What does Nick mean in chapter 4 of The Great Gatsby when he says, "There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired"?

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is about Jay Gatsby, a wealthy man who seems to have a cloak of secrecy about him. He lives in a beautiful mansion and throws lavish parties, but often he does not even know most of his guests.

Nick Carraway is the...

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is about Jay Gatsby, a wealthy man who seems to have a cloak of secrecy about him. He lives in a beautiful mansion and throws lavish parties, but often he does not even know most of his guests.

Nick Carraway is the narrator of the book. He lives in a cottage on Gatsby’s estate and comes to know him better than the other characters in the novel do. In chapter 4, Nick says, "There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired."

The scene takes place between Nick and Jordan. Nick is attracted to Jordan and begins to think about her romantically. However, Jordan continues to talk about Gatsby and Daisy. She tells Nick that she believes Gatsby throws his extravagant parties in the hope that Daisy will show up. She says, “I think he half expected her to wander into one of his parties, some night...but she never did.” So Gatsby had to devise another way to meet Daisy, and Jordan tells Nick that Gatsby would like to pursue a "chance encounter" with Daisy.

Nick begins to think that there is something almost sad about Gatsby’s pursuit of Daisy. He writes:

I put my arm around Jordan’s golden shoulder and drew her toward me and asked her to dinner. Suddenly I wasn’t thinking of Daisy and Gatsby any more...A phrase began to beat in my ears with a sort of heady excitement: "There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.”

What Nick means, somewhat cynically, is that everyone wants something, and everyone pursues something or someone. In the book, Gatsby is pursuing Daisy and Daisy is pursued, just as Nick is pursuing Jordan and Jordan is pursued. At the same time, Daisy is pursuing a solution to her unhappy marriage. Thus, people can fall into more than one category at any one time. People are also either busy pursuing what they want or tired of not getting it or of evading their pursuers.

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Nick Carraway thinks this line while he is riding through New York’s Central Park in a victoria with Jordan Baker—a thoroughly romantic situation. Jordan has just finished telling him the backstory of Jay Gatsby’s and Daisy Buchanan’s relationship, and she passed along to him Gatsby’s request that he invite Daisy to his house so Gatsby can meet her there. Up until then, Nick had not known that Gatsby deliberately bought his house to live across from Daisy. Nick keeps thinking that line “with heady excitement.” He realizes that his life is about to get a lot more complicated.

While he and Jordan speak, he is also drawing her close to him, but soon thinks that she is not his girl; unlike Tom Buchanan and Gatsby, he has no girl. This recognition is significant because other people seem to think that he is engaged to a girl back home, and one reason he came East was to escape that misunderstanding. Nick now includes himself among the “pursuers” such as Gatsby, and the excitement is part of his decision to make a move on Jordan—even though he knows he is not really her type. This seems to encompass the ideas of both the pursuer and the pursued, as they are tied up in the complications of life; once all those dealings are over, however, everyone ends up tired.

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Toward the end of chapter 4, Nick has a conversation with Jordan Baker regarding Gatsby's past relationship with Daisy and his plan to reunite with her at Nick's home. Nick then holds Jordan Baker in his arms and thinks to himself, "There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired" (Fitzgerald 44). Nick is essentially categorizing the citizens of East and West Egg into various groups based on what motivates and defines each person. Nick perceives the people he meets on the East Coast as generally superficial, shallow, and ambitious. They are continually attempting to satisfy their desires, and they go to great lengths to get what they want. His comment reflects the nature of their aspirations and illustrates how their passions affect them. Nick's comment can also be applied to several characters in the novel. Daisy and Tom would be considered the pursued, while Gatsby and Myrtle would be considered the pursuing. Each of these characters, including Jordan Baker, could be considered busy and tired because of their endless pursuit to satisfy their desires.

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In this comment from Chapter Four, Nick is making a statement about the nature of the people he has encountered since moving to West Egg. By the "pursued," for instance, we can infer that Nick is talking about Daisy, the object of Gatsby's affection. This, in turn, makes Gatsby the "pursuing." The "busy" is, perhaps, Jordan, Nick's athletic and socialite girlfriend, or Tom Buchanan, the man who splits his time between his wife, Daisy, and his mistress, Myrtle. Finally, the "tired," perhaps, also refers to Daisy Buchanan, who spends much of her day resting at home and drinking with Jordan, and who is already jaded by life, as she admits to Nick in Chapter One.

Nick has, therefore, exposed the truth about the people of West and East Egg. He has realized that, for the most part, they are empty and shallow, concerned only with achieving their own ambitions and serving their own interests. This, perhaps, also accounts for his "heady excitement" at creating this phrase: he has realized that he is nothing like these people and that makes him very happy.

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Nick's thoughts reflect the angst of modern life.  As he holds the superficial Jordan in his arms, he wonders why any of the pursuit of love, riches, and so-called "happiness" are worth anything at all. 

Break this quote down into pieces and it is much more understandable.  For example, the "pursued" are Daisy by Gatsby, and Tom by Myrtle.  The pursuing are Gatsby, trying to "capture" Daisy, and Myrtle trying to snare Tom.

I would argue that "the busy and the tired" include all of the characters.  These traits, again, are indicative of the shallowness of modern life.  It seems that no one really wants to play the game of predator and prey, yet no one truly wishes to give up the thrill of the hunt either. 

But thrill is temporary, and its promises of pay-off illusory.  In the end, the characters lack rest and contentment, a price they have paid for the more temporal benefits of a quick fix (that is, parties, false camaraderies, fleeting fame.) 

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