In The Great Gatsby, Meyer Wolfsheim plays a small but important role in the novel. A close friend and “business” associate, it can be safely said that Wolfsheim was a gambler, a crook, and he knew only the best crooks.
Author F. Scott Fitzgerald is deliberately vague about where Wolfsheim comes from, who he is exactly, and how he met Jay Gatsby, but his quotes give the reader a clue as to who and what this man was.
Understanding Meyer Wolfsheim
Today’s reader most likely will not be familiar with some of the people mentioned in the Great Gatsby.
One of the reader’s first clues into exactly the type of “business” that Meyer Wolfsheim was involved in comes from this quote in Chapter 4:
“This is a nice restaurant here,” said Mr. Wolfsheim, looking at the Presbyterian nymphs on the ceiling. “But I like across the street better!”
“The old Metropole,” brooded Mr. Wolfsheim gloomily. “Filled with faces dead and gone. Filled with friends gone now forever. I can’t forget so long as I live the night they shot Rosy Rosenthal there. It was six of us at the table, and Rosy had eat and drunk a lot all evening. When it was almost morning the waiter came up to him with a funny look and says somebody wants to speak to him outside. ‘All right,’ says Rosy, and begins to get up, and I pulled him down in his chair.
‘Let the bastards come in here if they want you, Rosy, but don’t you, so help me, move outside this room.’
It was four o’clock in the morning then, and if we’d of raised the blinds we’d of seen daylight.”
“Did he go?” I asked innocently.
“Sure he went.” Mr. Wolfsheim’s nose flashed at me indignantly. “He turned around in the door and says, ‘Don’t let that waiter take away my coffee!’ Then he went out on the sidewalk, and they shot him three times in his full belly and drove away.”
At the time Fitzgerald wrote this novel, Herman “Rosy” Rosenthal was a small-time gambler and bookie who owned a few illegal casinos in New York.
Why Is Meyer Wolfsheim Important in the Novel?
Wolfsheim told Nick the above story and claimed to be a good friend of Rosenthal tells the reader two things. First, that Wolfsheim is a part of the criminal underworld or the mafia. Second, since he is Gatsby’s business associate, it gives us a glimpse of the darker side of Jay Gatsby’s life.
How Does Gatsby Explain to Carraway What Meyer Does for a Living?
You’ll learn more from Gatsby himself when he tries to explain to the naive Nick Carraway who Meyer Wolfsheim is.
“Who is he, anyhow, an actor?” “No.” “A dentist?” “Meyer Wolfsheim? No, he’s a gambler,” Gatsby hesitated, then added coolly, “He’s the man who fixed the World Series back in 1919” “Fixed the World Series?” I repeated.
The idea staggered me. I remembered, of course, that the World’s Series had been fixed in 1919, but if I had thought of it at all, I would have thought of it as a thing that merely happened, the end of some inevitable chain. I never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the fate of fifty million people – with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.
It’s believed that it was Rosenthal who “fixed” the World Series, but in this novel, Gatsby gives the credit to Wolfsheim.
This is simply another easy introduction that Fitzgerald uses to let the reader know just who Wolfsheim is and what he does for a living.
Famous Meyer Wolfsheim Quotes
In Chapter 9, in an attempt to convince anyone to come to Gatsby’s funeral, Nick goes to New York and sees Wolfsheim in person.
Most Memorable Quote from Meyer Wolfsheim
The most memorable quote from perhaps Gatsby’s closest friend and business associate, Meyer Wolfsheim, comes after Gatsby has been murdered.
Meyer Wolfsheim again declines to go, saying that he doesn’t want to get mixed up in a murder. When Nick realizes that nothing he can say will convince the man otherwise, he turns to leave when Wolfsheim tells him:
“Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead,” he suggested. “After that, my own rule is to let everything alone.”
Meyer Wolfsheim Quotes about Meeting Gatsby for the First Time
The reader is introduced to Meyer Wolfsheim in Chapter 4 (see chapter 4 Quotes ). When Gatsby gets up from the table, Wolfsheim and Nick make small talk.
