The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Such a list ignites a reader’s temptation to speculate. Sometimes Fitzgerald’s choices are simply a matter of precision: ‘robin’s egg blue’ and ‘gas blue’ describe specific tones and shades that will be familiar to some readers, or which can be easily discovered by others. Some of Fitzgerald’s usages, however, seem deliberately oxymoronic and/or misleading. Daisy is never described in any detail, because it is important that she is seen more as an idea and a disembodied voice than a real, flesh-and-blood person, but it is unlikely that her hair is blue . Although the sky can certainly be blue, honey can only be yellow or brown or off-white – though it will always be sweet , which is perhaps the point (or maybe there is some kind of honey-like texture to the sky). Gardens, grass and leaves are not blue, but, mostly, green. Even under low-light conditions – gas-light or candles – they are not observed as blue, though the colours do tend to converge. And yet the identification of things which are green with things which are blue is so persistent in the novel, that when the reader encounters the ‘blue smoke of brittle leaves’ on page 184 it is tempting to see the leaves as themselves being blue, even though the reference is, presumably, to the literal smoke of burning leaves – and smoke can, in reality, be a bluey-grey colour.

The point here is not so much that Fitzgerald is being consciously poetic or providing an ‘imaginative’ or ‘literary’ description; he is employing, in fact, something much closer to the methods of surrealist painting and poetry, and his aim is to disorient his reader. His use of misleading colour references is, in this respect, as studied a technique as the much more familiar and traditional use of the present tense in Chapter Three of the book to create a similarly disorienting effect (the same technique is found, in a similar context, in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre , Chapter XVII). What is disorienting can also, of course, be richly suggestive: without the usual lazy denotations that make a phrase like ‘blue sky’ almost meaningless, the reader is forced to search through all the connotations of ‘blue’ to find in these descriptions a coolness, a mood, a music, something sad and yet sweet, something extraordinary, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, like a ‘blue moon’.

Saying something is blue which is clearly not blue provides a good clue to some of Fitzgerald’s wider techniques in his novel. He employs, for example, a narrator who regards himself as ‘one of the few honest people I have ever known’ (66). And in a way, this is true – Nick is honest, when, for example, he records Jordan’s – entirely accurate – assessment of him as fundamentally dishonest : ‘I met another bad driver didn’t I?…I thought you were rather an honest straightforward person’ (184-5). Nick records, too, the outcome of his conversation with her – ‘Angry, and half in love with her, and tremendously sorry, I turned away’ – but he doesn’t tell the reader what he tells her even though his words might possibly have shed some light on one of the more intractable ambiguities of the book, the whole question of Nick’s sexual orientation.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald
the Unkindness of Ravens If you have found our critical notes helpful, why not try the first Tower Notes novel, a historical fantasy set in the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions.

Available HERE where you can read the opening chapters.

The Unkindness of Ravens by Anthony Paul