Sense of place is a very important element of any novel since that is what adds depth and flavor to it. Every author needs to establish a sense of place in order to create interest in his book and make the reader visualize where the character is actually playing the role. It allows the reader to find out the way the characters feel about the environment, how it may shape their choices.
The Great Gatsby is an excellent example of the novel where the author (Fitzgerald) has carefully planned the physical surroundings. He has established a sense of place so the reader knows exactly when and where the story is taking place. A very famous excerpt from the beginning of the book is: We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. 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.
The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor (Fitzgerald 11).
This is a very famous description and, as can be seen, Fitzgerald has taken care to include each and every element necessary to give the reader the actual visualization. He has described the space where the characters are going and the objects that they see around. He has talked about the breeze and the way it was blowing. He has also described the women who were present in the scene and explained their dresses and the way the character could see them “their dresses were rippling and fluttering”. Fitzgerald’s descriptions are well-observed and he has used very concrete language for the purpose. He did not use pretty words to describe the scene; he only tried to be accurate and it paid off.
Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby alertly received a culture which had started emerging in the late 1890’s and managed to establish itself in the 1910’s and 1920’s (The Roaring Twenties). The following words describe the changes:
“In between, America grew up, became thoroughly modern. There were movies, radio, nearly everybody could afford a car. Americans left the farm for the city – after all, the men had seen Paree”.
Fitzgerald has written about the minutest of details to give a sense of place to the reader. For instance, “My house looks well, doesn’t it? … see how the whole front of it catches the light” (Fitzgerald 74). These words give a total visual to the reader regarding how well lit the house was and how it was directly catching the sunlight. It continues talking about the buttons on Daisy’s dress that “gleamed in the sunlight” (Fitzgerald 74). Such details have very nicely merged together and given an image of light and sunshine.
Fitzgerald’s sense of place has a great amount of modernist sensibility to it. His words “the city rising up across the river in white heaps and sugar lumps” (Fitzgerald 56) have an abstract, monochrome and cubist feel to them. The text clearly identifies the surroundings the character is in, giving a sense of reality to the reader. The city has been described in the text as very beautiful; what with the white sugar lumps depicting the snow laden mountains. The above words quoted from the novel clearly identify it as the “beauty in the world.”
Fitzgerald has managed to engage the reader’s attention throughout his novel and not once does one feel lost while reading it.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. NuVision Publications, LLC, 2008.