First Line of The Great Gatsby: Analysis

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  • 0:04 Plot Overview
  • 0:23 The Importance of the…
  • 1:11 What We Learn
  • 2:54 Setting the Tone
  • 3:25 Foreshadowing
  • 4:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natarielle Powell
In this lesson, we will analyze the first line from the classic novel ''The Great Gatsby.'' Is the advice given in it arrogant, humble or self-righteous? And how does it set the tone of the story and foreshadow later events? Read on to find out.

Plot Overview

F. Scott Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby in 1925. The title is fitting because the story is centered around the mysterious and seemingly larger-than-life, Jay Gatsby. Throughout the story, the narrator goes back in time to discuss and analyze the starting point of several things and the true identity of the main characters.

The Importance of the First Line

Have you ever looked at the cover of a book to determine whether or not you wanted to read it? A lot of people take this into account when they select reading material. Others read the first line or two to make this decision. The first line of any book is important because it often sets the tone for the story. It usually captures the reader's attention by offering a hint of the story that will be explored in detail later on. This is true for The Great Gatsby. The first line reads:

'In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, he told me, just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.'

In this case, it is important to consider the first two lines, as they go hand in hand.

What We Learn

From the beginning, we are introduced to the narrator. We later find out that his name is Nick Carraway. We know that he is the one who is going to tell this story to us, and that we will learn of the characters and events primarily from his perspective. In the first line, we learn the following things:

The narrator, Nick, is thinking back on his life. This is evident in his choice of words younger years. He does not specify a particular time in his youth, but the reader might guess adolescence, when a father would try to instill wisdom in his son.

The narrator considers his father to be wise and respects him. The use of the word, vulnerable gives the sense that the narrator paid close attention to the instructions of his elders, particularly his father. This word also suggests that the narrator was rather young and impressionable when this piece of advice was given.

The narrator has had certain life events that have challenged his thinking and perspective. The idea that the narrator has been 'turning this information over in his mind' suggests that he has recently given it much thought, and has tried to look at it in different ways. His experiences have made him reconsider this piece of advice.

The narrator identifies with some sort of privilege. The advice he is given refers to the advantages and opportunities he has had. The reader is not informed as to whether these advantages have to do with social status, finances, education, talent, or anything similar. What we can guess is that his life is in a somewhat better state than most others.

The narrator's father wants to teach his son not to be critical of others. The father acknowledges that his son will encounter a variety of people and experiences during his lifetime, and may be tempted to criticize them. But he warns him to think carefully first, and keep an open mind.

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