In both Allen Ginsberg’s poem “First Party at Ken Keseys with Hells Angels” and Chapter 3 of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, there are scenes of an exclusive, extravagant, fun party. Both writers employ a series of literary techniques in order to help convey their theme. The use of characterization and establishment of the setting of their parties in both works help depict a common theme that everything is not as it seems. This is shown in Kesey’s poem through his imagery when establishing the setting and his characterization of the partygoers. In The Great Gatsby, the setting shows a lot of the partygoers, but the way the author characterizes Jay Gatsby, the host, strongly reinforces the theme. Upon reading the poem and the chapter there are many parallels between the two when the way the author establishes the setting is analyzed. For one, they both have guests entertain by a prime party location better seen as “the huge wooden house” or “Gatsby’s mansion”.
Having a large venue allows there to be lots of guests which is another attribute to these parties. When it becomes evident in the poem that some of the partygoer’s don’t belong, the theme is strongly reinforced. It states that “children sleeping softly in their bedroom bunks.” From the description of the party, with all its drugs and alcohol and loud music, this is not a space for children. This could be an explanation for the presence of “4 police cars parked outside the painted gate.” This contributes to the whole idea that things have gone awry, and that the police had to come in to deal with it. This fact reveals a dark side to scenario created in the poem, and shows that everything is not as it seems. In The Great Gatsby, as Nick watches Gatsby’s parties closer, he realizes that “people were not invited—they went there”, revealing a different side to this scenario.
The fact that people just show up willingly to his parties means that there is an alternate motive involved in this hospitality to complete strangers. It implies that the random people will not be turned away, creating a meeting ground for many, many different kinds of people, each here for a different purpose. Upon analyzing the setting and mechanics of each party, though they differ in the types of attendees, they show that there is a lot going on behind the scenes and thus everything isn’t as it seems. The types of attendees play a huge role in the development of the theme in each work. In Ginsberg’s poem it can be inferred that it is an after party for the band Hells Angels. These performers are seen as “tired souls hunched over in black leather jackets,” implying they are weary and either asleep or almost there. This stays consistent as it continues to talk about a tired, “skinned man sweating, dancing for hours” meaning that all the partygoers are exhausted and the effect of the party is strongly shown.
Another take on this is that something seriously wrong had happened and the tired men and women, lying there sleeping are the cause of something sinister. This explains the fact that the police are present and that at this supposedly “normal” party things aren’t so easily decrypted. In Fitzgerald’s novel the character who most strongly supports the theme is the host of the party himself. While Nick and Jordan Baker are roaming the party, they pick up many stray rumors about Jay Gatsby, hearing that “he killed a man once” or that he “was a German spy during the war”. All of these negative denotations to Gatsby’s image lead one to believe that he is in fact a bad person, and there must be something in it for him to throw these ridiculous parties. Upon meeting the fellow, Nick sees him as just the opposite of that making note of his incredulous smile.
Nick becomes entranced in wanting to know more about Gatsby, but he still does not believe anything that he is being told. This still leaves Gatsby as the mystery man, and can be used as an example to show that at this party, even the host may not be who he seems to be. In conclusion, through their use of diction to develop the setting and the way characters are described, Allen Ginsberg and F. Scott Fitzgerald effectively convey this theme in both of their works. Ginsberg focuses more upon the way that the scene is set up and the actions of the characters as a whole. In contrast, Fitzgerald focuses on the development of a single character, the scene revolves around him and the way that the reader infers he is using the party. In different ways both works clearly exemplify a common theme that everything is not as it seems.
Courtney from Study Moose
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