There Are Only The Pursued The Pursuing The Busy And The Tired

What does the quote "there are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired" mean?

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Asked on by mmcdaid

2 Answers

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This line comes at the end of Chapter Four of Fitzgerald's monumental satire of the American Dream, The Great Gatsby. After he has ridden with Gatsby in his mythological car, hearing Gatsby's history, met Meyer Wolfcheim, listened to the exotic song of the "Sheik of Araby," and talked with Jordan Baker, a phrase beats in Nick's mind,

"There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired."

His meeting with all these people and all those who frequent Gatsby's "splendid roadhouse," give Nick this perception of the world. These people fit into one of four types:  They are either those who "pursue" others in romantic hopes of love like Gatsby, or they are "pursued" as Daisy is by Gatsby; there are those who are "busy" like Tom Buchanan, who fills his life with money and women, or those who attend Gatsby's parties, arriving with the names of great American capitalists.  And, then, there are the "tired," the effete, such as Jordan Baker, who is detached from the others; or there is Meyer Wolfscheim who has now has "little to say." 

These four types represent those who people the Jazz Age, all who have constructed their American Dream on an image, a material goal, connections, an amoral path.  This phrase that beats in Nick's ear presages the inversion of the Dream as he presses to him this "clean, hard, limited person who dealt in universal skepticism."

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jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Nick hears this saying in his head after Jordan has told him about Gatsby's long but so far unsuccessful pursuit of Daisy. At the time, Nick is with Jordan, and she "leaned back jauntily just within the circle of my arm" (page 86). In other words, Jordan always seems to be trying to break away from Nick. This phrase means in part that love is a series of mismatches, as Nick tries to pursue Jordan but finds her always a little bit beyond his reach. At the same time, Gatsby yearns for Daisy, who lives near him but who he can't bring himself to invite directly to his house. Instead, she floats just outside his grasp. Daisy stays with Tom, who is unfaithful to her. In each relationship, there is a pursuer and a person who is pursued, a person who is tired from trying to make the match work and a person who is bored with the match. What there isn't, however, is true love. As this chapter ends, Nick says that, unlike Tom and Gatsby, he has no girl whose face forever floats before him. As a result, Nick devotes himself to Jordan, even though he says that when she looks at him, she has a "scornful mouth." This phrase is about the lack of true connection among the many couples in the novel.