What are some ways in which F. Scott Fitzgerald uses characterization in his novel The Great Gatsby?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Characterization is one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most important skills in his novel The Great Gatsby. Consider, for instance, the important scene in Chapter 7, when Daisy feels torn between Gatsby and Tom. Nick and Jordan are present to witness this heated confrontation among the novel’s three main characters. In this episode, therefore, Fitzgerald characterizes many of the most important people in the book. Gatsby has just asked Daisy to assert that she never loved Tom. Nick is narrating:

She hesitated. Her eyes fell on Jordan and me with a sort of appeal, as though she realized at last what she was doing – and as though she had never, all along, intended doing anything at all. But it was done now. It was too late.

Several aspects of Fitzgerald’s use of characterization in The Great Gatsby are displayed here, including the following:

  • His use of Nick as a narrator, so that everything is seen through Nick’s eyes. We therefore have to decide how reliable a narrator Nick is throughout the novel. In particular, we have to ponder any biases that Nick may feel concerning the other characters. This technique inevitably adds to the complexity of the book.
  • The way in which anything that Nick says about the other characters inevitably helps to characterize Nick himself.
  • The way Fitzgerald sometimes uses gestures, looks, and other forms of silent characterization to present the people in this book, again contributing to the complexity of the novel’s style.
  • The way the characterization often creates suspense, as here, since we are not at all entirely sure what Daisy will decide or what will happen next.