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Jan. 2007, Volume 5, No.1 (Serial No.40)

US-China Foreign Language, ISSN1539-8080, USA

No.40) US-China Foreign Language, ISSN 1539-8080, USA A Stylistic Study of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great

A Stylistic Study of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

ZHAO Jing *

(Basic Courses Department, Shandong University of Science and Technology, Tai’an, Shandong 271019, China )

Abstract: The Great Gatsby, one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpieces, is viewed as the first step that American fiction has taken since Henry James. The paper attempts to study and unveil its writing skills and five major elements of this great novel from a stylistic perspective for better understanding and appreciation of its consummate artistry. Key words: writing skills; stylistic elements; artistry

1. Introduction

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) was one of the great writers in American literature. Living most of the post-war boom years, when the American society was viewed as the hope of the new world overloaded with thrills and enthusiasm, he foresaw its potential doom and failure which was revealed in his series of renowned works, such as, The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, Tales of the Jazz Age, The Vegetable, and Tender is the Night. Among them, T. S. Eliot commented on The Great Gatsby as a critical success and viewed it as “the first step that American fiction has taken since Henry James”. Undoubtedly, Fitzgerald became a spokesman who reflected the crucial period in the twenties history of America, and The Great Gatsby is ranked among the most enduring of world literature. Therefore, this paper is designed to explore the relevant stylistic elements of this novel for better understanding of this talented writer’s impeccable craftsmanship.

2. Narrative Technique

All novels are made up of printed words in a literal sense, but a novel may be revealed to the reader as if it were spoken rather than written, especially, with the help of a definite narrator. Reading a novel can be interpreted as being told by the novel in a sense. We are told what happens in the novel line by line, page by page. Sometimes, the printed words speak for themselves, that is, without a definite teller, the preplanned information is revealed to the reader, and the author can have the story told by a personified narrator, a teller who has detailed personal data and whose meditation and sights are thrusted at the reader. Just like Nick Caraway, the narrator of this book, who has his name and detailed personal information. Here, Fitzgerald chooses Nick Carraway as a dramatic narrator through whose consciousness everything is combined to be an organic unity of the work. Nick, generally speaking, is considered as a cool-minded, reliable narrator, because he pursuits his father’s advice on tolerance and reasonable judgment and he seldom jumps to a harsh conclusion. Furthermore, Nick ensures his validity because he exclusively has access to contact with three kinds of people who represent different social positions and hold varied life creeds. To dwell it on, it is necessary to study some basic elements like tense, tone, and mood. According to Studying

ZHAO Jing(1972- ), female, lecturer of Basic Courses Department, Shandong University of Science and Technology; research fields: literary studies, applied linguistics.


A Stylistic Study of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

the Novel (Jeremy Hawthorn, 2005: 45-46), “Tense is meant the relationship between narrated and narration time. By tone is meant the attitude of the narrator (and sometimes, by implication, of the author) towards what is narrated. By mood is meant the type of discourse used by the narrator—the sort of issue we considered earlier in

connection with discussion of the term ‘point of view’. That is, mood refers to the relationship between the narrating and what is narrated in a broad sense—both in terms of what is perceived and reported, and in terms of

how what is perceived and reported is heated.” In this novel, the tense is generally past tense because Nick reveals his past life experience phase by phase, step by step. A reader can easily perceive the satirical tone that pervades the whole book. The Great Gatsby suggests life be meaningless and follow a clear pattern, at first, a dream, then disenchantment, and finally a sense of failure and despair. Frankly speaking, it alludes to the American experience up to the first few decades of this century.

3. Syntactic Repetition and Devices

According to Essentials of English Stylistics, “The term repetition is restricted to mean the case of exact copying of a certain previous unit in a text, such as a word, phrase or even a sentence” (WANG Shou-yuan, 2000:


In the description of Gatsby’s great party, intermittent repetition can be easily found. In his blue garden, his guests, his beach, his two motor-bats, his Rolls Royce, his station wagon, his back door, his female guests all together, “his” is repeated for nine times. What is interesting about this case is that Fitzgerald emphasizes the ownership of these personal properties in order to show amazing wealth and lavish entertainment and to reveal how his guests, some uninvited, take advantage of his party and possessions. At the beginning of the description, men and girls are looked on as moths weaving through the whisperings, the champagne and the stars. The images of moths reflect the busy and crowded party, yet empty and shallow in nature. The feelings of the moths, fast pace and humbleness are brought sharply to our minds in themselves and automatically vivify what they stand for. Syntactic devices are used to make literary texts cohesive. Among syntactic devices, there are three big ones:

