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The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

-analysis of chapter One-


   The inaugural chapter to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, is a fitting introduction to what many consider one of the greatest pieces of American literature. Chapter one of The Great Gatsby does a fine job in displaying Fitzgerald’s renowned literary talents as well as captivating the reader and introducing a story that begs to be read. The vital characters of the story are introduced beautifully in chapter one, as Fitzgerald uses selective language to reveal what he wants about the characters without giving too much away. Some of the characters’ main qualities are revealed, both through Nick’s extensive narration and their own statements. The setting of the book is also wonderfully introduced as Nick goes through the geography and housing he finds out on Long Island. The rival communities of West Egg and East Egg are introduced, as well as the respective homes of all of the major characters. In chapter one as in the rest of the novel and the rest of his works, Fitzgerald utilizes obsessively chosen words to convey exactly what he means. Fitzgerald’s syntax is similarly chosen and intended, as all unneeded words are excluded and enormous run-on sentences add to the feeling and the style of the story. In the category of imagery, The Great Gatsby is again overflowing as Fitzgerald captivates the reader with marvelous descriptions of the Long Island mansions and creates symbols out of the most mundane objects. Chapter one of The Great Gatsby is packed with examples of Fitzgerald’s talents displayed in wonderful diction, syntax, and imagery that make chapter one an extremely beautiful and effective introduction to Fitzgerald’s masterwork.

   The Great Gatsby appears to be somewhat slim to be considered on of the great works of American literature as chapter one is barely twenty-one pages long and the entire work weighs in at less than one hundred and ninety pages. However, this length is perfect for such a wordsmith as F. Scott Fitzgerald; a man who deliberated over the smallest detail or word change to convey exactly what he meant. In the case of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald went back and forth with his editor, Maxell Perkins, before settling on the manuscript with exactly the right diction. In chapter one, Fitzgerald’s particular use in specific diction is in the descriptions and insights into the characters and settings of the novel, an imperative procedure necessary to set up the rest of the book. Nick’s specific narration in the beginning of the chapter reveals how much he admired Gatsby even though the man “represented everything for which I have unaffected scorn,” and was the opposite of the high morality that Nick seeks. The reader is also informed about Nick’s upbringing, another topic that is laid out by Fitzgerald’s carefully chosen words, making Nick neutral, neither extremely poor or extremely rich. Nick instead is part of a “prominent, well-to-do…clan” that has lived in the morally upstanding Midwest for three generations. Diction in the book’s dialogue also does a good job of introducing characters, as Tom’s ironic first words are “I’ve got a nice place here.” The expected phrase would be a compliment from Nick to Tom about Tom’s property, but the narcissistic East Egger gives himself the compliment instead. Also, the description of Tom is carefully worded, as Nick terms Tom’s massive, athletic physique as “a body capable of enormous leverage—a cruel body,” there is nothing sexy or even positive about the body or its owner. Diction also plays a strong role in the reader’s perception of the setting of the novel, the houses in particular. First of all, the dwellings in chapter one are never referred to as a home, they are called mansions, palaces, Nick refers to Gatsby’s mansion as “a colossal affair,” and Nick calls his own shack a “cardboard bungalow.” These buildings are never called something as personal as home, a place were people live and grow; they are simply colossal overgrown houses whose sole purpose is to convey a positive wealthy image to the outside world.

   Another one of Fitzgerald’s tools in tweaking The Great Gatsby is the syntax that was used in creating the novel and defining Fitzgerald’s particular style. Along with choosing exact words for his novel through numerous revisions, Fitzgerald also eliminated any unneeded words from his work, another reason for book’s small size. An example of this word cutting occurs in the scene in chapter one where a stranger asks Nick how to get to West Egg Village. Instead of going into detail about directions and wasting space, Fitzgerald simply has Nick state that “I told him,” and Fitzgerald instead dives into the more important matter of Nick’s reaction of pride to his ability to be a guide to another human being. In contrast to this three-word sentence, there are sentences of more than five lines that frequently occur in Nick’s narration. In fact, on the very first page there is a sentence that spans eight lines of type as Nick tells of his great moral upstanding. Although numerous commas and semicolons separate the massive sentence, reading it out loud leaves the reader breathless and the mind even seems exasperated after taking in so much information at one time. Much of the chapter is taken up with this style of narration, as spots of dialogue are few and far between. The first line of separated dialogue concerning Nick’s summer in the east occurs after an initial four pages of narration, describing Nick’s background. When the stranger asks Nick for directions he does not respond to the man in dialogue, he simply narrates that he told him where to go and proceeds to describe other events early in that summer. The first actual conversation that is outlined line by line does not appear until page ten when Nick begins to talk with Daisy and Tom. More dialogue appears as the dinner party progresses, but it is consistently broken up by Nick’s narration. The chapter ends were it started with a full page of Nick narrating his observation of Gatsby staring across the bay.

   Chapter one is also one of the most beautiful and eloquent chapters of the book, which is a result of the masterful imagery that Fitzgerald utilizes in introducing his novel. Much of Fitzgerald’s imagery is directed toward setting the scene of the book, particularly the lavish beautiful mansions that dominate the landscape. Nick paints a breathtaking picture of Gatsby’s mansion in his narrative as he describes it as “a colossal affair by any standard—it was a factual imitation of some Hôtel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden.” Such imagery is practically unmatchable in American literature and does an excellent job of setting up the story as well as providing insight into the lavish lifestyle of Gatsby. Tom and Daisy mansion is similarly described as “a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens—finally, when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run.” Nick, the most morally upstanding character in the novel lives in relative poverty next to these monstrosities, living in “a weatherbeaten cardboard bungalow at eighty [dollars] a month,” which emphasizes the style over substance philosophy of the morally corrupt upper class. Fitzgerald’s imagery is also very effective in conveying the rich symbolism of The Great Gatsby. The most important symbol found in chapter one is the green light that Nick observes Gatsby reaching out towards at the end of the chapter, a light with seemingly no significance. However, the light has an enormous significance in Gatsby’s life, symbolizes the hope he has that the past can be repeated and that his romance with Daisy can be rekindled. The green also symbolizes money, both the enormous amount he possesses and its purpose of wooing Daisy. White is another color symbol found in chapter one, as the young women, Daisy and Jordan, always wear white. This symbolizes purity and cleanliness, but it is also the absence of color, the absence of substance. Another style over substance symbol that Fitzgerald uses is when he describes the scene in the Buchanan’s house where Daisy and Jordan are sitting on the couch with their dress blown around by the wind making them look like buoyed up balloons. Balloons only have an outside, a fancy style, with nothing inside, no substance. 

   Chapter one is definitely a chapter deserving of the beginning of The Great Gatsby. The chapter does a wonderful job of both displaying F. Scott Fitzgerald’s extraordinary literary talents and introducing the characters and settings of the story without giving too much of the plot away. Fitzgerald’s obsessive diction is evident in chapter one as both narration and dialogue provide subtle insights into the novel’s characters. Syntax is similarly chosen and does a fine job of excluding unneeded words while keeping the mind of the reader interested. Imagery is another one of the chapter’s strong points as Fitzgerald utilizes it to set the scene for the novel, establish numerous symbols, and make the chapter one of the most beautiful and appealing passages in the book. Overall, chapter one goes above and beyond simply setting up the storyline, it also interests the reader and displays Fitzgerald’s mastery as an American author.