The Great Gatsby

by

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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The Great Gatsby: Tone 1 key example

Definition of Tone
The tone of a piece of writing is its general character or attitude, which might be cheerful or depressive, sarcastic or sincere, comical or mournful, praising or critical, and so on. For instance... read full definition
The tone of a piece of writing is its general character or attitude, which might be cheerful or depressive, sarcastic or sincere, comical or mournful, praising or critical... read full definition
The tone of a piece of writing is its general character or attitude, which might be cheerful or depressive, sarcastic or sincere, comical... read full definition
Chapter 1
Explanation and Analysis:

The Great Gatsby’s tone is sympathetic, cynical, and mournful. Since Nick Carraway is the first-person narrator of Gatsby, his attitudes set the tone of the book. In Chapter 1, Nick reflects on his time living in New York and getting to know Jay Gatsby:

I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby [...] was exempt from my reaction—Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn [...] 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 short-winded elations of men.

From the beginning, the book’s tone is both sympathetic to Gatsby and critical of what Gatsby (and the “new money” class to which he belongs) represents: the self-absorption, carelessness, and materialism that can easily take hold of “the human heart.” This contradictory tone continues throughout the novel: Nick admires Gatsby’s achievements, lavish lifestyle, and single-minded commitment to his goals, but he also critiques Gatsby’s self-destructive obsession with becoming as wealthy and successful as possible in order to win Daisy Buchanan back.

For much of the novel, Nick’s cynicism is implied by the detached, bemused way he narrates. He initially observes but doesn’t involve himself in Tom and Daisy’s marital strife, various characters’ gossip about Gatsby, or the drunken antics of Gatsby’s houseguests. Yet the wry way he describes people and events—like when he subtly insults Tom Buchanan in Chapter 1—makes it clear that Nick doesn’t approve of the debauchery going on around him, even as he seems to romanticize certain aspects of it. As The Great Gatsby progresses, though, Nick becomes more directly involved in the other characters’ problems, even aiding Gatsby in trying to break up Daisy’s marriage. The book’s tone becomes increasingly earnest, sympathetic, and even reverent as Nick learns Gatsby’s backstory and comes to better understand Gatsby’s fixation on Daisy. (Though he remains critical of both the way Gatsby tries to live in the past, and the way Gatsby willingly pursues corruption in his quest for wealth and Daisy.)

But the book’s tone switches again in Chapter 9 after Myrtle, Gatsby, and George are killed, becoming decidedly mournful and cynical:

It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…

Myrtle, Gatsby, and George all die as a result of Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s selfishness, whether directly or indirectly. Knowing this, Nick’s tone toward the end of the book is solemn and pessimistic about the entire class of privileged, arrogant, “old money” people that Tom and Daisy represent—people who “smash[] up things and creatures and then retreat[] back into their money or their vast carelessness.”

All in all, then, although The Great Gatsby takes place during the Roaring Twenties, a decidedly optimistic and prosperous time in American history, the novel’s tone isn’t celebratory. Rather, Gatsby takes a cynical view of humanity’s fundamental tendency toward self-interest, and of money’s ability to exacerbate this tendency. Moreover, it’s sympathetic toward those who are ruined by their own desires or become casualties of other people’s carelessness and greed.

Chapter 9
Explanation and Analysis:

The Great Gatsby’s tone is sympathetic, cynical, and mournful. Since Nick Carraway is the first-person narrator of Gatsby, his attitudes set the tone of the book. In Chapter 1, Nick reflects on his time living in New York and getting to know Jay Gatsby:

I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby [...] was exempt from my reaction—Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn [...] 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 short-winded elations of men.

From the beginning, the book’s tone is both sympathetic to Gatsby and critical of what Gatsby (and the “new money” class to which he belongs) represents: the self-absorption, carelessness, and materialism that can easily take hold of “the human heart.” This contradictory tone continues throughout the novel: Nick admires Gatsby’s achievements, lavish lifestyle, and single-minded commitment to his goals, but he also critiques Gatsby’s self-destructive obsession with becoming as wealthy and successful as possible in order to win Daisy Buchanan back.

For much of the novel, Nick’s cynicism is implied by the detached, bemused way he narrates. He initially observes but doesn’t involve himself in Tom and Daisy’s marital strife, various characters’ gossip about Gatsby, or the drunken antics of Gatsby’s houseguests. Yet the wry way he describes people and events—like when he subtly insults Tom Buchanan in Chapter 1—makes it clear that Nick doesn’t approve of the debauchery going on around him, even as he seems to romanticize certain aspects of it. As The Great Gatsby progresses, though, Nick becomes more directly involved in the other characters’ problems, even aiding Gatsby in trying to break up Daisy’s marriage. The book’s tone becomes increasingly earnest, sympathetic, and even reverent as Nick learns Gatsby’s backstory and comes to better understand Gatsby’s fixation on Daisy. (Though he remains critical of both the way Gatsby tries to live in the past, and the way Gatsby willingly pursues corruption in his quest for wealth and Daisy.)

But the book’s tone switches again in Chapter 9 after Myrtle, Gatsby, and George are killed, becoming decidedly mournful and cynical:

It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…

Myrtle, Gatsby, and George all die as a result of Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s selfishness, whether directly or indirectly. Knowing this, Nick’s tone toward the end of the book is solemn and pessimistic about the entire class of privileged, arrogant, “old money” people that Tom and Daisy represent—people who “smash[] up things and creatures and then retreat[] back into their money or their vast carelessness.”

All in all, then, although The Great Gatsby takes place during the Roaring Twenties, a decidedly optimistic and prosperous time in American history, the novel’s tone isn’t celebratory. Rather, Gatsby takes a cynical view of humanity’s fundamental tendency toward self-interest, and of money’s ability to exacerbate this tendency. Moreover, it’s sympathetic toward those who are ruined by their own desires or become casualties of other people’s carelessness and greed.

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