Syntactic Markedness as a Stylistic Feature in the Great Gatsby

Longxing Wei


This study investigates the linguistic code choices of Francis Stott Fitzgerald for one of his masterpieces: The Great Gatsby. It hypothesizes that as a linguistic virtuoso, Fitzgerald exploits marked linguistic choices to convey his intentional meaning throughout the novel. “Marked” linguistic choices are defined as departures from the expected or the norm to negotiate a change during a discourse. This study assumes that the writer who is a linguistic virtuoso will “mark” the crucial passages (i.e., the passages which carry the author’s most important messages) by using marked syntactic structures and certain grammatical categories to set them off from the rest of the work. The study aims to find whether Fitzgerald marks the crucial narrative passages in The Great Gatsby by using particular syntactic structures which are demonstratively different from the typical narrative passages in the novel as a whole. To do so, it analyzes five passages which are crucial in carrying the “authorial message”, and these passages differ syntactically from five matched passages which largely function only to carry the story line forward. The stylistic analysis rests on a frequency count of the major components of the phrase structure and the most important grammatical categories in the paired paragraphs. Based on the analytical results, this study reaches the conclusion that the syntactic markedness stands out as a stylistic feature in The Great Gatsby, and such a stylistic feature can only become salient beyond surface-level considerations of phrase structure and grammatical categories in any stylistic analysis of literary works.

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