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Scott Fitzgerald “The Great Gatsby”: Literary Devices


The Great Gatsby is a literary novel written by Scott Fitzgerald in 1925. The story revolves around the American culture in the past and how it is expressed in the story of Jay Gatsby, a man who would place his full life around one heart desire of being reunited with his lost love of many years. Gatsby’s narration is a story of triumph and tragedy well-noted for the remarkable manner by which the author has managed to capture a representation of the American society in the 1920th. This story must have been a real foundation for a structure that would successfully accommodate the writer’s ideas about the irreconcilable contradictions of American expectations. This is a critical evaluation of the story and it focuses on the overall use of common literary devices as applied throughout the text to express the writer’s point of view.

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Set in New York in the early 1920s, the story is told in the first-person narration through the perceptions of Nick Carraway, and it involves Jay Gatsby as the protagonist; his long lost lover Daisy; and Tom Buchanan, who happens to be Daisy’s husband, and also the story’s antagonist. Fitzgerald’s greatest literary acclaim is manifested in this piece of writing which applies a well-crafted word structure through the entire narration. Through inward realities of the story, the author seems to have had a sound understanding of human lives which had been corrupted to the extent of getting spoiled by greed and selfishness thus ending up in a living of incredible sadness and unsatisfactorily. This is expressed in the conflict of the story which is observed between Gatsby and Buchanan, about a woman they both love. This wonderful piece of art is indeed a product of its time and generation, with one of the most acclaimed and powerful characters in literature; Jay Gatsby, the story’s protagonist who is world-weary and more of an urbane icon.

The plot setting thematically entails the dream and hope of a country encountering the dawn of a new era and it unfurls in a systematic manner giving concern to the writer’s point of view in all aspects. The main conflict of the story has wisely been interwoven into various literary aspects such as literary elements and techniques to give it full meaning. For instance, apart from being a symbol of the ‘Jazz Age,’ representing the culture maintained by the young American generation, Fitzgerald goes a step further to highlight the bold reality contained in the American past. The story is formed in much suspense that leaves more questions than answers. Symbolism, as a literary element is widely employed to give some insight into the central, underlying meaning of the literary work. A good example of this is clearly shown in the following excerpt from the story:

Gatsby possessed a strong faith in the green light; the climax future that time by time kept receding ahead of him. This would appear to elude him, but this would be nothing to worry about tomorrow we shall a bit faster by stretching our hands even farther to grasp the opportunity. Come one fine morning and so we shall row our boats against the wavering currents of the waters, ceaselessly borne back into the memories of our past (Fitzgerald, p. 50).

Greenlight is a common symbolic item in the story. The first appearance of the term occurs where Gatsby is seen to reach out for ‘the green light’ almost in a manner kind of worshipping it. Later on, as the story unfurls, it dawns on us that the so-called green light is at the end of the dock belonging to Daisy and would represent the protagonist’s hope for a future with her. Green is the color of hope, promise, and renewal and in this case, it befits well Gatsby’s great expectations for the future with the woman he loves the most as it will be justified later in the story. Carringer (1975) observes that by the use of this symbolism, the author wistfully compares the protagonist’s rediscovery of his love Daisy to America’s discovery by the explorers and the big promise of a brilliant new continent full of life and promises (p. 318).

Another common symbolic feature is ‘the Valley of Ashes’ a term first applied in the second chapter of the book characterized by an extended stretch of a desolate land that came by, as a result of the dumping of industrial ashes. This symbol represents the social and moral decay realized from the strong pursuit of power and riches as the wealthy indulge themselves in nothing else but their desires and happiness. Apart from the symbolism, several themes have also been applied throughout the story to give it a deeper meaning. Some of these themes include hope, violence, decay, and class. Hope seems to be the driving force of many characters especially Gatsby who is eager to achieve the desires of his heart. Violence is a common theme in the story as it is expressed through Gatsby and Tom who use his physical strength to intimidate others. The peak of violence is seen when Gatsby eventually succumbs to his death in the brutal way of a gun. Finally, the theme of class is generally used in the story to explain the social differences observed among the characters.

Fitzgerald also applies literary techniques such as dramatic irony, allegory, exposition, personification, and foreshadowing to accord the story a smart finishing. Through the dramatic irony, readers can understand certain aspects of the story which the characters may not seem to understand. The aspect of allegory is evident in the way the entire story is applied to symbolically represent the American dream of the 1920s. Personification is also used in the story and a good example is evident in the narrator’s description of the trees forming the path to Gatsby’s mansion as, “pandered in whispers to the final and the biggest of all human dreams.” Foreshadowing is also evident in the text, as it would be observed in a conversation between Nick (the narrator) and Jordan regarding the violence in reckless driving. This turns out to be a foreshadow of the accident that kills Myrtle.

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The events in this novel are filtered through the consciousness of Nick Carraway. Throughout the story, the narrator appears to be both attached and detached from the world he describes. He has just moved to New York where he rents a house next to the mansion of Jay Gatsby. Gatsby would throw a party in his house every other weekend in a stylish manner that attracted the young and the rich of the stylish world. The narrator observes Gatsby’s house to be a place for everyone and this explicitly explains his high level of extravagance:

I must believe that on the first day I would to Gatsby’s house, I was one of the few guests who had been officially invited there. In normal routine, people were not invited in his big house –they just went there (Fitzgerald, p. 77).

The authority of Gatsby in this story is inextricably associated with his riches.

From the beginning of the story, the author has managed to set up his hero as an enigma. Gatsby is shown as a playboy millionaire with a tarnished past who can enjoy the frivolity he creates around his world and nothing else. The reality behind Gatsby’s situation is well explained in his big desire to recover his long-lost love. It is, however, the style he applies to achieve this ambition that would be central to the author’s worldview. Gatsby would end up creating himself around a living of mistaken values. This is similar to America’s misconception that money, riches, and fame are there to achieve anything in this world.


In the last pages of the story, the narrator considers Gatsby in a wider context by linking him with the class of persons with whom he’d become so much associated in life. These are true, the society people who were great and famous in those times. Through the minds of young people such as Gatsby, Fitzgerald has also managed to paint a picture of highlife through a decade that is both horrific and fascinating (Lena, p. 23). This compelling story has brilliantly captured the dream of America in a period when it would descend into decadence. As the writer perceives, the American dream in the 1920s was originally about individualism, realization, and the pursuit of happiness that comes with power. However, relaxed social ways and easy money would eventually corrupt this hopeful dream as it would be seen in Gatsby’s death brought by his wealth, which he uses to fulfill his life desires.

Works Cited

  1. Carringer, Robert. “Citizen Kane, The Great Gatsby, and Some Conventions of American Narrative.” Critical Inquiry 2. 2 (1975): 307-325. Print.
  2. Fitzgerald, Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 1995. Print.
  3. Lena, Alberto. “Deceitful Traces of Power: An Analysis of the Decadence of Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby.” Canadian Review of American Studies 28. 1 (1998): 19-42. Print.

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