What is the overall mood of the The Great Gatsby as a whole?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The mood of The Great Gatsby is lyrical, filtered as it is through the consciousness of the sensitive Nick Carraway. Through other eyes, for example (say Tom Buchanan's), Gatsby is nothing but a low-class, flashy, contemptible grifter, ridiculous in pink suits. Nick, however, imbues him with a tragic grandeur. It is Nick's ability to appreciate what Gatsby represents, nothing less than the American Dream itself, and convey it in lyrical language, that makes the novel spring to life. Nick says of 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 ...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. No Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short−winded elations of men. 

Nick also waxes lyrically about places, such as the Midwest he returns to after the tragic events of the summer have taken place, remembering:

When we pulled out into the winter night and the real snow, our snow, began to stretch out beside us and twinkle against the windows, and the dim lights of small Wisconsin stations moved by, a sharp wild brace came suddenly into the air. We drew in deep breaths of it as we walked back from dinner through the cold vestibules, unutterably aware of our identity with this country for one strange hour, before we melted indistinguishably into it again.

Nick is also able to convey vividly the extravagant hospitality of Gatsby's parties:

Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New Yorkevery Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. ... At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough colored lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby's enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors−d'oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold.

But when it comes to Tom, even Nick can't manage to gloss over the misery he brings in his wake. However, because of Nick's sensibilities, we feel deeply for Gatsby and his failed dream. 


lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Great Gatsby, the mood is dark and pessimistic. The overall feeling in the novel is tragic. It is such a shame to live one's life chasing material gain only to come down to the end of life with nothing of value, nothing meaningful.

Jay Gatsby is a sad character. The reader has a sense of pity for Gatsby. He is a tragic character. The reader is left with a solemn, pessimistic view of those seeking material gain to try and find happiness.

After reading, the reader is left with a sense of hopelessness. What should be a romantic ideal turns into a devastating tragedy following the deaths of Gatsby and Myrtle. Also, Daisy contributes to the tension in the novel:

Daisy puts the constant tension between romantic ideal and cynical reality into words without even realizing it...

No doubt, the reader senses the tension and longs for some sort of reprieve with no relief in sight. The order of events proves to be lives filled with pretense. The reader can sense the facades of Jay and Daisy. Neither character is truly happy. The atmosphere is so pessimistic until the reader is grieved throughout the work. Truly the reader has to endure a range of emotions:

The mood is largely dark, pessimistic, and vapid as set by the purposelessness and carelessness of the wealthy, the ongoing string of meaningless parties, the ugliness of the Valley of Ashes, and the tragic deaths of Gatsby and Myrtle. Only Nick Carraway's honest and moral view of life breaks the sense of tragedy.

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The Great Gatsby

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