They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and . . . then retreated back into their money . . . and let other people clean up the mess they had made.
In this quote, which comes toward the end of the book, Nick comments on Tom and Daisy’s indifference to the negative effects of their own actions. The “things” they “smash up” in the course of the novel include Gatsby’s heart, Gatsby’s car, Gatsby’s life, Nick’s innocence, and Myrtle Wilson. Nick is disturbed by this behavior, and this quote illustrates his frustration at how much trouble Tom and Daisy cause. The novel as a whole views the wealthy as taking advantage of their class status to do whatever they please.
You see I think everything’s terrible anyhow, she went on . . . “Everybody thinks so—the most advanced people. And I know. I’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything . . . Sophisticated—God, I’m sophisticated!
When Daisy and Nick reunite at Daisy’s Long Island home in the first chapter, Daisy explains to Nick that she has developed a cynical worldview. She tells him that this perspective is common among the upper classes. Yet Daisy’s proclamation of her sophistication rings somewhat hollow, because it’s also evident from the context that her privilege protects her from many difficult truths.
I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth.
Nick shares these words from his father in the novel’s opening. This quote suggests that wealth is not the only thing people are assigned unequally; that the fundamental decencies such as kindness, empathy, and consideration of others are more abundant in some people from the moment of birth. The repeated use of the word “snobbishly” is a misdirection in the quote: a true snob might assume all wealthy people are inherently better than all poor people. In fact, Nick, like his father, believes that some people are better than others regardless of their relative wealth. At the same time, we sense an element of snobbery in the assumption of any difference between people at all: a true egalitarian would say “all people are born equal.”
In my younger . . . years my father gave me some advice . . . “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one . . . just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.
In contrast to the preceding quote, this advice from Nick’s father relates directly to wealth and class inequality. It reminds Nick, and the reader, that much of Nick’s success is due to his wealthy upbringing, and establishes him as a member of the upper class. Nick, unlike Gatsby, is comfortable with his class status, and fits in naturally with Daisy and Tom’s milieu. Throughout the novel, Nick will both take his father’s advice and ignore it. He is critical of lower class characters such as Tom and Myrtle, but also admires Gatsby, despite his lower class background.
‘You make me feel uncivilized, Daisy,’ I confessed on my second glass of corky but rather impressive claret. ‘Can’t you talk about crops or something?’
Nick speaks to Daisy during their reunion at Daisy’s house in East Egg early in the book. While earlier passages in the book remind us of Nick’s relatively high social position, this passage shows us the difference between Nick’s position and his cousin’s. The reference to crops suggests a rural and unsophisticated perspective at odds with Tom and Daisy’s life in New York, but Nick is being playful: he and his cousins know well that Nick is not from a farming family. Ironically, later, we will learn that Gatsby is in fact from a family of poor farmers.