Having trouble with my English lit.
April 20, 2006 5:03 AM   Subscribe

Could someone please explain to me what narrative level 'The Great Gatsby' is in [more inside]

I have to write an essay on it and I can't understand what each level is. I've attempted to work it out and I think its intradiegetic, but I'm not sure. Our university library is also not very helpful as the books that I need have been out since September.

It's been a long time since I've logged on here last, so I hope that doesn't bode too unfavourably for me.

Any help will be greatly appreciated:)
posted by MoralAnimal to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Oh. gawd. I had to look up 'intradiegetic', and I have a doctorate in EngLit. Really, don't get hung up on critical terms. The interesting thing about Gatsby is that Carraway is part of the narrative, but he's also on the edges of it: he get glimpses (some clearer than others) of this swirl of stories.

So, without writing your essay for you, it's the modulation of the narrator's role between participant, observer and reteller that makes it interesting, since Carraway is an outsider peeking, then tiptoeing in, which creates parallels both with Gatsby and with the implied narratee who's being let into this world. Think about the overlaps and breaks between telling stories, being told stories, and being part of them.

“Well, I’m going to tell you something about my life,” he interrupted. “I don’t want you to get a wrong idea of me from all these stories you hear.”
posted by holgate at 5:33 AM on April 20, 2006

homodiegetic: a story in which the narrator is present in the story he narrates. TRUE IN GATSBY.

heterodiegetic: a story in which the narrator is absent from the story he narrates. FALSE IN GATSBY

extradiegetic: narrative in which the narrator is superior, in the sense of being at least one level higher than the story world, and hence has a good or virtually complete knowledge of the story he narrates; FALSE IN GATSBY (Though it is true that Nick is more self-aware -- and more aware of the motivations of others -- than the other characters. This is because the novel is told in past tense, and he's presumably had time to reflect. But he's NOT elevated above the story world in any other sense. Many times, he admits that his information is incomplete -- for instance when he gets drunk with Tom, he can't remember everything.)

intradiegetic: narrative in which the narrator is immersed within the same level as that of the story world, and has limited or incomplete knowledge of the story he narrates. TRUE IN GATSBY

I had never heard of these "narrative levels" before your question (this seems like a silly way to appreciate -- or learn about -- such a wonderful story). I copied the above definitions from http://courses.nus.edu.sg/course/ellibst/NarrativeTheory/chapt7.htm
posted by grumblebee at 5:34 AM on April 20, 2006

I too have a lit degree and am only vaguely familiar with these terms. I agree with those who state that what makes Nick interesting as a narrator is his being both an outside observer and yet involved in the story. In the beginning of the book, Nick says of himself, "...I'm inclined to reserve all judgments...". The story, of course, makes a liar out of him. He never stops judging, the people and his environment, throughout the duration of the book.
posted by katyggls at 6:20 AM on April 20, 2006

this seems like a silly way to appreciate -- or learn about -- such a wonderful story

On the other hand, if the course is about narrative theory, it's not so weird. And even if the technical language is offputting, thinking in terms of those kinds of categories can be useful for teasing out the subtleties of the relationship among narrator, non-narrating characters, the action of a story, the implied author, and so on.

The overview in Grumblebee's post covers what you seem to need -- notice that homodiagetic and heterodiagetic are opposed to each other, as are extra- and intradiegetic, but it's not the case that all four are mutually exclusive.

You also should (and perhaps already do) recognize that these terms come specifically from the work of Gerard Genette. Just to say "what narrative level" a book is "in" is both slightly off (Genette's terms refer specifically to kinds of narrators and narration) and more vague than you, I think, intend it to be (it's more accurate to frame the question with something like "in Genette's terminology"). There are other schemes proposed by other narratologists, and you can talk about these relationships without using jargony narrative-theory terminology, as the other posters have noted, though if you're supposed to be demonstrating your understanding of particular concepts in Genette, you will want to use his terms at least at the beginning.
posted by redfoxtail at 6:36 AM on April 20, 2006

It's been a long time since I read Gatsby, so I won't offer an answer myself, but I found point 8 on this page to be extremely helpful in understanding how a story can be a strange hybrid of many of these structures. Gatsy seems similar to the author's example of Heart of Darkness in many ways as well.
posted by ducksauce at 6:58 AM on April 20, 2006

The poster is lucky in that there are many informed coments here. Add this: Nick begins with a great dislike of Gatsby but by the end of the story comes to appreciate the fact that Gatsby lived (though falsely) a Dream he tried to carry out. That is, he had a purpose to his living. By contrast, all the others were mere hangers on and wasted lives. Nick finally moves back to the west, having found that the American Dream (the early Eden suggested in the original settlements) had vanished, gone as does the sun, further west, though perhaps it might too still elude his grasp. Nick learns from Gatsby and grows.
posted by Postroad at 7:08 AM on April 20, 2006

Nick begins with a great dislike of Gatsby

This seems a bit overstated to me. I don't recall a "great dislike." He's wry about Gatsby at first, but he's wry about everyone.
posted by grumblebee at 7:13 AM on April 20, 2006

Not answering the question, sorry, but maybe a useful derail:

Your university library may have procedures in place to recall checked-out books that are needed urgently by other patrons. Check at the circulation desk; they may be able to help you get those books. Also, you could try interlibrary loan.
posted by initapplette at 7:43 AM on April 20, 2006

I'm sorry, I probably should've elaborated a bit more, but the question was one that was asked by a friend of mine, who's probably taking a class on 'narrative theory' as redfoxtail has suggested, so I'm sure all this would make much more sense to her than to me. I was unaware also of what the term intradiegetic meant, but I'm sure she'll find all the advice everyone's posted here very useful:)

Thanks again for all the help!

on preview: thanks for the tip, initapplette:)
posted by MoralAnimal at 7:57 AM on April 20, 2006

the question was one that was asked by a friend of mine

You really should have made that clear. I don't think it's a good idea to post a question in the first person ("I have to write an essay...") when it's not you at all. Say "My friend has to write an essay" and then nobody will feel bad when you have to backtrack.

I think redfoxtail's answer is excellent; tell your friend to use the assigned categories and make sure she knows what they mean—hopefully they'll even be useful to her in understanding the work—but not to get so caught up in them she loses sight of the fact that they're just one among many tools.
posted by languagehat at 11:35 AM on April 20, 2006

sorry languagehat; I was a little antsy about making my first post here and didn't mean to offend anyone

she's read your replies and appreciates all the help
posted by MoralAnimal at 10:21 PM on April 20, 2006

thanks again
posted by MoralAnimal at 10:22 PM on April 20, 2006

« Older HttpPost using Flash 8   |   Canon SLR Lens advice Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.