"I had...the comforting nearness of wealthy people." In The Great Gatsby, why was it comforting?
The Great Gatsby, Chapter 1: "...a partial view of my neighbor’s lawn, and the consoling proximity of millionaires...."
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My interpretation of this line is that the comfort is a kind of psychological "class" comfort. Nick is from a world in which certain amenities and manners are taken for granted, from the White Anglo-Saxon (WASP) establishment that seemed to run the world. Certainly, Nick's family was not fabulously wealthy; its members were not in the robber baron class or part of Mrs. Astor's guest list, I wouldn't think, but they were upper-class. The family had been there far longer than the rabble that was emigrating from Europe and according to Tom, was far superior to the "dark races." That Gatsby was not from this world is pointed out frequently in the story, and it is clear that Gatsby, not being from the world of the wealthy, makes people uncomfortable, even more uncomfortable than the Wilsons make everyone. The Wilsons do not attempt to transcend their class, while Gatsby does.
My own house was an eyesore, but it was a small eyesore, and it had been overlooked, so I had a view of the water, a partial view of my neighbor’s lawn, and the consoling proximity of millionaires—all for eighty dollars a month. the Great Gatsby, Chapter 1
It is ironically true that your study guide--and studies all across the Internet--does misquote the reference in The Great Gatsby, which is correctly quoted above. When you bear in mind that our hero narrator is in the bond business, "...so I decided to go East and learn the bond business"--as in stocks and bonds, as in Wall Street, as in very large investments of very large sums of money by very wealthy people who pay very large commissions to their bond brokers--then the consolation, or comfort, derived from the nearness (proximity: nearness) of wealthy people, or "millionaires," becomes clearer.
Our narrator obviously wants a career that will not only give him a little excitement (the adrenaline of investing on Wall Street) following his experience in the "Great War" but a lot of wealth as well. So, on two levels he may be consoled. First, he is consoled to be near millionaires whom he can envision as potential clients. Second, he is consoled by the reality of those who have partaken of his dream, which gives encouragement to the future realization of his dream.
Although this particular line does not actually occur in the book, I think that you are probably thinking of a line that comes from Chapter 1. When Nick Carraway is talking about where he ended up living, he says that his house was an "eyesore" but that he had "the consoling proximity of millionaires."
I think the nearness of these rich people might have been consoling to Nick because it might have made him feel that he, too, could become rich some day. It might have also been a consolation because he could sort of enjoy all of the open space and beauty that they had created even though his own home wasn't as nice as theirs. I think you can defend that interpretation by looking at how he says that he has an ocean view and a partial view of his neighbor's lawn. In other words, he can be consoled by the nice views even though his house is pretty small.
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