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
What Fitzgerald may have meant in the designation of "the pursued and the pursuing" extends beyond the realm of romance between men and women in the novel. At Gatsby's party in chapter three, Nick sees "young Englishmen" whom he is sure are "agonizingly aware of the easy money in the vicinity and convinced that it was theirs for a few words in the right key." The economic boom of the 1920s attracted all sorts of ambitious people to the financial center of New York, and these Englishmen are engaging in what is today called networking. They are pursuing business connections in a social setting in hopes of enriching themselves and gaining a foothold in American markets. Because Nick is also pursuing increased economic standing, he easily recognizes what is going on around him. The pursued are their targets—the old money and nouveau riche that freely mix at Gatsby's parties.
The busy and the tired could also be representative of people engaged in the business world. Gatsby is the perfect example of "the busy;" he is constantly interrupted by telephone calls from distant cities. His lunch with Meyer Wolfsheim seems to have a more than social subtext, and, in chapter eight, much is revealed about the nature of Gatsby's many criminal business ventures: bootlegging, gambling, and stolen bonds. "The tired" could be represented by the pitiful Mr. Gatz, who has failed to thrive economically. When he arrives for his son's funeral, he is elderly (and according to Gatsby's description [a]"shiftless and unsuccessful farm" person) and is so worn out that when Nick shows him to a guest room in Gatsby's house, he "lay down stiffly—was instantly asleep." Mr. Gatz is the antithesis of his hustling, successful son—a tired, defeated man scarcely able to comprehend his son's success.
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."
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.