What role does Meyer Wolfsheim play in The Great Gatsby?

Expert Answers

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

In The Great Gatsby, Meyer Wolfsheim is Jay Gatsby's mentor, father-figure, accomplice, business partner, a friend, and one who eulogizes Gatsby after his death.  Really, "Meyer" is an alias that Fitzgerald uses for Arnold Rothstein, the famous gangster who fixed the 1919 World Series.

Meyer, in chapter 4, helps to legitimize Gatsby to Nick during lunch.  He says:

‘There’s the kind of man you’d like to take home and introduce to your mother and sister.’.” He paused. “I see you’re looking at my cuff buttons.”

So, Meyer, like Dan Cody (in the middle of the book) and Henry Gatz (at the end) is a father-figure to Gatsby--possibly the most important of all since he helped Gatsby with his "gonnections" to the underworld.  In other words, he helped Gatsby become great (he helps him amass his fortune through gambling).

Meyer also serves as an overt criminal, someone who brags about his human molar cuff-buttons:

“Finest specimens of human molars...”

In The Great Gatsby, you are what you wear: clothing reveals character and wealth.  Here, Meyer's cuff-buttons show his power, authority, ruthlessness, and his extravagant tastes.  In a novel where Daisy cries over Gatsby's silk shirts and Tom shows off his superiority in his polo outfit, Meyer's cuff-links are a grotesque reminder of his corruption.  They should signal warning to Nick; however, Nick is strangely attracted to his power.

In the end, Meyer sends Nick a note about Gatsby's death.  Tom, Daisy, and Jordan send nothing.  Meyer's notes shows, at the very least, his compassion:

DEAR MR. CARRAWAY. This has been one of the most terrible shocks of my life to me[.]  I hardly can believe it that it is true at all.  Such a mad act as that man did should make us all think.  I cannot come down now as I am tied up in some very important business and cannot get mixed up in this thing now.  If there is anything I can do a little later let me know in a letter by Edgar.  I hardly know where I am when I hear about a thing like this and am completely knocked down and out.


Remember, it is Meyer's chauffeur who finds Gatsby's body, and it is Meyer's note here that lays his mythological story to rest.

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

What role does Meyer Wolfsheim play The Great Gatsby?

The character Meyer Wolfshiem in The Great Gatsby allows Fitzgerald to satirize the American Dream and the Roaring Twenties.  Wolfshiem is also used to reveal details of Gatsby's business.

Wolfshiem is a Jewish gangster (some think this reveals anti-semitism on Fitzgerald's part) who fixed the 1919 World Series (in the world of the novel).  He also, presumably, is a bootlegger.  He lives "under the radar," as they say, trying to not draw attention to himself so that the police do not pay too much attention to him This, suggests the novel, is how one gets rich in America and fulfills the American Dream. 

Wolfshiem as a character also helps the author reveal the shallow nature of the people in the American twenties.  He claims to be such a good friend to Gatsby, yet he won't even attend his funeral.  He is self-centered and superficial and hypocritical.   

Wolfshiem, together with people like Daisy and Tom and Jordan, is what the American Dream is all about in The Great Gatsby.

Gatsby's connection with Wolfshiem also reveals a bit about Gatsby's business.  While Gatsby's occupation still remains somewhat of a mystery, the romance is certainly taken out of the issue.  His work puts him in the league with Wolfshiem, and that's not a good league. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Great Gatsby, who is Meyer Wolfsheim?

Meyer Wolfsheim and Gatsby are associated through their business affairs. Wolfsheim is clearly involved in the 'rackets' (illegal business deals) a is also a gambler. A great glimpse of his personality is evident in the luncheon meeting between Gatsby, Carraway and Wolfsheim. Wolfsheim boosts of the human teeth he has turned into cufflinks, indicating his type of business is somehow less than honest.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on