The Epigraph and The Great Gatsby
“As the tide washed in, the Dutch Tulip Man faced the ocean:
‘Conjoiner rejoinder poisoner concealer revelator. Look at it,
Rising up and rising down, taking everything with it.’
‘What’s that?’ Anna asked.
‘Water,’ the Dutchman said. ‘Well, and time.’
— Peter Van Houten, An Imperial Affliction
Epigraph of The Fault in Our Stars
“Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry, “Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!”
— Thomas Parke D’Invilliers
Epigraph of The Great Gatsby
And what is the underlying connection between these epigraphs?
Their authors. They don’t exist.
Well. You won’t run into them on the street (although, fun fact, Thomas Parke D’Invilliers is a character in Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise).
This breaks the definition of an epigraph, a quote at the beginning of a book meant to establish a theme. The keyword in this definition being “quote.”
So why do Green and Fitzgerald choose to quote fictional characters and the writing of fictional characters?
Establishment of theme, perhaps.
In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby essentially dons a “gold hat” to win the affection of a woman, but in doing so, constructs a false identity for himself which ultimately leads to, well, events we shan’t spoil here. In TFIOS, Hazel and Augustus struggle with inevitable oblivion, much as the “ocean” takes “everything with it”. The parallel between water and time in the Van Houten epigraph is a theme that recurs throughout the novel. Another recurrence in TFIOS is Gatsby references. The description of Isaac in chapter one, for example, seems to echo imagery in The Great Gatsby.
“One eye had been cut out when he was a kid, and now he wore the thick glasses that made his eyes (both the real one and the glass one) preternaturally huge, like his whole head was basically this fake eye and this real eye staring at you.” (Green, 6)
Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, anyone?
“The eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic—their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a non-existent nose.” (Fitzgerald, 15)
So…T.J. and Isaac have huge eyes and no face, peering out at you with their enormity?
Sounds like a Gatsby reference to me.
We will leave the extraction of other meta-textual metaphors for their respective chapters, as this is only the beginning of Gatsby references in TFIOS.
And tomorrow, a continuation of chapter one!
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