Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Meyer Wofsheim: An important character?

Please find below an answer from one of our sixth year pupils, Mark Shanahan, on Meyer Wolfsheim. Despite having only a fleeting presence in the novel, we posed the question:

Would you describe Meyer Wolfsheim as an important character in ‘The Great Gatsby? Explain your view.

'Everything about Wolfsheim creates sinister and suspicious connotations, from his lackluster enunciation, to his ‘cuff buttons’ made from ‘human molars’.' -M. Shanahan

Despite Meyer Wolfsheim’s limited presence in the novel, he’s quite an important character in my opinion. Wolfsheim is a strong symbol of crime and underhandedness in ‘The Great Gatsby’. Being the person that allegedly fixed the World Series in 1919, Wolfsheim represents what happens when one crosses the line of greed and corruption that every character in the novel flirts with so readily. Everything about Wolfsheim creates sinister and suspicious connotations, from his lacklustre enunciation, to his ‘cuff buttons’ made from ‘human molars’.  He’s the epitome of crime and corruption in the novel. Wolfsheim also offers the reader a new perspective of what seemed to be an un-biased narrator. Something of the up-most importance in understanding both Nick and the novel. While Nick tries to have a lack of bias, he clearly takes an immediate dislike to Meyer Wolfsheim. His description of Wolfsheim as a ‘flat-nosed Jew’ with ‘tiny eyes’ highlights an immediate dislike of Wolfsheim as well as providing an ugly stereotype, at a time when anti-Semitism in the USA was at an all-time high.

Wolfsheim’s presence in the novel therefore forces the reader to ask questions about Nick. But it creates even more questions about Gatsby. Wolfsheim is a portentous symbol of Gatsby’s sinister side and shady affairs. In Wolfsheim we get a brief glimpse of what’s behind the mystery phone-calls and money. For the first time in the novel, the reader has to seriously ask questions about the eponymous protagonist. These questions had been building throughout, but Gatsby’s association with a man like Wolfsheim brings them crashing to the fore. It’s the lack of guilt or excuses about Wolfsheim that highlights the looseness of Gatsby’s morals in this regard.  He even conveys a sense of admiration for Wolfsheim’s success, explaining that he isn’t in jail, because ‘he’s a smart man.’ At this point in the novel, the reader grasps how Gatsby made his new money and begins to understand the depth of his false persona. From this point on, Gatsby isn’t the same; the new questions that plague the reader remain with him to the very end. While it mightn’t affect the reader’s overall opinion of Gatsby, he isn’t seen in quite the same light. In this, we find the importance of Meyer Wolfsheim.  For, despite his limited presence, he forces us to ask questions of Nick and Gatsby, as well as, of ourselves. For representing an awakening to the corruption and greed in the novel, I found Meyer Wolfsheim to be a very important character.