co-reference, ellipsis and linkage. Co-reference is made up of two categories: anaphoric reference and cataphoric reference. These two types are mainly signaled by the third person pronouns and the definite article “the”. The pronouns in the passage not only strengthen unity but also shorten the distance between the reader and the narrator so that the reader can be spontaneously involved in the party and the psychological experience. Ellipsis, a device for economy of words, is the omission from a sentence of words weeded to complete a certain construction, while the omitted part should be understood from the context on other means. In literature, ellipsis serves as not only a grammatical means but also a rhetorical device to express information in the book, which often appears in the interior monologue.

“See!” he cried triumphantly. “It’s a bona-fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me. This fella’s a regular Belasco. It’s a triumph. What thoroughness! What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop, too-didn’t cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?” (Fitzgerald, F. S., 1992: 69) 1

1 All the following quotations from the novel are marked with corresponding pages.


A Stylistic Study of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

In this paragraph, three sentences are highly elliptical. Three sentences do not have subjects and two sentences omit the predicate verbs. The whole sentences should go in this way. What thoroughness it is! What realism it is! Do you know when to stop? The ellipsis here, in a rhetorical sense, manifests Tom’s haste and surprise, his quick succession of reactions; besides, it also makes the sentences brief and forceful.

4. Mispronunciation and Sub-standard Pronunciation

Sometimes, the literary writer skillfully chooses his characters to mispronounce some words or just pronounce them in sub-standard ways in order to achieve vivid effects in developing the plot or revealing the related character.

“Oh, my Ga-od! Oh, my Ga-od! Oh, Ga-od! Oh, my Ga-od!” Presently Tom lifted his head with a jerk and, after staring around the garage with glazed eyes, addressed a mumbled incoherent remark to the policeman. “M-a-v” the

policeman was saying, “o” “No, r” corrected the man, “M-a-v-r-o” “Listen to me! ” muttered Tom fiercely. “r”

said the policeman, “o” “g” “g” He looked up as Tom’s broad hand fell sharply on his shoulder. “What you want,

fella?” “What happened? that’s what I want to know.” “Auto hit her. Ins’antly killed.” (140)

In this extract, we can notice that Wilson mispronounces fellow /fel u/ as fella /fel /, stopped /st pt/ as stopus /st p s/, in a /in / as ina /in /. He also swallowes up certain sounds; such as, ins’antly for instantly, comin’ for coming, goin’ for going, an’ for and, N’ York for New York. We may also notice that Wilson prefers to speak briefly and brokenly. For example, he uses “auto” instead of car or automobile, and in his statement, ellipsis often appears like “see?” instead of “Did you see?” By reading the former plot before the incident, we will find that on the ride back to the suburbs. Gatsby drives his own car, accompanied by Daisy, Wilson’s wife. Myrtle Wilson is struck by a hit-and-run driver in a yellow car, which is revealed to be Daisy’s blame. Because Myrtle, thinking that Tom is in the yellow car, runs out of the house, and Daisy, an inexpert driver, runs her down and then collapses from uncontrollable fear and unexpected shock. That Wilson is described in the way shown in the dialogue can help us to understand the following killing, Wilson kills Gatsby for his dead wife’s sake and then commits suicide. From this dialogue, the roughness of low social position, his lack of education and his extreme anger and sorrow are vividly expressed before the reader. In this chapter, we can also find the frequent use of metaphor. Tom is said to be a ghost in Daisy’s eyes. A ghost refers to somebody or something evil and disastrous. That is, the metaphor follows this pattern: X is like Y in respect of Z (here, X is the tenor, Y is the vehicle and Z is the ground) according to Leech. Thus, in our given example, Tom is the tenor, ghost is the vehicle and evil, disaster can most probably be taken to be the ground. We can interpret this sentence in a better way that Tom is like a ghost, or he is a ghost. Then the nature of Tom is understood in a figurative sense, i.e., Tom is a dangerous, disastrous, and mean wealthy who only cares for himself by taking advantage of others.

5. The Cooperative Principle

Cooperative principle, as being defined by Grice, is an agreement to cooperate conversationally towards mutual ends in a conversation, and one has to follow various rules called as maxims. Grice puts forward four conversational maxims: the maxim of quantity, the maxim of quality, the maxim of relation, the maxim of manner. However, these four maxims are often violated by people covertly or overtly in order to achieve some


A Stylistic Study of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

conversational implicatures. We can find examples in the novel of The Great Gatsby.

