In order to discuss the effectiveness of an opening chapter it is first necessary to outline what defines an effective first chapter. Undoubtedly it is essential that we be given a ‘feel’ for the book, a clear sense of the writers’ style. Moreover it is within this section we would expect to be introduced to the main characters of the novel and hints as to what may happen next. Finally it is equally important the author describes the setting; both of the physical surroundings and references that allow us to place the text in terms of time and place.
In the first chapter Fitzgerald sets up a first person narrator, Nick Carraway, who is omniscient due to his seemingly non-judgmental nature. Within the opening paragraph Carraway informs us he is “inclined to reserve all judgments” and as a result is “privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men”. Consequently we are able to witness interesting revelations as Nick “opens up many curious natures” which enhances the effectiveness of the opening chapter. Some admissions add to our enjoyment of the book for example Daisy tells a humorous, anecdotal “family secret… about the butler’s nose”.
Other disclosures expose more of the characters. This is evident when Miss Baker “hesitantly” tells Carraway of Tom’s affair. However some may argue Carraway occasionally contradicts his claims of “fundamental decencies”. This is possibly suggested when he opinionates himself on the topic of Tom’s “acute limited excellence”: “I felt Tom would drift on forever seeking… for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game”. Furthermore it could be said he passes judgment on Tom’s racism. Carraway responds to Tom’s “pathetic” attempt at escaping “complacency” with criticism.
Why Is First Person Narrative Effective In The Great Gatsby
He indicates he feels Tom did “nibble at the edge of stale ideas” as “his sturdy physical egotism no longer nourished his peremptory heart”. Alternatively this could be seen as understanding of the rich. Despite being from a “prominent” family of “well to do people”, he represents America’s traditional moral codes. He is different from the American aristocracy of old money and hedonistic lifestyles, a fact illustrated by his home: “a small eyesore… all for eighty dollars” by contrast to the “huge places that rented for twelve or fifteen thousand a season”.
Bearing this in mind Carraway may not be passing judgment upon Tom; he simply understands the essential emptiness of the world of the rich. This point is further reinforced when he feels “the basic insincerity” of Daisy. In this respect the narrative voice is also effective. We can use Carraway’s perceptions as a moral gauge we can use to form our own conclusions on characters and the cultural setting. When introducing Tom Buchanan, in the main Nick does reserve judgment, although in places his descriptions could be interpreted not as fact but his own opinion.
Much of what Carraway says of Tom suggests the way he treats people: “contempt”, “aggressively”, “fractiousness”. Furthermore he describes him as “cruel” and “arrogant”. Many would agree this is a good way of introducing the character as we are left to our own opinions of Tom – his behaviour is simply inferred. It is also suggested Tom is never satisfied or happy as he is always looking for something else: he “drifted… restlessly”. Nick indicates this is a result of the “anti-climax” that is Tom’s life; the pinnacle of his achievement was when playing football at college.
Here perhaps it is necessary for Nick to voice opinion, thus increasing the effectiveness of the chapter by deepening our knowledge of characters and the lives of the rich. The character of Daisy Buchanan is set up as an equally unsatisfied and unfulfilled character, which consequently impacts upon their relationship. Daisy has “an excitement in her voice” and a “stirring warmth” that was “charming”. However we are given an impression that the “gay, exciting” exterior is simply a front beneath which there is an unhappiness and absence.
This is best portrayed when she “absently” talks about “the baby” until she can describe her own “sophisticated” feelings on the baby and life. This reveals her character lacks maternal love and is self-absorbed. Nick also suggests “the basic insincerity” of her words “as though the whole evening had been a trick”. Under the idyllic visage of Daisy there is ultimately nothingness, a lack of direction. The life of the young and rich is not enough – she “been everywhere seen everything and done everything”. The notion that their life is a fai? ade is indicated further by the cracks in their relationship.
Tom has “some girl in New York” and his behviour becomes increasingly “cross” and at points “violent” as he becomes “impatient” with Daisy. Furthermore Nick suggests Daisy has “membership in a rather distinguished secret society” to which “she and Tom belonged” as though their relationship is held together only by money. The fractious relationship making the first chapter effective in gaining our attention and creating interest in us as readers that encourages us to read on. In the same way we are intrigued as to the development of the character of Miss Baker.
She helps to set the book in its cultural context, as she is representative of the girl of her time; her “young cadet” like figure was fashionable at the time. She is an androgynous character, with mingingly gender characteristics “slender, small breasted girl, with an erect carriage” reminiscent of the flapper girls. Fitzgerald’s use of her character is also effective in creating curiosity within us as readers. There is a mystery surrounding her character as Nick recognizes her having “seen her, or a picture of her, somewhere before”.
