Examples of Diction in the Great Gatsby

T. Scott Fitzgerald employs informal diction in The Great Gatsby by writing through the eyes of Nick Carraway; he accomplishes this through simple dialogue as well as thorough yet straightforward descriptions of the characters and setting. When seeing Gatsby for the first time, Nick depicts his image, describing his smile in great detail: “[Gatsby] smiled understandingly – much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life” (48). This quote, describing the appearance of a character, exemplifies Fitzgerald’s informal diction; he writes straightforwardly about the subject: Gatsby. While he employs words such as “eternal reassurance,” which together may seem formal, they have one simple meaning: faith.

Moreover, Fitzgerald addresses the audience in this section by specifically including the word “you” rather than the word “one,” which would be used in formal diction. While he rarely addresses the reader, Fitzgerald maintains this informal diction throughout the novel through dialogue; the characters speak in a normal, cordial type of way, rather than in a sophisticated style – one that may be expected from the wealthy to show their status over the common people.

Gatsby’s common “old sport” phrase when talking to Nick is an example of the informal diction when speaking; it suggests that Gatsby wants a true friend and by calling Nick “old sport,” he gives an impression that they have been friends for a long time. Through Gatsby’s dialogue, one could sense his loneliness; he wanted to shower Nick with material items, telling him to “just ask for (anything], old sport,” hoping to make a friend (48). Fitzgerald’s diction in Gatsby’s dialogue exposes his loneliness, later confirmed at his funeral when no one came, developing his character and portraying the way wealth has influenced him in relation to his friends.

Through his focus on details, F. Scott Fitzgerald implements imagery throughout the novel, depicting the setting, characters, and the atmosphere of Gatsby’s parties. At Gatsby’s parties, for example, guests acted with behaviors of an “amusement park;” through this analogy of behavior to amusement parks, Fitzgerald introduces the atmosphere of Gatsby’s party to the reader (41). There is a certain emptiness to his parties, for the people are thoughtless and do not respect Gatsby as much as to greet him; just like amusement parks, people attend Gatsby’s parties solely for mindless entertainment, acting immaturely and inconsiderately and looking only to have a good time.

However, through imagery, he actually depicts the atmosphere of this party with “old men pushing young girls” in “eternal graceless circles;” with couples “holding each other tortuously;” with “single girls dancing individualistically;” and with “vacuous bursts of laughter” rising towards the “summer sky” (46). His insightful descriptions, such as the “pushing” in “graceless” circles, the “tortuous” holding, the “individualistic” dancing, and the “vacuous” laugher all further his image of the dancing and the party, creating an actual feeling of the party.

Through this diction, Fitzgerald exposes the nature of the party – strained, empty, and lacking a point; with it, he further develops the setting of Gatsby’s parties as well as Gatsby’s character, only throwing these parties for Daisy, hoping that she will attend one of his parties uninvited just like the rest of the crowd. Moreover, Fitzgerald’s language is florid; his focus on the beauty of all objects – whether it be mansions or people – shows his flowery diction. Viewing two women, whose dresses are “rippling” and “fluttering” from the wind which “twist[ed]” the curtains, Fitzgerald constructs a beauty through the wind’s movement, personifying the wind which eventually “died out” and brought every moving thing to a stop (8). He depicts regular scenes as such as extraordinary, for his elegant diction brings out the beauty of material items.

His diction indicates wealthy status, for he observes wealth with such detail; by personifying the “rippling” and “fluttering” of dresses, the “whip” and “snap” of curtains, and the “groan” of a picture, Fitzgerald brings all these material things to life, bringing the beauty of them – which may have been easily overlooked for they are common everyday things – to life as well (8). He animates these material items in order to portray wealth that the rich have, and by looking past their beautiful, luxurious lifestyles, Fitzgerald stereotypes them as relaxed and without a purpose, almost as lazy, depicting the rich as snobbish and pretentious.

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