Nick Says There Are Only The Pursued

Nick says, "There are only the pursued, the pursing, the busy and tired." What does Nick mean? How does each character in The Great Gatsby fit into this schema?

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mdelmuro | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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The Great Gatsby's primary theme deals with the separation of social classes in America. While Gatsby's pursuit of Daisy can classify them as the pursuing and the pursued, the fact remains that both have time to play this game of chase. However others in the novel, particularly George and Myrtle, have no ability to pursue or be pursued because they are both too busy and too tired to do so. 

Nick makes this statement when he's out on a date with Jordan Baker and they talked about Gatsby's and Daisy's past relationship. Nick says this phrase "began to beat in my ears with a sort of heady excitement." Nick and Jordan also have time to be the pursuing and the pursued. 

In Chapter 2, Myrtle explains why she regrets marrying George: "I thought he knew something about breeding, but he wasn't fit to lick my shoe." She goes on to explain how she was never crazy about him despite contrary pronouncements from her sister Catherine. It's more than likely Myrtle married George for the exact reason Nick mentions: both were too busy and too tired to find something better.

In addition, this quote calls to mind a song Klipspringer sings for Gatsby, Daisy and Nick. He sings, "One thing's sure and nothing's surer / The rich get richer and the poor get—children." 

All of these ideas play out through the novel. Jordan becomes angry with Nick at the end because she wants to be pursued and, while he was game to pursue a while, he lost his desire to chase her. George, exhausted because of his wife's affair, has no time to pursue any dreams of his, instead he relies on money Tom promises him. However, Gatsby, Daisy and Tom never stop playing the game. Until the moment of his death, Gatsby seems ready to continue his pursuit of Daisy. However, with the woman Tom had been pursuing dead, he was time to chase Daisy and she seems to enjoy this.

Overall, this quote, or a variant of it plays out in nearly every chapter of the novel. While I discussed how the personal relationships play out in regards to this "pursued, the pursuing, the busy and tired" idea, this phrase can also apply to characters' quests for wealth and status and the pursuit of the elusive American Dream.

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