What are the precise meanings of grotesque in the following citations of The Great Gatsby?  -  "This is a valley of ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and...

What are the precise meanings of grotesque in the following citations of The Great Gatsby

-  "This is a valley of ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens" (ch. 2).

- " The most grotesque and fantastic conceits haunted him in his bed at night" (ch. 6). 

- "I couldn’t sleep all night; a fog-horn was groaning incessantly on the Sound, and I tossed half-sick between grotesque reality and savage, frightening dreams" (ch. 8). 

-  "He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass" (ch. 8).

-  "Most of those reports were a nightmare—grotesque, circumstantial, eager and untrue" (ch. 9).

-  "I see it as a night scene by El Greco: a hundred houses, at once conventional and grotesque, crouching under a sullen, overhanging sky and a lustreless moon" (ch. 9). 




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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Interestingly, the word grotesque, while it has its unique denotation,  also carries with it connotations that conjure the Gothic, a form bizarre and at the same time disgusting and absurd. Thus, there is a certain doubleness to things that become grotesque as at one time they were natural or appeared natural,at least, but later they have become altered and been distorted or deformed.

  • Quote from Chapter 2

After leaving East Egg with its classic Georgian mansions, Nick is shocked when he sees a wasteland covered with the industrial waste of New York City. He perceives it as unnatural; unlike the lush green lawn of the Buchanans, the Valley of Ashes has absurb piles and distorted shapes that form a "grotesque" garden. This valley of fantastic shapes that are incongruous to the beauty of the Eggs suggests the sordidness of the city that dumps its waste outside its borders, hiding its decadence from all but the insignificant poor.

  • Quote from Chapter 6 

In this chapter, Gatsby dreams of becoming wealthy and by doing so. acquiring his "grail" of Daisy.  There is certainly an overlapping of unreality with reality as Gatsby "serves a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty."  His "grail" is grotesque, his fanciful notions, conceits, are grotesque because they are of a meretricious, or tawdry, attraction.

In this chapter, Fitzgerald employs much contrasting imagery in order to connote the incongruity of Gatsby's attaining anything pure by corrupt means--

a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy's wing.

  • Quotes from Chapter 8

The first quote is from the opening paragraph of the chapter. After leaving Gatsby "watching over nothing," Nick cannot sleep as he feels ill thinking about the "grotesque reality" of what has happened to Mrytle Wilson, who has become the sacrificial victim of debauchery and irresponsibility, and he has seen Tom and Daisy "conspiring" in their kitchen. For, he realizes that the idealistic Gatsby is willing to take the blame for the accident while Daisy plans teacherously against him in order to save herself, an idea Nick finds disgusting and absurd--"grotesque." 

The second quote pertains to Gatsby's dream that has deteriorated to the criminal and, at best, mundane. As he awaits Daisy's call, Gatsby's idealization of the golden Daisy deteriorates and becomes "grotesque." He learns the truth, how "grotesque [a] thing a rose is." The inner folds of his rose/love for Daisy have been a corruption, an absurdity. 

  • Quotes from Chapter 9

After two years, Nick recalls that the news of Wilson's "mad" shooting of Gatsby led to a media frenzy as sensational reports were made. He calls this onslaught of gossipmongers and journalists "grotesque," or absurd and disgusting, in contrast to the lonely funeral of Jay Gatsby, for whom only his father, Owl Eyes, and Nick are in attendance while Wolfscheim and Klipspringer refuse to attend.

In the second quote, Nick, now having returned to the Midwest, envisions the East, distorted in its materialism and amorality and social importance as a scene from El Greco, a Spanish painter who actually had vision problems which caused him to perceive things in an elongated form. Thus, shapes in his paintings are distorted--"grotesque." Nick states,

After Gatsby's death the East was haunted for me like that, distorted beyond my eyes' power of correction.

As he alludes to El Greco's disability, Nick finds himself morally disabled by the amorality of the East. 


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