If you enjoyed the classic story The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, then you might be left wondering, “Well, who was Meyer Wolfsheim?” by the end. He seems like an important character who had an impact on Gatsby’s life, although we never learn too much more than that.
So, this “businessman” made James Gatz into the Great Gatsby that we are familiar with, but how? Keep reading to find out more!
Who is Meyer Wolfshiem and what is His Connection to Gatsby?
In short, in The Great Gatsby, Wolfsheim is probably a gangster who may have led to Gatsby becoming a rich and wealthy person in society- consequently leading to Gatsby’s search for Daisy and obsession with an extravagant lifestyle.
Meyer Wolfsheim is a mystery to the reader during The Great Gatsby. The narrator, Nick, slowly learns more about this man and realizes that his friend Gatsby does business with some shady people. He suspects that a search into Gatsby’s background would turn up crime in exchange for money.
However, Wolfshiem may have been created to represent the real Arnold Rothstein (a person from the organized crime world in the 20s.). We can guess this because, Rothstein rigged the World Series in real life- something that the character Meyer Wolfsheim claimed to have done.
During the Roaring 20s, the Prohibition was in effect, making alcohol illegal. Bootleggers made money by selling it secretly- which was how it was implied that the Great Gatsby built up all of his new wealth. Meyer Wolfshiem was a “business associate” of Gatsby, leading Nick to realize he was a boss of the crime world.
Wolfsheim and Gatsby met in New York while playing pool. Wolfsheim took an interest in Gatsby and decided to approach him with a business deal. Gatsby did know that the character was suspicious, but his search for Daisy and obsession with wealth led him to follow around Wolfsheim anyway. The two participated in illegal activities that made them a lot of money – changing Gatsby into the Great Gatsby.
Is Meyer Wolfshiem a Gangster?
Yes, Wolfshiem is a gangster and represents the real gangsters of the time period in New York. The narrator, Nick, seems to not like the man and is uncomfortable around him. We only know the story through Nick’s eyes, and he views Meyer Wolfsheim as a dangerous man.
We also know that the business he conducts with Gatsby is not legal, as during Prohibition, selling alcohol would get you into a lot of legal trouble. Many gangsters were involved in this and never got caught. Wolfsheim also claims to have rigged the World Series in 1919, allowing him to win a substantial sum of money.
What Role Does Meyer Wolfsheim Play in the Novel?
F Scott uses Meyer Wolfsheim to reflect on the narrator in a way we can not normally see- that Nick is judgemental and does not realize it. Meyer Wolfsheim also gives us more information on Gatsby and other characters – meaning that Wolfsheim is in the story to be a source of information. He is one way that we learn about Gatsby’s past, how he made his money and more insight into who he is.
Nick feels nervous after their conversation and decides he does not like Meyer Wolfsheim- furthering his doubts about the Great Gatsby and who he was.
How is Meyer Wolfsheim Described?
Wolfsheim, Gatsby, and Nick meet up at a point in the story. Nick never likes Wolfsheim and immediately has a bias against him because he is Jewish. Meyer is described as:
“A small, flat-nosed Jew raised his large head and regarded me with two fine growths of hair which luxuriated in either nostril. After a moment I discovered his tiny eyes in the half-darkness. His cufflinks were made from human molars.”
It is safe to assume that Wolfsheim did not obtain those human molars in an ethical way- he likely tortured or killed a person at one point for them. By wearing them as a trophy, we can get some information on the kind of person he is- someone that you do not want to mess with.
However, our Great Gatsby does not seem to be bothered by his friend wearing teeth and never has one question about it. This shows that it is likely the Great Gatsby already knows what kind of a person Wolfsheim was and simply is not bothered by that fact in the same way that Nick is.
In The Great Gatsby, we learn that Wolfsheim meets Gatsby after he has already changed his name from James Gatz. It is heavily implied that he went on to work for Meyer Wolfsheim as a bootlegger and earned a massive amount of wealth by doing so. Gatsby uses his money to search for Daisy, once he finds her, he moves across the water from her and starts holding extravagant parties to attract her attention.
While Wolfsheim seems like a minor character, he is essential to who Gatsby becomes before we start the story. He is there to also give us a lot of information about other people and serves as a guide for the readers.