In The Great Gatsby, what is the meaning of the "butler's nose" anecdote told by Daisy?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While at a dinner party with Tom and Daisy, Nick, the narrator, is made uncomfortable by Tom's insistence on speaking of social and racial matters. The conversation becomes disjointed as the othere guests try to make small talk, and when Tom is distracted by a phone call, Daisy tells a strange story about their butler:

"...he used to be the silver polisher for some people in New York that had a silver service for two hundred people. He had to polish it from morning till night, until finally it began to affect his nose... Things went from bad to worse, until finally he had to give up his position."
(Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby,

After this, Daisy leaves the table, and Nick discovers for the first time that Tom has a mistress in the city. Daisy's story reflects her attitudes towards her role in life, as well as her inability to confront her problems. Instead of taking an interest in her husband's hobbies -- racist though they are -- she dismisses them, and rather than focus on herself, she gossips about truly meaningless things to her friends. The story itself may symbolize the later character of Wolfshiem, but more likely it is simply a demonstration of Daisy's shallow nature; she even forgets about the story later, showing that it meant nothing except to fill time. Her attitude is typical of the East Egg residents, who come from "Old Money"` and hold others in contempt.

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The Great Gatsby

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