Think hard. It doesn't really matter — does it? — that this is today's sentence from "The Great Gatsby," another dutiful posting in our Gatsby project, wherein we look at one sentence, out of context, each day. I know the context of that sentence. I know what happened in the story. You can look it up.
It's so tempting to break out of the form of the project and tell you, to go back into the paragraph, even as I want to tempt you out of the book altogether to look at this proposition that Americans are willing — occasionally! — to be serfs but won't accept the notion that they are peasants. What's the difference?!
But I've got to tell you. There was a rich man — not Gatsby — who tried to get the people in the houses around his house to accept having their roofs thatched with straw. He offered to pay their taxes for 5 years if they'd accept this imposition which would have allowed him to have a nice view of a faux-peasant village. They refused, and the rich man, we're told, "went into an immediate decline." And "His children sold his house with the black wreath still on the door." That's how Gatsby got his house. So that's the peasant idea that offends Americans.
But serfs. We are willing to be serfs.