In chapter 4 of Gatsby, how is language used to set the scene and influence interpretation?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

At the beginning of Chapter 4 of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald uses language usually reserved for weddings and comedies to set a festive, jubilant tone.  Fitzgerald wants us to feel the romanticism and anticipation in the air as Gatsby is about to receive Daisy at Nick's home in Chapter 5.  His use of language is a clear set-up by Fitzgerald to build up our hopes, only to let us down in the later chapters.

Fitzgerald uses the wonderful metaphor "...the world and its mistress" to connote the spring-like fertility in the air.  Notice too it is "Sunday" and there are "church bells" ringing--both part of a marriage ceremony.

As contrast, the rumors about Gatsby fly about: "He's a bootlegger" and "he killed a man" further add to the mystery.  It seems the wedding imagery would appeal to female readers and the gangster imagery would appeal to males of the time.

Fitzgerald uses a catalogue method, speaking of guests who descend upon Gatsby's West Egg grounds: "From East Egg, then, came the Chester Beckers and the Leeches, and a man named Bunsen, whom I knew at Yale, and Doctor Webster Civet, who was drowned last summer up in Maine. And the Hornbeams and the Willie Voltaires, and a whole clan named Blackbuck."  This fits the wedding motif and stresses the themes of mobility and wealth.

Fitzgerald also uses much time imagery, "nine o'clock," to reveal his theme of displaced time.  He uses car imagery "Gatsby’s gorgeous car" to foreshadow the death by car at the end.

And then there's Gatsby's use of "old sport."  He uses it in both a new (flirty) and old (good-ole-boy) way.  Indeed, life seems to be a game to Gatsby, full of fast cars and women.  He is a new breed of American, focused almost entirely on recreation.

There there are the lies.  He's from the Midwest?  San Francisco?  They are all prefaced by "I’ll tell you God’s truth"--which is always a set-up for a lie.  In all, Gatsby is confirming his reputation as a Byronic Hero--he of mysterious origins and dangerous affiliations.

All told, there is sense of movement and anticipation in Fitzgerald's prose.  It moves along quickly.  The reader is very much like Nick, moving fast in Gatsby's car and being lied to along the way.  The irony is, of course, is that neither Nick or we mind too much.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team