Allusion in The Great Gatsby

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  • 0:00 What Are Allusions?
  • 1:04 Midas & Morgan & Maecenas
  • 2:09 Goddard & Stoddard
  • 3:36 1919 World Series
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Have you ever read a text that casually mentions an event, place, or character from another book or from history? Those casual mentions are a type of rhetorical device called an allusion. This lesson explores several allusions from ''The Great Gatsby''.

What Are Allusions?

Think about the last time you wanted something from your parents or a friend. Did you come right out and ask them for it? Or did you drop hints and casually mention what you wanted during the conversation? If you went the casual mention route, then you alluded to your main point. In literature, authors use a similar rhetorical device called an allusion, or a very brief reference to a person, place, thing, or event from history or another literary work. Allusions are short and sweet. They're mentioned quickly and without explanation.

So why do authors do this? Allusions are a good way to emphasize a point. Many allusions reference popular culture, so they're also a good way to make a text relevant to its readers. It's important to note, however, that because allusions happen so quickly, they're sometimes easy to miss! You can think of allusions as an inside joke between the author and the have to know the reference to understand it.

F. Scott Fitzgerald includes many allusions throughout his novel The Great Gatsby. Keep reading for an explanation of each.

'Midas & Morgan & Mæcenas'

F. Scott Fitzgerald drops the first allusion at the very beginning of the novel as we get to know its narrator, Nick Carraway. A recent New York transplant, Carraway enters the world of finance as a 'bond man'. To prepare for his new career, Carraway tells the reader, 'I bought a dozen volumes on banking and credit and investment securities and they stood on my shelf in red and gold like new money from the mint, promising to unfold the shining secrets that only Midas and Morgan and Mæcenas knew.'

Who are these three great men that Carraway mentions? The first you might recognize from Greek mythology. King Midas was that lucky (but really not-so-lucky) guy that turned everything he touched into gold. 'Morgan' is a reference to J.P. Morgan, a banker and industrialist famous for his insanely large fortune. Finally, Mæcenas was a Roman statesman who helped advise Emperor Caesar Augustus. Carraway's allusion shows the reader the scope of his research, and also gives some insight into who his financial icons are.

Goddard & Stoddard

Shortly after Carraway's M&M (&M) allusion, the reader is presented with a literary reference. While Nick Carraway visits the Buchanan home, Tom Buchanan mentions the book The Rise of the Coloured Empires by a man named 'Goddard'. While this book doesn't actually exist, it is a reference to another work, The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy by Lothrop Stoddard. You're probably wondering, why wouldn't Fitzgerald just use the actual title of the book and the actual author? In this instance, Fitzgerald's allusion gives us some insight into Tom's character. The last name 'Goddard' is actually a combination of two authors (Madison Grant and Stoddard) who both wrote about white supremacy and racial discrimination. Tom Buchanan is clearly a racist man, but he's also not too bright.

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