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In chapter 6 of The Great Gatsby, Nick describes Daisy's reaction to the people of West Egg:

But the rest offended her—and inarguably, because it wasn’t a gesture but an emotion. She was appalled by West Egg, this unprecedented “place.” that Broadway had begotten upon a Long Island fishing village—appalled by its raw vigor that chafed under the old euphemisms and by the too obtrusive fate that herded its inhabitants along a short-cut from nothing to nothing. She saw something awful in the very simplicity she failed to understand.

I'm interested in the part in bold, which says that Daisy was "appalled by its raw vigor that chafed under the old euphemisms". What are the "old euphemisms" being referred to? I've wondered about this for years.

A euphemism is where you use one word as a substitute for a more offensive word. But I don't think Fitzgerald is referring to literal euphemism here. I have one theory: perhaps he means that rich people have upper-class families have a way of masking their hedonistic tendencies. The new-money people of West Egg, on the other hand, are more ostentatious about their hedonism. Is this what Fitzgerald is talking about?

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The new-money people of West Egg, on the other hand, are more ostentatious about their hedonism.

In essence, yes, you have caught the gist of the phrase.

Daisy is aware, as is Nick, of the fact that the more conservative cultural mores are in play in West Egg, but the people there are closer to openly breaking free of them, of shrugging them off.

There's a very slight, but very real, admiration in that phrase "raw vigor"; on at least one level, probably visceral, Daisy appreciates the vitality and energy of the people, but she's also aware that their freedom is limited, that they haven't quite escaped society's conservative strictures yet.

Classic Fitzgerald phrasing - almost a throwaway, but it tells you about a central internal conflict within the character using what, barely ten words?

  • So to be clear, what do you think the "old euphemisms" are? Are they "conservative cultural mores"? If so, how does it make sense to call cultural mores "euphemisms"? – Keshav Srinivasan Mar 18 '17 at 13:46
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    The cultural mores are exactly that - the euphemisms. Avoidance in public of certain words and behaviors - replacing them with accepted contrivances - is the norm for Daisy. But in West Egg they are one step closer to not doing so. – gef05 Mar 18 '17 at 21:28

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