Friday, January 27, 2012


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What do you see as the relationship between the two texts you have studied? How do form, structure and image used in each of the two texts you have studied?

The novel The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and its close contemporary counterpart, the film The Talented Mr. Ripley, directed by Anthony Minghella, relate to each other by commenting on similar thematic concerns, particularly the American Dream. Both texts use appropriate techniques to depict and comment on The American Dream. The Dream is a symbol representing success and wealth in life, both materially and socially. As each text progresses, a character within each text pursues the success and prosperity of The American Dream but cannot attain satisfaction. This notion is emphasised by structure, image, and the form of media in The Great Gatsby, and The Talented Mr. Ripley.

The Great Gatsby deals with The American Dream in its 10s New York context. The setting reflects upon the social stratification present at the time; closely related to economic status. It expresses this through such characters as George Wilson, and his dilapidated house in the decaying Valley Of Ashes, a socio-economic wasteland. This Valley of Ashes is a direct symbol of lower class society, and is juxtaposed with the luxurious connotations of West Egg.

The novel form and structure allows for the key ideas to be expressed through the use of literary techniques. These ideas that are expressed create a positive image, or response, of the text from the audience.

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The plot is written as a first person narrative through the eyes of Nick Carraway, but a great deal of the story focuses on his next-door neighbour, Jay Gatsby. In the novel, Gatsby possesses a great deal of wealth, with an expensive estate, manifested by “a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side.” This is again shown in the following line “a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden”, with visual imagery further accentuating the size of his mansion. Additionally his large house is juxtaposed with Nick’s house, “my own house was an eyesore”, again adding emphasis to his wealth.

Although Gatsby has pursued and attained financial success, he is still devoid of satisfaction, because he does not have Daisy. To attain Daisy, Gatsby displays a false impression, as he believes his put-on class and sophistication will attract him to her.

His home is effectively a symbol of his falsity, and the semiotics of his house depicts an image of pretentiousness. This is elucidated by visual imagery in “enough coloured lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby’s enormous garden.” The lights act as a symbol, and the house is just a show that Gatsby has put on.

His falseness is also presented as a deficiency of taste, revealed by “high Gothic library, panelled with carved English oak, and probably transported complete from some ruin overseas.” The inclusion of the word ‘complete’ suggests to the reader that Gatsby did not himself compile the selection of books, but instead just attained them intact. This depicts the irony of how Gatsby is not actually the affluent character his fa├žade falsely suggests, and also portrays an image of not fitting in. Thus, the novel displays how a character does not always achieve the dream they set out to accomplish.

Such notions are also dealt with in The Talented Mr. Ripley, although in a different context. The lifestyle Dickie has, in the colourful, scenic Italian backdrop of the fifties, along with the recurring motif of jazz serve as the perfect lifestyle that the main character, Tom Ripley, wishes to attain.

In The Talented Mr. Ripley, Tom Ripley is a character in search of success and wealth. As the film progresses, the audience becomes aware of the fact that he is after ‘the ideal’, his perfect model, and will mould himself into that shape. This is related to The American Dream because it emphasises how he is in pursuit of success and perfection.

The start of his ‘search’ is signified when Mr Greenleaf says to him “Could you ever conceive of going to Italy, Tom…I’ll pay you to persuade my son to come back…” This is ironic, as instead of bringing Dickie back, he instead tries to assume Dickie’s identity. When sent over there, he falls in love with Dickie’s lifestyle in his Italian paradise, and will go to great lengths to remain in it.

Although he wishes to ‘shape’ himself into Dickie’s lifestyle, he doesn’t quite fit in, particularly in the beach scene, shown by Dickie’s statement “You’re so pale! Look how pale he is, Marge!” In this scene, he is not only set apart from Dickie and Marge by his considerably lighter skin, but also by the fluoro-green bathing suit he wears. Additionally, in reaction to Dickie, Tom states, “It’s only an undercoat,” foreshadowing how he changes his ‘undercoat’ to fit Dickie’s lifestyle, moulding himself into his idea of ‘the perfect lifestyle.’

Tom builds an identity for himself, as Dickie Greenleaf, as he believes that it will bring him close to his ideal personality and with it, bring success, prosperity, and all that the American Dream represents. However, he does not find satisfaction in being this identity, and continues to kill to cover up his past mistakes.

This is evident after Freddie’s suspicious nature in “The only thing here that looks like Dickie is…. you” On one level, this statement acts as an irony, because immediately before Freddie’s arrival, the semiotics of the elegant room conveys a sense of success and sophistication. The grand piano, the expensive sweaters and the statue head momentarily create the impression that Tom has triumphed in his pursuit towards success. However, the change in the non-diegetic music to a more sombre, mysterious tone when Freddie enters, and the long and awkward silences, emphasise the deviousness of Tom.

This scene is consequential because it displays Tom’s false sense of success and his pursuit for this perfect life.

Both The Great Gatsby and The Talented Mr. Ripley hold parallels, particularly in the themes depicted by each. One such concept is the American Dream, which is expressed through the structure, form and image conveyed of each text.

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