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Great Gatsby: A Rhetorical Analysis

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Published: Fri, 12 May 2017

Love can sometimes be an obsessive force. Fitzgerald demonstrates this in his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. This tale is about a man named Gatsby who feels an overwhelming love for an old flame, Daisy. The story is about the quest Gatsby undertakes to win back the love of his life, even when she doesn’t love him back. To tell this tale, Fitzgerald employs an arsenal of rhetoric tools to get his point across. Fitzgerald uses the rhetoric tools of imagery, symbolism, and tone to convey the idea of an unrequited love.

The first tool in Fitzgerald’s tool kit is the tool of imagery. Imagery is basically using the five senses to describe a situation. The senses are a gateway in which the writer can take the reader to a place, time, event, or idea in the writer’s imagination. These images can be used to represent people, objects, actions, feelings, and ideas. Fitzgerald makes heavy use of imagery in his account of Gatsby’s romantic notions. Looking at a few examples from The Great Gatsby, we see how Fitzgerald uses imagery to the greatest effect.

Let’s start with this example, “…a stir and bustle among the stars…” This example of imagery shows us how Fitzgerald uses imagery to express an idea. Fitzgerald uses the sense of sight to express his ideas to the audience. This imagery connects to Fitzgerald’s atmosphere of romance that he is trying to convey through this particular passage. Fitzgerald uses personification to express this idea. The personification changes the meaning of the passage to mean that Gatsby is so head over heels for Daisy that it looked like the stars were dancing for joy.

Here is another example of imagery, “…and once there he could suck on the pulp of life…” Fitzgerald uses the sense of taste to create a scene for the reader to picture. Fitzgerald achieves a remarkable word choice to describe the sensations that Gatsby is experiencing at that moment. This image once again part of the larger theme of romance. Fitzgerald uses a metaphor this time as imagery. The metaphor explains that Gatsby is so intoxicated that he wants more.

Accordingly, here is the last example of imagery, “…the sidewalk was white with moonlight…” Using the sense of sight, Fitzgerald gives a glimpse into Gatsby’s eyes. The author is trying to place the time and place of this particular scene: nighttime on the street. The pattern for these particular examples is the romantic nature of Gatsby.

Next, we move on to symbolism. Symbolism is basically using an object, person, place, or action to stand for something else either by itself, or for something greater. Symbolism is taking anything and giving it a timeless value. Fitzgerald uses much symbolism in his tale to ascend the story beyond reality.

Here is a look at Fitzgerald’s symbolism, “Out of the corner of his eye, Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalk really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees…” This is a good example of symbolism to work with. In symbolism, there can be many translations for a certain symbol. Each reader has a different opinion about a passage and may see it differently than what the author intended. For example, I see that the ladder represents the barrier of rank that Gatsby has in his love of Daisy. Symbolism is a fine and subtle art that is practiced by many, but mastered by few.

Finally, there is tone, which is the emotional part of literature. Just as spoken language has many nuances of tone such as sarcasm, whimsical, happy, depressive, and so on; literature speaks with the writer’s voice and his/her tone. Fitzgerald uses tones of cynicism, sarcasm, and a desperate longing as well so that the reader not only understands the story better, but to let him/her feel the story.

This is an example of how Fitzgerald uses cynicism, “…even through his appalling sentimentality…” The cynicism that Nick uses shows that Fitzgerald uses tone in contempt of the way of Gatsby is acting. This is just one of the ways tone is used in The Great Gatsby.

Another example of tone is how Fitzgerald uses sarcasm. “After she had obliterated four years with that sentence they could decide upon the more practical measures to be taken.” Using an impressive display of wry wit, Fitzgerald communicates to the reader the brutal consequences of Gatsby’s proposed actions. He uses the sarcasm to great effect so that the reader can relate to the passage without the author rambling on and on.

Now Fitzgerald uses a tone of desperate longing like this, “…I was reminded of something- an elusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words that I had heard somewhere a long time ago. For a moment a phrase tried to take shape in my mouth and my lips parted like a dumb man’s…” This passage of the text shows a remarkable example of desperate longing. Fitzgerald uses a little imagery and symbolism also in this passage to give it life and meaning. Fitzgerald has a flair for combining these literary elements and creating a tour de force.

In summary, Fitzgerald uses his toolbox of rhetoric like a virtuoso. He brings in the colors, sounds, tastes, and textures of imagery to transport the reader to an amazing time and place. Using symbolism, he creates something ageless about his masterpiece. The tone of Fitzgerald’s voice is heard clearly through the words of his characters as they speak the words that impact us even today.


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