Starting Monday July 2 in my Lost in Classics Facebook Group we will be reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. As you know reading is a great way of exploring new vocabulary and grammar in a natural context. Consequently each year Cambridge Examinations chooses a set text for the Proficiency exam on which it is possible to answer an essay question in Part 2 of the writing test. Last year, 2017, it was The Great Gatsby so I thought it could be interesting to start off answering an essay question on the book. My answer is not in the correct format for an essay, just my thoughts on the question.
Part of Fitzerald's strength as a writer comes from his imagistic style. His writing is very sensory-oriented. What examples of sensory-oriented imagery (sight, taste, touch, smell, sound) can you find in the story? What kind of atmosphere do these details help create? How do they affect you as a reader?
Imagism was originally practised by a group of British and American poets at the beginning of the 20th century who used common speech, created new rhythms and presented clear, concentrated and precise images. We can see many examples of this use of imagery in the first chapter of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald where it is expressed using words that evoke the five senses, making his descriptions understandable for everyone. The words combine to create a visual picture of the events that jumps off the page. Perhaps it is the familiarity of the images that made it popular with a wide audience and is why it makes such a great film.
Chapter 1 starts with touch imagery with the phrase
'...conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes.'
Other touch imagery includes references to nature and the weather, images that are everyday features of our lives: 'ragged edge of the universe', 'weather-beaten cardboard bungalow', 'machines that register eathquakes ten thousand miles away.' This helps the reader to picture the scene in his mind.
Sight images also rely on nature and common objects, for example 'buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon', 'rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house.' These descriptions recall water, lightness, wind and birds. The expression 'crimson room bloomed with light' evokes blossoming flowers.
Examples of sound imagery is through quite onomatopoetic adjectives 'low thrilling voice', 'shrill metallic urgency'. There are also references to food and eating with adjectives like 'gorgeous', objects compared to food 'frosted wedding cake of the ceiling' and verbs usaully used for eating combined with food adjectives 'nibble at the edge of stale ideas'.
There are images that are difficult to classify for example in the phrase 'what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams'. The 'foul dust' dirties Gatsby's ambitions and implies that he achieved his goals in an unclear or corrupt way. Foul and dust are unusual collocations as are 'pungent' and 'roses'. Pungent is an adjective that is usually associated with an unpleasant smell.
For me, the strongest images are those created by unusual or contradictory adjective - noun collocations. I remember getting frustrated with my secondary school French teacher when, after having spent many hours labouring over a grammar rule, she revealed that the rule did not always apply and that there were exceptions. Vocabulary books teach us that we should identify and copy common ways that mother tongue speakers put words together in order to sound more natural. For example 'highly' is an intensifying adjective that is used with probability adjectives like 'likely' or 'probable' and usually combines with positive words. Or 'deeply' that is used to describe feelings, for example 'deeply moved'. Other combinations can sound unnatural. In the case of The Great Gatsby however Fitzgerald is a writer and so can take advantage of poetic licence to invent new combinations. 'Cruel body', 'disappointed anticipation', 'unthoughtful sadness': these combinations are unnatural but that makes them stand out powerfully.
Obviously it is important to distinguish between words that you will use yourself and those that you can enjoy when you read or listen. However, language is a living thing that is constantly evolving. New words and images are always coming into English to enrich it and to reflect the changing world. Many common collocations that we use today were first coined by writers like Fitzgerald. Katherine Martin, head of Oxford's U.S. dictionaries said
"Sometimes literature is the best first place to find things. Authors are innovators."
So I say create your own collocations to express your reality and make your English more colourful.
Let me know in the comments if you discover any interesting images as you read The Great Gatsby and click here to join my Lost in Classics Facebook Group to discover uses of colour imagery and other themes this July.
If you would like to discuss vocabulary learning techniques with me don't hesitate to contact me.
In English we say it how it is. I live in Italy and here there is a type of specialist doctor known as the 'otorinolaringoiatra', in English simply 'ear, nose and throat doctor'. See what I mean? Over the years many words have entered English from other languages like Latin and French, but the short words of Old English are still those that are most familiar to us in conversation. Think of the farmers and peasants in the fields. They expressed themselves using simple concepts based on their natural environment and that is why many proverbs and idiomatic expressions that we still use today refer to nature, including birds. From tomorrow in my Facebook Group we will be reading 'John Livingston Seagull' so I'm all about the sea and birds this month! I find it fascinating to understand the history behind expressions, so below I will analyse 5 idiomatic phrases related to birds and flying. Do you know them all? Are there similar expressions in your language?
1. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
Don't risk what you have - it is better to keep what you have (a bird) than to risk getting more and ending with nothing (two birds out of your reach).
Imagine you go to Las Vegas and win a lot of money on the machines. Your friend wants to carry on playing to win even more money but you choose to keep the money you do have and not risk losing everything.
Phrases with such warnings are very common in English, dating back to the first translations of the Bible in english, so much so that many pubs carry this name and there is even a town in Pennsylvania with this name!
What is this?
When I started lostinclassics I looked for language lessons in the books I was reading, such as for example the use of phrasal verbs or inversion in conditionals and I explained them through examples found in the text. I also did reviews of the books I read and tried to give some advice on how to read classics using the various resources I know of. Then I switched to just reviews and lately I have been doing a bit of creative writing inspired by my reading. Who knows what I will come up with next!