How does Fitzgerald’s variety of language techniques illustrate his views on the lifestyle of the era, here and in the novel as a whole
With reference to at least two passages, show how Fitzgerald’s variety of language techniques illustrate his views on the lifestyle of the era, here and in the novel as a whole.
Fitzgerald uses many different literary techniques to portray his opinion of the lifestyle during the 1920’s. The use of Nick Carraway as narrator continually exposes the readers to both the positives, and negatives of this era.
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Throughout “The Great Gatsby” Fitzgerald explores key issues of “The jazz age”. The role of women and the hierarchy of society are two of the main issues which Fitzgerald explores.
Throughout passage one there is a big divide of social status and it is clear that the differences within the class hierarchy are profound:
“He’s so dumb he doesn’t know he’s alive.”
Fitzgerald uses the brutal character of Tom Buchanan to portray the divide and disapproval of working class citizens like Wilson. The use of strong adjectives portrays the maltreatment of the working class. In passage two Fitzgerald presents the opposite end of the hierarchy to the readers. The readers are therefore exposed to a world of wealth:
“…superior couples holding each other tortuously, fashionably, and keeping to the corners…”
The continued use of adjectives by Fitzgerald this time creates a different image. He creates a disjointed atmosphere which is contrasted by wealth. The negative imagery that is created challenges the idea of The American Dream and the fallible belief of characters like Wilson that success and therefore wealth is essential. This contrasts the first passage where Fitzgerald portrays the negatives of poverty. Fitzgerald suggests that there was no equilibrium of success and wealth in that society. However, Fitzgerald was in fact part of the higher social class who contributed to these parties.
Infidelity is a key issue that Fitzgerald exposes in this novel and this is especially true for passage one:
“She smiled slowly and, walking through her husband as if he were a ghost, shook hands with Tom, looking him flush in the eye.”
Fitzgerald uses his narrator Nick to observe the desperate actions of a typical working class woman of the 1920’s. Fitzgerald’s provocative language, “looking him flush in the eye,” portrays Myrtle’s obsessive pursuit of wealth and supposed happiness. The idea of The American Dream is once again divulged, as Myrtle’s quest for wealth sacrifices her marriage. The comparison of Wilson to a ghost is important because it shows that Fitzgerald disapproves of Myrtle’s actions and is trying to portray her callous behaviour. The technique of formal, introductory action, “shook hands with Tom” is used by Fitzgerald in contrast to the deeper more intimate relationship beneath the superficial appearance. This represents Fitzgerald and his sympathy in this instance for the poor, hardworking citizens; even though he was himself part of this wealthy lifestyle. In passage two no direct infidelity is explored by Fitzgerald; however the idea of frivolity amongst couples is:
“There was dancing now on the canvas in the garden; old men pushing young girls backward in eternal graceless circles…”
Fitzgerald’s use of “pushing” and “graceless” suggests that there is no connection or intensity in relationships. Similarly to the worthless marriage of Wilson and Myrtle, these couples are awkward and without attachment.
The role of women is a major flaw of society within this time period. Fitzgerald suggests mistreatment in his description of, “…old men pushing young girls…” He emphasises the lack of connection amongst couples and presence of control over women. He disapproves of the treatment of women; however he does not defend the women or even approve of their actions, “single girls dancing individualistically…” His language is sarcastic and mocking towards the drunken women at Gatsby’s party. Both sides of Fitzgerald’s arguments are made more significant by the location, representing the treatment in public situations. Fitzgerald is portraying the lack of reaction amongst citizens of the 1920’s. Similarly to when Tom broke Daisy’s nose. Although the action was recognised by Nick it was not dwelled upon. This domination is re-emphasised later in the novel at another public party location:
“Whenever he sees I’m having a good time he wants to go home.”
Fitzgerald repeatedly features dominating, bullying husbands who control their wives and restrict their lives. However, some would argue that the control is to stop inappropriate behaviour of the typically drunk women of the era. This control over women is paralleled in passage one by the dominating male character of Tom:
“I want to see you…Get on the next train.”
Fitzgerald uses Tom’s brutal nature and blunt direct speech to portray the worthlessness of women. Fitzgerald’s language is domineering and controlling, which suggests that he has unfaithful motives for his arrangements with “his girl”. Fitzgerald portrays an entirely different character to the readers after Myrtle’s death:
“Tom drove slowly…In a little while I heard a low husky sob, and saw that the tears were overflowing down his face.”
