ASPECTS OF NARRATIVE THE GREAT GATSBY Revision Guide REVISION GUIDE Introduction: Remember that you are advised to use either The Great Gatsby or Enduring Love to answer Section A of the Aspects of Narrative exam. Remember that in Section A of the exam there are two parts, so that if you are writing on The Great Gatsby, you must be prepared to write two essays, each of 30 minutes. It is important that you understand the difference between the ways in which you are being assessed in each of these essays and the skills and knowledge that examiners will be looking to reward. Section A, Part a: In this section, you will be asked to write about how F. Scott Fitzgerald tells the story in one chapter of the novel. In this Section you are only assessed on Assessment Objective 2: AO2 Demonstrate detailed critical understanding in analysing the ways in which structure, form and language shape meanings in literary texts This means that the whole of your answer must focus on the narrative craft of the writer. You need to ensure that you know each chapter well and that when you structure your response you aim to highlight the key narrative features Fitzgerald has used to pattern and shape the representation of the story to the reader. You should aim to highlight such things as the use of narrative voices, the ways in which time and narrative sequence are presented within the text and ways in which characters or settings are constructed. It is essential that you think about what are the most important features of the narrative, so that you can select these and focus on them within a carefully structured answer. You will not have time to simply go through the chapter commenting on different features as they appear in the text. So far, the board have issued one specimen paper that focused on Chapter 7 and two exam papers which focused on Chapter 4 and Chapter 3. Do not assume they will not use these chapters again, but make sure you revise other chapters carefully. Some examples of ways of structuring responses on four specific chapters will be given later in this guide. Section A, Part b The questions in this section are phrased to invite you to think about a critical view of an aspect of the novel and to develop your own opinions within a carefully constructed argument. In this Section you are assessed on the three Assessment Objectives that were not assessed in Section A, Part a. AO1 Articulate creative, informed and relevant responses to literary texts using appropriate terminology and concepts, and coherent written expression AO3 Explore connections and comparisons between different literary texts, informed by interpretations of other readers AO4 Demonstrate understanding of the significance and influence of the contexts in which literary texts are read and understood. Typical questions on The Great Gatsby in this section of the exam have been: 1. ‘The Great Gatsby is a sordid tale of deception, adultery and murder.’ How do you respond to this view of the novel? 2. ‘Gatsby’s world is corrupt but ultimately glamorous.’ How do you respond to this view of the novel? 3. What do you think about the view that there are no women in The Great Gatsby with whom the reader can sympathise? Do not assume that you are expected to agree with the statements made in the questions. They will often offer deliberately strong or provocative views and the examiners are looking for students to develop their own opinions about the issues raised within the text. The questions could focus on views of characters, settings, the style or structure of the text or social or moral issues that the text raises. You need to know the whole text well and to have thought carefully about your own judgements and opinions. You should have decided what you think about all the main characters including the novel’s narrator, Nick Carraway. Try to ensure that you have key quotations linked to the key characters and know which episodes are most important in terms of their presentation. When writing about characters remember to write about them as literary representations not as real people. Highlight the ways in which Fitzgerald constructs and manipulates their presentation to the reader to create particular impressions. You should have thought carefully about what view of American society Fitzgerald is presenting in The Great Gatsby. Is it a celebratory vision of the glamorous and exciting ‘roaring twenties’ in the ‘jazz age’ or is it an exposure of the corruption and immorality that lies just beneath the surface of a superficially attractive world? Or, is it a complex mixture of the two: a presentation of a world that is attractive and alluring and yet, at the same time, a world that is fundamentally corrupt and repugnant? You should think about the representations of East and West Egg, the mansions of Gatsby and the Buchanans, Tom and Myrtle’s apartment, the world of New York, the Plaza Hotel and the settings associated with the