How is language used to create atmosphere in The Great Gatsby?I'm currently working on a report on The Great Gatsby. One of the questions lists the types of language used in the novel such as,...

How is language used to create atmosphere in The Great Gatsby?

I'm currently working on a report on The Great Gatsby. One of the questions lists the types of language used in the novel such as, comic, lyrical, factual, vivid and melancholy. It then asks me to find other examples of language used to create atmosphere and to find examples but I'm really struggling to find any.

Expert Answers
mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You will want to contrast Nick's narration (very Midwestern voice, full of maxims and judgements) vs. Gatsby's, Tom's, Daisy's, etc...

Here's classic Midwestern Nick (father):

"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

This reflects the modesty (or false modesty) of Midwestern values: polite to a fault, reserving judgement, plain style.  The irony, of course, is that Nick refuses to take his own advice (he is very judgmental throughout the novel).

And then there's the poet Nick, who is rife with imagery and metaphor:

This is a valley of ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of ash-gray men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.… [And the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg] brood on over the solemn dumping ground.

Gatsby doesn't talk like a real person.  His dialogue is comical, even self-deprecating.  Always with the "old sport," he speaks like some country club college boy who is eager to join the "Good 'ol Boy Network":

"Look here, old sport,” he broke out surprisingly. “What’s your opinion of me, anyhow?”

And Gatsby is full of lies.  When he prefaces his story with "God's truth" he is setting us up for a tall tale:

“I’ll tell you God’s truth.” His right hand suddenly ordered divine retribution to stand by. “I am the son of some wealthy people in the Middle West—all dead now. I was brought up in America but educated at Oxford, because all my ancestors have been educated there for many years. It is a family tradition.”

But Gatsby can be funny; notice his use of ironic punchline:

“You can’t repeat the past.”

“Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!"

Contrast this with Daisy (whose voice is supposed to be full of money, but she doesn't really say anything important):

.. best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.

Most of the women in the novel are flat characters, archetypal temptresses who are shallow.  Jordan, too, is full of gossip and triteness.

Observe Tom's brutish, racist rhetoric and misogynistic tone:

“It’s a bitch,” said Tom decisively. “Here’s your money. Go and buy ten more dogs with it.”

So, there's three levels of male dialogue: Nick (judgmental, poetic), Tom (tough), and Gatsby (humor, lies) and one level of female dialogue (shallow).


epollock | Student

F. Scott Fitzgerald works in a lyrical, or poetic, style. He uses many of the devices chiefly associated with the poetry of writers like Shakespeare and Keats. A great example of Fitzgerald’s poetic style, is on page 43, near the beginning of the novel, as he introduces the title character, of his novel The Great Gatsby.

If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the "creative temperament"--it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again. (Fitzgerald, page 43)

Notice the phrase, an unbroken series of successful gestures, and, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, are both in iambic meter. Fitzgerald uses the stress and rhythm of poetry to bring out the grandioiseness of the average situation, to make it more dramatic and emphatic.

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The Great Gatsby

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