The Language Techniques Used to Build Tension in Chapter 7 of The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
How did Fitzgerald raise tension throughout the Chapter 7 of ‘The Great Gatsby’?
Generally considered one of the finest novels by Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby explores the theme of roaring twenties and demonstrates the lack of morals in a superficially glittering world. Throughout the chapter 7, the author uses a plethora of language techniques to build up the tension to represent the climax in the novel.
At the beginning of the chapter, Fitzgerald uses narration to represent the rise of the tension between Tom, Daisy and Gatsby – “Their eyes met, and they stared together at each other, alone in space. With an effort she glanced down at the table.” This quote raises tension because it indicates the cause of the potential argument between the characters to the reader. The flow of actions in the first sentence – “their eyes met” and then “they stared together at each other”- symbolizes the bold confession of the romantic relationship between Daisy and Gatsby as “their eyes met” can happen accidentally but they choose to maintain the eye contact to admit their feelings for each other through non-verbal means. This creates a sharp contrast to the reader as since the first time the three of them met, Daisy wasn’t particularly intimate with Gatsby, which made him feel “far away from her,” but now they feel as if they are “alone in space.” This metaphor implies that they are so drunk in love that they can only see each other and the fact that Tom is there doesn’t bother them at all. Therefore, the sudden change in Daisy’s attitude and the presence of Tom foreshadows to the reader that this meeting isn’t going to go as smoothly as the previous one because Tom will most likely notice the affair and, due to his possessive and proud personality, he will ‘fight’ with Gatsby to get Daisy back.
Reinforcing my point, the fact that Daisy “with an effort” broke the eye contact with Gatsby indicates to the reader that her love for Gatsby reached its peak and she longs for the life full of opportunities and freedom she can have with him that she doesn’t want to return to her reality with Tom. As a result, this rises tension because from previous chapters the reader learnt that Gatsby is the type of man who will interpret Daisy’s behavior to fit his expectations, so this time he will take Daisy’s reluctance as a sign that she finally wants to leave Tom, hence he will fight back to keep Daisy at his side. However, this line can also be interpreted as the following: during their intimate eye-contact, Daisy realizes that igniting the flame of old love isn’t worth destroying her social reputation. Throughout the whole book, it’s obvious that everything the wealthy care about is their reputation, and since during the 1920s it was unacceptable for women to cheat on their husbands, running away with Gatsby will lower Daisy’s social status she was born with and that was the last thing she wanted to happen. Knowing she can’t challenge the society, she looks down with reluctance. This rises tension because the reader realizes that during the battle between Tom and Gatsby, Daisy will take Tom’s side and that will make Gatsby lose his temper.
In the middle of the chapter, Fitzgerald uses dialogue to show the building up of the tension – “What kind of a row are you trying to cause in my house anyway?” This line is extremely important in this chapter because it does three things. Firstly, it demonstrates to the reader that Tom is explicitly aware of the relationship between Daisy and Gatsby and now he has the power over the situation. He can decide whether take the argument further or let go of Daisy. Secondly, the dialogue makes the reader feel that the whole tension caused by the badly hidden affair was building up to this point. Fitzgerald structured the chapter in such way that before this line, all of the three characters tried to keep their appearance and act as if nothing happened, but now the tension reached one of its peaks and Tom, unable to get over his tampered pride, explodes, thus causing the argument reach another level where Daisy is forced to make a decision. Thirdly, this line is an excellent provocateur as it forces genuine reactions from Gatsby and Daisy which foreshadow the result of the argument. For example, Gatsby felt “content” but Daisy “looked desperate from one to another.” This represents the peak of tension because the reader realizes that the conversation is taking the path Gatsby wants it to take but Daisy hasn’t made up her mind yet and this indecisiveness will give some hope to Tom, which will thrive him to fight for Daisy with more power. Since Daisy is Gatsby’s American Dream, her indecisiveness not just fails Gatsby’s expectations but it also proves to him that no matter what he does his origin will never let him be a true member of a high society. Therefore, this line foreshadows to the reader a fiercer and tenser battle between Tom and Gatsby, which will lead to a new peak of tension.
Lastly, towards the end of the chapter the writer uses foreshadowing to show the buildup of the tension – “So we drove on towards death through the cooling twilight.” After reaching the conclusion that Daisy will stay with Tom, Fitzgerald lowers the tension until this line. This way the sentence has a greater effect on the reader as it enables him to take a pause from tension, and think that nothing worse can possible happen anymore, and then get startled and realize that the situation is actually getting worse. The foreshadow of death is so blatant in this sentence that it immediately turns the relaxed atmosphere into tensed one, forcing the reader to read on to know more. Yet, despite the indication of tension, the diction of “we drove on towards death” implies that this time there will be no struggle as the characters will gladly embrace the death, thus creating the contrast with other episodes of tension where the struggle for dominance was evident. However, this line can also be interpreted that the situation is inevitable and there is nothing the characters can do as someone is destined to die. This technique creates more tension because throughout the novel most of the characters showed their power of will and influence, hence the reader realizes that if none of the characters have influence over the situation, then it must be something out of human power, like a god’s punishment. Likewise, the word “twilight” means the time between the day and the night, hence it’s a symbol for someone who is stuck in between something. Throughout the book, it’s evident that each of the main characters is stuck between two things: Tom is trapped between Myrtle and Daisy, Daisy is in between Tom and Gatsby and Gatsby is stuck between the reality and his fantasy. The word “cooling” can also be interpreted as a symbol for a corpse as when someone dies, their body temperature drops. Overall, the expression “cooling twilight” can be a symbol for a dead body of one of the main characters. Linking this to the explanation of “we drove on”, this raises tension because the reader realizes that one of the main characters will receive a death sentence from God and since each of them committed a number of sins (Gatsby is a bootlegger, Daisy and Tom are both cheated, lied, and played with other people’s feelings) and is tensed to know who will it be.
As a conclusion, Fitzgerald built up tension throughout the chapter 7 by using a plethora of language techniques such as diction, foreshadowing, structure, symbolism, and metaphor. The most significant language device in building up the tension is the structure because the author cleverly used diction and foreshadowing in the right places of the novel. If Fitzgerald didn’t take pauses and lowered the tension levels in the key places, the non-stop series of tensed events wouldn’t have the same effect on the reader.
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