In The Great Gatsby, chapter 5, why does Gatsby get so many phone calls? What does this say about him? What is the one in this chapter about?

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The fact that Gatsby gets so many phone calls and that they are all business related suggests that he has minions and associates that require his frequent input to carry out his various enterprises.

In chapter three, Gatsby is called away from Jordan and Nick by a butler who tells him that "Chicago was calling him on the wire." Later that same evening, the butler returns to tell Gatsby, "'Philadelphia wants you on the 'phone, sir.'"

In chapter five, as Gatsby is showing Nick and Daisy around his home, he answers the telephone himself. He concludes the brief and mostly one-sided conversation with the words "Well, he's no use to us if Detroit is his idea of a small town."

All three of these calls suggest that Gatsby's business dealings are fairly widespread across the midwest and mid-Atlantic in addition to centering on New York, where he currently lives. The implication is that whatever Gatsby is up to involves a well-organized and expansive network. In chapter five, before the house tour, Gatsby tells Nick that he had been in the "oil business" and the "drug business," but that he is not involved in either field at present.

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One weakness of Fitzgerald's novel is that Gatsby seems to be making millions of dollars without doing very much to earn it. He seems more like a playboy than a mob overlord. Fitzgerald's editor (I believe it was Maxwell Perkins) pointed out this deficiency to Fitzgerald, suggesting that there needed to be more explanation of exactly how Gatsby had attained such power and how he was making so much money. It is pretty obvious that he is a bootlegger--but we think of bootleggers as being tough, uncouth, merciless fellows like Al Capone.

The fact is that Fitzgerald was young and really didn't know much about bootleggers or other mobsters, although he was probably fascinated by them, as a lot of other people were during Prohibition. The best Fitzgerald could come up with was a lot of telephone calls, suggesting that Gatsby was the big brains behind a nationwide bootlegging operation and was directing everything over the telephone and through his associate Wolfsheim.

 

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