This passage is taken from chapter 4 of the novel. At this point in the story we have met the eponymous Gatsby only briefly. He is still a mysterious figure. He lives in an ostentatious mansion described as "a colossal affair," and he throws elaborate parties that he seems largely...
This passage is taken from chapter 4 of the novel. At this point in the story we have met the eponymous Gatsby only briefly. He is still a mysterious figure. He lives in an ostentatious mansion described as "a colossal affair," and he throws elaborate parties that he seems largely absent from. Nick describes Gatsby's smile in chapter 3, as "one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it." This implies a confident, charming, charismatic man. In chapter 2, however, we see Gatsby outside of his mansion, standing beneath the moonlight with his arms "stretched out ... towards the dark water ... trembling."
In this passage from chapter 4, Fitzgerald continues to add to the mystery surrounding Gatsby. The guests at one of his parties speculate as to his past, with one relating a rumor that Gatsby is a "bootlegger" and adding another that he once "killed a man who had found out that he was a nephew to von Hindenburg and second cousin to the devil." The guests who spread these rumors do so while in Gatsby's mansion, while they move "between his cocktails and his flowers," and while they drink cocktails from his "crystal glass(es)."
These rumors, and the way they are spread, point to several aspects of Gatsby's character. The first rumor, that he is a bootlegger, turns out to be true, and the fact that Gatsby makes his money from being a bootlegger suggests that he has few qualms about making money from criminal enterprises. More widely, it points to Gatsby's desperation to be with Daisy. After all, his efforts to make money and become rich are all because he is so desperate to win Daisy, because he only thinks that he can win Daisy if he becomes rich.
The rumor about Gatsby killing a man could ostensibly point to and emphasize Gatsby's immorality. However, it really is an indication of just how mysterious he is and of how little people actually know about him. He has developed such an air of mystery as to generate such preposterous rumors, such as that he killed a man and is "nephew to von Hindenburg and second cousin to the devil."
The fact that these rumors are spread by guests at Gatsby's party, who hypocritically drink his cocktails and enjoy the comfort of his mansion, shows that Gatsby is also a victim. In the opening chapter of the novel, Nick says that his interest in human affairs was "closed out" by "what preyed on Gatsby." The guests at the party are an example of "what preyed on Gatsby." They exploit his generosity and appease the emptiness and shallowness of their own lives by spreading vicious, malicious rumors about him. They label him a murderer but still sip from his "crystal glass(es)." These guests are like parasites. They take and take from Gatsby, accepting his invitations, and they give nothing back.