What are the elements of non-realism in The Great Gatsby?

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Michael Otis | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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In a novel marked by utterly realistic language - think of the descriptions of the drunken party in New York City, or the car accident that claims Myrtle's life - Fitzgerald interweaves elements of non-realism. Two instances of this will suffice: The first is the Valley of Ashes, an inhospitable and desolate 'no-man's' land lying between the Long Island settlement of West Egg and New York City. Suspended above it is the superannuated billboard for an occulist, Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, the only part of which remains are two enormous eyes. With this grotesque image of sightless eyes overlooking an Eliotian wasteland, the reader must renounce realism in favour of pure symbol. In fact, the reader is presented not with a landscape, but an 'inscape', its significance a parody of a God who does not see, and does not feel. The second instance where Fitzgerald compels the reader to leave behind realism is the scene where Gatsby reaches forth in a kind of wordless supplication toward the green light fastened to the end of Daisy's dock. This improbable gesture represents the eruption of non-realism into the narrative. In this simple gesture the reader significantly grasps the whole plot of Gatsby's life - his yearning, his hopelessness, and his tragedy.   


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