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I'd like to know what Gatsby means in the Chapter 8 of The Great Gatsby when he says...

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coutelle | Valedictorian

Posted June 29, 2013 at 8:35 PM via web

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I'd like to know what Gatsby means in the Chapter 8 of The Great Gatsby when he says "it was just personal"?

The Great Gatsby, excerpt:

"'Of course she might have loved him, just for a minute, when they were first married—and loved me more even then, do you see?'

"Suddenly he came out with a curious remark:

"'In any case,' he said, 'it was just personal.'

"What could you make of that, except to suspect some intensity in his conception of the affair that couldn’t be measured?"

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K.P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted June 29, 2013 at 10:37 PM (Answer #1)

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Apparently, even Nick wanted to know what Gatsby meant by "it was just personal." Gatsby's comment is a reversal of a standard English idiom that is "to take something personally." This is a hard idiom to define in contemporary culture as it is used and misused with such liberality. A currently popular variation of it means that the individual to whom it is addressed is of no importance to the speaker, "It's nothing personal," and therefore the idiom is meant as a diminution of the hearer's humanity, personhood and worth. This is not an accurate reflection of the traditional idiomatic meaning however.

Traditionally, the idiom "to take something personally" has been used as a means of considerately (not disinterestedly) softening a comment that may be difficult for the listener to hear. Saying "don't take it personally" is the equivalent of saying, "I don't want to offend you but there is something unpleasant you need to know and, as I am your friend or relative, I am the only who will tell you."

What Gatsby has done is to reverse this idiom by saying, "It was only personal." It will take some analysis to discover this uniquely Gatsbyan meaning.

Gatsby is asserting that Daisy married Tom for convenience or expediency. He asserts that she did not marry him for love. He asserts that he himself is the only one whom Daisy loves/loved. Therefore, Daisy's marriage to Tom was not for love. Daisy's marriage to Tom was only for personal gain; for personal convenience; for personal benefit of wealth and for personal social position. Therefore, according to Gatsby, "It [her marriage] was only personal."

Here we have an interesting instance of an author intentionally turning an established idiom around in one character's mind while baffling another character with the reversal ("What could you make of that") and simultaneously baffling the reader, hopefully baffling the reader into thinking deeply about Gatsby's thoughts and feelings.  

   [Gatsby] sat down gloomily.
   "Of course she might have loved him, just for a minute, when they were first married--and loved me more even then, do you see?"
   Suddenly he came out with a curious remark:
   "In any case," he said, "it was just personal."
   What could you make of that, except to suspect some intensity in his conception of the affair that couldn't be measured?

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