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I'd like to know the precise meaning of "savage" in the following excerpt from the...

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coutelle | Valedictorian

Posted August 3, 2013 at 10:22 PM via web

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I'd like to know the precise meaning of "savage" in the following excerpt from the chapter Six of The Great Gatsby:

"I remember the portrait of him up in Gatsby’s bedroom, a grey, florid man with a hard empty face—the pioneer debauchee who during one phase of American life brought back to the Eastern seaboard the savage violence of the frontier brothel and saloon." 

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 3, 2013 at 10:55 PM (Answer #1)

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The portrait of Dan Cody in Gatsby's bedroom is recalled by Nick Carraway, who ironically in Chapter One has declared that he reserves judgments of people. For, here in this passage from Chapter Six, Nick alludes to him as "a pioneer debauchee" who has brought to the Eastern seaboard the "savage violence of the frontier brothel and saloon." This remark is, then, clearly an opinion and evaluation of Dan Cody.

First of all, he is --"a debauchee"--an intemperate man, given to indulging his sensual pleasures. Secondly, Nick compares Cody to the men of the Western frontier, who frequented the lawless towns that had saloons and brothels. They, indeed, brought a "savage violence" with them as they took what they wanted and often shot and killed those who were in their way. 

During the period of Prohibition in America, there was much "savage violence." When the distribution of alcoholic drinks became illegal, organized crime grew, and with it raw, lawless violence and killing. As a bootlegger, Dan Cody was part of this ruthless transportation of illegal liquor, a transportation that sometimes only occurred after eliminating the legal forces that opposed it.

"It was indirectly due to Cody that Gatsby drank so little," Nick continues, suggesting that the lawlessness and debauchery and dissipation of Cody led to his death and Gatsby's loss of Cody's thousands.

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