Tone in The Great Gatsby

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  • 0:02 Tone in Conversation
  • 0:36 Tone in Literature
  • 1:04 Gatsby Uses Nick
  • 2:24 Nick Softens Towards Gatsby
  • 3:10 Nick & Daisy
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Mallett Smith

Jennifer has taught high school English for eight years and has a master's degree in curriculum and assessment.

This lesson will uncover the use of tone in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel 'The Great Gatsby.' The ever-changing tone of the novel is conveyed by Nick Carraway, the narrator of the story.

Tone in Everyday Conversation

Tone is an important element of communication. It is often lost in email and text messages, which can make for some awkward situations. Many of us use emoticons or all caps to convey our messages. Consider this message: 'IT IS IMPORTANT THAT WE ALL ARRIVE AT WORK ON TIME!' Had the sender used a smiley face emoticon at the end, it would convey the tone of a helpful reminder. We can see how tone is important in our everyday communications, but how does it change for authors speaking to a larger audience?

Tone in Literature

Tone is the author's attitude towards the subject that he or she is writing about. It is conveyed in many different ways. It is important to understand the symbols, motifs, and themes in the novel to identify the tone. In F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, the narrator, Nick Carraway, changes his tone throughout the novel. At the end of the novel, we see Fitzgerald's true attitude toward the wealthy culture that surrounded him during his life.

Gatsby Uses Nick

At first, Nick is bewildered and awed by Gatsby, as seen in the following message from him: '. . .the honor would be entirely Gatsby's, it said, if I would attend his 'little party' that night.' Gatsby's parties are described as over-the-top, and the wealthy people who attend them are compared to people at amusement parks. Nick is intrigued by Gatsby because this mysterious man opens up his home to people who spread rumors about him. Can you think of people who host parties like Gatsby's in today's society? How do you personally view these parties and the people who attend them?

Later in the novel, Nick's tone turns to disgust once Gatsby tells him his life story. Gatsby asks Nick to attend a meeting with Jordan Baker to discuss an event from Gatsby's past that upsets him: '. . .I hadn't the faintest idea what 'this matter' was, but I was more annoyed than interested. I hadn't asked Jordan to tea in order to discuss Mr. Jay Gatsby.' Nick's tone here is indignant. Later, Nick denies Gatsby's offer for employment with a haughty tone: '. . .because the offer was obviously and tactlessly for a service to be rendered, I had no choice except to cut him off there.' We can relate to this when we feel someone is using us as a means to achieve a desired goal.

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