Wilsons such as Wilson’s garage and the Valley of Ashes. There are also references to a darker underworld of bootleggers and gangsters. Meyer Wolfsheim is a fascinating character in this respect and Gatsby himself is full of enigmas and ambiguities. He has an aspirational ‘gift for hope’ and a romantic and chivalric spirit in his devotion to Daisy. However, his past is riddled with lies and deceptions and his wealth is derived from ‘criminal’ and fraudulent activities in bootlegging and bonds. Much of the novel’s complexity derives from its ambivalent presentation of Gatsby and American society in the 1920s. Issues linked to materialism, class and social mobility are also areas you should have thought about. The American dream is clearly relevant to discussions of The Great Gatsby. But make sure that you understand what the American dream represents. To help with this, look at the section on the American dream in the other guide you have been given to The Great Gatsby. This guide tries to highlight the ideals of the American dream when it is linked to concepts of moral and social responsibility that those with power and wealth should possess. Is it the case that Fitzgerald exposes the gulf between the ideals of the American dream and the reality of a world characterised by forms of discrimination in terms of class, gender and race? Think about the values Tom displays: he is a racist and seems determined to keep people in their place and is prepared to use violence to do so, whether in relation to blacks, women or those from lower in society such as Wilson or Gatsby. The women in the text are consequently fascinating to explore in terms of the ways in which they seek to escape the limitations imposed on them. Nick Carraway is also an interesting figure within the novel in terms of his attitudes towards materialism and morality. You should make sure that you have thought very carefully about your views of Nick as it is possible that a question could focus on his role in the novel. Remember that if you write about The Great Gatsby in Section B of the exam, you will need to think about the novel in relation to the key aspects of narrative that questions in this section are likely to focus on. You should be aware of these from your preparation of the narrative poems you have studied. You will have a choice of two questions to choose from in Section B. Each of these questions will have to focus on an aspect of narrative texts that students can write on in relation to either prose narratives (novels) or poetic narratives you have studied. This means that the questions are likely to focus on a specific aspect of narrative texts that could be applied to any individual text. So far the examiners have used the following questions: 1. Write about the importance of places in the telling of the narratives in the texts that you have studied. 2. Write about the ways that writers aim to make the beginnings of their texts exciting. Refer to three texts you have studied 3. Writers often choose their titles carefully to allow for different potential meanings. Write about some potential meanings of titles in the three texts you have studied. 4. Write about the significance of one or two key events in each of the three texts you have studied. 5. Write about some of the ways characters are created in the three texts you have studied. 6. Write about ways authors use time to shape the order of events in three texts you have studied. Any of the above questions could easily be reworded in a future exam, so don’t assume you won’t be given a similar question on one of these aspects. Remember you do not need to compare The Great Gatsby to the poetic narratives. You need to write a short section of an essay of 20 minutes, selecting the most relevant aspects of the novel. Below is a list of possible aspects of narrative that exam questions might focus on: Beginnings/Openings Use of Time and Narrative Order Places and Settings Characters Narrative Voices Endings and Destinations Planning Answers to Section A, Part a When you are preparing answers on chapters try to structure your responses so that they will focus on three or four main aspects of the way in which Fitzgerald tells the story. Chapter 1 Chapter 1 is important because, like the opening of all novels, it establishes key elements of the novel as a whole and introduces the reader to the narrative world of the text. It is important not to structure a discussion by trying to go through the chapter commenting on aspects as they occur. Some of the key aspects of the way in which Fitzgerald tells the story in this chapter that need to be discussed are: The nature and role of Nick Carraway as an internal character narrator. You should discuss his reliability and the inevitable distortions and gaps that may appear in his narrative retelling of the events of the summer of 1922. Remember his entire narrative is retrospective and is influenced by the interpretation