What purpose do the musical terms in The Great Gatsby serve?Why does F. Scott Fitzgerald use so many musical terms throughout the novel? (Please cite examples.)

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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There are indeed many references to music and musical terms in the novel. Here are a few:

  • There is music in Daisy's voice.
  • A drunken guest at one of Gatsby's parties is asked "to sing the notes on her face" (her smeared mascara).
  • A "celebrated tenor" sings in Italian and a "notorious contralto" sings jazz to entertain party guests.
  • One of the parties is interrupted by "the boom of a bass drum" as the orchestra leader introduces the next selection, "Vladimir Tostoff's Jazz History of the World."
  • In describing a very significant moment when Gatsby kisses Daisy, he listens to "the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star."
  • Music emanates from Gatsby's house on summer nights.

These musical references serve two purposes. Some of them, such as the references to jazz and specifically to Tostoff's composition help establish authentically the era of the Roaring Twenties. Many such specific details create a great deal of historical accuracy in the novel.

Many other musical references develop what has been termed Fitzgerald's "evocative" style of writing: to use language and imagery to evoke a certain mood or emotion. Music frequently emphasizes romantic settings, images, and specific moments in the narrative.

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