“Oh, I’ve been in several things,” he corrected himself. “I was in the drug business and then I was in the oil business. But I’m not in either one now.”

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

Meaning

Fitzgerald employs Gatsby’s elusive character to bring about the idea of suspicious and illegal origins of money.

In the roaring 20s in the United States, the American Dream glorified the self-made man who essentially built an empire of wealth on his own from hard work and dedication.

Despite embodying the supposedly valued American Dream, Gatsby still hides the origins of his money because not only is the money possibly illegally earned, but also it also shows his newly wealthy status.

In a world that supposedly praises and rewards those who earn and deserve wealth, Gatsby surprisingly is faced with a society exclusive to all who are not born into wealth.

For this reason, Gatsby avoids answering where exactly from where his money has come by saying that he was in the “drug business” and later the “oil business”. He does not include his role or position, nor does he specify what his current business is. In this sense, Gatsby has realised that the ideal of the self-made man and the American Dream is actually not praised or admired.

Also, having to ‘correct’ himself suggests that he is working hard to present a gentrified persona. Gatsby is working at creating himself, and (sometimes) struggles to steer a true course.

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