What Role Does Meyer Wolfsheim Play In The Novel

What role does Meyer Wolfsheim play in the novel The Great Gatsby? Why is there so much focus on his nose, and what does that say about Fitzgerald's politics?

In The Great Gatsby, Meyer Wolfsheim is a shady mobster who is business partners with Jay Gatsby and introduced him to the criminal underworld. Gatsby's association with Wolfsheim reveals his questionable background and highlights the negative aspects of his character. Fitzgerald focuses on Meyer's large nose because it is a common racial Jewish stereotype, which reflects his anti-Semitic views.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Meyer Wolfsheim is one of Jay Gatsby's associates in the criminal underworld who introduced him to the illegal bootlegging industry and is primarily responsible for Gatsby's success. In chapter 4, Nick travels with Gatsby into the city, where they meet up with Meyer Wolfsheim for lunch. Wolfsheim is...

Get
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Meyer Wolfsheim is one of Jay Gatsby's associates in the criminal underworld who introduced him to the illegal bootlegging industry and is primarily responsible for Gatsby's success. In chapter 4, Nick travels with Gatsby into the city, where they meet up with Meyer Wolfsheim for lunch. Wolfsheim is portrayed as a shady character and initially mistakes Nick as a potential business partner interested in joining his criminal organization. After meeting Wolfsheim, Gatsby mentions that he is an accomplished gambler and even fixed the 1919 World Series. Nick's brief meeting with Meyer Wolfsheim is instrumental in establishing the truth behind Gatsby's success and sheds light on his mysterious background.

The reader recognizes that there is a dark side to Jay Gatsby, and some of the rumors surrounding him may be true. Eventually, Tom Buchanan exposes Gatsby as a bootlegger, and Nick has an enlightening conversation with Meyer Wolfsheim following Gatsby's tragic death. Despite being close business partners with Gatsby and helping him attain the American Dream, Meyer demonstrates his selfish nature by refusing to attend his friend's funeral. In regards to Meyer Wolfsheim's nose and ethnicity, it is clear that Fitzgerald is utilizing disparaging Jewish stereotypes, which reflect his anti-Semitic beliefs. The Jewish nose is a racial stereotype and one of the most prominent features used to characterize someone as a Jew. The fact that Meyer Wolfsheim is a greedy, heartless criminal and the only Jewish character in the story illustrates Fitzgerald's anti-Semitism.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the novel, Wolfsheim plays the role of the shady, Prohibition-era gangster who created his own version of the American Dream through a number of illicit and illegal dealings. This is supported by the idea that we don't really know much about Wolfsheim, therefore adding to the mysterious, underworld atmosphere which his character creates.

Wolfsheim also casts a dark shadow over Gatsby, suggesting that his wealth and influence may not have come from legal business dealings but, in fact, from his association with the mob.

By focusing so much on Wolfsheim's nose, Fitzgerald plays on the stereotype that all Jewish men have large noses. As for his politics, the characterization of Wolfsheim implies that Fitzgerald has some anti-Semitic tendencies. After all, Wolfsheim is the only Jewish character in the story and is portrayed as being a corrupt gangster who is completely ruthless in his business dealings.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

We are led to believe that much of Gatsby's wealth is due to his business partnership with Meyer Wolfsheim. The two men have apparently made a great deal of money on bootlegging and other illegal activities. Gatsby is very charming, as Nick points out, and makes a better appearance than Wolfsheim. Though he can't "pass" as an upper class person in front of people like Tom Buchanan or Nick, he can present well to the people Wolfsheim associates with. Therefore, he appears to act as Wolfsheim's salesman or front man.

The wealth Gatsby earns in partnership with Wolfsheim supports his lavish parties and lifestyle. The money gives Gatsby the hope that he can realize his dream of reconnecting with Daisy and building a life with her as if the five years they spent apart never happened.

It's fairly clear in the novel that Wolfsheim is Jewish. When Nick meets him over lunch with Gatsby, Wolfsheim comes across as lower class, and shows admiration for Gatsby's classiness, which is a contrast to how Nick views Gatsby. Nick ridicules Wolfsheim's speech, such as the way Wolfsheim pronounces "Oxford" with a "g" sound. Fitzgerald's unflattering depiction of Wolfsheim reveals his anti-Semitism: he characterizes Wolfsheim as vulgar.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This question has already been asked and answered here on eNotes.  Here is a link for you:  http://www.enotes.com/great-gatsby/q-and-a/what-role-does-meyer-wolfsheim-play-novel-why-257927

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Meyer Wolfsheim, as you probably recall, was Gatsby's "mob" connection. We are told that Wolfsheim "fixed" the 1919 world series, so we know he is involved with gambling and that he has enough power and money to  get big things like world series taken care of...so we are pretty sure he is part of some organized crime syndicate.

He is charming, and polite and lives the life of the rich...which makes him and his lifestyle alluring to people like Gatsby who aspire to joining the ranks of the elite.

His role, I think, is to show the reader that the seemingly slick life of the rich, underworld lifestyle isn't as glamourous as it seems. At their lunch meeting, it seemed as if Wolfsheim cared about Gatsby. He was complimentary and gushy and adoring. However, when Gatsby died, he couldn't be bothered to attend the funeral or get involved in anyway...because that would compromise him. (It's kind of the "no honor among thieves" theme)

As to his big nose (and the last name Wolfsheim)...the stereotype is that those of the Jewish religious have big noses and that they are greedy...often stepping on anyone they have to get rich...and then hoarding their riches for themselves. Throughout history Jews have been portrayed as ruthless money-makers...and I think it is this that Fitzgerald was trying to portray. What this says to me about the author's politics is that he was a bit of an anti-semite.

Posted on