Written by Scott Fitzgerald and published in 1925, the Great Gatsby is set during the Roaring Twenties (in 1922) and tells the story of one man’s pursuit of the American Dream. The narrator, Nick Carraway, is an upper class American who moves from the Midwest to New York to try his luck as a bond trader. He meets an eccentric and wealthy neighbor named Jay Gatsby and becomes involved in Gatsby’s plan to rekindle a lost love with a woman named Daisy Buchanan, who is Nick’s cousin once removed. The protagonist, Jay Gatsby, is involved in illegal activities, including bootlegging. He throws lavish parties to get Daisy’s attention, which eventually results in them meeting and beginning an affair. Daisy’s husband, Tom, is carrying on an affair with a garage owner’s wife, a woman named Myrtle Wilson. Coming home from New York one night, Daisy hits and kills Myrtle while driving Gatsby’s car. She is unaware that she has killed her husband’s mistress and flees the scene of the crime. Myrtle’s husband (George) is miserable and deranged but is determined to find and murder his wife’s killer. Tom points George to Gatsby’s house, where he shoots and kills Gatsby and then himself, thus ending Daisy’s affair. Nick arranges a funeral for Gatsby and tries to find people to come but only Gatsby’s father would attend. Disillusioned with his time on the East coast, Nick decides to return to his home in the Midwest.
The Great Gatsby is meant to portray the quality of life in America during the 1920s. It is a social commentary on the desire to reach the upper class of society and sends a message about the elitism running throughout the culture. Fitzgerald highlights the moral failings of a society mesmerized by the trappings of wealth in order to reveal the disintegration of the American dream in an era of unprecedented prosperity and material excess. Three passages were chosen from the novel to best represent the book as a whole and also convey Fitzgerald’s overall message to society. The following paragraphs will summarize these three passages and explain why they were selected.
In the first passage selected, the narrator begins the story by commenting on himself, stating that he learned from his father to reserve judgement about other people, because if he holds them up to his own moral standards, he will misunderstand them. He characterizes himself as both highly moral and tolerant. He briefly mentions the hero of the story, Gatsby, saying that Gatsby represented everything he scorns, but that he exempts Gatsby completely from his usual judgements. He connects Gatsby to both the prosperity of the era and the American dream, and indicates that Gatsby was done in by the “foul dust” of the Roaring Twenties. The introduction of the setting, the 1920s, helps to establish author’s and narrator’s view of the era. This passage was chosen because it provides the author’s main theme. Even though this was a time of optimism, Fitzgerald portrays the bleaker side of society and focuses on its indulgence, insincerity, irresponsibility, and the consequences from those shortcomings. Additionally, the passage also introduces the distinct class divisions created in this era: old money vs new money. Old money referred to people and families that were wealthy before the era and had been wealthy for many generations. New money referred to people who gained their wealth from the 1920s boom. Gatsby symbolizes the American dream, both the original and the new corrupted version being developed at the time, which is another failing of society that Fitzgerald wants to reveal to the reader.
In the second passage chosen, Gatsby tells Nick about courting Daisy in Louisville in 1917. He says that he loved her for her youth and vitality, and idolized her social position, wealth, and popularity. He adds that she was the first girl to whom he ever felt close and that he lied about his background to make her believe that he was worthy of her. Eventually, he and Daisy made love and he felt as though he had married her. Gatsby’s story explains his actions. He was in love with the idea of Daisy. Daisy’s love gave Gatsby an identity as a young man and made his manufactured “new money” identity legitimate. To preserve this identity, Gatsby had to have her. This passage was chosen because it exemplifies Fitzgerald’s idea of the corruption of society through the trappings of achieving great wealth, climbing the social ladder and accumulating material things. Gatsby is impressed with Daisy’s social status and the endorsement of her that she was wanted by many other men would elevate him to a higher class by his association with her. Gatsby is solely focused on the goal of achieving upper class status, which is highlighted by society’s obsession with wealth and material items in this era.
The last passage selected is about Nick’s last night in the West Egg before moving back to Minnesota. Nick walks over to Gatsby’s empty mansion, sprawls out on the beach behind Gatsby’s house, and looks up. As the moon rises, he imagines the island with no houses and considers what it must have looked like to the explorers who discovered the New World centuries before. He imagines that America was once a goal for dreamers and explorers, just as Daisy was a goal for Gatsby. He pictures the green land of America as the green light shining from Daisy’s dock and muses that Gatsby—whose wealth and success echoes the American dream—failed to realize that the dream had already ended, that his goals had become hollow and empty. This passage was chosen because it embodies Fitzgerald’s notion that the social moral fiber of the time has killed the American dream. Nick senses that people everywhere are motivated by similar dreams and by a desire to move forward into a future in which their dreams are realized. However, Nick also envisions their struggles to create that future as boats moving in a body of water against a current that inevitably will carry them back into the past and thus have their dreams unfulfilled.
Through his novel, The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald aimed to reveal the faults of society in the Roaring Twenties. As has been demonstrated, the three passages selected and described above best convey his message. An American dream solely based on the pursuit of wealth at all costs is not only a corruptible dream but also a means to the disintegration of society as a whole. The chosen passages identify the key ideas that Fitzgerald wanted to bring across to the reader while at the same time represent the entire book.