This mystery is later developed as we discover she is a famous golfer who Nick once heard a “critical, unpleasant story”. We are lured into reading on to discover her secret. Gatsby is introduced only at the very end of the chapter as Nick catches his first glimpse of the mysterious Gatsby. At this point he is the only character we have not met and this coupled with the fact he is only a “figure… from the shadow” creates a sense of mystery. His behaviour is perhaps troubling to us: “alone… stretched out arms toward the dark… rembling” before he vanishes. To what he is stretching to we are not informed, simply a “single green light” in the distance. Perhaps it symbolic, a green light indicating going forward or future with its connotations of advancing. This makes for an effective ending of the first chapter, as we are certainly intrigued as to what and why he was behaving so strangely. This is particularly so as he is the “man who gives his name to the book” and his importance within the plot is also suggested is frequently mentioned throughout the first chapter.
Despite never meeting Gatsby, we are given a sense of his character for example he had “an extra ordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness”. Moreover early on tension is created about Gatsby and the events of the novel: “it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of dreams”. Again these hints at what may happen next were outlined as defining an effective first chapter. Throughout the first chapter Nick refers in detail to his surroundings describing colour and movement which helps the reader to understand the characters and their way of life.
Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s home suggests their class and children of wealthy aristocracy. Their “Georgian Colonial Mansion” indicates an established family history as it goes back a relatively long way in American history, to the 18th century before the War of Independence. Furthermore the house “glowing in reflected glory” implies they do not have to work for their money, they bask in the benefits of others hard work. Furthermore the colours of the house “red and white” perhaps illustrate more of their characters. The “rosy” and “wine” colours could represent the passion and anger whilst the “gleaming white” and “pale… rosted weeding cake of the ceiling” indicate the nothingness and absence within their personalities and relationship. Similarly Gatsby’s home “a factual imitation of the Hotel de Ville in Normandy” indicates the artificiality and fakeness that surrounds Gatsby. Its “thin beard of raw ivy” is an attempt at creating some history, though the “spanking” newness of a home in the less fashionable West egg reveals to us Gatsby is one of the nouveau riche. In the same way the descriptions of movement within the Buchanan house help the unveil more of their characters.
The “fluttering” of the women’s dresses alongside “rippling”, with its connotations of water, indicates natural beauty with a hint of ephemerality as though their splendor is not long lasting. Furthermore the “twisting” again indicates delicate movements suggesting elegance perhaps the result of money. Additionally we learn that the women’s characters have very little physical presence as their movement is described as “completely motionless” making only “an attempt to rise”. This suggests within life they are not going anywhere, they lack direction.
As well as relating Gatsby’s story the novel explores upper class society in the 1920s and Fitzgerald paints a vivid picture of their existence. We are given the impression the upper class live in their own world, oblivious to what goes on outside it. For example Daisy letdown at Nick not coming to her wedding be cause he “wasn’t back from the war”. Furthermore despite the prohibition at the time, they were drinking “cocktails” which presumably contained alcohol. Fitzgerald suggests they have little responsibilities or ties “drifting here and there… herever people played polo and were rich together”. It is obvious the Buchanan’s, as would others of their type, do not have to do much for themselves; dinner was prepared for them, the table laid by “two young ladies”, a butler answered the phone. Moreover Daisy seems unaccustomed to doing anything for herself when asking, “what do people plan? “. We are also given an impression these people care very much about appearance. This is suggested by Daisy’s “ecstatic” cry at hearing people miss her indicates she cares very much about what people think of her.
Furthermore “there were no such intentions” for Daisy to leave Tom despite his on-going affair which gives the impression she likes the family image with “the baby”. Tom also expresses a care for what others think when, after Nick expresses a light-hearted remark about feeling “uncivilized” at the table with Daisy, Tom “violently” begins a racist debate. Even Nick shows some pride at telling of his solid background of “well-to-do people”. Fitzgerald’s use of language and style also contributes to the effectiveness of the opening chapter in ways other than the descriptive of surroundings explored earlier.
Firstly Fitzgerald writes in a retrospective manner looking back over last summer. The summer, if interpreted as a metaphor, indicates to us the novel is perhaps about youth and the prime of life. Most importantly he uses direct speech a greatly which helps us to understand the characters of the book. For example it is suggested that within Daisy’s life there is a lack of direction and unhappiness when Miss Baker informs us they had “been lying on that sofa for as long as I can remember”. This indicates that they have no purpose in their lives; their days are filled with nothing.
Moreover Daisy retorts she had been “trying” to get to New York, it is an effort for the women to exert themselves. This is again indicated when she reveals, “I always watch for the longest day of the year” as it suggests she looks trivial milestones in her life as she has nothing to look forward to. We also see Daisy’s childish, immature side through her speech; “Look!… I hurt it” and “you did do it”. In conclusion the first chapter of ‘The Great Gatsby’ is effective as it does succeed the criteria outlined. In particular Fitzgerald is successful in introducing the main characters especially through vivid descriptions and direct speech.
Additionally the narrator, as a character with an understanding of the rich due to his background and non-judgmental nature, is used to comment on the events and characters gives greater insight into these characters and the life of the rich. Throughout the first chapter we are given enough hints as to what may happen within the novel to keep an appropriate pace and enough mystery through characters such as Gatsby and Miss Baker to keep us intrigued. Furthermore we are encouraged to read on to the end of the novel due to the peculiar ending that concludes an effective first chapter.