The Great Gatsby “What techniques does Fitzgerald use to convey the central ideas of The Great Gatsby? ” The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is primarily a social commentary on the state of American society during the post-war period of unprecedented affluence and prosperity.
Fitzgerald depicts 1920’s America as an age of decline in traditional social and moral values; primarily evidenced by the cynicism, greed and the relentless yet empty pursuit of prosperity and pleasure that various characters in The Great Gatsby exhibit.
He presents a society in which uninhibited consumerism, materialism and an all-pervading desire for wealth have perverted the previously righteous qualities of the American Dream, corrupting it in the process.
This decay of the American Dream is the central theme of the novel and is conveyed by a plethora of effective techniques, most notably Fitzgerald’s utilization of symbolic characters and geographical locations to represent various aspects and facets of American society. Over the course of the novel, Fitzgerald conveys his observation that American society, particularly on the East Coast where the novel is set, is largely under the false illusion that wealth and happiness are interchangeable.
Thus central principle of the American Dream; that every American is entitled to the “pursuit of happiness” has evolved during this period of prosperity, abundance and social change that was occurring during the ‘Roaring Twenties’, into the unrelenting pursuit of wealth. Upper class East Eggers give the outward illusion of culture, moral superiority and respectability, contentment and happiness that seemingly stems from their wealth.
But over the course of the novel, Fitzgerald, partly through Nick’s observations, but primarily through the characterisation of the violent, racist bigot Tom Buchanan, the dishonest and irresponsible Jordan Baker, but in particular through the character of Daisy, exposes this illusion to be radically false, exposing a society that has disposed of all the righteous qualities that the American Dream encompassed, and replaced them with destructive and immoral tendencies that stem from the possession of wealth.
Ever since returning from the War, Jay Gatsby moulded his vision of Daisy Buchanan to become the embodiment of all of his aspirations, and in this way she is the paragon of his own ‘American Dream’. Fitzgerald has engineered Daisy’s character to outwardly represent the opulent wealth, aristocratic values, refinement and sophistication that Gatsby has dreamt of and craved since he was a poor, mid-western child, qualities and status that he himself could attain if he was able to rekindle their love, a task to which he devotes his every effort.
In this sense, although there is little doubt that Gatsby genuinely loves Daisy, there is a suggestion that he has objectified her as a distant yet obtainable item that can lever him into the highest echelon of American society. Initially, the reader is prematurely encouraged to view Daisy in the same light as Gatsby, that is; as an innocent and righteous character, which is primarily achieved by her association with the colour white; a colour that would conventionally represent pure, angelic qualities.
However as is often the case in The Great Gatsby, the symbolism is inverted, and initial appearances belie deeper realities which become increasingly apparent as the novel progresses. Daisy and the society that she, along with her husband, symbolize, is largely an illusion. The realities of Daisy’s personality are revealed through progressive characterisation during the course of the novel, which Fitzgerald conveys through the close proximity of the narrator; Nick, and his observations.
Although superficially Daisy embodies the grace, purity and superiority of the aristocratic classes, achieved through descriptions of her beauty, her instantly attractive “low, thrilling voice”, which Gatsby describes as being “full of money” and her aforementioned association with the colour white, she is gradually revealed to be a markedly hollow, irresponsible and dishonourable character, who essentially leads an purposeless, unfulfilling, restless and eventually, as a result of her complete lack of direction, destructive life, as does the society she represents.
Daisy’s superficiality and ephemeral qualities are achieved largely by Fitzgerald’s use of diction in Daisy’s conversations and descriptions of her physical characteristics. Much of Daisy’s dialogue is utterly devoid of substance, is often repetitive and its sole purpose for inclusion in the text is to demonstrate her, and indeed the upper classes’ lack of direction and purpose in life, and the resultant restlessness that originates from a life of inactivity and ease that; qualities that are perfectly encapsulated in the line on page 17; “‘Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it?