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book, The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald reveals the moral emptiness and corruption of the Jazz age through his lyrical and reflective writing style in order to portray the era’s materialistic distortion of the American dream. Fitzgerald employs characterization throughout his novel in order to infuse the reader with the emotions that his characters are feeling to drive home his point. He utilizes imagery while creating his unique style to draw the reader in to his story so that the reader feels they are actually a part of it. The following paragraphs, based on the three chosen passages from the novel, will showcase Fitzgerald’s use of figurative language styles and demonstrate how he uses them to deliver his message to the reader.
Fitzgerald draws upon the use of rich imagery while describing the aspects of Daisy’s material status. When Gatsby visits Daisy’s house he was amazed and “had never seen such a beautiful house before.” He goes on to describe the “ripe mystery about it” with “a hint of bedrooms upstairs more beautiful and cool than other bedrooms, of gay and radiant activities taking place through its corridors, and of romances that were not musty and laid away in lavender, but fresh and breathing and redolent of this year’s shining motor-cars and of dances whose flowers were scarcely withered.” The imagery portrayed in this passage invites the reader in to Daisy’s home along with Gatsby. The poetic style of the writing also allows the reader to better understand the mindset of characters. The imagery does not simply paint a picture of the scene, but invokes the feelings of the characters as well. The most valuable things about Daisy, according to Gatsby, are that she belongs to the upper class of society and the quantity of material items she owns. Gatsby almost cannot seem to separate Daisy herself from the house which he fell in love with. Fitzgerald’s use of imagery here lets Gatsby envision the life that could be obtained if he had Daisy. However, at the same time, Fitzgerald is conveying to the reader that the exploration of wealth has become crude and empty as a result of subjecting its expanding exuberance to the greedy pursuit of money.
Another rhetorical strategy used by Fitzgerald is a unique take on a first person narrative. He establishes this while introducing the narrator (Nick Carraway) at the beginning of the book. Fitzgerald is giving a hint to the reader that the following story will be a case study for the advice that Nick was given by his father. By telling the reader this up front, Fitzgerald transforms the reader from merely being a spectator to being a participant in the story. Nick’s father told him that “whenever you feel like criticizing any one, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages you’ve had.” This indicates that Nick’s first instinct would be to criticize the events and people that follow in the story, but his father’s warning gives him pause. Since Nick is in the process of evaluating the events as they happen to himself, this makes Gatsby a vehicle of evaluation throughout the entire story. Even though Gatsby “represented everything for which” the Nick has “unaffected scorn”, he was exempted from this first critical reaction. Gatsby was never blessed with the “advantages” that Nick had, but still, in Nick’s eyes, “turned out all right at the end.” Fitzgerald uses this figurative language from Nick to evoke a feeling of sympathy towards Gatsby, saying that he was “preyed on” and that his downfall was caused by the “foul dust” that “floated in the wake of his dreams”. The “foul dust” represents the corruption of the people of the era which altered his original pursuit of the American dream ultimately to his demise. By introducing the book in this manner, Fitzgerald builds a distinctive depth of his characters even before they are fully introduced and earns a measure of trust between the reader and the characters in his story.
Fitzgerald employs symbolic comparisons while describing Nick’s last night in the West Egg to connect Gatsby’s ruin to the overall faults of society at the time. Nick asserts that “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us” which shows the similarities between Gatsby’s goal of winning Daisy’s love and society’s desire to achieve the materialistic American dream. Gatsby represents everyone in America, each with his or her own dream and each dream an effort to regain a past already lost. The “green light” is a symbolic representation of Gatsby’s dreams, which are always just out of his reach, and parallel society’s vain effort to recapture an idealized past. The people of the era “beat on” like “boats against the current” and are “bourne back ceaselessly into the past.” With this analogy of people chasing the American dream to trying to row a boat against the current, Fitzgerald is trying to convey the idea that through society’s continuing efforts to move forward through new obstacles, people will be constantly reminded and confronted with their past. Fitzgerald uses these symbolic comparisons to engage the reader to feel the struggle that Gatsby, and thus everyone, has in trying to achieve their dreams even if those dreams may never be fully achieved no matter what you may accumulate or do.
Fitzgerald’s use of reflective writing styles like foreshadowing and flashbacks are also prevalent throughout his novel. Upon his arrival in West Egg, Nick Carraway makes the distinction between Gatsby, whom he admires because of his dream, and the other characters, who constitute the “foul dust” that “floated in the wake of his dreams.” Nick’s instantaneous scorn for these “Eastern” types foreshadows all the way to the very end of the novel. At the end the novel, after all the commotion that has been caused by these Easterners, Nick refuses to deal with them any longer. He leaves the East, returns to the Midwest, and withdraws from his involvement with other people. The usage of flashbacks in The Great Gatsby also helps to give the reader background information about the characters. One instance in which Fitzgerald utilizes flashback is when Nick is trying to get people to come to Gatsby’s funeral. During this flashback Nick finally meets Gatsby’s father, Mr. Gatz, who was the only person to come to his son’s funeral. The book comes to life for the reader through the use of flashback and foreshadowing and makes it possible for the reader to be able to understand Gatsby’s relentless pursuit of his dream and also understand Gatsby the way Fitzgerald does.
In his novel, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald developed an illustrious writing style through his manipulation of imagery and application of symbolic comparisons. His unique literary style helped to convey his disparaging message about society in the Roaring Twenties to his readers by fully immersing them in the story. As has been proven in the examples showcased above, Fitzgerald’s use of multiple figurative techniques, was key to developing his characters and his story. These techniques established Fitzgerald’s theme and allowed the reader to see past the glamour