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I'd like to know how you interpret the word "pepper" in this excerpt from the first...

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coutelle | Valedictorian

Posted April 11, 2013 at 9:48 PM via web

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I'd like to know how you interpret the word "pepper" in this excerpt from the first chapter of The Great Gatsby. For an English speaker, does the word retain its original meaning at first sight before being interpreted as meaning "star-studded sky"? Does it create an oxymoron with the word "silver"?

The silhouette of a moving cat wavered across the moonlight and turning my head to watch it I saw that I was not alone—fifty feet away a figure had emerged from the shadow of my neighbor's mansion and was standing with his hands in his pockets regarding the silver pepper of the stars. Something in his leisurely movements and the secure position of his feet upon the lawn suggested that it was Mr. Gatsby himself, come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens.

Does the word preserve its original meaning at first sight for an English speaker (with a sort of oxymoron with silver) before being interpreted as meaning "star-studded sky"?

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choucksolace | College Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

Posted April 12, 2013 at 2:43 AM (Answer #1)

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In this passage from The Great Gatsby, the word "pepper" is used as a descriptive metaphor for the stars in the night sky. Literally, the word refer to the ground seeds of the pepper plant, or peppercorns, typically used as a culinary spice. Although pepper can be a variety of colors, the most common shade is a grayish mixture of black and white granules. "Silver pepper" is not an oxymoron because it does not refer to two contradictory things. Rather "silver" modifies "pepper," indicating that the sprinkling of stars resembles the spice but is a more brilliant color. 

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