The Great Gatsby Setting Essay

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a novel set in Long Island in the United States of America, during the Jazz Age. The book is narrated by the fictional character Nick Carraway, and dives into topics relating to wealth, social status, and outward appearances. Fitzgerald employs many ingenious techniques to effectively deliver the novel's setting to the reader, cluing them in to details as needed without revealing too much as to flatten their curiosity.

For example, the very first mention of Gatsby in the novel is a cryptic description from the narrator, which appears to contradict itself. Nick states that Gatsby "represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn", then proceeds to talk about how "there was something gorgeous about him". At this point in the very beginning of the novel, it is unclear whether the narrator thinks positively or negatively of Gatsby. This creates a sense of mystery around the characterisation of Gatsby, and establishes him as a unique character.

This sense of mystery is only elevated by the only other references to Gatsby throughout the first chapter. The next time we hear about him, it's only indirectly - the narrator details the appearance of Gatsby's mansion in West Egg, the less fashionable "new money" side of Long Island. The mansion is described as "spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy", and as being a "factual imitation of some Hรดtel de Ville" - showing off the vast wealth of this mysterious character, and effectively setting the tone for the environment and living conditions of those living in Long Island; everybody is filthy rich. This also is very effective at demonstrating a theme of a class barrier - the physical separation of the sophisticated East Egg and glamorous West Egg implies the lack of communication between them.

The next time that Gatsby is brought up in the novel is when Daisy, Tom Buchanan's wife, demands "Gatsby? What Gatsby?". This implies that Daisy recognises Gatsby as a person significant to her in some way, once again reinforcing the idea that Gatsby is an interesting and unique character in the novel while adding to the mystery of Gatsby's significance.

Near the end of the first chapter is where thhe narrator meets Gatsby in-person for the first time - except it doesn't clear up many of the questions instilled in the reader, instead raising even more through the clever use of symbolism. He is found staring off yearningly across the sea, towards nothing but a singular green light. This light is symbolic of a distant desire, something currently out of reach - something that Gatsby wants, but has yet to attain. Gatsby is presented as a very elusive character and creates a sense of isolation, a juxtaposed against the more chaotic, bustling nature of much of the rest of the novel. This is not only effective at engaging the reader's curiosity further, leading to the consideration of what it could possibly be that Gatsby desires, but helps develop a setting and provide context for the rest of the novel.

All of this is very helpful towards setting the scene of the characterisation of the main character of the novel, however Fitzgerald has done much more with setting in this first chapter; for example, Tom Buchanan and his marriage to Daisy. Fitzgerald immediately establishes tension in the Buchanan household when first setting the scene in their mansion through his use of language. The metaphor identifying the ceiling of a room as a "frosted wedding cake" is a very effective image which hints at the theme of marriage, however the usage of "frosted" hides a clever double meaning; it implies something cold and emotionless about Tom and Daisy's marriage. This presents the context for events later on throughout the novel involving Tom's infidelity, and is very effective at constructing a setting - all in a single sentence.

Moving further on to the start of Chapter 2, where the landscape halfway to New York is described as a "valley of ashes". The juxtaposition of this "desolate area of land" against the saturated, fanciful description of Long Island demonstrates a sharp change in setting, and intrigues the reader as to what reason Tom could possibly have for travelling away from his luxurious home. This builds a strong foundation for the narrative of the rest of the chapter as well, imitating the contrast between Tom and Myrtle. Gatsby is still not involved in the main plot throughout this chapter, once again building on a sense of mystery.

During the party in the latter half of the chapter, the reference to "costume" implies a performance; a fictional act upon a stage set by the party. This ties in with the very prevalent theme of false appearances throughout the novel. The apartment the party is set in is also referred to as "one slice in a long white cake of apartment houses", a very effective link back to the frosted wedding cake image in the first chapter, and draws parallels with an implication about the relationship, hinting towards the fleeting nature of Tom's relationship with Myrtle - it's not likely to last. This is also the first time that the theme of time, and change across time, is introduced.

Further on in Chapter 3, there is once again a dramatic contrast in setting. Nick describes in great detail the elaborate parties that Gatsby hosts at his mansion - however, despite many attendees being mentioned, most of them are background characters who aren't significant to the story and are never mentioned again. This, along with the "moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars", show that Fitzgerald utilised the inclusion of these people purely for setting the scene, demonstrating how popular Gatsby's lavish parties are, but also showing just how shallow the events are as well. It's an event hosted for seeking attention organised by a host who barely even makes an appearance at his own party, and unifies many of the various previously unrelated settings and themes into a bigger picture.

In conclusion, Fitzgerald is an extremely skilled writer, and this is reflected in the way that the setting is built up in his novel The Great Gatsby. The vast palette of literary techniques used are a model example of how to effectively set the scene in a novel, and helped establish his work as a literary classic.