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Hello! Could you please tell me what is a "rough-neck" in this excerpt from The Great...

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coutelle | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted April 19, 2013 at 10:54 PM via web

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Hello! Could you please tell me what is a "rough-neck" in this excerpt from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, chapter 3?

He smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced—or seemed to face—the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey. Precisely at that point it vanished—and I was looking at an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. 

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 20, 2013 at 1:25 AM (Answer #1)

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It is certainly seems paradoxical that Nick uses the term "roughneck" in conjunction with the adjective "elegant" in this description of Gatsby. Perhaps, this is to expose the two sides of this parvenu:  a young man who once was a janitor and then worked for criminal Dan Cody on his yacht where he was mate and steward--a laborer-- and then an elegantly dressed East Egger who throws lavish parties. At any rate, there is the suggestion that Nick recognizes in Gatsby the intent to create a facade of being from a higher class than he is since Nick describes him as having

an elaborate formality of speech [that] just missed being absurd.

Later in the narrative, Jordan Baker makes a paradoxical remark herself, 

"And I like large parties. They're so intimate.  At small parties there isn't any privacy."

A previously mentioned guest also says,

"I never care what I do, so I always have a good time."

So, along with the yellow imagery of the two girls in "twin yellow dresses," the "yellow cocktail music"  and food that is "bewitched to a dark gold," the artistic Fitzgerald portrays a certain decadence and coarseness to the opulence and luxury of Gatsby's place. And, this coarseness is suggested in Nick's use of "rough-neck" to describe Jay Gatsby.




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