I always watch for the longest day in the year and then miss it. ’”. Fitzgerald constantly undermines the character of Daisy to demonstrate that she is the unworthy object of Gatsby’s dream, as is the social class that she symbolises. Her immorality is subtly on display through much of the novel; she treats her own daughter with indifference, objectifying her as yet another material accessory; “‘That’s because your mother wanted to show you off. ”, she remarks in Chapter VII, displaying an apparent lack of emotional connection one would expect a mother to hold with her child. Additionally after betraying Gatsby at a crucial moment and effectively crushing his dream and one purpose in life by returning to the security and ease that a life with Tom offered, she then failed to take responsibility for her actions and let the honourable Gatsby shoulder the blame for Myrtle’s death, indirectly causing his demise.
Finally, as a final insult to the memory of Gatsby, Daisy and Tom move away rather than attend his funeral. Primarily through the character of Daisy, Fitzgerald shows that a restless and unfulfilled existence; a situation that arises from the jobless and purposeless life that tremendous wealth brings, can be just as destructive as the reckless pursuit of wealth that is displayed in West Egg. The importance of geographical setting and its contribution to the central theme of the novel, that is; the decay of the American Dream, in The Great Gatsby cannot be understated.
The most prevalent location in the novel relating to the decay of the American Dream is the “valley of ashes”, situated “[a]bout half-way between West Egg and New York”. The “valley of ashes” is essentially the by-product of the acquisition of ‘new money’. Here the results of the materialistic fervour and the relentless pursuit of wealth which have taken the place of the original noble intentions of the American Dream are vividly expressed through Fitzgerald’s use of diction to describe the region, which is overwhelmingly bleak and negative, evidenced brilliantly through this introductory extract concerning the area; This is a valley of ashes – a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of ash-grey men” The livelihood of the inhabitants of the “valley of ashes”; the “ash-grey men”, is screened from the greedy upper classes by their blissful ignorance of the damage their relentless quest for money is inflicting on the less privileged working class, emphasising an utter lack of moral responsibility, a characteristic of society which Fitzgerald perceived to have been utterly discarded during the 1920’s.
The inhabitants of the ‘valley of ashes’ are blue-collar workers, establishing a connection with Nick’s mid-Western based family, who operate a “wholesale hardware business that [his] father carries on today”. The manual labour of both parties signifies a moral, honest way to make a living, but while Nick’s family have become successful, “prominent, well-to-do people” in the morally upright mid-West where their profession is respected and their contributions are acknowledged, in the East the workers in the “valley of ashes” are exploited and used merely as vessels for the upper-classes to attain greater wealth.
The frequent and reoccurring usage of the colour grey in descriptions of “valley of ashes” creates an intense and powerful image of a desolate, depressing and polluted wasteland, which is further emphasised by a multitude of descriptive words that relate to the aftermath of a fire; most notably “ashes”, “chimneys” and “smoke”. The character of
George Wilson is additionally employed by Fitzgerald to highlight both the characteristics of the area and indeed of its inhabitants; he is a lifeless, “spiritless man” who has been sapped of all hope, however his blue-collar nature, socio-economic class and unfaltering loyalty to his unfaithful wife instantly fortifies the connection with the workers in the “valley of ashes” and the moral populace of the similarly orientated mid-West. The overwhelmingly negative imagery that Fitzgerald achieves through the use of leak, depressing diction and the introduction of the innocent yet subjugated character of George Wilson conjures up intense feelings of resentment to the exploitative upper-classes within the reader, as well as empathy and despair for the “ash-grey” workers who are facilitating the continued materialistic fervour that is perverting the once noble ideals of the American Dream, and thus the symbolism contained within the “valley of ashes” is a vitally important asset in Fitzgerald’s description of the moral decay of American society.
Through his use of various literary techniques, Fitzgerald is able to convey the major theme of The Great Gatsby, that is; the decay of the American Dream and moral society due to the reckless and irresponsible pursuit of wealth, which he perceived to be a destructive influence on peoples’ livelihoods. He achieves this through the utilization of many techniques, but most prominently through his use of symbolism; in characters, in facets of American society and in geographical settings.
Cite this What Techniques Does Fitzgerald Use to Convey the Main Themes in the Great Gatsby
What Techniques Does Fitzgerald Use to Convey the Main Themes in the Great Gatsby. (2018, Jan 31). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/what-techniques-does-fitzgerald-use-to-convey-the-main-themes-in-the-great-gatsby/