Write about some of the ways Fitzgerald tells the story in Chapter 1 In the first chapter of The Great Gatsby, the reader is introduced to the main characters in the novel, including the narrator Nick. It also outlines Nick’s background, including his upbringing and new life in New York’s prestigious West Egg. It is within this chapter that the reader is first introduced to the fundamental themes of the novel – money and ideas of social class – and this sets the tone for the rest of the book. The famous Gatsby is also first characterised in this chapter, along with Daisy and Tom Buchanan and it is here that their relationship is vitally conveyed to the reader. From the onset of the book, the narrator Nick Carraway is portrayed as well off and privileged through his lexical choices, however he seems to take this for granted in the way that he separated himself from being like others, marking himself as somewhat superior. He also seems to have a close relationship with his father as he listens to the advice given to him when his father explains that ‘all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had’. Following this, Nick continues to imply that he, as a result is ‘inclined to reserve all judgements’ and therefore does not judge people before getting to know them.
\This sentence is both criticised and contradicted by Nick before he even finishes the sentence which we see when he describes the people who’s problems he has been subjected to as ‘veteran bores’ – a harsh judgement in itself. It is from this evidence that begins to suggest that perhaps Nick is not as morally upright or understanding a person as he may have himself believe and is, in fact a hypocrite. The use of the word ‘advantages’ also introduces the theme of money, as it would suggest that Nick comes from a good background. Having said this, throughout the first few pages Nick does seem tolerant, open-minded, quiet and a good listener, resulting in people perhaps being more inclined to trust him. He is however very secretive and this is shown through his narrative voice.
He does not share with the reader the entirety of his knowledge and delays revelations in the plot, choosing instead appropriate moments to add to the story. We can see this from the structure of the novel and how he starts the narrative, beginning with an anecdote. This nature of storytelling and manipulation of time is fore grounded by Fitzgerald and sets a tone that is followed throughout the book. The way that Gatsby is first mentioned also makes the reader question whether Nick is sharing all of his knowledge as he says that although Gatsby represents all that Nick holds in contempt, Nick cannot help but admire him. The reader realizes that Gatsby presented, and still presents, a challenge to the way in which Nick is accustomed to thinking about the world. It is clear from the story’s opening moments that Gatsby will not be what he initially appears: despite the vulgarity of his mansion, Nick describes Gatsby’s personality as “gorgeous.”
This style that Nick chooses to narrate through (his point of view) links to another theme of the separation between appearance and reality. Gatsby may seem ‘gorgeous’ but there is a ‘foul dust’ that ‘floated in the wake of his dreams’. This means that Gatsby seems to carry with him a negativity, the ‘foul dust’ of disillusionment that meant that however close he thought his dreams were, they were never going to come true. When Nick sets the scene of the area in which he lives, West Egg he describes Gatsby’s house which is next door to his own, saying that it is a ‘factual imitation’ of a French house. The use of this language shows that Gatsby is trying to imitate sophistication by perhaps making a background for himself which links to the theme of self-creation and the American Dream. However opulent and luxurious Gatsby’s house may be is a fake, and could come across as pretentious and insincere as he is not being true to his roots.
This suggests that wealth allows you to buy social status. Next to Gatsby’s great mansion, Nick feels inferior as he says, ‘my house was an eyesore’. This shows that Nick’s neighbour’s social position and wealth is entirely distinct to his own, despite his coming from an elitist background, leaving him to feel like an outsider in that culture. Nick then goes on to explain how he went across the water, to East Egg to the house of his cousin Daisy and her husband Tom. Nick dedicates the rest of the chapter to the description of Daisy, Tom and their friend Jordan Baker in a very observant and detailed manner. Fitzgerald’s observations and judgements, presented through Nick’s subjective narrative voice shape the way that the reader interprets the characters. Fitzgerald has Nick use exaggerations of expressions and body language to create an impression of Tom Buchanan and the others in East Egg. The characterisation of Tom is a vital method that Fitzgerald uses to tell the story.
He is presented with a ‘supercilious manner’ and ‘arrogant eyes’ which conjures up the image that Tom is very intimidating. This is further consolidated by the fact that Tom had the appearance of ‘always leaning aggressively forward’; giving the impression that he likes to be in charge and dominates social situations. The way in which Nick chooses to describe Tom and through his choice of language suggests that there is perhaps an air of insecurity to him and he is perhaps jealous of this friend and this is shown in the scathing nature of his description. It is however clear that Tom Buchanan vulgarly exploits his status: he is monstrous, has a ’cruel body’, completely lacking redeeming features. Daisy describes him as a “big, hulking physical specimen,” and he seems to use his size only to dominate others. He has a trace of “paternal contempt” that instantly inspires hatred. Daisy, Nick’s cousin stands in stark contrast to her husband.
She is portrayed as intriguing and irresistible, whilst also appearing fragile and filled with an internal melancholy. Daisy is ‘sad and lovely’. Everything that Daisy says seems to be exaggerated, using hyperbole frequently such as when she says ‘I’m p-paralysed with happiness’. This makes her come across as somewhat insincere and people may begin to lose faith in the meaning of what she says. Daisy craves attention and it is soon clear that Tom neglects her, which is perhaps the underlying reason for this exaggerating as it masks her vulnerability. Nick however finds this charming as Daisy makes such an effort with people, suggesting she is fragile and has been abused perhaps by men in her life.
When Nick arrives, Daisy and Jordan are dressed in white and their dresses are ‘rippling and fluttering’ in the breeze; the ostensible purity of Daisy and Jordan stands in ironic contrast to their actual decadence and self-indulgence. Nick is specific and critical of their aimless and dull lifestyle which is clear when he mentions remarks that the three say such as ‘what do people plan?’ Phrases like these show just how detached the Buchanans and Jordan are to normal life, to a point where they seem to have no life direction and separate themselves from the rest of ‘common’ society. In this way, the characterization of these individuals aids the novel in its form of a satire, ridiculing this over privileged society and creating humour, whilst simultaneously making a serious criticism about their way of life. Another example of this theme is the way that Jordan ‘yawned’, as if she is too lazy to even talk and emphasises her languid nature.
Courtney from Study Moose
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