Metaphors in The Great Gatsby

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  • 0:00 Metaphorically Speaking
  • 1:25 Absolute Metaphors In…
  • 3:04 Extended Metaphors In…
  • 4:25 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.

Metaphors are a literary device used to create comparisons in writing. F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of 'The Great Gatsby,' uses this literary device to capture his readers attention and enhance his work with numerous layers of meaning.

Metaphorically Speaking

You've likely heard the phrase 'metaphorically speaking,' but what exactly does it mean? Before jumping into a definition, take a look at the statements below. Do they have anything in common?

  • She's a candle in the wind.
  • Life is a journey.
  • Time is money.

You may have noticed that each of these statements compares two seemingly unlike things. Instead of saying one thing is like the other, however, the statements say that one thing 'is' the other. This special comparison is known as a metaphor, a common literary device. You're probably wondering, 'Why bother using metaphors? What's the point?' Metaphors are a great way to engage readers by making a text more interesting. They can also enhance meaning and create striking visuals for the reader.

Take, for example, our first statement: 'She's a candle in the wind.' As a reader, you know that a woman cannot actually be a candle in the wind. The comparison created by this metaphor is far more interesting and poetic than its literal meaning, that the woman's existence is fleeting and outside of her control.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, The Great Gatsby, is a cornucopia of metaphors used to engage the reader in exciting ways. F. Scott Fitzgerald uses two common types of comparisons throughout The Great Gatsby, namely absolute metaphors and extended metaphors.

Absolute Metaphors in The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald uses absolute metaphors, or comparisons between two completely different things that don't resemble each other at all. For example: 'So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.' Humans are very much alive and look nothing like non-living boats, but Fitzgerald's metaphor helps describe the human condition. Nick Carraway and the other characters experience life much like a boat on the water, trying to move forward but ultimately pushed backwards.

Similarly, Fitzgerald compares Daisy through absolute metaphor: 'But he didn't despise himself and it didn't turn out as he had imagined. He had intended, probably, to take what he could and go - but now he found that he had committed himself to the following of a grail.' Daisy is equated to the famed Holy Grail, a mythical cup allegedly used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. According to the legend, King Arthur and many others in history, went on epic searches for the lost item. Like these Holy Grail-seekers, Gatsby is on a quest for Daisy.

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