A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about...

from F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby (Chapter VIII) on Rap Genius

Meaning

Here Fitzgerald uses double entendre to explain the society Gatsby has found himself in. “New World,” not only being a common historical term for America, also represents the New Wealth, or those like Gatsby that have earned their riches.

To

“Material without being real” signifies Gatsby’s world’s obsession with wealth, without any concern for what really matters, i.e. love and real relationships. Gatsby’s loss of Daisy has made him finally realize that his dream of being a wealthy society man will not lead to happiness, signifying his final disillusionment. The “ghosts” are merely men like him, chasing the American Dream and having it consume them until they are shadows of themselves. They are “poor” because their search for happiness in a society that worships materialism can only lead to emotional poverty.

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