Could you please tell me the meaning of "in physical person" in the following passage from the chapter Four of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald? Benny McClenahan arrived always with four...

Could you please tell me the meaning of "in physical person" in the following passage from the chapter Four of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald? 

Benny McClenahan arrived always with four girls. They were never quite the same ones in physical person, but they were so identical one with another that it inevitably seemed they had been there before. 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel is as much a tableau of the Jazz Age as it is a satire of the American Dream. In such passages as that of Chapter Four in which the flashy nouveau riche appear on Gatsby's "blue lawn," Fitzgerald delights in mocking the flappers of the Roaries Twenties, young woman of frivolous natures who are giddy with a new freedom to act outside the restraints of society. Fitzgerald portrays them as clones of one another, mindless, and insignificant in appearance and demeanor. In a sense, these four women illustrate the first sentence of Chapter Four as Fitzgerald writes,

On Sunday morning....the world and its mistress returned to Gatsby's house and twinkled hilariously on his lawn.

Numbers of women similar to each other in appearance and lack of morals appear, demonstrating the illicit behavior suggested in the opening lines of Chapter Four. In fact, throughout this chapter, the materialism and recklessness and amorality of the age are depicted with Gatsby's car, Meyer Wolfscheim, Gatsby's fabricated biography, Daisy's "young and rich and wild" history. They are what Nick feels "beating" in his ears: "the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired." 





William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The words "in physical person" seem a little odd for expressing what the narrator means. He is simply saying that they were all so much alike in their looks and their personalities that they always seemed to be the same girls but they were never really the same ones, only virtual duplicates of one another. Nick, the narrator, is not just talking about their faces and bodies but also about their minds and personalities, their vocabularies and their mannerisms. He is implying that they were so lacking in individuality that they talked alike, dressed alike, thought alike, and did everything else alike.

Anyone who encountered them at a party, such as Nick himself, could carry on the same conversations with the newcomers he had carried on with their predecessors. They were interchangeable, like a line of showgirls in a chorus line. Showgirls are typically chosen to look as much alike as possible, then trained to synchronize all their movements precisely. Bennie McClenahan may have gotten his girls off chorus lines, as was so common in New York in the 1920s. The girls that Nick is describing sound very much like chorus girls.

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The Great Gatsby

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