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

Daisy's anecdote about the butler's nose in The Great Gatsby carries multiple meanings and interpretations. The anecdote shows how the accumulation of wealth and possessions has dire, hurtful consequences for others. We can also see the story as a way to learn about Daisy. Perhaps her sympathies and beliefs don't align with those of her prejudiced husband.

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Although The Great Gatsby is often understood as a novel about the wealthy, Fitzgerald continually weaves in references to the poorer classes through anecdotes, songs, and other seeming asides. One of these anecdotes is a story Daisy tells about her butler the first night Nick comes for dinner:

"It’s about the butler’s nose. Do you want to hear about the butler’s nose?"

"That’s why I came over tonight."

"Well, he wasn’t always a 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," suggested Miss Baker.

"Yes. Things went from bad to worse until finally he had to give up his position."

One of the first things we might notice is that for all his later disavowals of rich people like Daisy and Tom, Nick is utterly flippant about this story, more interested seemingly, at this point, in impressing Daisy than anything else. All three of them, but Jordan and Nick especially, treat the story as more or less a joke. However, it does show that Daisy has an awareness of other people's hardships and perhaps knows what is going on more than others suspect.

The story shows the price the poor pay for the luxuries of the rich. Just as the Valley of the Ashes is literally where the refuse of civilization goes, so the butler's injured nose stands as an indictment of the excesses of the wealthy. Nothing in this novel is without a cost that somebody, usually a lower class person, has to pay. Nick himself will change over time and become more reflective and sympathetic about the people who bear the burdens of the rich.

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Let us begin our investigation of the meaning of Daisy Buchanan's nose "secret" with a warning. When we talk about "meaning," we must remember that meaning is not singular. A novel as complex and detailed as The Great Gatsby carries lots of meanings. We must remain open to as many of them as possible.

With that being said, let's dig into Daisy's story. First, Daisy refers to the butler's nose as a "family secret." A secret implies something illicit and something you don't want people to know about. So why does Daisy's family not want people knowing that their butler had to polish silver "from morning till night until finally it began to affect his nose?"

Of course, The Great Gatsby takes place among the rich. It's a novel exploring wealth and accumulation. It kind of puts a damper on the opulent fun to acknowledge that your pleasure is causing someone else pain. Perhaps that could be the "secret"? One person's good fortune can often be another person's misfortune.

Another way to think about the nose story is in the context of the Black Sox scandal and the fixing of the 1919 World Series. The novel incorporates this real-life event, which was rumored to be led by Jewish mafioso Arnold Rothstein (Meyer Wolfsheim in the book). The nose has a distinct Jewish relationship, since Jewish people are sometimes stereotyped as having big noses. Perhaps this anecdote helps shed light on Daisy's mystery ancestry. As Nick Carraway states, "Daisy was not a Catholic."

One more way to think about the nose story is how it shows Daisy as something of a class rebel. She does not feel beholden to her socioeconomic status or obliged to keep their secrets. Indeed, Daisy's expression of the butler's sad story might be her way of demonstrating sympathy and solidarity with someone of a different class.

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On the surface, Daisy's 'butler's nose' anecdote appears to be nothing but an attempt to cover up a painfully awkward silence when Tom takes a phone call at their dinner party. Daisy's account details how one of their butlers used to work as a silver polisher in New York. However, after polishing silver from "morning till night", the chemicals begin to affect his nose until he is finally forced to quit his job. It forms an obvious juxtaposition to the comparative ease of both Daisy and the rest of the companies' lives as well as the elaborate dinner they are currently eating, no doubt served with spotless silverware. In this way, Fitzgerald highlights the steep cost of the easy life of the rich, which must ultimately be borne by the lower classes. This is later seen symbolised by the workers in the Valley of Ashes. Yet, the fact that Daisy is aware of her waitstaff's personal history and of the suffering that the lower classes often endure reveals that Daisy may not be as vapid or flippant as she first appears. For although Daisy is perceived and often presents herself as gay and frivolous, Fitzgerald allows the reader certain glimpses into a woman who uses this image as a shield in a fast-paced and apathetic world, which ultimately cares nothing for her true self.

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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, mrbye.com)

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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