What is the purpose of the detail of “church bells” ringing in the first sentence?It's in Chapter 4 of the Great Gatsby
The beginning of a chapter often is a fresh attempt at hooking the reader into the story. Using sensory words in the writing is a good way for an author to do just that. With church bells ringing the reader brings to mind images and sounds related to church bells and this brings them into the new chapter.
This brings to mind two concepts: church or religion, as well as time.
The religious influences in this book come from the modern view of that time period. People were disillusioned by religion and it had lost much of its desirability. Fitzgerald shows this throughout the book while still using religious symbolism. The twenties were a time of breaking loose from old traditions which included everyone at least being knowledgeable about religion and being somewhat religious. This book brings on blatantly worldly ideas in order to cast aside the religious and moral aspirations of an older time.
Time is ticking away until we get to the death of Gatsby. Things happen at a pace that causes us to wish for things to hurry, while also speeding through quite shocking occurences. We are constantly reminded of death coming at the end of our time. Part of the suspense built in the story is through the vast amount of time that Gatsby wastes. Also, we see times where he seems to be rushing past even his own life. Gatsby thinks his life is neverending, which proves to be tragically incorrect.