The Great Gatsby


F. Scott Fitzgerald

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The Great Gatsby: Style 1 key example

Explanation and Analysis:

The Great Gatsby is written in a poetic and elegiac style in order to convey a sense of both nostalgia and mournfulness. The novel’s plot is fast-paced to reflect the characters’ whirlwind lifestyles and the sense of momentum and progress that defined American culture in the 1920s (when Gatsby takes place). Yet many of the sentences are long and use evocative imagery and figurative language to reflect the characters’ surroundings and emotions. The narrator, Nick Carraway’s descriptions are often drawn-out and poetic. For instance, he describes the sky in New York City as “blooming in the window for a moment like the blue honey of the Mediterranean” and Gatsby’s Rolls-Royce as “terraced with a labyrinth of wind-shields that mirrored a dozen suns.” 

The novel also uses alliteration and rhythm to lend musicality to the prose, perhaps as a nod to the jazz music that was popular at the time the novel is set. Rather than presenting the characters’ reality in a pared-down, minimalistic way (a stylistic choice that was common among other modernist writers, such as Ernest Hemingway), F. Scott Fizgerald’s lyrical writing style, rich sensory descriptions, and use of hyperbole reflect the extreme opulence of the Roaring Twenties. As such, the book’s style helps convey Nick’s nostalgic, romanticized view of his experiences.

But this highly descriptive style also helps convey Nick’s more somber feelings about the events he’s recounting. For instance, he describes the “valley of ashes” (a polluted and economically depressed part of New York City) as “a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens.” And later, he calls Gatsby and George’s deaths a “holocaust” and the subsequent news reports “grotesque, circumstantial, eager, and untrue.” Though still emotionally charged and evocative, the book’s language in moments like these is more dark and mournful than light and optimistic, which parallels Nick’s feelings of grief, confusion, and cynicism surrounding all that he experiences while living in West Egg. In this way, the book reads like an elegy for Gatsby and for Nick’s lost innocence in the wake of the death, suffering, and moral corruption he witnesses. All in all, then, the novel’s style leaves readers with the sense that Nick is conflicted about this time in his life, as he seems to both romanticize it and deeply regret it—and the novel, too, seems to share that sense of conflict in its depiction of the culture of the Roaring Twenties.