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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald-Book Notes
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FITZGERALD'S STYLE - AUTHOR'S STYLE

Style refers to the way a writer puts words together: the length and rhythm of his sentences; his use of figurative language and symbolism; his use of dialogue and description.

Fitzgerald called The Great Gatsby a "novel of selected incident," modelled after Flaubert's Madame Bovary. "What I cut out of it both physically and emotionally would make another novel," he said. Fitzgerald's stylistic method is to let a part stand for the whole. In Chapters I to III, for example, he lets three parties stand for the whole summer and for the contrasting values of three different worlds. He also lets small snatches of dialogue represent what is happening at each party. The technique is cinematic. The camera zooms in, gives us a snatch of conversation, and then cuts to another group of people. Nick serves almost as a recording device, jotting down what he hears. Fitzgerald's ear for dialogue, especially for the colloquial phrases of the period, is excellent.

Fitzgerald's style might also be called imagistic. His language is full of images-concrete verbal pictures appealing to the senses. There is water imagery in descriptions of the rain, Long Island Sound, and the swimming pool. There is religious imagery in the Godlike eyes of Dr. Eckleburg and in words such as incarnation, and grail. There is color imagery: pink for Gatsby, yellow and white for Daisy.

Some images might more properly be called symbols for the way they point beyond themselves to historic or mythic truths: the green light at the end of Daisy's dock, for instance, or Dr. Eckleburg's eyes, or Dan Cody's yacht. Through the symbolic use of images, Fitzgerald transforms what is on the surface a realistic social novel of the 1920s into a myth about America.


Finally, we might call Fitzgerald's style reflective. There are several important passages at which Nick stops and reflects on the meaning of the action, almost interpreting the events. The style in such passages is dense, intellectual, almost deliberately difficult as Nick tries to wrestle with the meanings behind the events he has witnessed.

POINT OF VIEW

Style and point of view are very hard to separate in a novel that is told in the first person by a narrator who is also one of the characters. The voice is always Nick's. Fitzgerald's choice of Nick as the character through whom to tell his story has a stroke of genius. He had been reading Joseph Conrad and had been particularly struck by the way in which Conrad uses the character of Marlow to tell both the story of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness and the story of Jim in Lord Jim. In those novels, Fitzgerald learned, we never see the characters of Kurtz or Jim directly, but only through the eyes of other people. And when we come to think of it, isn't that how we get to know people in real life? We never get to know them all at once, as we get to know characters described by an omniscient novelist; we learn about them in bits and pieces over a period of time. And so, Fitzgerald reasoned, someone like Gatsby would be much more understandable and sympathetic if presented through the eyes of a character like ourselves. Rather than imposing himself between us and the action, Nick brings us closer to the action by forcing us to experience events as though we were Nick. The I of the novel becomes ourselves, and we find ourselves, like Nick, wondering who Gatsby is, why he gives these huge parties, and what his past and background may be. By writing from Nick's point of view, Fitzgerald is able to make Gatsby more realistic than he could have by presenting Gatsby through the eyes of an omniscient narrator.

He is also able to make Gatsby a more sympathetic character because of Nick's decision to become Gatsby's friend. We want to find out more about Gatsby because Nick does. We care about Gatsby because Nick does. We are angry that no one comes to Gatsby's funeral because Nick is.

The use of the limited first person point of view gives not only the character of Gatsby but the whole novel a greater air of realism. We believe these parties really happened because a real person named Nick Carraway is reporting what he saw. When Nick writes down the names of the people who came to Gatsby's parties on a Long Island Railroad timetable, we believe that these people actually came to Gatsby's parties.

Nick is careful throughout the novel never to tell us things that he could not have known. If he was not present at a particular occasion, he gets the information from someone who was-from Jordan Baker, for example, who tells him about Gatsby's courtship of Daisy in Louisville; or from the Greek, Michaelis, who tells him about the death of Myrtle Wilson. Sometimes Nick summarizes what others tell him, and sometimes he uses their words. But he never tells us something he could never know. This is one of the reasons the novel is so convincing.

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