion naturally attracted men. Women with milky white skin were considered beautiful and their complexion was considered flawless or perfect:

The sister, Catherine, was a slender, worldly girl of about thirty, with a solid, sticky bob of red hair, and a complexion powdered milky white. Her eye-brows had been plucked and then drawn on again at a more rakish angle...

By drawing on her own eyebrows, that gives a sense of being dashing and dapper which means neat and well trimmed. Catherine drew her eyebrows with a rakish angle which may have seemed neat or smartly trimmed and attractive to Nick the narrator. No doubt, Catherine and her finely drawn eyebrows express a beautiful female who is dashing, jaunty, and dapper. 

Catherine wore bracelets that jingled up and down on her arms. She moved about the room as if she owned it. She looked around so possessively at the furniture that Nick wondered if she lived there (Tom's apartment that he shares with Myrtle). 

Of course, Catherine lives in a hotel with a girl friend. Catherine appears to enjoy a life style that involves exciting adventures. She is an experienced worldly girl. At Myrtle's request, Nick is Catherine's companion for the evening party at Tom's apartment. Nick studies her excessive details in her appearance. 

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