I'd like to know the meaning of some words of this excerpt of The Great Gatsby, chapter 1: does "abnormal" refer to a deviation from typical norms? Does "politician" mean "manipulator" does...


I'd like to know the meaning of some words of this excerpt of The Great Gatsby, chapter 1: does "abnormal" refer to a deviation from typical norms? Does "politician" mean "manipulator" does "wild" mean "unconventionnal" and "unknown "mysterious"? Is "quivering"  a metaphor evoking a sort of "mirage":

The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men. Most of the confidences were unsought—frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon—for the intimate revelations of young men or at least the terms in which they express them are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions. 

Thank you.


Expert Answers
William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I can only offer my own interpretations of the words you have highlighted. Others may have different slants.

"Abnormal" as used by Nick Carraway probably means neurotic or eccentric.

"Politician" does not mean manipulator but more likely the garden-variety "campus politician," a young person who is hoping to get elected to a class offices or a student body office. These campus politicians were, and are, definite "types." In Nick's day they were all males, but now there are equal numbers of both sexes competing for the offices of class president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer and student body president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer, and exuding enthusiasm, warmth, and personality during the pre-election period. These school politicians are cleverly satirized in the movie Election (1999) starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon.

"Wild" probably is intended to suggest the kind of individualism and rebelliousness exhibited by a certain small percentage of college students who have often been affected by liberation from home and exposure to all sorts of new ideas in their reading and lectures. Nick calls them "wild, unknown men" because most of them undoubtedly expect to be very well known sooner or later.

"Quivering," I believe, only means hovering on the verge of articulation. Nick felt someone was getting ready to make a confession or a revelation. This is something we have all felt at one time or another. Sometimes that quivering may only mean that an acquaintance is getting ready to ask for a loan. The "quivering" may be detectable in the other person's lips, eyelids, voice, or fingers.

Fitzgerald's brilliant poetic prose made him famous at an early age. It is intimidating to try to translate his daring metaphors into simpler English, but it is always a pleasure to read excerpts from his works again.

Read the study guide:
The Great Gatsby

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question