The Great Gatsby Questions and Answers
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby book cover
Start Your Free Trial

The significance of the symbol Wolfshiem's "finest specimens of human molars" Just need help with this on a essay.   Thanks

Expert Answers info

Wallace Field eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseTeacher (K-12)

calendarEducator since 2016

write7,353 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Arts

Wearing human molars as jewelry appears to indicate a certain lack of reverence for human beings: he even refers to the teeth as "specimens." Wolfsheim treats an actual physical piece of a human like nothing more than an interesting object, indicating that he likely views humans themselves as objects. The cuff buttons also seem like a thinly veiled threat, as though Wolfsheim has actually had the molars extracted from someone who crossed him or owed him money or something. The fact that he draws Nick's attention to them out of the blue also seems to support this idea. Wolfsheim says, 

"I see you're looking at my cuff buttons."  I hadn't been looking at them, but I did now [Nick says]. . . . "Finest specimens of human molars," he informed [Nick].

This is the first time that Wolfsheim has ever met Nick, and, as far as he knows, Nick is a business associate of Gatsby's. It is likely not a coincidence that he points out his cuff buttons to this stranger, as if to say "Don't get in my way or cross me or my next piece of jewelry could be made of your teeth." It's a warning or a signal indicating to Nick what kind of man Wolfsheim is: cold, hard, and ruthless.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Bruce Bergman eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseCollege Professor

calendarEducator since 2011

write3,640 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and Business

We see in the molars that Wolfsheim is both crude and indifferent to human suffering. He is, in short, a thug. This reflects on Gatsby, or should, and portrays Gatsby as something very different than the "Oggsford man" he presents himself to be.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

bobby007 | Student

It is through these subtle details that we learn something about Jay Gastby.  Wolfsheim's cufflinks are made from human molars.  That is a pretty disgusting thought because we can't help but wonder what kind of person would want them and what is he trying to say about himself by wearing them?  Fitzgerald wants us to think about the gruesomeness of the cufflinks and think about how they must have been extracted -- probably under torture and then think about why he wears them -- as a sign to his friends and enemies that he is not afraid to send the message to not mess with him and his business.  He is likely in the mafia, and that would explain how Gatsby came by such excess of wealth in such a short period of time.  If he is willing to associate with people like Wolfsheim, then that is saying something rather unsavory about his character.  Wolfsheim's comment about Gatsby is another piece of their relationship.  Wolfsheim wants to run his illegal activities and not get caught.  By working with someone like Gatsby that appears to be of fine breeding with his Oxford education and heroic war medals, and his 'above reproach' behvior, it makes their business less suspicious and keeps Wolfsheim 'above the law'.  Gastby isn't a criminal by nature -- he is only doing what he has to do to get the money that he thinks will attrack the attention and the love of Daisy.