The Great Gatsby

by

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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The Great Gatsby: Situational Irony 1 key example

Chapter 1
Explanation and Analysis—Gatsby's Death:

Gatsby’s death in Chapter 8 is an instance of situational irony:

The chauffeur—he was one of Wolfsheim’s proteges—heard the shots. [...] With scarcely a word said, four of us, the chauffeur, butler, gardener, and I, hurried down to the pool.

[...]

A small gust of wind that scarcely corrugated the surface was enough to disturb its accidental course with its accidental burden. The touch of a cluster of leaves revolved it slowly, tracing, like the leg of a compass, a thin red circle in the water.

Though not directly stated, the reader can infer that George Wilson shot and killed Gatsby because he mistakenly believed that Gatsby killed George’s wife, Myrtle, in a hit-and-run. Then Nick, along with Gatsby’s staff, find Gatsby’s dead body in his pool, with a “thin red circle” of blood circling around him in the water. His death is ironic because it’s unexpected—after all, in Chapter 1 of The Great Gatsby, Nick assures the reader that Gatsby will be okay in the end:

No—Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and shortwinded elations of men.

So, Gatsby’s death subverts the reader’s expectations that he will survive or get what he wants by the end of the book. What Nick actually means by “all right” here is that Gatsby turns out to be morally “all right.” He is a tragic hero despite being corrupted by his desire for Daisy Buchanan, whereas Daisy and her husband, Tom, are the true villains of the novel.

Gatsby’s death is also ironic because the book’s very title, The Great Gatsby, leads the reader to believe that Gatsby is fated for “great” things, giving the sense that Gatsby is some kind of spectacle or attraction. And indeed, his rags-to-riches backstory, his rebirth of sorts from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby, and the way other prominent people are drawn to him throughout the novel all seem to confirm this.

But in the end, the title takes on a different meaning, as it becomes clear that James Gatz’s “greatness” (and indeed, his entire persona) was only a performance that he put on in hopes of winning Daisy back. There is, ironically, nothing “great” about Gatsby’s fate: he dies undeservedly, alone, and without having achieved his ultimate goal of recreating his and Daisy’s past love affair. This dream dies with him, and there is only a “foul dust”—a sense of emptiness and pessimism—left in its wake.

Chapter 8
Explanation and Analysis—Gatsby's Death:

Gatsby’s death in Chapter 8 is an instance of situational irony:

The chauffeur—he was one of Wolfsheim’s proteges—heard the shots. [...] With scarcely a word said, four of us, the chauffeur, butler, gardener, and I, hurried down to the pool.

[...]

A small gust of wind that scarcely corrugated the surface was enough to disturb its accidental course with its accidental burden. The touch of a cluster of leaves revolved it slowly, tracing, like the leg of a compass, a thin red circle in the water.

Though not directly stated, the reader can infer that George Wilson shot and killed Gatsby because he mistakenly believed that Gatsby killed George’s wife, Myrtle, in a hit-and-run. Then Nick, along with Gatsby’s staff, find Gatsby’s dead body in his pool, with a “thin red circle” of blood circling around him in the water. His death is ironic because it’s unexpected—after all, in Chapter 1 of The Great Gatsby, Nick assures the reader that Gatsby will be okay in the end:

No—Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and shortwinded elations of men.

So, Gatsby’s death subverts the reader’s expectations that he will survive or get what he wants by the end of the book. What Nick actually means by “all right” here is that Gatsby turns out to be morally “all right.” He is a tragic hero despite being corrupted by his desire for Daisy Buchanan, whereas Daisy and her husband, Tom, are the true villains of the novel.

Gatsby’s death is also ironic because the book’s very title, The Great Gatsby, leads the reader to believe that Gatsby is fated for “great” things, giving the sense that Gatsby is some kind of spectacle or attraction. And indeed, his rags-to-riches backstory, his rebirth of sorts from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby, and the way other prominent people are drawn to him throughout the novel all seem to confirm this.

But in the end, the title takes on a different meaning, as it becomes clear that James Gatz’s “greatness” (and indeed, his entire persona) was only a performance that he put on in hopes of winning Daisy back. There is, ironically, nothing “great” about Gatsby’s fate: he dies undeservedly, alone, and without having achieved his ultimate goal of recreating his and Daisy’s past love affair. This dream dies with him, and there is only a “foul dust”—a sense of emptiness and pessimism—left in its wake.

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