How does the poem quoted at the very beginning of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby relate to the novel's themes and characters?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby opens with the following epigraph:

Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;

If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,

Till she cry “Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,

I must have you!”

Thomas Parke D’Invilliers.


The epigraph to the novel is relevant to the rest of the work in a number of ways, including the following:

  • Thomas Parke D’Invilliers is an invented name, not the name of a real author. Fitzgerald concocted the name, and in fact a character with this name appears in another of Fitzgerald’s novels (This Side of Paradise). Thus the invented epigraph, taken from an invented author, is an example of Fitzgerald’s wit and cleverness as an author, although many of the book’s first readers probably assumed that both the epigraph and the author to whom it is attributed were legitimate. The epigraph, then, is relevant to a major motif of the book: the distinction between appearance and reality, between what merely seems real and what truly is real.
  • The first line of the epigraph refers to a man trying to appeal to a woman – a theme certainly quite relevant to Gatsby’s courtship of Daisy.
  • The first line also implies a man presenting himself attractively in order to appeal to a woman – a theme also, of course, highly relevant to Gatsby’s courtship of Daisy.
  • The second line refers to bouncing high in order to impress a woman and is thus also relevant to Gatsby’s courtship of Daisy. He “bounce[s] high” in social status so that he can win her love.
  • The final two lines of the epigraph imply that if the male impresses the woman sufficiently, she will find him irresistible and want to have him. These two lines, of course, are ironic, because by the end of the book Gatsby fails in his quest to win Daisy.
  • The fact that the woman twice calls the male “lover” might have seemed fairly shocking to some of Fitzgerald’s first readers, who would not have been used to the idea of a woman expressing herself so frankly and openly. In Fitzgerald’s novel, Daisy is a powerful woman who is the focus of the obsessions of two powerful men.
  • The very name “Thomas Parke D’Invilliers” sounds like the name of a member of the upper class and is thus relevant to the social milieu of this book.  If the epigraph had been attributed to “Joe Smith,” the effect would be altogether different.
  • The quoted lines sound less like lines from a poem than like lines from a current popular song. They are the sorts of lines one might have heard sung on the radio in the 1920s. They make no pretense of sounding like great poetry. Instead, they have a kind of light, spunky flavor – the kind of flavor we tend to associate with “the Roaring Twenties.”

In all these ways, then, the epigraph seems relevant to the themes, characters, plot, and tone of the novel.



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The Great Gatsby

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