Fitzgerald show’s the readers that this lifestyle can be fragile and vulnerable at times. The readers see a new side of Tom and it proves that although he was a domineering character he did have true feelings for Myrtle. Fitzgerald still represents the era by using bold and masculine adjectives, “…low husky sob…” This description of Tom portrays the idea that people could not show fragility without trying to be superficially strong.
The male domination of characters like Tom is similar to the behaviour of Mink in “Postcards” by Annie Proulx. Mink is a very possessive and restricting character, he controls his wife Jewell:
“…Mink wouldn’t hear of it. Had a fit every time I wanted to go somewhere…”
This possession is very similar to Tom and his control that he needs over Daisy. However there is a difference, Mink and Jewell are very poor farmers which are directly contrasted by the wealth of Tom and Daisy. The American Dream that so many people went in search of, hoping that money meant happiness, is proved false. Two completely different male characters from different wealth background are still dominating and controlling. Therefore, American Dream seekers like Wilson, Myrtle, The Joad family from “The Grapes of Wrath”, Lenny and George from “Of mice and Men” are blinded by a dream.
Excess is an issue of the 1920’s among successful wealthy people similar to those of Gatsby, Daisy and Tom. Fitzgerald displays initial disapproval of this gluttony:
“…Champagne was served in glasses bigger than finger-bowls.”
The use of an upper class comparison makes this sentence more powerful. Fitzgerald compares excess with more flamboyant objects. This is effective in the portrayal of the lavishness of parties. However, his possible disapproval is soon altered by the effects of alcohol and the narrator is soon engulfed in a wealthy society:
“I had taken two finger-bowls of champagne, and the scene has changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental, and profound.”
Fitzgerald condemns the consumption of alcohol and displays its dangers perfectly through the transformation of his narrator and his observations. He suggests that society’s vision is clouded by alcohol and excessiveness rendering it impossible to possess educated and sensible opinions of the extravagant lifestyle. The excess of a public environment is directly contrasted with the poverty of a private location in passage one:
“…a grey, scrawny Italian child was setting torpedoes in a row along the railroad track.”
This observation made by Tom is purposefully displaying Fitzgerald’s disapproval of the excess of the Buchanon’s lifestyle. He shows readers that poverty was ignored by the upper class. Instead of helping the area characters similar to Tom want to ignore them and return to their luxurious lifestyles. The private location is essential in the portrayal of the ignorance to poverty and the lack of connection with menial workers like Wilson.
The entire novel displays one of the biggest flaws of 1920’s society, superficiality. Passage two contains the superficiality of parties and public events:
“…Vacuous bursts of laughter rose toward the summer sky.”
Fitzgerald uses a powerful adjective to describe the laughter as being fake. Imagery is created of clouds floating into the sky; this is created by Fitzgerald to display the superficial atmosphere. Everyone at the party is contributing to the hollow laughter and taking advantage of Gatsby and his hospitality. Fitzgerald is showing the readers a lack of genuine care or enjoyment, it is a superficial persona. Fitzgerald continues to show the readers that superficiality is present in private scenes like passage one:
“Get some chairs…his wife moved close to Tom.”
Fitzgerald portrays how a relationship can be superficial. Myrtle’s order is brazen in order to spend time with Tom. He shows the readers that people of this era were superficial, for public show and private gain. This is similar behaviour to that of Daisy later on in the novel:
“Make us a cold drink…As he left the room again she got up and went over to Gatsby and pulled his face down, kissing him in the mouth.”
This behaviour is paralleled to Myrtle’s; they are both very cold and daring in these cases. Fitzgerald believes this is wrong and he displays this by the quick pace of the sentence, it shows a rush to end the action. The behaviour is similar to that of Tom and his affair with Myrtle, which shows a strength emerging for women. Daisy is now entering into an affair just as Tom is. Fitzgerald represents a clear disapproval of the unfaithful nature of society.
I think Fitzgerald uses lots of literary techniques to cover all the key issues of the 1920’s. He successfully describes situations vividly and encourages the reader using Nick as narrator. The readers are encouraged to believe that the “Jazz age” was excessive, superficial, wealth obsessed and unfaithful. However, as Fitzgerald shows using Nick, it was a very attractive era which captured people and engulfed them in money.