“Don’t bring Tom,” I warned her. “What?” “Don’t bring Tom.” “Who is Tom?” she asked innocently. (84)

One dialogue takes place between Nick (I) and Daisy (She) when Nick has promised Gatsby to arrange a secret reunion with Daisy in Nick’s house. In the story, Nick calls up Daisy from the office and invites her to come to tea. When Nick warns Daisy not to bring Tom, Daisy’s husband here together, Daisy pretends to know nothing of Tom and breaks the maxim of quality. Daisy apparently knows the identity of Tom and may try to express such a feeling as she has little to do with Tom. Another example from the novel:

“Is everything all right?” he asked immediately. “The grass looks fine, if that’s what you mean.” What grass?” he inquired blankly. “Oh, the grass in the yard.” He looked out the window at it, but, judging from his expression, I don’t believe he saw a thing. (85)

This dialogue takes place between Nick and Gatsby, after Gatsby’s reunion with his old lover. Apparently, Gatsby is carried away and pays little attention to Nick’s existence. Thus, Nick deliberately violates the maxim of relation and turned to the subject of grass. Of course, in Gatsby’s mind, grass cannot arouse any interests and he only wants to know Nick’s reaction to their reunion while Nick cunningly escapes from the awkward question and keeps the ball rolling by changing the core of conversation.

6. Speech Act Theory

Speech act consists of three categories: (a) a locutionary act, to produce a recognizable grammatical utterance in the language; (b) an illocutionary act, to achieve communicative purpose; (c) perlocutionary act. Among them, illocutionary act is the most frequently examined and divided into some distinct acts like representatives, expressives, verdicatives, directives, commissives and declarations. To see the relevance of speech act analysis to the understanding of The Great Gatsby, let us examine one climax part revealing the complex relationship among Tom, Gatsby and Daisy and laying the card on the table gradually.

Gatsby’s foot best a short, restless tattoo and Tom eyed him suddenly. “By the way, Mr. Gatsby, I understand you’re an Oxford man.” Not exactly.” “Oh, yes, I understand you went to Oxford.” YesI went there.” A pause. Then Tom’s

voice, incredulous and insulting: “You must have gone there about the time Biloxi Went to New Haven.” Another pause (129-130)

By reading this part, a kind of dramatic effectiveness of scenes is increased. We feel more that we are actually experiencing the conversation that being forced to accept the prearranged plot. Therefore, an appropriate effect can be achieved. In this dialogue, the act of questioning partly fails because Gatsby refuses to answer Tom’s question clearly and completely while Tom persists to throw several provocative questions in order to lay bare Gatsby false identity. In addition, the acts of insisting and estimating are also unsuccessful. The reason why these speech acts are unsuccessful is that the felicity conditions are not fulfilled. The addressee (Gatsby) is only unwilling to continue such kind of conversation. To make it clear, let us examine the felicity conditions of the speech act of questioning: (1) The speaker is in a position to question (A stranger is difficult to ask a question); (2) What is questioned must be reasonable and acceptable (You can’t expect a person to frankly tell you something against his will). In this conversation, Gatsby, richer than Tom, finds it hard and unnecessary to expose the truth of his


A Stylistic Study of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

educational background to Tom. Therefore, this conversation is bound to be unsuccessful and incomplete.

7. Conclusion

Fitzgerald was one of the great stylists in American literature. The Great Gatsby is touching, smooth and sensitive. The simplicity, graces and skills in creating typical characters and complex plots in this book all reveal his consummate techniques. Undoubtedly, by answering the question “how this novel is stylistically developed in the most effective way?” we can, from a new perspective, deepen our understanding of the great stylist and his significant novel with profound artistic attainments.


CHANG Yao-xin. 1990. A Survey of American Literature. Tianjin: Nankai University Press.

Cherie, D.A

Fitzgerald, F.S

1979. Twentieth-century Literary Criticism. Detroit: Gale Research Co. 1992. The Great Gatsby. Beijing: Foreign Languages Teaching and Research Press.

Jeremy Hawthorn. 2005. Studying the Novel. London: Hodder Arnold. LIU Hai-ping, WANG Shou-ren & ZHANG Chong. 2000. History of American Literature. Shanghai: Foreign Language Education Press. WANG Shou-yuan. 2000. Essentials of English Stylistics. Jinan: Shandong University Press. WU Wei-ren. 1990. History and Anthology of American Literature. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.


(Edited by Bony, Jessica and Michael)