Who Shot Jay Gatsby?

This material is available in my book, The Gatsby Reader. It is available on Amazon and Kindle.

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Nick Carraway tells many lies as the narrator of The Great Gatsby. One of the biggest lies has to do with Gatsby’s death itself. Even after his death, Nick is trying to do the best he can to protect the reputation of Jay Gatsby by how he reports his murder. Anyone would agree that to be killed by some madman is less of a scandal than to be assassinated by a gangster. Gatsby was not shot by George Wilson, but by Meyer Wolfshiem, or more than likely, on his orders.

The Circumstances

We are asked to believe the following set of circumstances if we are to hold that George shot Gatsby.

  • George owns a garage, but is too poor to own a car, and yet he owns a gun.
  • He is mentally and physically exhausted from the tragedy of the night before.
  • He walks many miles over several hours.
  • After this long walk following a sleepless night, George is composed enough to shoot with a clear eye and a steady hand.
  • He is such an expert marksman that he can shoot Gatsby while floating on an air mattress upon his pool and never puncture the mattress.
  • Such trauma would leave only a thin red circle of blood in the water.

It is more likely Wolfshiem gave the order for the servants to kill Gatsby. They assassinated him elsewhere and placed his body on the pool air mattress. George stumbles upon this grizzly scene and is then shot since he is a witness. He is then made an easily available patsy.

The police left the case in its simplest form. (171) They probably knew of Wolfshiem’s involvement. Nick lets us know that the cops are crooked. When Gatsby is pulled over, the policeman lets him go by simply showing a card. (72-73) The card had to do with a favor Gatsby once did for the Commissioner, one that might have involved Wolfshiem’s influence.

The Assassin

Wolfshiem himself is an interesting character. He tells the story of a friend of his named Rosy who was assassinated outside of the Metropole. Wolfshiem says he warned Rosy not to go outside, but he did anyway.

During all of this, Wolfshiem makes the most absurd remark: “It was four o’clock in the morning then and if we’d of raised the blinds we’d of seen daylight.” (75) This is along the lines of San Francisco being in the Midwest, and is a clue that what he says is untrue. It seems clear that Rosy died at the orders of Wolfshiem, but he retells it as is best for his dead friend.

As Nick and Gatsby talk about Wolfshiem and his involvement in fixing the 1919 World Series, Nick asks why he hasn’t been arrested yet. Gatsby replies, “They can’t get him, old sport. He’s a smart man.” (78) It seems Wolfshiem knows how to get involved in criminal activity without ever being bothered by the police. This might explain why Wolfshiem did not want to attend Gatsby’s funeral. He does not want any further possible link between himself and his former associate and friend, Jay Gatsby.

Wolfshiem’s Reasons

Gatsby is involved in a side hustle involving bonds. Gatsby invites Nick to get in on it and make a bit more money, but Nick refuses. (87-88) Gatsby insists Nick will not have to do any business with Wolfshiem, and that the bond scam is confidential.

The hustle falls apart and different players are arrested. All this happens just around the time that Gatsby dies. It’s interested that this is a hustle that does not involve Wolfshiem, even though Wolfshiem himself lets Nick know that he and Gatsby always work together. (179)

Apparently, Gatsby was branching out on his own, and the attempt failed. Possibly it failed because Wolfshiem was not involved. Regardless, Wolfshiem would rather risk a hit than an investigation into Gatsby’s affairs, an investigation that would likely expose Wolfshiem to all sorts of illegalities.

Gatsby’s New Servants

Gatsby replaced his servants with Wolfshiem’s people to prevent gossip of Daisy’s visits. At least that is what he tells Nick. Clearly these are not trained domestics but thugs in training.

  • The grocery boy said the kitchen was a pigsty. (120)
  • Those in town said they weren’t servants. (120)
  • The day of shooting there was dust everywhere. (154)
  • It was musty and had not been aired for days. (154-155)
  • Nick tells us that, “The chauffer, he was one of Wolfshiem’s protégés – heard he shots – afterward he could only say that he hadn’t thought anything much about them.” (169)

Two things are very clear: George could not have shot Gatsby while Wolfshiem could have and gotten away with it. Also, he seems to have his reason for wanting Gatsby gone. Nick tells us what the police pronounced and partakes of the same lie. The police are protecting Wolfshiem, while Nick is defending Gatsby and his reputation.

Here are some more articles regarding The Great Gatsby you can find here on A Word Fitly Spoken:

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “Who Shot Jay Gatsby?

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  14. Are you trying to revise Fitzgerald’s work out of some kind of dislike toward Wolfsheim? If not, what is the purpose of this article?

    • not revise, but real correctly. as with most great writers there is some reading between the lines allowable

    • Marcus

      ^Think about this. Wolfsheim said he made Gatsby, and that Gatsby never so much as laid eyes on another man’s woman. This was because in the business they were in, you did not want to make enemies with anyone who would investigate and risk blowing your illegal operations. Gatsby was breaking these rules and making an enemy of Tom. The book says no one at the mansion seemed concerned until Nick came running to see what the matter was after the gunshot. These were all Wolfsheim’s proteges. The telephone line was to be kept open all day. This could have really been done by the proteges in the house, awaiting orders to kill Gatsby, because he had become a security threat to Worfsheim’s operations. Finally, notice that when Gatsby, filled with bullet holes, is floating on the blow-up raft, the raft has no holes in it, as it is still floating.

      Do not fall for the surface level text. Fitzgerald himself said that he never once found someone who understood the true meaning of the novel, but that it was a novel about illusion and slight-of-hand.

      The story really seems to be about Daisy’s love and desire for Tom, and her desire to pull him from Myrtle.

      Also, I believe Daisy hit Myrtle in an act of cold-blooded murder. I won’t go into depth on that, but I think the information is in the text. Find the two mentions of “The Butler’s nose.”

      Daisy may be an honestly villainous character.

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