Literary Devices and Themes in The Great Gatsby and Other Works

American Dream

– The widespread belief that the United States is a land of opportunity and that individual initiative and hard work can bring economic success

– Example: The Great Gatsby


– Repetition of initial sounds

– Example: ‘With a faint, chill crimson in her cheeks’


– An expression designed to call something to mind without mentioning it explicitly; an indirect or passing reference

– Example: Carraway alludes to Midas and Morgan through the books he bought in the opening scene in the novel; it shows who his idols are, and who he motivates himself to be in the business.


– Belief that minority cultures should dissolve into a dominant culture

– Example: It’s hard for Pearl to assimilate into Puritan culture because of the character she is; she belongs in the forest.


– The process by which the writer reveals the personality of a character

– Example: By showing the types of parties Gatsby has, it’s learned Gatsby is a man of great wealth and riches. He must have found lots of success to host these parties and the reader learns this.


– Repetition of a consonant sound within two or more words in close proximity


– A writer’s or speaker’s choice of words

Dynamic Character

– A character who grows, learns, or changes as a result of the story’s action

– Example: Walter is a dynamic character; he realizes his dream is not very possible, and puts the family’s best interest first, changing him into a better person.


– A literary device used to introduce background information about events, settings, characters, or other elements of a work to the audience or readers

– Example: Beginning scene in TGG

Figurative Language

– Writing or speech that is not intended to carry literal meaning and is usually meant to be imaginative and vivid

– Example: Simile or Metaphor already used.


– A method of narration in which present action is temporarily interrupted so that the reader can witness past events

– Example: (DOAS)

Foil Character

– A character who is used as a contrast to another character; the contrast emphasizes the differences between the two characters, bringing out the distinctive qualities in each.

– Example: Tom Buchanan and George Wilson. Tom, a member of the wealthy class, seems to be very physically strong and controlling in his relationship with Daisy. Wilson, one of the working class, seems to have a failing relationship with Myrtle; he seems to have no control or power in his relationship.


– A narrative device that hints at coming events; often builds suspense or anxiety in the reader

– Example: Daisy’s unattainability is foreshadowed in the very beginning; the green light (Daisy) is described as ‘minute and far away’


– Description that appeals to the senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste)

– Example: ‘This is the valley of ashes… ashes take the form of houses and chimneys and rising smoke… men who move dimly, crumbling through the powdery air.’


– The use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning

– Example: The marriages of Tom and Myrtle in The Great Gatsby; both married people they cannot stand, yet they’re in love with one another and continued to be married.


– A comparison without using like or as

– Example: Gatsby describes a house with a ‘thin beard of ivy,’ serves as a metaphor for plant growth.


– Feeling or atmosphere that a writer creates for the reader

– Example: Mood in TGG is dark and pessimistic; largely due to the meaningless parties, the descriptions/imagery of the Valley of Ashes, and the tragic deaths of Gatsby and Myrtle.


– A recurring theme, subject or idea

– Example: East v. West in TGG


– A figure of speech in which an object or animal is given human feelings, thoughts, or attitudes

– Example: ‘A snub-nosed motor boat that bumped the tide offshore’

Reliable Narrator

– A believable, trustworthy commentator on events and characters in a story

– Example: Nick Carraway not a reliable narrator; he doesn’t have the full perspective on things, so this leads to scenarios where he may have conflicting opinions on how something actually is.


– The time and place of a story

– Example: Setting of The Great Gatsby is in Long Island, New York.


– A comparison using ‘like’ or ‘as’

– Example: ‘A fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills, and grotesque gardens’

Static Character

– A character that does not change from the beginning of the story to the end

– Example: Mama in Raisin in the Sun.


– A generalized belief about a group of people

– Example: Stereotype defied in The Scarlet Letter in which women are not weak. Hester is able to go against the harsh opinions of society, and is able to find her true calling and identity in the realms of the forest, breaking these stereotypes.


– A thing that represents or stands for something else, especially a material object representing something abstract

– Example: Mama’s plant in Raisin in the Sun. ‘Lord, if this little old plant don’t get more sun than it’s been getting it ain’t never going to see spring again’ (Hansberry 40).


– The arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language