Meyer Wolfsheim is a friend of Gatsby’s who is involved in gambling, illegal alcohol sales, and other mysterious business dealings. Unwilling to reveal personal details about himself, Wolfsheim comes across as a particularly ominous figure. His presence in the novel serves as a reminder of the moral corruption that plagues the era, but perhaps even more importantly, he gives the reader access to key information about Gatsby and Nick that they may not otherwise have. The close relationship between Wolfsheim and Gatsby, for example, offers insight into the true nature of Gatsby’s wealth. Although Wolfsheim is tight-lipped about the exact nature of his business deals during his lunch with Gatsby and Nick in the city, Gatsby reveals later that Wolfsheim is a gambler and was responsible for fixing the World Series in 1919. This detail not only emphasizes the expansive nature of his underground operations, it also emphasizes his connection to the real-life crime boss Arther Rothstein. Just like his fictional counterpart, Rothstein worked to fix the 1919 World Series and eventually became a leading figure in New York’s Jewish Mafia. By drawing inspiration from a figure as infamous as Rothstein, Fitzgerald is able to increase the stakes of Wolfsheim’s character, especially for a twentieth-century audience. This choice is particularly important because Wolfsheim’s corrupt behavior ultimately reflects poorly on Gatsby. Their close relationship insinuates that Gatsby is also manipulative and dishonest, qualities which he tries to hide throughout the course of the novel. In addition to revealing Gatsby’s dark side, Fitzgerald also uses Wolfsheim as a vehicle for highlighting Nick’s judgmental nature. He is quick to make assumptions about Gatsby’s friend during their lunch, and this detail calls attention to the biases Nick holds as the novel’s narrator.

The second major component of Wolfsheim’s character is his Jewish heritage, and the stereotypes which Nick, and ultimately Fitzgerald, use to describe him contribute to the racial tensions that underly the narrative. While racial politics is not one of The Great Gatsby’s most obvious themes, Tom’s emphasis on white supremacy and the derogatory depictions of non-white characters make the topic a crucial one to consider. The characterization of Wolfsheim throughout is a prime example of this trend and works to reinforce the rampant antisemitism of the era. When Nick first meets Wolfsheim, the first details that he notices are his nose and his eyes. Both of these features are often emphasized in derogatory caricatures of Jews, and they often evoke a dark and ominous mood. Another stereotype that Wolfsheim embodies is greed and a focus on money. This negative depiction of him throughout the novel calls attention to the fear and distrust that characters like Tom and, to an extent, Nick have toward racial “others.”

In the end, the one man who does accept Wolfsheim, Gatsby, fails to receive the same support in return. Despite Nick’s best efforts to convince him to attend the funeral, Wolfsheim refuses and insists that he should not get involved. This outcome suggests that even the closest of partnerships or friendships are not immune to the sense of emptiness that pervades the world of the novel.