Nick asks Meyer whether he has known Gatsby for a long time, and below is his reply:
“Several years,” he answered in a gratified way. “I made the pleasure of his acquaintance just after the war. But I knew I had discovered a man of fine breeding after I talked with him an hour. I said to myself, ‘There’s the kind of man you’d like to take home and introduce to your mother and sister.'”
Although Wolfsheim doesn’t go into much detail, he makes it clear that he’s known Gatsby for at least several years, and he seems proud to know the man.
Meyer Wolfsheim Quotes Suggesting He Confused Nick with Tom
Wolfsheim most likely confused Nick with Tom and wanted to downplay Gatsby’s love interest when he said:
“Yeah.” He flipped his sleeves up under his boat. “Yeah, Gatsby’s very careful about women. He would never so much as look at a friend’s wife”.
There was no reason for Wolfsheim to offer this note of confidence other than confusing Nick with Tom.
When Gatsby returns to the table, Wolfsheim makes his excuses to leave.
“I have enjoyed my lunch”, he said, “and I’m going to run off from you two young men before I outstay my welcome.” “Don’t hurry Meyer” said Gatsby, without enthusiasm. Mr. Wolfsheim raised his hand in a sort of benediction.
“You’re very polite, but I belong to another generation,” he announced solemnly. “You sit here and discuss your sports and your young ladies and your-” he supplied an imaginary noun with another wave of his hand. “As for me, I’m fifty years old, and I won’t impose myself on you any longer.”
Meyer Wolfsheim Quotes about How He Made Gatsby
In Chapter 9 ( read The Great Gatsby Chapter 9 Quotes ), after Gatsby’s death, Nick goes to Wolfsheim’s business where he tells Nick more about how he met Gatsby.
In a moment, Meyer Wolfsheim stood solemnly in the doorway, holding out both hands. He drew me into his office, remarking in a reverent voice that it was a sad time for all of us, and offered me a cigar.
“My memory goes back to when first I met him”, he said. “A young major just out of the army and covered over with medals he got in the war. He was so hard up he had to keep on wearing his uniform because he couldn’t buy some regular clothes.”
“First time I saw him was when he came into Winebrenner’s poolroom at Forty-third street and asked for a job. He hadn’t eat anything for a couple of days. ‘Come on have some lunch with me,’ I said. He ate more than fours dollars worth of food in half an hour.”
“Did you start him in business?” I inquired. “Start him! I made him!”
Wolfsheim goes on about how he knew he could make Gatsby a gentleman as well as telling Nick about how he got him started working for one of his “clients”.
Why Does Wolfsheim Refuse to Attend Gatsby’s Funeral?
Despite being Gatsby’s best friend and a very close business associate, nothing Nick said could convince Wolfsheim to attend the funeral. Wolfsheim had more respect for his own hide than showing respect to the dead.
He justified his refusal to pay his last respects to the dead Gatsby by saying that he shows his friendship for a person when he is alive rather than when he’s dead.
This sounds like solid advice except for the fact that it’s not so much that Wolfsheim doesn’t feel the need to pay his respects, but he’s more concerned about his own skin since he’s still living.
This isn’t some deep philosophical thought that Wolfsheim is offering but an explanation that shows how Wolfsheim, like most of Gatsby’s so-called friends, is afraid of being investigated, involved, or implicated in either Gatsby’s death or his illegal financial status.
It’s said that author F. Scott Fitzgerald modeled Meyer Wolfsheim after the real-life person Arnold Rothstein, a big man in the world of the Jewish mafia.
Although Fitzgerald uses typical stereotypes to describe Wolfsheim, these terms were not considered offensive in the 1920s as they are today.
Fitzgerald uses Wolfsheim to subtly explain that Gatsby did not come into his wealth by buying drugstores but via illegal operations, such as gambling and bootleg liquor.
You can read more about Who Is Meyer Wolfsheim, but much of what we know about Wolfsheim comes to us via his quotes, which are still commonly used today.
Written by Kerry Wisby – GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Owner & Founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com
Kerry Wisby, a former teacher with a BA in English, is the founder of GatsbyFlapperGirl.com. With a passion for all things 1920s, including The Great Gatsby novel, her website is the ultimate source for Roaring Twenties fashion, history, and party ideas. Read more about Kerry here.