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The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Allusions

Main ideas Allusions

Chapter I

Mythological/Historical

I bought a dozen volumes on banking and credit and investment securities, and they stood on my shelf in red and gold like new money from the mint, promising to unfold the shining secrets that only Midas and Morgan and Mæcenas knew.

This quote contains several allusions: The name Midas is an allusion to the Greek god Midas, who turned everything he touched to gold, and “Morgan and Mæcenas” are allusions to the financier J. P. Morgan and the wealthy Roman patron Mæcenas.

Literary

They are not perfect ovals—like the egg in the Columbus story, they are both crushed flat at the contact end—but their physical resemblance must be a source of perpetual confusion to the gulls that fly overhead.

This is an allusion to the story in which Christopher Columbus flattened the end of an egg to get it to stand on its own.

Chapter II

Historical/Political

Well, they say he’s a nephew or a cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm’s. That’s where all his money comes from.

This is an allusion to Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German emperor and the King of Prussia, who abdicated right before the end of World War I.

Chapter III

Historical/Political

The last swimmers have come in from the beach now and are dressing upstairs; the cars from New York are parked five deep in the drive, and already the halls and salons and verandas are gaudy with primary colors, and hair shorn in strange new ways, and shawls beyond the dreams of Castile.

This is an allusion to the former powerful kingdom of Castile in Spain.

Pop Culture

Suddenly one of these gypsies, in trembling opal, seizes a cocktail out of the air, dumps it down for courage and, moving her hands like Frisco, dances out alone on the canvas platform. A momentary hush; the orchestra leader varies his rhythm obligingly for her, and there is a burst of chatter as the erroneous news goes around that she is Gilda Gray’s understudy from the Follies.

These are allusions to the jazz dancer Joe Frisco, the actress and dancer Gilda Gray, and the theatre revue the Ziegfeld Follies.

Historical

Taking our skepticism for granted, he rushed to the bookcases and returned with Volume One of the ‘Stoddard Lectures.’

This is an allusion to the American writer John Stoddard, who wrote accounts of his travels throughout the world.

Historical

It’s a bona-fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me. This fella’s a regular Belasco.

This is an allusion to the theatre producer David Belasco.

Chapter IV

Historical

One time he killed a man who had found out that he was nephew to Von Hindenburg and second cousin to the devil.

This is an allusion to Paul von Hindenburg, a German general during World War I and eventual president of Germany.

Historical

Meyer Wolfshiem? No, he’s a gambler.” Gatsby hesitated, then added coolly: “He’s the man who fixed the World’s Series back in 1919.

This is an allusion to the incident in which eight members of the Chicago White Sox intentionally lost the World Series in exchange for money, an undertaking actually organized by Arnold Rothstein.

Chapter V

Historical

‘Your place looks like the World’s Fair,’ I said.

This is an allusion to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, the first to be powered by electricity.

Literary

Gatsby looked with vacant eyes through a copy of Clay’s “Economics,” staring at the Finnish tread that shook the kitchen floor, and peering toward the bleared windows from time to time as if a series of invisible but alarming happenings were taking place outside.

This is an allusion to the British economist Sir Henry Clay.

Literary

That’s the secret of Castle Rackrent. Tell your chauffeur to go far away and spend an hour.

This is an allusion to Maria Edgeworth’s 1800 novel Castle Rackrent, in which the ending is a mystery to readers.

Historical

There was nothing to look at from under the tree except Gatsby’s enormous house, so I stared at it, like Kant at his church steeple, for half an hour.

This is an allusion to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who would gaze at a church steeple while deep in thought.

Historical

And inside, as we wandered through Marie Antoinette music-rooms and Restoration salons, I felt that there were guests concealed behind every couch and table, under orders to be breathlessly silent until we had passed through.

This is an allusion to the last queen of France, Marie Antoinette, who was known for her expensive taste.

Chapter VI

Historical

The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself.

This is an allusion to the Greek philosopher Plato’s idea of truth as an abstraction.

Chapter VII

Literary

It was when curiosity about Gatsby was at its highest that the lights in his house failed to go on one Saturday night—and, as obscurely as it had begun, his career as Trimalchio was over.

This is an allusion to the ancient Roman satire Trimalchio, written by Petronius, in which the title character is a former slave who dresses up as a rich man.

Chapter VIII

Religious

He had intended, probably, to take what he could and go—but now he found that he had committed himself to the following of a grail.

This is an allusion to the grail from which Jesus was said to have drunk at the Last Supper, which has been the subject of many failed quests throughout history and literature.