Notes on Introductions, Conclusions, and Other Essay Tips
A Sample Essay (by David Ellis) with Instructional Commentary
Between Pleasure and Pain: A Search for Innocence in The Great Gatsby
The loss and search for innocence is intricately woven into human experience and action. Many individuals possess different coping mechanisms to deal with the loss of their innocence, inevitably leading them in attempts to recapture that feeling of being an innocent creature. This concept of retreating back to the past plays an imperative role in human existence as well as literature; many authors explore this phenomenon of mankind’s desire to retreat to the past. However, this escape from present reality creates detrimental consequences to the individual. Instead, humans should accept the conflicts associated with experience and seek to find happiness and pleasure amongst the chaos and pain. This acceptance would generate a second innocence that transcends the first because the individual will not be void of pain and loss but will find pleasure amongst the “them”. F. Scott Fitzgerald, in his novel The Great Gatsby, explores the loss of innocence as well as different individual’s attempts to recapture it and the detrimental consequences of each.
Though I believe the topic discussed in this paper requires extensive analysis and thorough examination, I cannot analyze all the characters in the novel and discuss their methods of coping with the loss of their innocence because of time and length restrictions. However, I chose to write on Gatsby and Tom because they appear to be polar opposites, yet they share the same struggle. It is their methods of handling this struggle -- which will be further expounded upon later -- that sets them apart. Still, the struggle to deal with their lost innocence connects Tom and Gatsby in a profound way: their personalities, actions, and tones are all manifestations of their inability to cope with the loss of their innocence.
Through the characterization of Gatsby, Fitzgerald provides insight into the individual’s struggle to recapture innocence and how this attempt to return to the past produces damaging consequences. To begin, the first image of Gatsby portrays him as a man haunted by longing and desperation. Nick perceives Gatsby who “stretched out his arms towards the dark water […and at] a single green light” (26). The green light seemingly represents Daisy, yet through closer examination it comes to symbolize his longing for something pure, for something innocent: the water symbolizes the dark abyss that Gatsby creates because of his unavailing pursuit of the past. Also, the idea that this light lays perpetually out of reach demonstrates the futility of Gatsby’s attempt to obtain the past and the unattainable; moreover, the fact that Daisy’s dock is east of Gatsby’s house, further exemplifies his reaching for the past; with his arms stretching towards the green light, Gatsby yearns like a child who reaches for its mother’s warm, safe embrace. Furthermore, Gatsby‘s last moments of innocence occur while he is with Daisy before experiencing the malady of war. Therefore, Gatsby projects his longing for innocence onto Daisy, though he truly desires what she represents -- his lost innocence. When Gatsby gives himself to Daisy “she [blossoms] for him like a flower and the incarnation [is] complete” (117). The word incarnation takes on two meanings here: complementing the image of Daisy blooming like a flower -- sexual innuendo -- and as Gatsby metamorphosing into a creature of experience. The latter use further exemplifies Gatsby’s loss of innocence and why he projects this loss onto Daisy. Because Gatsby shares his last moment as an innocent being with Daisy, he subconsciously perceives her as a means to restore his innocence. Therefore, his entire life revolves around attaining Daisy which, for reasons he cannot comprehend, he believes will eliminate all the pain and anguish that accompany experience.
In the end however, Gatsby’s affair with Daisy is brief, and he dies as an indirect result. This ending seems to say that an attempt to return to the past results in suicidal impossibility: Nick refers to Gatsby’s house as a “huge incoherent failure” (188). Gatsby ultimately fails because his dreams of returning to the past prove impossibly irrational: because he cannot return to the past, the desire to do so is improbable. Because Gatsby cannot live in the present, he remains doomed to reside in a perpetual cycle that spirals endlessly to the bottom of his self-generated abyss. In his attempt to return to the past, Gatsby seeks to fill the void that his innocence left which grows with each failed endeavor. This hole continues to grow until it consumes Gatsby and ultimately leads to a demise of his own creation. If Gatsby learns to accept the discomforts of experience yet still find pleasure within the pain, then he will attain happiness and inner peace because of the harmony born from this realization. However, he continues to tread upstream, fighting himself in a battle which contains no victor or loser but a ceaseless downward spiral of desperation and fear. On the other hand, Gatsby’s attempts of returning to the past show only one coping mechanism for lost innocence; indeed, other characters use different strategies to endure their lost innocence yet still happen upon the same results.
Tom Buchanan’s characterization demonstrates how projected power and masculinity usually results from a manifestation of fear and frailty. Tom, like all humans, lacks the ability to control the world and the experiences that shape the individual while at the same time usurping child-like innocence. Because he lacks this control, he attempts to control others as well as situations and must constantly project images of power and masculinity in order to mask his fears and frailty: his “two shining, arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward” (11). Tom’s need to transmit images of power consumes him to the degree that his image as an abundantly powerful male encroaches and overtakes his actual being. This image is ready to attack anyone who questions its validity or authority, creating a dangerous silhouette of Tom Buchanan. Tom becomes dangerous when his actions result from a challenge to his authority: he hits Myrtle, talks condescendingly to everyone, and denies himself any true form of happiness because he is constantly occupied with preserving this image. However, the actual Tom resembles a scared child who remains uncertain about the world; after learning of Myrtle’s death, Nick “[hears] a low husky sob and [sees] that tears were overflowing down [Tom’s] face” (149). Tom cannot find safety or comfort anywhere in this world and, like Gatsby, fears the pain associated with experience. Therefore, he constructs walls that protect him from affliction, but as a result he must constantly maintain his image of domination which manifests itself from his inability to control and understand the world.
