Could you please tell me the literal and figurative meaning of "Presbyterian" in the following excerpt from Chapter Four of The Great Gatsby? “This is a nice restaurant here,” said Mr....

Could you please tell me the literal and figurative meaning of "Presbyterian" in the following excerpt from Chapter Four of The Great Gatsby?

“This is a nice restaurant here,” said Mr. Wolfshiem, looking at the Presbyterian nymphs on the ceiling. “But I like across the street better!”

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After Nick Carraway is introduced by Gatsby to Meyer Wolfshiem, a "small flat-nosed Jew," they enter a restaurant. Glancing around and looking at the ceiling, Wolfschiem sees the "Presbyterian nymphs." His remark that it is a nice restaurant is empty, as is his comment that he prefers the one across the street.

Obviously, for Wolfschiem, the Christian-motif decor is not what he wishes to see. Such visions of Christianity repulse Wolfschiem, especially of anything that suggests Presbyterian, which is a Scottish religion founded after the precepts of John Calvin, who held very stringent ideas, some of which were anti-Roman Catholic and anti-Semitic.  Here is a quote attributed to John Calvin after certain questions and objections were made by one particular Jew:

Their [the Jews] rotten and unbending stiffneckedness deserves that they be oppressed unendingly and without measure or end and that they die in their misery without the pity of anyone.

Perhaps, then, Fitzgerald uses the proper adjective "Presbyterian" before angels to connote the antipathy that Wolfschiem feels for a Christianity with its principles of charity and the Ten Commandments that simultaneously espouses uncharitable ideas on Jews. 


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