What rhetorical strategies does Fitzgerald use in his The Great Gatsby to depict the American Dream?

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sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One rhetorical strategy that Fitzgerald uses in "The Great Gatsby" is contrast.  It is the strategy that I appreciate most a lot of the time.  For me, seeing what something isn't helps me to better understand what something is.  

The American Dream that Fitzgerald is heavily focusing on in the book is wealth and materialism.  Fitzgerald initially explains to his readers how the East Egg and West Egg are different.  Old money vs. new money.  However, Fitzgerald is quick to point out that there really isn't a difference.  They both have lots of money and party at the same parties.  They both represent the same end goal.  Have lots of money and lots of stuff.  

The contrast with the obscene wealth of Gatsby and his neighbors is shown in the Valley of Ashes.  It is located between East and West Egg and serves as a strong contrast to the rich folks of the Eggs.  

"This is a valley of ashes — a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air. Occasionally a line of gray cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak, and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-gray men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud, which screens their obscure operations from your sight."

Every time that I read that section, I picture everything as dirty.  A grey haze in the air.  People with ashy colored skin.  Heavy smog.  It's depressing.  In contrast, are Gatsby's parties.  Those I picture in vibrant colors with lots of sparkly things.   Those descriptions of the Valley of Ashes and Gatsby's parties are another rhetorical strategy as well -- imagery.  

The Valley of Ashes is full of people that are trying to attain the American dream or who have tried and failed. The worst part of it though is how people like Tom abuse the people in the Valley.  Tom believes he is so much better than people like George Wilson.  It's to the point that Tom thinks it's okay to take the man's wife.  Myrtle is not free from blame though, because she is desperate to achieve that American dream of wealth.  She is willing to cheat on her husband AND do so with Tom of all people. 

What I like about Fitzgerald's portrayal of the American dream is the irony present in the book.  The Eggs are supposedly full of people who have achieved the American dream.  They are revered people.  They should be looked up to.  The ironic thing though is that the wealthy people are just as broken as the poor people.  They are unhappy, their marriages are farces, many of them are law breakers, and quite a few of them are cheats as well.  

jerseygyrl1983 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The use of color is another rhetorical strategy in the novel.

When the reader first encounters Daisy Buchanan and her cousin, Jordan Baker, it is when Nick Carraway goes to the Buchanan house. He describes the hallway as a "bright rosy-colored space" and the windows as "gleaming white against the fresh grass outside." The curtains are "like pale flags" that "[twist] up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then [ripple] over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea" (8). Here, there is a contrast between dark and light (as the previous educator mentioned, contrast is important), and a comparison of the colors of the house with aspects of luxury and gastronomy (e.g., wine, frosted wedding-cake).

The colors that Fitzgerald chooses—white, green (the grass), and red—prefigure their association with certain themes and events that occur in the novel. White is a color very often associated with the upper-class. For example, when wealthy people played tennis, they traditionally did so while wearing all white. Red is the color of blood, and there is plenty of bloodshed later in the novel. Green is a color that we associate with money, which is the source of Gatsby's power and influence, but also a symbol of his elusive happiness.

Green appears again, most notably as "the green light at the end of Daisy's dock." One night, Carraway witnesses Gatsby stretching his arms toward the light. At the end of the novel, he says that "Gatsby believed in the green light," which eludes us though we run toward it with outstretched arms. The green light has other interpretations: hope, the dream of a better future, the opportunity to start over. It is a green that mirrors the eastern shores of the New World that Fitzgerald describes, where the first Dutch settlers of New York landed, hoping for the second act that Fitzgerald believed people did not get.

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The Great Gatsby

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