Personification in The Great Gatsby

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  • 0:00 Understanding Personification
  • 1:30 Personification & Setting
  • 3:03 Personification & Characters
  • 4:24 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.

You may be familiar with the literary device known as personification, but how is it used in the novel 'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald? This lesson explores and analyzes various examples of personification in 'The Great Gatsby.'

Understanding Personification

How would you describe yourself? Maybe you'd start with your physical appearance. Are you short, tall, fat, or thin? What about your personality? Are you serious, silly, brainy, funky, daring, or loud?

Now take a moment to think about your computer. How would you describe it? Your description may sound something like the following:

'The computer is roughly 15 inches long and has a keypad. It's made out of plastic and metal. It has a battery and it plugs into the wall. The screen is slightly dusty.'

Sounds pretty standard, right?

How would that same computer sound with more lifelike qualities? For example:

'The computer is positively humming with opportunity. Its screen is like the face of a small child, images dancing across it like smiles, grimaces, and frowns.'

How does the second description of the computer make you feel compared to the first one?

Odds are, the second description makes you feel something, makes you imagine the computer more vividly. That's because the second description includes personification, or the attribution of human qualities to non-human objects. You know logically that computers don't hum or have facial expressions, but this personification gives a new dimension to a non-living thing. F. Scott Fitzgerald uses personification throughout The Great Gatsby to make inanimate objects in the story feel like characters in their own right.

Personification & Setting

One of the ways Fitzgerald uses personification is by bringing to life the setting of The Great Gatsby. In the first chapter, narrator Nick Carraway uses vivid language to describe his new home in West Egg. A recent transplant from the Midwest to New York, Carraway explains how he wound up living in a small bungalow instead of closer to his office: 'The practical thing was to find rooms in the city, but it was a warm season and I had just left a country of wide lawns and friendly trees. . .' You know that trees are not 'friendly' things; after all, they can't talk. But for Carraway, the foliage in West Egg reminds him of where he came from, and the trees make him feel at home.

Carraway also uses personification to illuminate the property and home of Tom and Daisy Buchanan: 'Their house was even more elaborate than I expected, a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay.' How does the use of the word 'cheerful' make you feel? Personification helps the reader imagine that the home is a happy place, a welcome place.

Following this 'cheerful' description, Carraway also takes note of a boat at the end of the yard: '. . . a snub-nosed motor-boat that bumped the tide offshore.' If you read this passage quickly in the book, you may not have even noticed the use of personification. Boats do not actually have noses. The front of a boat is called a prow. Describing the boat's prow as 'snub-nosed' gives the boat a human-like quality.

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