of events and characters that he has formulated. He begins by discussing his own background and history in a very self- conscious way. He acknowledges snobbish elements to his character while claiming his tendency to ‘reserve all judgements’. The opening chapter, however, is constructed to keep Gatsby’s direct presence out of the narrative. Nick refers to him in a contradictory way acknowledging that Gatsby ‘represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn’ and yet simultaneously referring to his ‘extraordinary gift for hope’ and asserting that ‘Gatsby turned out all right at the end’ compared with the ‘foul dust’ that ‘floated in his wake’. The chapter is framed so that Gatsby is mentioned within Nick’s prefatory remarks and reintroduced mysteriously looking across the dark waters of the bay, trembling as he gazes out towards a ‘single green light’ that the reader only later in the novel discovers is at the end of Daisy Buchanan’s dock. The narrative of Chapter 1is designed to give illusive references to Gatsby, ‘the man who gives his name to this book’, while deliberately delaying his main entry into the novel. Instead of focussing directly on Gatsby, the narrative focuses on the characters and settings that will play such a prominent role in the novel. The construction of Tom Buchanan’s character is carefully crafted by Fitzgerald to establish the qualities that will later allow him to play his part in the destruction of Gatsby. The description of him emphasises his desire to look down on others and exert power. He stands above Nick on the porch. He is described as having a ‘hard mouth’ and is ‘leaning aggressively forward’ and Nick describes his muscular physique as ‘a cruel body’. His capacity for brutality is hinted at when Daisy blames him for her bruised knuckle that is ‘black and blue’ and Tom’s racist views are deliberately emphasised by Fitzgerald in the discussion over Goddard’s book: The Rise of the Coloured Empires, where Tom expresses his fears that the white race will be ‘submerged’. Tom is portrayed as a bigot who will hurt others to maintain his own status. The chapter also highlights the social world in which the story of Gatsby will take place. Nick draws attention to both the affluence of characters like the Buchanans with their colonial style mansion and string of polo horses but he also emphasises the social stratifications that exist even amongst the wealthy with the distinctions between West Egg and the more fashionable East Egg. And the dialogues of the opening chapter draw attention to the falsity and superficiality of this glittering world. If Daisy and Jordan are first described floating, angel like, in their white dresses, they are soon brought back down to earth. Daisy is shown to be disillusioned and unfulfilled and Jordan hushes Nick in order to listen in to the row she expects to erupt after Tom takes a phone call from his ‘woman in New York’. Fitzgerald is able to hint at the corruption and deception that will surface increasingly strongly in the materialistic world of the ‘roaring twenties’ where adultery, criminality and murder exist alongside the glamorous surface. These are aspects of the novel that are subtly hinted at in Chapter 1 in preparation for their development later in the novel. Chapter 2 Chapter 2 is quite easy to divide up into key aspects of Fitzgerald’s narrative method. It is important to emphasise that the chapter’s main focus is on the character of Myrtle Wilson. Her name (Myrtle) is a hardy shrub that can survive in harsh conditions. However, it is important to see Myrtle as an example of a woman who Fitzgerald presents as feeling trapped within her environment. She is shown to despise her husband who she treats with contempt when she commands him to get chairs. Her dream of escaping her drab life as the wife of a garage mechanic has led her into an adulterous affair with Tom. However, the reality of her situation is revealed in Chapter two when her true value to Tom is exposed as nothing more than one of his sexual ‘sprees’: an object he can smash and discard when it suits him. The dramatic scene when Tom breaks Myrtle’s nose with ‘a short deft movement . . . with his open hand’ demonstrates the brutal truth of her situation. As an experienced American footballer, the violence of his action is no accident, and he threatens to disfigure the one real asset she has: her physical attractiveness. Tom has no intention of leaving Daisy and marrying Myrtle as the conversation Fitzgerald includes between Nick and Myrtle’s sister Catherine reveals. Nick declares himself as ‘shocked at the elaborateness of the lie’ Tom has used by pretending Daisy is a Catholic and that they cannot get divorced. Myrtle’s fate is already sealed when Tom puts her violently in her place in Chapter 2 and she will be literally ‘ripped apart’ later by the car Daisy accidentally hits her with. Fitzgerald uses the contrasting settings of the