The Great Gatsby Contents
The novel’s main events occur between the early summer and autumn of 1922. In Chapter 1, Nick notes that ‘it was a warm season’ and moves the narrative forward in time by referring to nature:
The reference to nature affords a strong sense of optimism at the opening of the novel.
The end of the summer season and the climax of the love triangle is signalled in Chapter 7 with a focus on the ‘deep heat’:
Most of the chapter takes place indoors, or in cars, but there is a brief glimpse of nature which serves to accentuate the misery of the characters trapped in their unnatural world:
It is characteristic of Jordan that she wants to get away from the stifling emotional heat and Daisy’s despair by asserting that: ‘Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.’
The next chapter is distinctly autumnal with the opening reference to a ‘fog-horn’, references to decay in Gatsby’s house, and the parallel narrative of ‘one still October night’ and the ‘cold fall day’ in 1917. Gatsby’s conversation with the gardener confirms the onset of autumn, anticipating falling leaves in the pool. The last we see of Gatsby alive is under ‘yellowing trees’ and at his death the leaves have indeed fallen, to simultaneously caress him and create a funeral wreath:
The leaves may be seen as symbolic of destroyed hopes, or may represent Gatsby himself.
The onset of winter
Nick decides to leave West Egg and return to the security of home:
Just as the natural cycle has closed down, so have the ‘big shore places’ on West Egg and Nick has tied up his relationships with Jordan and Tom (whom he saw in late October).
At one with nature
Gatsby is introduced at the end of Chapter 1, presented in a natural and vibrant landscape (in sharp contrast to the depiction of Tom and Daisy’s sophisticated society):
When Daisy arrives for her reunion with Gatsby, she too is associated with flowers and nature:
Later, as Gatsby waits in vain for Daisy to leave her husband for him, he is again connected with a romantic view of nature:
Decay – and new life
The decay of Gatsby’s house in the final chapter is signalled by the grass having grown long, as if nature is reclaiming the location. Previously, cutting the lawn had served as a sign of wealth, cultivation and dominance over nature. Gatsby even supplies a gardener to cut Nick’s grass when he wants to reunite with Daisy at Nick’s house. By the end of the novel, it seems that wealth and cultivation are redundant. Nick imagines the land reverting to its pre-civilised state:
The final images are all connected with nature, either ‘the dark fields of the republic’ where Gatsby’s dream lay behind him, or ‘the current’ which humans or ‘boats’ strive against so heroically.
In Chapter 5, the emotionally charged encounter between Gatsby and Daisy is conveyed by references to the weather. After the ‘pouring rain’ at its outset, Gatsby’s delight is portrayed as ‘twinkle-bells of sunshine in the room’, whilst he is ‘like a weather man, like an ecstatic patron of recurrent light.’ However, the more sombre note at the end of the encounter is sounded by referring to the wind, thunder and more rain, hinting at further conflicts and upheaval to come.
Subsequent weather references are used to emphasise the emotional colour of events. Passions climax in stultifying heat (Chapter 7), whilst Gatsby’s funeral is drowned by a torrential downpour (Chapter 9).
Daisy’s name is the prime example of Fitzgerald’s use of flower imagery. Fresh and delightful, this fragile white flower is associated with childhood innocence. The descriptions of her romance with Gatsby build on this idea: ‘At his lips’ touch, she blossomed for him like a flower.’ However, Daisy ultimately undermines this image by her corruption.
There are numerous references to flowers in the novel, particularly in the context of wealth and luxury. In Chapter 6 Daisy admires an elusive celebrity described as:
Her own privileged and artificial background is depicted as being, ‘redolent of orchids’. More ominously, after she tires of waiting for Gatsby, she parties until:
Roses are often mentioned in the text. Tom’s property contains, ‘a half-acre of deep, pungent roses’, whilst inside, Nick ‘walked through a high hallway into a rose-coloured space.’ Daisy even describes Nick as ‘a rose, an absolute rose’ which he flatly denies while still finding her words ‘stirring’ and ‘thrilling’.
As Nick considers Gatsby’s possible thoughts just before he was killed, the image of nature, and especially the rose, is distorted and terrifying:
A very straightforward reading of this might see the rose as embodying the feminine, with which Gatsby is now disillusioned as he has been abandoned by Daisy. Combined with Nick’s disillusionment, however, the rose seems to have a broader value of humanity and integrity. The idea of ‘scarcely created grass’ can be seen as a reference to the fresh world of Eden which is lost to Adam and Eve following their Fall from innocence and betrayal of one another. See Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, 'Second Adam'.
Scan and go
Scan on your mobile for direct link.