What does Mr. Wolfsheim tell Nick about Gatsby?
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Meyer Wolfsheim is one of the minor characters in the novel, a man who engages in criminal activities and who brings the element of 1920s gansterism into the story. It is through Wolfsheim that Nick learns an important part of the truth about Gatsby's life. Nick speaks to Wolfsheim on two occasions in the novel, in Chapter IV and in the final chapter. Through Wolfsheim, Nick learns that Gatsby returned from World War I hungry and penniless, still wearing his uniform because he had no other clothes. Wolfsheim met Gatsby in a New York pool room. He fed Gatsby, telling Nick Gatsby ate $4.00 worth of food, a great deal in 1920s prices. Wolfsheim liked the young man's looks and thought he could present himself well in polite society in advancing Wolfsheim's illegal interests. In other words, Gatsby could serve Wolfsheim as a good "front man" in dealing with groups such as the American Legion. Gatsby went to work for Wolfsheim, earning a fortune through a life of crime. Wolfsheim tells Nick that he "used" Gatsby very successfully.
After Gatsby's death, Wolfsheim refuses to come to his funeral. He makes it clear to Nick that he does not want any of the publicity that might result. Wolfsheim has no further use for Gatsby.
Meyer Wolfsheim tells Nick the truth about how he met Gatsby and how their business relationship developed. This is after Nick tracks him down, doing everything possible to make sure someone is at Gatsby's funeral. Wolfsheim reminisces about the first time he saw Gatsby.
“A young major just out of the army and covered over with medals he got in the war. He was so hard up he had to keep on wearing his uniform because he couldn’t buy some regular clothes. First time I saw him was when he come into Winebrenner’s poolroom at Forty-third Street and asked for a job. He hadn’t eat anything for a couple of days. ‘come on have some lunch with me,’ I sid. He ate more than four dollars’ worth of food in half an hour.”
There's certainly a discrepancy here between everyone's impressions of Gatsby and the reality. He struggled up from nothing, to build a mansion of illusions for Daisy. Before, we've only seen the glamorous, flashy Gatsby. But here is someone who knew him before, as a hungry, desperate young man. It seems as though Wolfsheim wants Nick to know that he found Gatsby; he even says he "made him." He explains it further:
“I raised him up out of nothing, right out of the gutter. I saw right away he was a fine-appearing, gentlemanly young man, and when he told me he was at Oggsford I knew I could use him good. Right off he did some work for a client of mine up to Albany. We were so thick like that in everything.”—he held up two bulbous fingers——” always together.”
In this short speech, Wolfsheim reveals the depths of his relationship with Gatsby, and hints at the criminal activity rumored to have funded Gatsby's fortune.
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