Electrical Disillusionment

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In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, the electricity connected with Jay Gatsby’s party adds to an idyllic atmosphere but ultimately this reality proves disillusioned.  In preparation for the party “a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough colored lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby’s enormous garden” (my italics-44).  Moreover, the paragraph describing the energy of the party opens and closes with mention of the presence of the lights.  Specifically, at the beginning of the paragraph Nick notes that “the lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music and the opera of voices pitches a key higher” (my italics-44).  Soon there are “wanderers, confident girls who weave here and there among the stouter and more stable, [and becomes] for a sharp, joyous moment the center of a group and then excited glide on through the seachange of faces and voices and color under the constantly changing light” (45).  It is interesting that “this party had preserved a dignified homogeneity, and assumed to itself the function of representing the staid nobility of the country-side- East Egg condescending to West Egg, and carefully on guard against its spectroscopic gayety” (49).  In this way, the party represents an ideal world while drawing our attention to its contortion.  Everyone is the same, enjoying the lights and the progress the lights signify.  However, it is also quite obvious that, beyond the superficial dreamlike reality of the scene, it is so shallow that it needs the mystification of the lights to render it stable.  Thus we see that while some electrification helps to perpetuate the ideal but ultimately unrealistic dreamlike state of Gatsby’s party, the preoccupation with an ideal ultimately causes Gatsby’s death.

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