The Great Gatsby
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925
At the end of several pages of introduction and description, the reader is finally introduced to Nick’s “…old friend whom I scarcely knew at all.” The oxymoronic nature of the words, “old friend” and “scarcely knew at all,” is the kind of wordplay that elevates Fitzgerald from writer to master writer.
Tom is large and powerful. Daisy is slight and delicate. We are introduced to Tom in the vista of the mansion, the wide spaces where the lawn runs from the beach up to the house over sundials, brick walls, and burning gardens—overwhelming. We are introduced to fragile Daisy in a room “fragilely bound” by French windows.
Fitzgerald has already informed the reader about the windy day, so this wind now creates movement in his text as he describes the room. In this room, the grass seems to grow “a little way into the house,” and the white curtains billow like “pale flags.”
Even the curtains’ shadow provides texture to the passages. “…and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.”
This is one of my favorite passages for description. Nothing stands still. The girl’s dresses are alive through Fitzgerald’s words, the girls even floating through the air. The billowing curtains play such a pivotal role in this movement and direct the readers’ eye up to the “wedding cake of a ceiling” and then down over the wine-colored rug. Color, movement, texture, and even sound populate Scott's prose.
Excerpt: Chapter One
“We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding cake of the ceiling—and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.
The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.”
A writer is a guide who leads readers down dusty pathways through forests of imagination. A writer suggests, and the reader looks. A writer alludes, and the reader sees. Notice Fitzgerald never used the word, “green,” in the above passages. We think that color when he writes, “…the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house.” We think, “green,” because he speaks of wine-colored rugs and rosy-colored rooms. All other colors, the white curtains and ceiling and the green grass, are suggested.
Now that’s the art and magic of well-written prose.
Writer, Photographer, Editor, Reader