Imagery in The Great Gatsby: Examples

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  • 0:02 What Is Imagery?
  • 1:01 Imagery & Setting
  • 2:11 Imagery & Characters
  • 3:42 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.

How do authors bring a novel to life? In the case of ''The Great Gatsby,'' author F. Scott Fitzgerald uses vibrant imagery to draw the readers in and make them a part of the story.

What Is Imagery?

In your English and language arts classes, you've probably listened to your teacher talk about various literary devices that authors use, kind of like a tool box filled with special effects for writing. One of the most impactful literary devices is imagery. As you've probably figured out already, the word 'imagery' includes the word 'image.'

Taken literally, imagery helps the reader picture what's going on in the story. In reality, imagery is so much more than just images or pictures. Truly great writers use imagery to engage all five of the reader's senses so that they can not only see, but hear, smell, taste, and feel what the characters are experiencing.

The author of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, is practically a wizard with the imagery he uses throughout the novel. Fitzgerald transports the readers into a world filled with decadence, drama, desperation, passion, and pain through vivid descriptions of both settings and characters.

Imagery and Setting

The Great Gatsby features numerous settings throughout the story, many of which highlight the grandeur and opulence of Gatsby's existence, while others reveal the bleak reality for the average man. On their way into New York City, Nick Carraway, the narrator, and Tom Buchanan pass through a desolate area filled with poor and defeated workers. Notice how Fitzgerald's description of the valley of ashes helps you not only see the area but feel how truly depressing it is:

This is a valley of ashes - a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.

Fitzgerald also makes use of imagery when describing the warm and exciting parties at Gatsby's home. Instead of merely describing a sunset, music, and people talking, he creates an intense picture for the reader:

The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher.

Imagery and Characters

Characters in The Great Gatsby vary drastically in their appearances and their personalities. To communicate the differences between each person, Fitzgerald uses imagery to describe how they look and how they behave.

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