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In The Great Gatsby, what: is the meaning of "proprietary haste" in the following...

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coutelle | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted April 7, 2013 at 6:52 PM via web

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In The Great Gatsby, what: is the meaning of "proprietary haste" in the following excerpt?

The sister, Catherine [...] She came in with such a proprietary haste and looked around so possessively at the furniture that I wondered if she lived here. But when I asked her she laughed immoderately, repeated my question aloud and told me she lived with a girl friend at a hotel.

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 7, 2013 at 7:17 PM (Answer #1)

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This scene occurs in Chapter 2, when Nick attends a party. It is one of Nick's first experiences with the shallow decadence of the wealthy; slightly intoxicated, Nick finds himself a little confused by the actions and attitudes of the rich guests. The first guest is Myrtle's sister Catherine, who Nick observes to have an unconscious sense of entitlement, as if she deserves to be at home wherever she is.

When she moved about there was an incessant clicking as innumerable pottery bracelets jingled up and down upon her arms. She came in with such a proprietary haste and looked around so possessively at the furniture that I wondered if she lived here. But when I asked her she laughed immoderately, repeated my question aloud and told me she lived with a girl friend at a hotel.
(Fitzgerald, The  Great Gatsby, gutenberg.net.au)

The meaning of the phrase "proprietary haste" refers mainly to the entitlement of those born wealthy. Catherine has likely never been denied anything in her life; she sees all things as rightfully her own, regardless of ownership. This sense is even more significant when dealing with family, and Catherine sees her sister's home as her own, although she doesn't live there. In other words, Nick is seeing how Catherine measures worth through material possessions, and how Catherine believes herself to be more worthy to possess and acquire regardless of her own effort. Her attitude is one of shallow mockery, and Nick is repelled by her. Catherine is not a major character, and is an example of the general unpleasantness of the idle rich.

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