This inner trepidation and fragility is a product of his lost innocence which is an unparalleled time of wonder and tranquility, while experience brings uncertainty and fear. However, Tom cannot confront or handle this dramatic change of existence. Therefore, he projects his image as a virile, stout-hearted male in an attempt to mask his fears and convince others and himself of his dominating masculinity. Yet Nick sees through this absurd, over-done act that Tom presents to the world and questions its sincerity: “something was making him nibble at the edge of stale ideas as if his sturdy physical egotism no longer nourished his peremptory heart” (25). That something which Nick addresses is Tom’s attempt to move backwards in time to a place that reverberates with comfort and safety: a time in which Tom believes the world makes sense to him, where people could fit into easily distinguishable categories of right and wrong, good and bad, superior and inferior. Therefore, Tom tries to place people into these categories which remain stable and ease his delicate psyche: Gatsby is only a bootlegger, women (Myrtle and Daisy) are objects to provide nurture and care, and blacks are here for the Nordic race to dominate and enslave. Henceforth, when these people break free from Tom’s neatly packaged boxes, he gets scared and scrambles to put them in their place -- he hits Myrtle, manipulates Daisy, and verbally accosts and dehumanizes Gatsby. All these actions simultaneously allow Tom to project power and authority while concealing his fear that the world is unpredictable and does not allow for rigidity of thought and judgment.
In conclusion, the loss of innocence and the search thereafter plays an imperative role in human existence as well as literature. Different individuals develop various coping mechanisms to deal with the loss of their innocence: some attempt to retreat to the past while others create images of power and dominance to veil their fear of experience. However, the majority of these techniques result in consequences that damage the individual’s relationships with others and self. Therefore, the healthiest approach would consist of finding the harmony between sorrow and felicity, uncertainty and assurance, and depravity and purity. This approach generates a second innocence in that the individual will not be demoralized by negative experience but will see those moments as necessary for the implementation of positive ones; also, he or she will learn from the painful moments and become stronger because of them. If people learn to accept the inconsistency of life and the complexity of the human experience, they will abolish themselves from self-generated slavery and mental anguish; they will not limit themselves to one purpose or attempt to judge others, citing rigidly determined roles. This emancipation allows the individual to experience a multifarious collaboration of cultures and ideas, providing a deeper insight into oneself and others. Only when we embrace these concepts will human beings recover from eons of self-indebted peonage.
Title: Be creative! Intrigue the reader
* Use literary present tense
Introduction: Start to focus on or “hone in” on your thesis immediately. Avoid broad generalizations, such as “Since the dawn of humanity,” “Throughout history,” “Everyone,” “Society.”
Remember your audience throughout, who, in this case, is already familiar with the text. Do not retell the plot or text at great length and avoid stating the obvious (For example: In Fitzgerald’s story, Jay Gatsby is a wealthy bootlegger who pursues the love of Daisy.)
The first time you mention an author, use his or her full name
Novels and plays are underlined, poems and short stories in quotation marks
Start small or very focused. Be aware of length restrictions and don’t try to accomplish too much. It is better to limit or narrow your focus and develop your insights more fully.
Clearly state the thesis idea, which may encompass a sentence or more.
Topic sentences should be arguable claims that connect to and expand upon the thesis. Topic sentences that open with observations of plot generally lead to nothing more than summary in the body of the paragraph
Analyze, don’t summarize. (Remember the three “Ies”)
Use transitional devices to logically connect and link ideas, invoke comparisons, & draw conclusions.
Limit your use of quotations. Spend more time interpreting and analyzing than merely citing quotations and examples.
Properly cite quotations in MLA format
Don’t assume that quotations are self-sufficient and prove your point automatically. You need to analyze them thoroughly in your own words, explaining why they are important. As a general rule, each quotation should be followed by at least several sentences of analysis.
Develop probing insights and provocative interpretations. Move beyond the “obvious” and delve into the complexities of your argument.
Effectively assimilate, introduce, and integrate quotations into your own writing.
Be discrete and selective when using quotations. Don’t quote a paragraph from a text when a single sentence contains the heart of what you need. Don’t quote a whole sentence when you can simply integrate a few words into one of your own sentences.
Use active verbs, such as Tom projects or Nick sees. Avoid wordy verbage like Tom is projecting or Nick is seeing. Avoid passive voice: Tom is confronted with his impending mortality…
Stay focused and relate ideas back to the thesis. This is usefully accomplished in the concluding sentences of a paragraph.
Conclusion: Use the conclusion to say something relevant to your thesis, but new. One way to do this is to deal with the ending. How does the ending of the story relate to your thesis? How does your essay lend meaning to the ending of the story? What conclusions are we to draw about the text’s / author’s primary “arguments”? Address the “so what” question: what are the larger implications of your argument? What contributions does your reading offer? Avoid just a summary of your paper or a summary of the ending.