Similes in The Great Gatsby

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  • 0:02 Painting With Words
  • 0:48 A Simile Set a Mood
  • 1:45 A Simile Activates Space
  • 2:29 Similes & Daisy Buchanan
  • 3:18 Similes & Jay Gatsby
  • 4:22 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.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's ''The Great Gatsby'' is filled with bright details, vivid characters, and strong emotions. How does Fitzgerald fit all of this into one novel? This lesson discusses the use of simile in ''The Great Gatsby''.

Painting with Words

Have you ever read a novel or poem that leapt off the page with imagery? Maybe the author's words were so descriptive that you could see, hear, taste, smell, or feel every detail. So how exactly do authors achieve this effect? Writers employ a number of different literary devices to paint a vivid picture for their readers. You could think of literary devices as special effects for writing. In The Great Gatsby, author F. Scott Fitzgerald engages his reader with numerous literary devices, in particular the simile, or a comparison between two seemingly unlike things using the words 'like' or 'as.' Fitzgerald uses similes to describe both settings and characters throughout The Great Gatsby.

A Simile Sets a Mood

The Great Gatsby is told from the perspective of Nick Carraway, the story's narrator. Through Carraway's eyes, the reader can imagine the various scenes and settings where the novel takes place. One of the earliest similes found in the novel describes the desolate area between West Egg and East Egg and New York City: '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.'

Using the word 'like,' Carraway compares the 'valley of ashes' to growing wheat. Even though ashes and wheat are two very different things, the reader can imagine how the ashes grow and move across the valley, taking on various 'grotesque' shapes.

A Simile Activates Space

While Fitzgerald's similes make the reader feel the depressing nature of a setting, they also have the power to bring life to a room. When visiting the Buchanan home, Carraway describes the effects of wind and light in one of their sitting rooms: 'A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding cake of the ceiling--and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.'

This simile compares the curtains to pale flags using the word 'like'. It also compares the way the flags make shadows on the rug to wind moving over the sea. Unlike the first part of the simile, the second comparison uses the word 'as'.

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