In this segment of Chapter Eight F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, what are literary devices used to show the passage of time? When I passed the ashheaps on the train that morning I had...

In this segment of Chapter Eight F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, what are literary devices used to show the passage of time? 

When I passed the ashheaps on the train that morning I had crossed deliberately to the other side of the car. I suppose there’d be a curious crowd around there all day with little boys searching for dark spots in the dust, and some garrulous man telling over and over what had happened, until it became less and less real even to him and he could tell it no longer, and Myrtle Wilson’s tragic achievement was forgotten. Now I want to go back a little and tell what happened at the garage after we left there the night before.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, several literary devices are used to manage the passage of time in the story.

At the start of Chapter Eight, we are presented with images of flashback. It is here that Nick Carraway hears the story of how Gatsby first met Daisy—although he was totally out of Daisy's "league" at the time. The device indicates with distinct clarity how much Gatsby has changed, but how Daisy doesn't seem to have changed at all.

Gatsby comments on the past, and how their relationship not only took off, but continued:

I can't describe to you how surprised I was to find out I loved her, old sport. I even hoped for a while that she'd throw me over, but she didn't, because she was in love with me too.

Flashback is used again as Nick learns of Gatsby's time in the war. It is also—importantly—used to point out how Gatsby grows during his service with the military. However, Daisy is separated by things happening outside of her existence of her "orchids," "pleasant, cheerful snobbery" and "orchestras." She lives in an "artificial world." It is in this flashback that we learn of Gatsby's enforced separation from Daisy by circumstances beyond his control, and Tom Buchanan's entrance into Daisy's world.

As the story returns to the present, there is a strong contrast between the liveliness and strong aura of change in the past, and the dullness of the present. Myrtle is dead. The house seems to have lost its life as well, and Nick and Gatsby open the windows to let out the oldness and stuffiness, and allow new energy and light into Gatsby's home.

The action returns to the past:

Just as Daisy's house had always seemed to him more mysterious and gay than other houses, so his idea of the city itself, even though she was gone from it, was pervaded with a melancholy beauty.

In comparing the house of the past and Gatsby's house of the present, the shifting in time reveals to the reader that it is not when the action takes place that makes the houses seem alive or sad, but primarily Daisy's presence or absence.

By the time the reader comes to the passage in question, Nick is using flashback again, however it is in the more recent past: it is the night of the terrible accident when Myrtle is killed.

The purpose of this flashback is to provide (ironically) foreshadowing. After Nick describes the arrival of Myrtle's sister, he recalls Wilson's behavior.

About three o'clock the quality of Wilson's incoherent muttering changed—he grew quieter and began to talk of the yellow car. He announced that he had a way of finding out who the yellow car belonged to...

The car belongs to Gatsby, but it was Daisy who was driving when Myrtle was killed. As Wilson continues to talk with Michaelis (who is trying to calm him), Wilson becomes fixated on his wife's behavior and her relationship with another man—he does not mention a name, but says:

He murdered her.

Michaelis is exhausted. He goes home to sleep for a few hours. When he returns to Wilson's garage, the other man is gone—on foot. In this flashback, Nick recalls the details for the reader that were unknown before: the steps Wilson takes that lead to the future Nick has yet to see—to Jay Gatsby's murder at Wilson's hands; Wilson then takes his own life.

The use of flashback allows the reader to learn the truth of Gatsby's early days with Daisy—what caused her to drift away. Then it describes Wilson's state of mind, and foreshadows Jay Gatsby's death.

Read the study guide:
The Great Gatsby

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