garage and the apartment to highlight the gulf between Myrtle’s reality and her dream. The interior of the garage is described by Nick as: ‘’unprosperous and bare’ and everything within is colourless: the walls are ‘cement coloured’ and ‘white ashen dust veiled everything in the vicinity’. The description of Myrtle herself is designed to contrast with the ghostly, shadowy lifeless garage. Although not described as stunningly beautiful, Myrtle ‘carried her flesh sensuously’ and exhibits a sense of vitality ‘as if the nerves of her body were continually smouldering’. But Myrtle’s smouldering passion desires more than sexual excitement – she craves a permanent escape from the drabness and dreariness of her existence. However, the emptiness of her material desires are ironically exposed to the reader by the magazines she buys - Town Tattle and a ‘moving-picture magazine – which glimpse the high society she aspires to but can never access. The interior of her apartment whose ‘small’ rooms are ‘crowded to the doors with a set of tapestried furniture entirely too large for it’, are scornfully exposed by Nick’s description as an inadequate and ultimately empty dream that Myrtle is deluded by. The scene when Myrtle buys the mongrel puppy acts as an ironic commentary on her own existence within a materialistic culture: like the puppy, she can be bought, used and forgotten. The opening description of Chapter 2 can be seen as a symbolic reflection of the realities underlying the materialism of American society in the 1920s. The Valley of Ashes is situated between areas of wealth: West egg and New York. But this desolate environment has transformed the landscape into a grotesque parody of America’s natural fertility. In the midst of affluence, sit the ‘grotesque gardens’ where ‘ashes grow like wheat’. And above this wasteland rises the faded billboard depicting Dr T. J. Eckelberg’s ‘vast retinas’ and ‘yellow spectacles’. The blindness of the American dream is exposed by Fitzgerald’s vision of a consumer culture that leaves in its wake a ‘foul dust’ that condemns the majority to exist in a ‘dumping ground’ presided over by the false God of materialism. It is also important to comment on the nature of Nick Carraway’s retrospective narration in this chapter. There is evidence throughout that Nick has constructed the narrative as a way of commenting on the falsity of the American dream as a means of escaping people’s mundane existences so long as it is only conceived in materialistic terms. However, Nick’s own reliability within the narrative is also highlighted as he becomes increasingly disillusioned with the ‘party’ and increasingly drunk. He admits that the afternoon ‘has a dim hazy cast over it’ and towards the end of the chapter Nick’s narrative account descends into a disjointed series of increasingly odd and unexplained circumstances marked by ellipses. Nick inexplicably finds himself next to Mr McKee’s bed with Mr McKee in his underwear and then lying in ‘Pennsylavania Station. . . waiting for the four o’clock train.’ These narrative gaps in Nick’s story, like so many other gaps in the text, are left to be filled in and explained by the reader. Chapter 9 Chapter 9 is an important chapter because it concludes the novel. One issue you should consider if writing about this chapter is how much closure does it provide? How far does Nick’s narration resolve questions and issues that have been raised in the course of the novel? It is an unusual chapter in terms of the slightly fragmented nature of the narrative because of the inclusion of short bits of narrative and text that contribute to the final image of Gatsby. Why does Nick include the short telephone calls, Wolfsheim’s letter and the schedule Jimmy Gatz had written on the ‘last fly-leaf’ of a book? There are once again questions to be considered regarding the reliability of Nick’s narration and the purpose of his narrative account. It is worth considering the way the opening paragraphs begin by reminding the reader of the potentially distorting effects of all narrative accounts. Nick is writing his version of events as he acknowledges, ‘after two years’ and he remembers the days following Gatsby’s death as ‘an endless drill of police and photographers and newspaper men’. Nick dismisses the newspaper reports as: ‘grotesque, circumstantial, eager and untrue’. However, just as they decided on their version of the story with Mr Wilson depicted as a ‘madmen’ deranged by grief, Nick, by his own admission, has taken sides in the whole affair: ‘I found myself on Gatsby’s side and alone’. And for this very reason, the reader needs to question the accuracy and reliability of Nick’s interpretation of events and depiction of Gatsby. Tom later on says to Nick: ‘He threw dust into your eyes just as he did into Daisy’s’. But then Tom still believes that Gatsby was driving the car and ‘ran over Myrtle like you’d run over a dog and never even stopped his car.’ Meyer Wolfsheim, on the other hand, believes we should ‘learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive, not after he is dead.’ In some ways, Nick is showing his friendship for Gatsby after his death and his whole narrative is his own obituary and monument, constructed to celebrate the memory of Jay Gatsby. Nick’s narrative can consequently not be viewed as an impartial presentation of the events of the novel. His knowledge of Gatsby is fragmentary and incomplete and even in the last chapter he is still collecting more pieces of evidence from what remains of the fragmented history of Jay Gatsby. The final chapter contains a whole host of short snippets of information that Nick tries to piece together. There are the phone calls, Wolfsheim’s letters, Gatsby’s boyhood schedule and several short conversations. The phone calls hint at Gatsby’s illegal and corrupt ‘business dealings’ and also reveal the way his friends like Daisy, Wolfsheim and Slagle all abandon Gatsby and avoid attendance at his funeral. The motley crew who are present at Gatsby’s graveside all seem to believe in their own version of Gatsby. For Mr Gatz, his son is still Jimmy Gatz, the small town boy who fulfilled his dream and ‘had a big future in front of him’. For Owl-eyes, Gatsby was ‘a real Belasco’, a man who knew how to make the construction of his identity seem real to other people. For him, that is perhaps the best anyone can manage: to make the image seem real. But for Nick, Gatsby seems to represent something more important. Nick wants to celebrate Gatsby’s ‘extraordinary gift for hope’ and believes that Gatsby was better than the ‘rotten crowd’ and ‘worth the whole damn bunch put together’. Nick seems to need to hold onto his version of Gatsby’s character to find a purpose in his own life. The final passage in the novel is important because Nick uses it to link the story of Jay Gatsby’s aspirations and dreams to the history of the American nation. The novel’s concluding paragraphs refer back to the wonder experienced by the first settlers in America when they saw ‘a fresh, green, breast of a new world’ and were able to contemplate ‘something commensurate with [their] capacity for wonder’. This capacity for wonder and to dream of creating a perfect, idealised world is linked by Nick to ‘Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock’. Gatsby’s dream may have been flawed, and may have failed but it was a dream worth living and, in the end, dying for. Without the capacity to dream of an idealised version of reality, life and the American nation will be lost. Nick knows that to believe in such dreams is to ‘swim against the tide’ but it is a struggle he believes is worth the effort. The final pages provide the last words of the novel but are not the only version of Jay Gatsby the reader is left with. The final chapter far from simplifying the interpretation of his character has added to its complexity and uncertainty. If Gatsby had a romantic dream, he was also involved in a variety of criminal activities. The schedule that Mr Gatz shows to Nick provides its own mini narrative of Gatsby’s story that sits alongside all the other versions of this enigmatic character. The schedule is all about self-improvement and is a testament to the young Gatsby’s endeavour and hard work. Yet, even in his early days, he recognised that in America, social advancement was not just about what you achieved but about how you spoke and appeared: ‘Practise elocution, poise and how to attain it’. But there is another aspect to Gatsby’s list that also reveals a telling truth: we may set ourselves goals and targets but life is also about compromise and falling short. Gatsby had initially tried to save $5.00 a week but had crossed this out and changed it to $3.00. And in this apparently insignificant crossing out, lies an important aspect of Jay Gatsby’s story. For the American dream, like Gatsby’s dream of life reunited with Daisy and, indeed, all dreams, is likely to be a story of compromise and disappointment. But just because the reality will, inevitably, fall short of the dream does not mean we should stop dreaming. Without hope lies despair and Nick believes Gatsby had ‘an extraordinary gift for hope’ that should be celebrated and not scorned. Conclusion All your revision should be focused on preparing and then writing timed essays within the limited time available to you in the exam. These essays on The Great Gatsby should be no longer than 30 minutes for both parts of Section A and only 20 minutes for the section of your essay if you use The Great Gatsby in Section B. You can send me copies of any timed essays to my home e-mail and I will send you feedback. If you have any questions you need answering then contact me by e-mail. My e-mail address is: email@example.com Have a good Christmas and New Year but make sure you do some focused revision!
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