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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald-Book Notes
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FORM AND STRUCTURE

Form and structure are closely related to point of view. Before writing a novel, an author has to ask himself: who is to tell the story? And in what order will events be told? The primary problem in answering the second question is how to handle time. Do I tell the story straight through from beginning to end? Do I start in the middle and use flashbacks?

As many critics have pointed out, the method Fitzgerald adopts in The Great Gatsby is a brilliant one. He starts the novel in the present, giving us, in the first three chapters, a glimpse of the four main locales of the novel:

Daisy's house in East Egg (Chapter I)
The valley of ashes and New York (Chapter II)
Gatsby's house in West Egg (Chapter III)

Having established the characters and setting in the first three chapters, he then narrates the main events of the story in Chapters IV to IX, using Chapters IV, VI, and VII to gradually reveal the story of Gatsby's past. The past and present come together at the end of the novel in Chapter IX.


PLOT DIAGRAM

The critic James E. Miller, Jr., diagrams the sequence of events in The Great Gatsby like this: "Allowing X to stand for the straight chronological account of the summer of 1922, and A, B, C, D, and F to represent the significant events of Gatsby's past, the nine chapters of The Great Gatsby may be charted: X, X, X, XCX, X, XBXCX, X, XCXDXD, XEXAX."

Miller's diagram shows clearly how Fitzgerald designed the novel. He gives us the information as Nick gets it, just as we might find out information about a friend or acquaintance in real life, in bits and pieces over a period of time. Since we don't want or can't absorb much information about a character until we truly become interested in him, Fitzgerald waits to take us into the past until close to the middle of the novel. As the story moves toward its climax, we find out more and more about the central figure from Nick until we, too, are in a privileged position and can understand why Gatsby behaves as he does.

Thus the key to the structure of the novel is the combination of the first person narrative and the gradual revelation of the past as the narrator finds out more and more. The two devices work extremely effectively together, but neither would work very well alone.

Note that the material included in the novel is highly selective. Fitzgerald creates a series of scenes-most of them parties-but does not tell us much about what happens between these scenes. Think of how much happened in the summer of 1922 that Fitzgerald doesn't tell us! He doesn't tell us about Gatsby and Daisy's relationship after they meet at Nick's house in Chapter V, because Nick w the reader is close attention. We have to piece together everything we know about Gatsby from the few details that Nick gives us. Part of the pleasure this form gives us is that of drawing conclusions not only from what is included but from what is left out.

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