Literary Lenses in The Great Gatsby

By: Hanan Daher

How do ambiguity and tension work in the text?

The Great Gatsby is known for its detailed scenes. The intricate amount of depth in this book enhances the plot. Specifically the elements of tension and ambiguity. It is why it is still so popular today. Tension and Ambiguity are important elements in The Great Gatsby because of how complex it makes the plot.

Tension is one of the most apparent elements in the text. We often see this with most of the character interactions. Often the tone is passive-aggressive and uneasy. An example of this is when we are first introduced to Tom and Daisy in the book in Chapter 1 pg 10, “We all looked — the knuckle was black and blue. “You did it, Tom,” she said accusingly. “I know you didn’t mean to, but you DID do it. That’s what I get for marrying a brute of a man, a great, big, hulking physical specimen of a ——” “I hate that word hulking,” objected Tom crossly, “even in kidding.” “Hulking,” insisted Daisy.``(Fitzgerald). This shows tension in action within the text. We notice the aggression between the two characters however it is subtle and not dramatized.

Ambiguity in the text allows us to think deeply about scenes. Because of this scenes can be interpreted in many ways in The Great Gatsby. The Great Gatsby can be applied to multiple literary theories with ease because of this. Ambiguity adds more depth because of the multiple ways it can be looked at.

While both tension and ambiguity provide a great amount of detail individually, together they are more powerful. Fitzgerald pairs tension and ambiguity in turning points and major events in the book. An example of this is Gatsby's infamous death in Chapter 8 pg 111, “”You ought to go away,” I said. “It’s pretty certain they’ll trace your car.” “Go away NOW, old sport?” “Go to Atlantic City for a week, or up to Montreal.” He wouldn’t consider it. He couldn’t possibly leave Daisy until he knew what she was going to do. He was clutching at some last hope and I couldn’t bear to shake him free”. This was right before Gatsby's death and we see the tension between his and Nick's conversation along with the ambiguity of why he had to wait for Daisy.

To conclude tension and ambiguity are important elements to The Great Gatsby because of how it adds to the plot. It helps us to see the relationships between specific characters. It also helps us to see the depth in scenes and allows us to interpret in a multitude of ways. Without tension and ambiguity the Great Gatsby would not be the book it is known for today.

"How can reading critically through literary lenses change our understanding of a story?" - Artist Statement

Using different literary lenses helps us understand different perspectives of a story. It allows us to see more depth within the text. Literary lenses can further complicate the meaning and plot of the story. Without literary lenses, we would not be able to show the story with its true complexity with both its scenes and characters.

Connections - Text to World

In chapter one, I connected the text to real-life ideas using the feminist critical theory. When reading this excerpt from the text, this theory was the first I thought of. Using text connections and literary lenses helped me further understand the deeper meaning behind The Great Gatsby and what role the women play in the book.

"In chapter 1, we see Daisy talk about when her daughter was born in a melancholic manner. She states “.....She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. ‘all right,’ I said, ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” (pg 17). This makes me think of how women were truly treated in the past. Not much has changed, however, women were significantly more oppressed in the 1920s than now. It still made me realize that women still are looked at as pretty objects rather than people today. I believe that women who think like Daisy are not horrible people, but people who were just taught horrible things that resonated with them. I feel she and many other women today are forced to think like this because women are looked down upon."

Connections - Text to Text

Once we get to chapter 3, we start to see the complexity of Gatsby's character. He is shown to be a mysterious character with depth the reader cannot yet understand. When reading this the first lens that came to mind was the New Criticism theory. This is because we had to judge Gatsby based off only what we knew since there was little information given about him in the beginning.

In chapter 3, Gatsby's attitude reminded me of someone, “He 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.” (Pg 48). Gatsby reminds me of an Alice and Wonderland character, specifically the Cheshire Cat. He seems kind however he is odd and a bit creepy sometimes, by the way, he almost talks in riddles. He is very vague in some scenes and is described as wise or all-knowing. In a sense, he is guiding Nick as the Cheshire Cat did with Alice.

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