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Irony in The Great Gatsby: Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is Irony?
  • 1:05 Irony in Chapters 1 and 2
  • 2:07 Irony in Chapters 3 and 5
  • 3:08 Irony in Chapters 7 and 8
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ronald Speener

Ronald, with my Masters in English, has taught composition, literature, humanities, critical thinking and computer classes.

Irony is a powerful literary device used by F. Scott Fitzgerald in his famous novel ''The Great Gatsby.'' In this lesson, you'll learn what irony is, examples of how it's used in the book, and to what effect.

What is Irony?

Have you ever watched a horror movie that features a seemingly unstoppable killer? At some point in the movie, the potential victim believes that he or she has escaped the murderer, but we know otherwise. This is irony. It is a literary device writers use to contrast what the characters believe and what we, the audience or reader, believe will happen. It can also be used to contrast what we expect to happen with what actually happens. The novel The Great Gatsby has many examples of irony. We will look at a few examples of irony as they appear in the novel. But first, let's get a bit of background information on the book.

Told from the viewpoint of Nick Carraway, The Great Gatsby is about the obsessive love Jay Gatsby has for Daisy Buchanan, the wife of Tom Buchanan, and the affair Tom Buchanan has with Myrtle Wilson, a car mechanic's wife. It is a story of the super-rich and the morally challenged. It is the story of people who think themselves superior, but we the readers know otherwise. This is the foundation for a novel oozing irony.

Irony in Chapters 1 and 2

In Chapter 1, we are introduced to Nick Carraway, the narrator of the novel. This entire novel is written from Nick's viewpoint. Nick's relationship to Gatsby is an example of irony because Nick tells the story about Gatsby but he does not like the man. He says, 'Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, (...) represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn.' As readers, we wonder why Nick wants to talk about Gatsby. This irony of Nick Carraway's attitude toward Gatsby makes the reader question why Nick chose to tell this story. The moral that Fitzgerald wants the reader to get out of the novel is that the rich are morally shallow. He uses irony to point this out.

Myrtle Wilson appears in Chapter 2 as the mistress of Tom Buchanan. Her husband is a struggling auto mechanic. But the reader sees Myrtle put on airs of a woman of wealth as she discusses the difficulty of finding suitable help. This irony points out how the perception of being rich can change people and make them callous.

Irony in Chapters 3 and 5

Gatsby throws extravagant parties at his mansion. People just show up and are not invited. In Chapter 3, Nick attends a party. Here, he has a chance to tour Gatsby's fabulous mansion. In the library, he meets Mr. Owl Eyes. As Nick looks at the books, he realizes none of the books have been opened. They are to impress. The library, the mansion, and the parties are all just for show to lure Daisy in with the bait of money. The irony is that we know that this is not what Daisy needs.

Chapter 5 is the physical center of the novel and the point where Gatsby and Daisy meet for the first time after five years. In this chapter, Gatsby arranges for Daisy to see his house and the possessions he amassed to impress her. The irony is that he can never be part of her circle because he was not born into wealth. This irony shows that Gatsby believes money can win Daisy. But Daisy needs not only a person with money but also one with social standing. Both are shallow approaches to love.

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